Blue-beard: A Contribution to History and Folk-lore by Thomas Wilson

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Gilles de Rais, Baron de Rais (French: [d? ??]), was a knight and lord from Brittany, Anjou and Poitou, a leader in the French army, and a companion-in-arms of Joan of Arc. He is best known for his reputation and later conviction as a confessed serial killer of children.

A member of the House of Montmorency-Laval, Gilles de Rais grew up under the tutelage of his maternal grandfather and increased his fortune by marriage. He earned the favour of the Duke of Brittany and was admitted to the French court. From 1427 to 1435, Rais served as a commander in the Royal Army, and fought alongside Joan of Arc against the English and their Burgundian allies during the Hundred Years’ War, for which he was appointed Marshal of France.

Between 1434-1435, he retired from military life, depleted his wealth by staging an extravagant theatrical spectacle of his own composition, and was accused of dabbling in the occult. After 1432, Rais was accused of engaging in a series of child murders, with victims possibly numbering in the hundreds. The killings came to an end in 1440, when a violent dispute with a clergyman led to an ecclesiastical investigation that brought the crimes to light, and attributed them to Rais. At his trial the parents of missing children in the surrounding area and Rais’s own confederates in crime testified against him. He was condemned to death and hanged at Nantes on 26 October 1440.

Rais is believed to be the inspiration for the 1697 fairy tale “Bluebeard” (“Barbe bleue”) by Charles Perrault.


Blue-beard: A Contribution to History and Folk-lore by Thomas Wilson
(Illustrated Edition)

Being the history of Gilles de Retz of Brittany, France, who was executed at Nantes in 1440 A.D., and who was the original of Blue-beard in the tales of Mother Goose

THE story of Bluebeard has become a classic in infantile mythical (folk-lore) literature wherever the English and French languages are spoken. Rev. Dr. Shahan suggests its possible existence in earlier languages and more distant countries. The story is more or less mythical. While it does not follow history with any pretence of fidelity, it has come to be recognised by the historians and literati of France as representing the life of Gilles de Retz (or Rais), a soldier of Brittany in the first half of the fifteenth century.

He was of noble birth, was possessed of much riches, was the lord of many manors, had a certain genius and ability, made some reputation as a soldier at an extremely early age, fought with Joan of Arc, and was Marshal of France. At the close of these wars he retired to his estates in Brittany, and, in connection with an Italian magician, he entered upon a search for the Elixir of Youth and the Philosopher’s Stone.

Together they became possessed by the idea that the foundation of this elixir should be the blood of infants or maidens, and, using the almost unbridled power incident to a great man (at that early date) in that wild country, they abducted many maidens and children, who were carried to some one of his castles and slain. Suspicion was finally directed toward him; he was arrested, tried, convicted, sentenced to death, and executed at the city of Nantes, October 27, 1440, at the early age of thirty-six years.


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