For a lot of people, Gilles de Rais has been known for several identities: French noble, soldier, companion of Joan of Arc, presumed basis of "Bluebeard", serial killer and child rapist (maybe). In other words, he's one of the most infamous cases of Fallen Hero in history.
Born on an unknown date in the year 1405, Gilles was an intelligent child, showcasing cases of being a sophisticated and overall upstanding man. When he came of age, he received his lessons in the military and enlisted as a soldier, rising up in ranks and eventually becoming one of the chief generals of the French army. Accompanying him was Joan of Arc. Despite the girl's upbringing, Gilles accepted her just fine and they fought as comrades-in-arms, successfully winning on France's behalf during the Siege of Orleans of The Hundred Years War.
Unfortunately, for unknown reasons, Gilles was not present when Joan was tried by the English and executed. It was around this time that one of Gilles's vices was discovered: excessive spending when it came to riches and treasures. However, it was known that he did not do it out of self-indulging purposes. But it was something that would become his downfall.
After the execution of Joan, Gilles retired from the military and decided to use his vast fortunes for his personal project: The construction of a grand chapel and a 20000-lines worth theatrical spectacle based on his war experience with Joan. These projects pushed Gilles's fortunes to the point that he was on the verge of bankruptcy while he still couldn't let go of his more extravagant lifestyle, selling his properties one by one. Eventually, his family members and the pope decided that enough was enough, and they barred Gilles from spending further fortunes, armed with official edicts.
In his desperation, Gilles then turned towards the occult. With the help of a certain clergyman named Francois Prelati, Gilles came across a book that would allow him to summon a demon who was called 'Barron'. Gilles tried summoning this Barron three times within his own castle, Chateau de Tiffauges, but none of them yielded any result, frustrating Gilles even more. However, it was then the horrific truth behind Gilles's actions were revealed.
The method to summon the demon required sacrifice, or so Prelati suggested, and the sacrificial item was supposed to be... blood of children. For that, Gilles resorted to really drastic and evil methods: He would invite young boys to come to his castle and become his page, grooming them to be good adults... but also sexually assaulting them before eventually murdering them in very gruesome ways. His cousin Gilles de Sillé and his servants Étienne Corrillaut, known as Poitou, and Henriet were his accomplices. There were many many victims of his actions, making him one of the earliest deranged Serial Killers in history, predating even Jack the Ripper. The exact number of victims is unknown as he had the bodies burned or buried. Most say it was between 100 and 200, though some claim it was over 600.
Eventually, Gilles's actions were found out and he and his accomplices were put on trial, where they did confess all their depraved actions and were rightfully sentenced to death. He was hanged on October 26, 1440. His Last Request to be buried in the church of the monastery of Notre-Dame des Carmes in Nantes was granted. His only daughter, Marie, turned the spot where he was executed into a memorial that was eventually regarded as a holy site, but it was destroyed by rioting Jacobins during The French Revolution in the 18th century. While France would be free from one depraved Serial Killer, years later, some people put doubts in the trial that ended Gilles's life, citing theories that perhaps Gilles was innocent, only falling victim to propaganda from the Catholic Church and ganged up to the point that he died and was the perfect slander target. And another popular theory was just how much influence Joan of Arc had on him; after all, Gilles's Start of Darkness can be speculated to begin somewhere after Joan's unfair execution, had Joan lived on or at least died more fairly, perhaps Gilles wouldn't have been pushed to the desperation that led him to become the Serial Killer he's known as.
Just how much he was 'innocent' was still a source of hot debate. However, Gilles's time as a mass murderer seems to have eclipsed his good deeds, and thus he is now mostly remembered as a depraved child-murderer and one of the most infamous Serial Killers in the history of Europe.
Appearances in media:
- In Symphogear, several elements were named after elements surrounding Gilles de Rais, even without involving Gilles himself: His castle, Chateau de Tiffauges, became the name of the main castle of Carol Malus Dienheim, the Big Bad of GX, whereas one of the antagonists of AXZ, is named after his occult friend: Prelati (as a young girl instead).
- Drifters has him as one of the villainous superpowered "Ends" alongside Joan of Arc, fighting the antiheroic Drifters.
- Vincent Cassel portrayed him in The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc.
- Amityville: It's About Time changed the source of the franchise's evil from a Satanist-desecrated Indian Burial Ground to a clock that once belonged to Gilles de Rais, who is described as "a teacher, minister, inventor, and necromancer" who cannibalized young boys as a form of Immortality Immorality.
- Gilles de Rais is widely believed to be the inspiration for the titular villain of Charles Perrault's "Bluebeard", even though their similarities are limited to being wealthy aristocrats who are secretly Serial Killers (Gilles de Rais murdered children; Bluebeard murders his wives. A closer model for "Bluebeard" is found in the legend of Conomor the Accursed). Regardless, linking Bluebeard with Gilles or vice versa has become a common practice in media.
- The Gothic Horror novel Dove Keeper has a resurrected Gilles de Rais as the Big Bad. Somehow, he's shown to be even worse than he was in reality, with it being revealed that he sold his soul to the Devil to come back from death as a demon, and he's been ritualistically killing enough innocent children over the centuries (the novel takes place in World War I) that he was able to drag Joan of Arc out of Heaven and bring her Back from the Dead as an amnesiac child.
- While he doesn't actually appear in person, in The Dresden Files: Cold Days, Harry Dresden mentions offhand that Gilles de Rais was one of the former Knights of the Winter Court of Sidhe. It's also implied that de Rais only became a monster because he'd succumbed to the corruptive influence of the Winter Knight's Mantle.
- Gilles De Rais appears in the final novels of The Otherworld as the mysterious cult leader Giles Reyes. In this work, Gilles was a Serial Killer who before the events of the series found a way to gain immortality by killing children and escaped his execution that occurred in real life. In the present, Gilles plans to unleash a virus to transform most of humanity into supernatural entities and Take Over the World.
- Gilles de Rais is a playable character in the Jeanne d'Arc PSP game, and was actually given a Historical Hero Upgrade: None of his extravagant lifestyle and attitude are intact, he instead comes off as a reasonable and honorable friend. However, in the ending, Gilles pulls a Heroic Sacrifice and seals the demonic Gilvaroth within his body, very sure that his own Heroic Willpower will smother Gilvaroth to non-existence. He isn't heard of afterward, with many players believing that the game ended in an Esoteric Happy Ending because that would be Gilles' Start of Darkness, but seeing that Jeanne lived on instead of being unfairly executed, Gilles might be able to find a way to not fall into darkness.
- Gilles de Rais is featured amongst many French playable generals in Bladestorm The Hundred Years War where he serves as the French Jerk and Token Evil Teammate of the French faction, but nonetheless still fights for France. None of his child-murdering stuff were touched by the game.
- One of the more well-known portrayals of Gilles de Rais and the myth surrounding him can be found in the Nasuverse:
- He debuted in Fate/Zero as the Caster class Servant, where his Noble Phantasm is the book that was given to him by Francois Prelati, allowing him to summon several grotesque Eldritch Abominations, including an expy of Cthulhu himself. His Master, Ryuunosuke Uryuu, is also a depraved child murderer and Serial Killer, taking gleeful joy and admiration at Gilles' grotesque art of killing, making them surprisingly one of the more stable, if evil, Master-Servant relationships. Gilles' motivation was to spite God for taking Jeanne d'Arc away from him unfairly despite his servitude to Him by creating something so grotesque that it would disgust even God (but in his and his master's words, it would be COOL). He claims that he was executed not because of his crimes, but because the greedy nobles wanted to seize his land, which to him was further proof that God is unfair. Before his defeat in the Holy Grail War, Gilles sees a vision of Jeanne (throughout the series, he kept mistaking Saber/Artoria Pendragon for Jeanne) and realizes how far he has fallen before perishing. He was also suggested to be called 'Bluebeard' (despite not having any facial hair) rather than his true name before his identity was revealed.
- In Fate/Grand Order, Gilles appears not only in his Caster form, but also his younger self as a Saber class Servant. As a Saber, Gilles is a more upstanding (if non-descript) man, but as he levels up, he shows signs that darkness will consume him and he will become the crazed Serial Killer he was known for like his Caster self (whom his younger self is really unnerved by, and he asks the Master to use a Command Spell to have him commit suicide just in case he loses his way). In this form, his Noble Phantasm is Saint War Order: Rally Upon the Holy Banner and Roar, which allows him to strengthen himself based on his faith in Jeanne d'Arc. His Caster self is also the Big Bad of the first Singularity in Orleans. In the attempt to create the perfect Jeanne in his image, he created an evil version of her: Jeanne Alter (first as a Ruler while an antagonist in the Orleans singularity, then as an Avenger when later Promoted to Playable). Ironically, Jeanne Alter would develop a softer side and became one of the franchise's most iconic characters, with Gilles getting a Lighter and Softer treatment, being treated as a wacky and crazy uncle-like character who is obsessed with Jeanne, but not to the point of committing his grotesque actions from his life or Fate/Zero. Due to his deep delving into the occult, he is also one of the most knowledgeable about the existence of the Outer Gods and the Foreigner-class Servants, even more so than many of the Foreigners themselves.
- He makes a late appearance in Fate/Apocrypha as an apparition by the Caster William Shakespeare to torture Ruler/Jeanne (in his Saber appearance). However, it also delves into Gilles' psyche. He actually felt truly guilty at his acts as a Serial Killer, but knew that there was just no salvation for him. Jeanne, ever the compassionate girl she is, assures him that God would forgive him as long as he takes the first step towards it. And so, Gilles did his redeeming act of protecting Jeanne, but it remains ambiguous if his soul was truly saved.
- While he doesn't make an appearance in Fate/strange fake, the cleric that offered him the way to the occult, Francois Prelati, is amongst the Servants participating, as the True Caster, taking the form of a young boy. His Master, Francesca, is a future version of him. Apparently, he's been alive since the 15th century because he gained immortality by switching bodies if one was destroyed. He continues to goad Gilles to go down the evil path beyond time and has a sadistic wish to see how much he can make Jeanne suffer by plunging Gilles down to the dark side.
- In Castlevania 64 and Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness, Gilles de Rais, or someone named after him, was one of the vampires that was responsible for bringing Dracula back. Whether he's the actual Gilles or not remained ambiguous (the real Gilles lived and died in the 15th century, the game takes place in the 19th, but with the undead theme of the game, it's very possible that he was revived via necromancy), but he is accompanied by a child-murdering fellow vampire Actrise (who in fact, took on the whole task herself, Gilles is relegated to other kinds of evil), and he has blue colored hair and beard, alluding to the tale of "Bluebeard".