Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods



A skilled politician, dCraon was not going to let the wealth and estates of his grandchild slip through his fingers after so carefully plotting their acquisition. Left with no heir of his own after the debacle of Agincourt, Jean was unwilling to see his line end and his hard-won estate revert back to the mad king or another duke. d'Craon successfully challenged Guy de Rais will and in mid 1416, young Gilles and Rene de Rais were delivered to their grandfathers care.

Jean dCraon was a scheming, conniving powerful lord whose manipulations and machinations are rivaled by few in history. Without a conscience and willing to use whatever methods were required to achieve his ends, Jean was a poor influence on the young, impressionable de Rais children.  Whereas in their parents castles the youngsters were well-educated in morals, ethics, religion and the humanities, in Champtoce, his castle overlooking the Loire River, Jean dCraon allowed his wards to run free with little oversight.

Jean, himself, was hardly the proper role model, either. He was easily the second richest man in France, and his exploits demonstrate that above all things dCraon worshipped profit. No means of obtaining additional wealth was anathema to him. The kindest description of Jean dCraon is cunning, ruthless bandit.

The most influential lesson that Gilles de Rais learned from his grandfather was that as the heir of the de Rais and dCraon empire, he was above the law of France. Jean fertilized the bad seed in Gilles de Rais that flowered in his adult years. Whatever demon drove de Rais to rape and murder young children was nurtured by his lifestyle growing up at Champtoce.

Jean dCraons sole educational effort for Gilles was in the art of war. At 14, dressed in the finest armor from Milan, Gilles rode out from Champtoce for the first time as a squire. Although young nobles like Gilles spent hours learning the finer points of sword-fighting, jousting and hand-to-hand combat, there was but one real way for them to learn about combat and that was by taking part in the battles of the Hundred Years War.

Soon after Gilles arrived at Champtoce, d'Craon made it clear that he intended to use his grandson to enlarge his own land holdings and wealth. Gilles was just 13 years old when dCraon negotiated the marriage between Gilles and Jeanne Peynel, the daughter of Lord de Hambye of Normandy. The wealth of Peynel, a young orphan, rivaled that of Gilles and the marriage would have made the house of dCraon easily the most powerful in all of France, if not Western Europe. For that reason, the Parliament of Paris forbade the marriage, at least until Jeanne Peynel reached the age of majority.

Jean dCraon was not interested in waiting until then, and 10 months later, he announced the betrothal of Gilles to Beatrice de Rohan, the niece of the Duke of Burgundy. For some reason, there is no record of why, the marriage never came about.

It was not until Gilles was 16 that the subject of marriage came up again. Under the direction of his grandfather, Gilles abducted Catherine de Thouars, his cousin. Catherine was the daughter of Milet de Thouars, whose lands in Poitou were adjacent to the de Rais lands. Despite being kidnapped from her home and having three of her rescuers, including an uncle, thrown into the dungeons of Champtoce, Catherine married her cousin in 1420. After protracted negotiations, during the course of which Milet de Thouars died of a high fever, the hostages held in the Champtoce dungeon were released and the marriage recognized by ecclesiastical authorities. The harsh conditions of the prison were too much for the three hostages and Catherines uncle died soon after. The other two men, their identities unknown, never fully recovered.


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