Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods


The Childhood of Gilles

The death of Amaury dCraon was the first of three significant losses for 11-year-old Gilles de Rais, for dCraon was his uncle and his grandfather Jeans sole male heir. Gilles mother, the former Marie dCraon had married Guy de Rais, one-time heir of the incredibly wealthy Jeanne la Sage, as a political marriage which merged three wealthy and powerful households. The marriage of Guy and Marie came about after Guy changed his name from Laval to de Rais in order to inherit the properties of Jeanne la Sage the last of the de Rais family - whose marriage to Jean de Parthenay had been annulled because they were too closely related. However, la Sage reneged on the promise to take Guy as her heir and instead gave her inheritance to Catherine de Machecoul, the mother of Jean dCraon, Maries father. To prevent war between Guy de Rais, the Machecoul clan and la Sage, Jean dCraon offered a politically astute compromise his daughters hand in marriage. The marriage of Guy de Rais and Marie dCraon was solely political and financial in nature and there is no mention in the chronicles of whether or not they even liked, let alone loved one another.

Nine months after their marriage, Marie gave birth to her first child, Gilles de Rais. Within two years Marie had given Guy a second son, Rene.

The first years of young Gilles life were nondescript. As the son of one of the wealthiest men in France, he was brought up in what today would seem a cold and loveless way, for in France at the time, the philosophy of child-rearing treated young children as mini-adults and they were expected to act as such. Gilles rarely saw his parents, he was raised by a nurse with only infrequent visits by Guy and Marie, until his seventh year, when he reached the age of reason in French society.

As a 7-year-old future nobleman, Gilles was trained in the classic arts and humanities, learning to read and recite Latin and Greek, as well as receiving training in military arts and courtly ways. The records show that Gilles was a capable student and expert in martial training, but that as a political being he was unskilled and rough. He would never be a master of the machiavellian conspiracies and court intrigue that was required of a Frenchman in the 15th century.

Marie de Rais died soon after the Feast of the Epiphany, 1415.

It was shortly before Agincourt that the third death that helped shape Gilles life occurred. His father, Guy, was boar hunting in the woods near one of the familys many castles when the boar turned and gored him to death. Guys demise was a slow one, and he had time to draw up a will and make instructions on how his sons should be nurtured.

There was no love lost between Guy de Rais and Jean d Craon, and de Rais had left instructions in his will that his children should be raised by a cousin, Jean Tournemine de la Junaudaye. Guy made it clear that under no circumstance was Jean d Craon to have a hand in bringing up either Gilles or Rene. Historians have speculated that de Rais wanted his children away from Jean dCraon because he still harbored ill feelings about having to renounce his own family crest in order to inherit Jeanne le Sages property only to have Jean dCraon snatch it for his own family. Others presume that Guy de Rais knew all too intimately what kind of man dCraon was and how his children would be lost if entrusted to him.



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