Gilles trained as a soldier and fought in many of the conflicts of his time including the battles of Orleans and Patay alongside Joan of Arc. As a young soldier he appeared to be a loyal subject and honorable man. For his outstanding performance, the King awarded him the Marshall of France. (great honor)
At 24, after his marriage to Catherine de Thouars combined their fortunes, Gilles de Rais was was the wealthiest noble in Europe. But life wasn’t much fun for him after the excitement of military service. To ward off boredom he threw lavish banquets attended by, among others, his retinue of 200 knights. In honor of Joan of Arc’s victory in Orleans he produced a play with enormous sets and a cast of hundreds. He of course played the lead.
Life for Gilles at this time was not all parties and plays. He also indulged his darker desires. The following passage from Georges Hysmans La Bas (The Damned) describes his activities in detail:
“At dusk, when their senses are phosphorescent, enkindled by inflammatory spiced beverages and by ‘high’ venison, Gilles and his friends retire to a distant chamber of the château. The little boys are brought from their cellar prisons to this room. They are disrobed and gagged. The Marshal fondles them and forces them. Then he hacks them to pieces with a dagger, taking great pleasure in slowly dismembering them. At other times he slashes the boy’s chest and drinks the breath from the lungs; sometimes he opens the stomach also, smells it, enlarges the incision with his hands, and seats himself in it. Then while he macerates the warm entrails in mud, he turns half around and looks over his shoulder to contemplate the supreme convulsions, the last spasms. He himself says afterwards, ‘I was happier in the enjoyment of tortures, tears, fright, and blood, than in any other pleasure.”
In just 10 years he spent the equivalent of millions of dollars. He’d put such a serious dent in his fortune that he was forced to sell land to maintain his opulent lifestyle.