Monday, December 20, 2010

Onion of Evil

Please allow me to introduce you to the most interesting person I’ve read about in a long time: Gilles de Rais.

So why’s he so interesting?

For starters, as his Wikipedia page explains, he was a contemporary of Joan of Arc, fighting alongside her against the English. Interesting, right? It gets better. After de Rais retired from military life, he produced a play titled Le Mistère du Siège d'Orléans, which boasted “20,000 lines of verse, 140 speaking parts, and 500 extras, according to Wikipedia. The production bankrupted de Rais, and with good reason. Costumes for each of the six hundred-plus actors were created per performance, then destroyed, then remade for subsequent stagings, and audiences were given an all-you-can-eat dinner and a bottomless goblet of wine. Interesting, right? Well, then it gets so much worse. In an effort to attain fiscal solvency, de Rais embarked on a third stage of his life: proficient child murderer. Church officials who investigated the matter claimed that de Rais sacrificed between 80 and 600 children to a demon. This financial plan did not put de Rais back in the black, however, as kidnapped a cleric in May of 1440, thus getting the church’s attention and ultimately resulting in his execution the following October.

Despite getting namechecked in all manner of sinister-leaning pop culture — H.G. Wells stories, aggressive rock music, gothic-y video games, anime, and a Winona Ryder character in the 2007 film Sex and Death 101 — and being one of the suspected inspirations for Bluebeard, I’d never heard of him. And if you told me about him, I’d probably assume that you were embellishing the story to keep my attention. However, sometimes the truth is that horribly interesting on its own.

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