Fate/Zero’s Caster and the Real Gilles de Rais

Among the many strengths of Fate/Zero are the selections and personalities of the heroes, and maybe most fascinating among them is Gilles de Rais, otherwise known as Bluebeard.  Insane, bloodthirsty, and mechanical in how he dispatches innocent victims, Gilles de Rais makes a much better villain than we’re used to in typical anime fare.  The inspiration for such a character was easy to find, because after all, the real Gilles de Rais was a more horrible monster than the fictional one.

The anime Bluebeard fits well as a serial killer’s servant, as the true Bluebeard was a notorious one himself.  In this way and in others, the anime version’s personality and activities match well with the 15th century noble and knight.

Caster Fate/Zero Bluebeard
Gilles de Rais, Real v. Anime

Connection to Magic

It’s quite fitting that in Fate/Zero, Gilles de Rais is a servant involved in a contest between mages.  Besides the rites performed to evoke demons, Gilles was very much connected with a magus (the series would’ve provided an even stronger connection if their Bluebeard had a sorcerer as a master rather than a serial killer).  Francois Prelati was an Italian magician and alchemist in Gilles’ employ.  Not only did he perform magic for his master, Prelati was also a close consultant who advised him on his daily affairs.  Unsurprisingly cruel, Prelati actively helped Gilles gather children for his heinous activities.

Connection to Joan of Arc

An interesting part of Gilles’ storyline in Fate/Zero is his infatuation with Saber, whom he believes to be Jeanne d’Arc.  The story has the villain in love with the legendary Joan of Arc; this, in fact, may not be far off from the truth.  Gilles fought alongside Joan, literally saved her life twice, and became very close to her.  Regarding the two, Jean Benedetti writes:

They had much in common: both were reckless in battle; they both preferred a simple response to any situation; they both had a sense of occasion, of the theatrical; and they both shared a fondness for fine clothes.

Benedetti later describes Joan as a parental figure to Gilles.  That makes it all the more strange when he shows no concern later at Joan’s arrest, trial, and execution.

This complicated relationship is certainly reflected in the series.  The real Gilles’ lack of care for Joan at her most trying moment, even though she was largely responsible for his rise to a position of power, seems to go hand in hand with the anime Gilles’ switch from lovey-dovey words to attacking Saber with all his might.

Caster and Saber
Gilles and his Jeanne (Art by 安鈴)

Faith in God and Satanic Activity

The anime Bluebeard frequently talks of God (mostly as his and Joan’s enemy); his real counterpart had strong ties with God and also with the devil.

The horrific crimes that Bluebeard did (some mentioned in the section below) ran alongside and sometimes intersected with his interest in the occult.  But he wasn’t simply a dabbler – Gilles hired alchemists and conjurers and performed many rites to bring forth demons, with eyewitness accounts to substantiate these occurrences.  At one point, Gilles offered various body parts of an infant as a sort of exchange to bring forth a demonic spirit (this experiment failed).

The hypocrisy of Gilles is that he was often seen as highly devout figure.  He went to confession even as he committed atrocities and was known for his generosity.  And in the end, just before his execution, Gilles talked of salvation, seemingly assured that he would be pardoned by God.

In the anime, Gilles speaks heavy words against God.  But as in real life, the spiritual talk and actions weren’t the most evil and demonic acts he did…

Atrocities Against Children

Fate/Zero builds up the villain by making his victims young boys and girls; this is an effective tool to create certain feelings in the audience, but it is also based on reality.

Gilles and his men took in children ranging in ages from 6 to 18.  He obtained his young victims via kidnapping, paying the parents with promises that the children would become choirboys or pages, or taking children who were begging for alms at his estate’s front gate.

Historians calculate that he tortured and killed at least 60, though the numbers I’ve seen seem to indicate that there were at least 130 victims, without including dozens of children who went missing in the towns near his castle and who were never found, or those whose bodies were cremated.  So possibly, nearer to 200 were killed.  Some claim that the number was closer to 600.

Typically, Gilles sodomized and then hanged the children (probably boys and girls) to damage their vocal cords; he then watched as the their throats were slit or as they were mutilated.  A willing accomplice testified the following:

When the children were dead he kissed them and those who had the most handsome limbs and head he held up to admire them, and had their bodies cruelly cut open and took delight at the sight of their inner organs; and very often when the said children were dying he sat on their stomachs and took pleasure in seeing them die and laughed…

Gilles was a true monster.  Luckily, we as viewers are saved by the animators of Fate/Zero, who turns the “cameras” away from the carnage of Gilles’ den of horrors.

Bluebeard Anime
Art by 格薇赫

Eventually, the courts acted after years of rumors about Gilles associated with the countless missing children.  Gilles and others admitted to their guilt in an extraordinary trial, and in the end, he was convicted of “heresy, apostasy, sodomy, sacrilege, and violation of the immunity of the Church.”  Hanged for his crimes, Gilles still lives in the annals of infamy.

Now, we’ll have to wait and see how the animated Bluebeard pays for his crimes…

I stopped procrastinating and got to work on this piece after reading the wonderful comparison post by trzr23: Iskandar: Anime vs Reality.

Benedetti, Jean (1971). Gilles de Rais: The Authentic Bluebeard. London: Peter Davies.

Gilles de Rais (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved December 14, 2011, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gilles_de_Rais

Hyatte, Reginald (1984). Laughter for the Devil: The Trials of Gilles de Rais, Companion-in-arms of Joan of Arc (1440). Toronto: Associated University Presses.

37 thoughts on “Fate/Zero’s Caster and the Real Gilles de Rais

  1. Prelati does make an appearance, after a fashion: Caster is said to have little innate magical power, but the book that allows him to summon Cthulhu-esque beasts was a gift from his mentor.

    Excellent post!

    1. Really…that fits in nicely with the historic Gilles’ dependence on magicians, alchemists, and others in his clandestine activities.

      And thanks! 🙂

  2. I am sure you will be glad to know that Caster’s and Ryuunosuke’s work was simply cut from the TV broadcast. It’s detailed in the light novels and will be included in the BDs.

  3. One can compare this with the “Black-Robed Countess” sidestory in Rose of Versailles (I don’t know if it was ever animated or not) that is based on Elizabeth Bathory, who was something like Gilles de Rais’ counterpart in Hungary.

    1. That leads me to wonder, why is the Countess Bathory so well known while Gilles is less so? Or it could be it’s just me that has been hearing about Bathory since I was younger, but couldn’t recall ever hearing about Gilles (or if I did, it was briefly and in connection with Joan of Arc).

      Perhaps we’re more entranced by the fact that Bathory was a woman and by the legend of her bathing in blood to stay young?

      1. I don’t know. I didn’t hear of either of them until I was quite old. The only one I knew from youth was Vlad the Impaler 🙂

      2. I’m jumping in the conversation but, you’d be surprised to know he isn’t well known in France either, when his name turned up in the anime I recall having the vague knowledge I heard about him once or twice but I had no idea who he was.
        And Jeanne’s hometown is something like one hour away from where I live.

        Then again, something I like about the Fate series is exactly that it’s not only choosing well known people to star in their stories.

        As for Bathory, I think the explanation is that her name is associated with vampirism and she is a main character in quite a few stories (whose names I don’t remember)

        1. Thanks for the information! I went to one of the largest university libraries in the U.S., and there (and in Internet research) found only a handful of books about Gilles and none written in recent years. And undertold topic, to be sure!

          1. Looking around (on the French wikipedia page) I have found one more book in English : Val Morgan, The Legend of Gilles de Rais (1404-1440) in the Writings of Huysmans, Bataille, Planchon, and Tournier, Edwin Mellen Press, 2003.
            The most recent French works were articles, last one published in 2008, but there are much more books, and we have easy access to the original sources too.

            1. Thanks for looking that up! I might try to see if that work is easily accessible. It sounds interesting particularly because the other works I referred to were not only older, but mostly emphasized just the trial.

              1. Well, I think it’s mostly because the trial records are nearly the only sources to give information on him, or at least the easiest to access.
                There are probably other records lost in the archives of his birthplace or informations spread here and there.

                Anyway, no problem, with history it’s always easier to find stuff in the original language of the event or the person you’re looking for informations on, and since I’m French it was done in no time!

  4. So you finally wrote it!

    My question is… Why? Why did he do all that? Was there something that sparked this monstrosity to awaken or was he simply born this way?

    And since you went into so much detail of the gore, might as well throw in a few points about it. WARNING: INTENSE AND DISTURBING CONTENT AHEAD. After browsing through some anime forums I got to know what was happening when they turned the cameras away. Apparently, Uryuu rips out the intestine while still leaving it connected to the live child’s body and nails it with a hammer as if he were playing a piano and the kid screaming in various pitches be the music. They stringed several heads together to form an organ. That is his entertainment. I sat there stunned for a couple of minutes and then watched some fun wrestling videos on YouTube videos to get my mind off it.

    As for Caster as a character, he;s supposed to draw that disgust and hatred from the viewer and he success in doing it every time, just like Rider makes us go “Hell, yeah!”. So good job. And like you, I’m glad they chose to censor, but have the scene.

    Great post and thanks for the mention 🙂 !

    1. That is the question. Unfortunately, I think as with so many historic figures (heroes and villains and in between), we just don’t know enough to draw really good conclusions. Certainly, Gilles felt a strong connection to the devil, which is why he attempted summoning of demons, but we might be taking leaps in connecting that with the murders. I do know there have been a number of articles discussing his motivations by psychoanalysis, with some mention of schizophrenia; but that also doesn’t seem to fit Gilles’ actions. Certainly, if one reads his words at the trial, it’s easy to see that he’s wasn’t so insane that he couldn’t be held accountable for his actions.

      Thanks for the additional information…as graphic as it is. 😛

      Oh, and now we just need other bloggers to do the other characters! Saber, of course, is easy. But Archer would be interesting and I’ve read a little about Lancer – he’s an interesting figure as well.

    2. I don’t really know anything about Gilles in particular, but from what I know about psychopaths and serial killers in general, they generally were neglected or abused by their parents at a very young age. That’s probably not the only reason, but it could be a factor…

      1. Thanks for the insight, Lynna. Actually, that reminds me of an important point. Gilles was largely raised by a relative who taught him to simply take whatever he wanted. For instance, Gilles, I believe took the woman he wanted to marry for ransom. I’m sure that was a large part of making Gilles who he became.

        That said, there were a lot of bullying knights who weren’t murders of hundreds of children. -_-‘

  5. I wasn’t aware that Fate/Zero got an animated treatment. Awesome. (Saber’s my favorite character. :D)

    I didn’t even know Bluebeard was a “real” person beyond the folk tale… absolutely horrible.

    1. Fate/Zero has really ignited my interest in this whole series (I haven’t watched Fate/Stay Night). But like you, Saber is my favorite. 🙂

  6. Gilles de Rais comes in very handy for all kinds of artists & creators, but he was almost certainly framed. He was a French war hero tried by his enemies – in her case the English, in his the English-supporting Bretons – and his confession was produced under the threat of torture after his servants had been tortured until they said what was required of them. Even the stories of abducted children fall apart under close examination.

    In 1992 he was “retried” under the auspices of UNESCO – and acquitted. So he has been officially an innocent man for nearly twenty years.

    1. Thanks for the information – I went to your link and you make quite a compelling case. Until recently, I was a professional historian, so I’m keen to see the evidence provided. Unfortunately, I only read through the the transcripts cursorily and looked a a couple of secondary documents; you’ve done a much more thorough examination, and I appreciate your work. Your arguments are strong and I find myself favoring the idea that Gilles was framed.

      Do you have a reference for the “retrial”? I always thought UNESCO was more about international places of renown and education and such…

      1. The retrial came about because of pressure from a Vendeen writer called Gilbert Prouteau who was commissioned to write a new biography of Gilles de Rais by the Breton tourist board (who have got quite a little Bluebeard Trail going on in recent years). They didn’t realise that he was already a revisionist on this subject. He wrote a rather odd book, part biography, part novel, part account of the retrial – it was actually published before the verdict came in, probably because Prouteau didn’t really expect to win his case. The book is called Gilles de Rais ou la gueule du loup – it’s quite a frustrating read in many ways, but it was a best-seller in France. Unfortunately, it came out at the wrong time – 1992, pre internet, so there are no reviews and very little about the retrial. This is the only newspaper report online –

        1. Thanks for the link – I’m very surprised at how little credibility there’s been given, at least on the Internet, toward the possibility of Gilles’ innocence.

  7. Interestingly, that article has been shortened. As recently as six months ago it ended with these paragraphs, now excised –

    ‎”At least two lobbies also have no interest in seeing this [the traditional] version revised. Some French newspapers reported that, unwilling to reopen a ruling by the Inquisition, the Roman Catholic Church sees the hand of Freemasons behind the creation of the ‘arbitration court.’

    For the villagers who live off tourists visiting the ruined castles at Tiffauges, Machecoul and Champtoce, on the other hand, the very notion of transforming Gilles de Rais from monster to martyr poses a threat to their trade. “We’re not interested in reopening the affair,” Georges Gautier, a guide to Tiffauges castle, proclaimed.”

    1. Oh yes, I read that a few years ago. Interesting stuff, nonetheless the common perception of people affect sometimes the people themselves in Nasuverse (just see our poor Angra Mainyu/Avenger as example).

  8. Gilles de Rais’ legend is commonly said to have a ‘love’ for Jeanne d’Ark which is what is used here, his legendary figure is more romanticised as fallen from grace because of her loss. Although, historically speaking, Gilles was a gay man and would bring back his lover and assistant Prelati to life more than poor Jeanne (after all he played a bigger role in getting him to become that monster than Jeanne did. He was so ‘smitten’ with the young, charismatic demon summoner that listened to everything he had to say).

    Probably why, in the end, he turned to his Master. Another 20-something, philosopher, beautiful demon summoner wannabe and looked at him with more adoration than he did to Saber (and why the studio and Takeuchi dub them as married lovey lovey couple). If he wasn’t a stand in for the other man I’ll eat my shoe.

    1. That’s a really interesting observation! I like that idea as a reason why Gilles de Rais was drawn to his master. Thanks for sharing!

  9. I remember learning about this guy in my world history class, some say he is the world’s most evil person, and then following him were vlad the impaler and hitler

  10. I’ve gotta run off at the moment, so I will read the article later. I loved Fate/Zero and thought it was very well done. The villains in the Fate series are all very intriguing.

    I was just pleased to find out I was not the only one who believed Saber to be Joan of Arc! I had thought that’s who she was ever since I first saw her in Fate/Stay Night, lol.

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