Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods


Confess and Execution

The judges were correct. Gilles, who undoubtedly used implements of torture during his bloody reign, had no stomach for being on the receiving end of the Inquisitions tool chest and after his visit to La Tour Neuves prison, agreed to answer the questions of the judges. He asked if he could confess in his own chamber, rather than in front of the torture implements in the castles lower hall, and the judges agreed.

The trial of Gilles de Rais (Bibliotheque Nationale de Paris)
The trial of Gilles de Rais
(Bibliotheque Nationale de Paris)

In excruciating detail, Gilles confessed before Bishop Jean Pregent and Pierre de LHopital. His signed confession admits that it was given voluntarily, freely and grievously. He told the two judges that he alone was responsible for his actions.

He committed his crimes according to his imagination and idea, without anyones counsel and following his own feelings, solely for his pleasure and carnal delight, and not with any other intention or to any other end, a contemporary transcript of the confession reveals. It is possible that Gilles stressed this point as a last-ditch attempt to save his skin. The crime of peasant murder, even multiple times, was not as grievous in the eyes of French justice as heresy. If the judges believed he committed the crimes as a sacrifice to Satan, then his life was forfeit. There was still the chance that he could be pardoned for the killings.

The judges brought Prelati in to corroborate Gilles statements, and together they confessed to placing a childs hand, heart and eyes in a vessel in an attempt to summon the demon. After the judges finished with Francois Prelati, Gilles turned to him and in tears wished him well in a most pious way, clearly indicating his fondness for the sorcerer.

Goodbye, Francois, my friend! Gilles said. Never again shall we see each other in this world; I pray that God gives you plenty of patience and understanding, and to be sure, provided you have plenty of patience and trust in God, we shall meet again in the Great Joy of Paradise.

Gilles was correct, he never saw Prelati again. The sorcerer was convicted of his crimes and sentenced to life in prison. He escaped, but returned to his old ways and was caught, tried and convicted again of heresy. That time he was hanged.

The next morning, Gilles repeated his confession before the ecclesiastical court, in which he admitted that unbridled, he applied himself to whatever pleased him, and pleased himself with every illicit act.

Again, the court excommunicated Gilles, and he fell to the ground pleading, sighing and moaning on his knees to be reincorporated into the Church. The Bishop of Nantes, for the love of God, absolved Gilles of the sentence of excommunication and welcomed him back into the Church, our Mother, and allowed him to participate in the sacraments. Restoring Gilles into the Church would allow him to die with absolution and be buried on sacred ground, the Bishop said as the sentence of death was delivered.

Shortly afterward, the secular court handed down a similar verdict and sentence to Gilles, Poitou and Henriet. They were to be hanged by the neck until dead and their bodies burned to ash. Gilles asked that he be allowed to die first, to set a good example for his servants. The wish was granted.

Gilles de Rais and his coconspirators went to the gallows on October 26, 1440. Prior to his execution, Gilles gave a lengthy sermon to the large crowd gathered for the event on the evils of uncontrolled youth. He admitted his sins to the crowd, exhorted them to raise their children in a strict manner and be faithful to the Church. His sermon has been lost to history, but the records that remain claim it was a fine example of Christian humility and repentance.

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