The Trial of Gilles De Rais – George Bataille
Amok Books – 1991 (Originally published 1965)
Gilles de rais is the kind of person that makes the belief in Heaven and Hell extremely appealing. There is no satisfaction to be derived from the fact that he was executed for his crimes. Those crimes were so hideous that their perpetrator deserves an eternity of agonizing torment – a quick execution is no payback for the brutal torture, rape and murder of countless children.
Gilles was an extremely powerful and ludicrously wealthy nobleman in 15th century France. For roughly 10 years, the Baron De Rais had his servants abduct poor children to satiate his hideous desires. He would slowly torture and murder them, usually stabbing them in the neck, sometimes severing their heads completely. As they perished, he would sit on their stomachs, peer into their dying faces and laugh. These victims would be raped at various stages during this process. After decapitating them, the Baron would kiss the children’s severed heads.
Oh, and while these horrendous acts were doubtlessly the result of de Rais’ depraved sexual impulses, he performed them in the name of the Devil. He employed several black magicians to help him communicate with demons. These sorcerers took De Rais for a fool. They would attempt to raise demons in front of him and after a while of nothing happening, they’d send him out of the room and lock the door. Then they’d start screaming in terror, and when Gilles would come back they’d tell him that the Devil told them to ask for some more money. Gilles would grant this request immediately. At other times, they would ask the Baron to provide them with the limbs and organs of dead children. These same sickos would also be present when Gilles was torturing kids. It seems that they were part of an abhorrently disgusting necro-paedophile ring. These scum were worst of the worst.
Gilles De Rais was eventually brought to trial for kidnapping a priest, and when the authorities started investigating the Baron, they heard the terrible rumours that had spread about him.
During a relatively painless trial (no torture on record), Gilles de Rais confessed his guilt and repented. He was excommunicated, but he was soon thereafter re-communicated by the Catholic Church because he had willingly confessed. The Church took the allegations of kidnapping a priest and being an alchemist more seriously than the rape and murder of countless children. Gilles was executed quickly, and the locals in his area were given a 3 day holiday to grieve for their master.
I don’t know guys. This is remarkably unsatisfying. I wanted to read about this lad dying slowly in unspeakable agony. His crimes are so gruesome that my initial response (and the response of many others) was to assume that the charges against him were false – they’re just a bit too extreme to imagine them really happening. That being said, the best evidence that is available to us, the court documents of his trial, provide a very cohesive and damning account.
It is these documents that make up most of the text of George Bataille’s The Trial of Gilles De Rais.
This is a very repetitive book. The first section is comprised of Bataille’s philosophical ramblings on the case. The second part is a very, very detailed timeline of Gilles De Rais’ life, much of which was already covered in the previous section. The last section is made up of the court documents of the trial. There is very little information in these documents that has not been discussed previously in the book. Also, court documents are fairly repetitive by their nature, so this book ends up delivering the same story about 5 times. I do appreciate the comprehensive nature of this book, but I think it would have been more effective to put the timeline first and Bataille’s thoughts after it.
The content of this book makes its repetitive nature remarkably depressing. You get to read about poor parents searching for their murdered children over and over again. This is fucking harrowing stuff. Bataille was a bit of a weirdo though, and I guess this was intentional. I read his Story of the Eye years ago, but I remember very little of it.
I’ve already mentioned that some people think that Gilles De Rais was the innocent victim of a conspiracy. He was a wealthy politician with plenty of enemies, and it is likely that many other people would profit from his downfall. My old friend Aleister Crowley was one of the individuals to proclaim the innocence of the Baron de Rais.
In an infamous lecture that was never delivered, Crowley argues that it was very likely that De Rais was framed. He argues that the claims against de Rais are too ridiculous to be taken seriously – they sound too similar to rumours spread to villainise the Jews throughout history. Crowley seems to have read a very different account of the trial of De Rais to the one presented in Bataille’s book though. Aleister claims that De Rais only confessed to his crimes when tortured, but the court documents presented by Bataille show that De Rais actually managed to avoid being tortured by confessing. Also, while the number of victims in Bataille’s text ranged from 35-140, Crowley gives the number of victims as 800 on the authority of Montague Summers. Summers, as we all know, was either very gullible individual or just prone to sensational exaggerations, and Crowley, an acquaintance of Summers, had to have known this. The swarmy, sarcastic and provocative tone that Crowley uses throughout the lecture make it seem all the less convincing.
I’ve encoutered De Rais a couple of times in fiction. The protagonist in Huysman’s Là-bas spends his time researching the evil Baron, and Gilles himself comes back from the dead to appear in Philip José Farmer’s Image of the Beast. And Ough! – he’s obviously a heavy metal hero too. I have a tshirt with a picture of him on it. I don’t wear it to work.
I’d like to believe that De Rais was innocent, but the testimonies collected in Bataille’s book are very cohesive. It would be far more comfortable to believe that Gilles De Rais died an innocent man than to accept the horrendous deaths his victims suffered at his hands. This guy seems to have been a real piece of shit.