Gilles de Rais is one of the most fascinating characters in all of history, but it isn’t surprising that so few people have heard of him. Everybody knows about Joan of Arc, even if they can’t tell you when exactly she lived or even in what war she fought or why she was burned at the stake. (The Fifteenth Century, the Hundred Years’ War, and witchcraft, respectively. But you all knew that already, didn’t you?) Gilles de Rais was Joan’s right-hand man, her comrade-in-arms. He was a national hero. He was also, if the stories were true, a necromancer and possibly the greatest serial killer in history. And his victims by and large were children.
Anyone choosing to study the case, delving into the details of Rais’ crimes, will find them repulsive and blood-chilling. If even a fraction of the accusations were true, he more than deserved his fate, being hanged and then burned. If ever there was a werewolf sans fangs and bushy tail, it was Gilles de Rais. It is true that it was also politically expedient to get him out of the way, and that Rais had some powerful enemies within his own family who stood to benefit financially from his execution. This latter has led some historians to believe that the whole affair was a frame-up. As Gilles asks the audience in the play: “Am I victim, or villain?” We will never know for sure, but it doesn’t really matter. Even if the Bluebeard/Exterminating Beast is only a straw boogeyman, never a real one, he has nonetheless attained eternal infamy.