1440 — Gilles de Rais is executed for his crimes

Gilles de Rais first came to prominence as a wealthy nobleman who was one of Jeann D’Arc’s greatest allies, fighting alongside her in battle and helping her politically. But after her burning at the stake, he seems to have lost his way. He spent much of his fortune on self-indulgence and dissipation, and his early high moral standing was slowly but surely tarnished. In particular, he became interested in occultism and did not conceal his contempt for the Church – and that was an enemy he could ill-afford to make.

In 1440, he was arrested and charged with many crimes, including the murder of numerous children belonging to his subjects. De Rais confessed to many of the charges, and witnesses gave lurid testimony. He was hanged above a fire, although his corpse was cut down for burial before it was consumed in the flames.

Gilles de Rais’s trial and execution have been the subject of considerable speculation over the years. His guilt and the veracity of his confession have both been questioned, particularly in light of the fact that there was little evidence other than testimony that is similarly questionable, and the fact that his prosecutors were the Church (of which he was a known critic) and the nobleman who stood to inherit de Rais’ property. Event today, whether as a serial killer or a victim of the Church, he remains a puzzling enigma.

Referenced in:
Gilles de Rais — Brodequin
Into the Crypt of Rays — Celtic Frost
Godspeed on the Devil’s Thunder — Cradle of Filth
Morbid Glory (Gilles de Rais 1404-1440) — Ancient Rites

49 BCE — Caesar crosses the Rubicon

“Crossing the Rubicon” is now an expression for passing the point of no return: this is the original incident from which it derives. In 49 BCE, Gaius Julius, at that time just a general and not yet Caesar, led his army across the Rubicon river, which marked the border of Rome: to cross it marked him as a treasonous leader of a revolt against the Roman state. Famously, he is said to have quoted the Greek playwright Menander, saying “alea iacta est” – “the die is cast.”

Julius would be successful in his quest for the leadership of Rome and its empire (much of which, particularly Gaul, added by his own military genius): which is why history knows him best as Julius Caesar.

Referenced in:

Rvbicon — Ancient Rites

1189 — Templar Grand Master Gerard de Ridefort dies in battle at Acre

The Siege of Acre was the first major military encounter of the Third Crusade. It began on August 28, 1189 and concluded with the surrender of the Moslem forces under Saladin on July 12, 1191. For their part, the Christian Crusaders had suffered great losses, exacerbated by the stubbornness of England’s King Richard I, upon whom overall command of the invading forces had devolved.

The death of Gerard de Ridefort, Grand Master of the Knights Templar, and one of the most militarily experienced commanders among the fractious ranks of the Crusaders, took a toll on both the unity and organisation of their forces. After his death, an inconclusive battle broke out on the 4th of October, killing thousands on both sides, but not advancing either cause particularly.

Referenced in:

Templar — Ancient Rites

480 BCE — The Persians defeat the Spartans at Thermopylae

So guess what, it turns out that 300 was actually based on a true story…

…but you know that, of course. The Battle of Thermopylae was fought between the invasion forces of Persia under Xerxes I, which numbered about 200,000 or so, and an alliance of Greek forces under Leonidas I of Sparta. The Greeks held a narrow pass – the Thermopylae, or “Hot Gates” – that formed a natural choke point. (Indeed, as recently as 1941, it was used in a similar way by Greek and British Commonwealth forces to slow the Nazi advance.)

On the third day of the battle, the Greek forces realised that they were on the verge of being out-flanked by the Persians. The Phocian contingent, who guarded the passes, withdrew. Leonidas ordered his 300 members of the Spartan Royal Guard to stand and fight, and advised the rest of his allies to withdraw also.

700 Thespians, 400 Thebans, and assorted others, including Spartan helots, also stayed. Although the Greeks lost the battle, the larger strategic victory was theirs: they had slowed the Persian advance into Greece, allowing time for other forces to gather, and although 2000 men were lost on the Greek side, they inflicted casualties ten times that number upon the invaders.

Referenced in:

Thermopylae — Ancient Rites

793 — Vikings raid Lindisfarne Abbey

The Abbey at Lindisfarne Island in Northumbria was founded in 635 CE by St Aidan. In the years that followed, it produced one of the most famous illuminated manuscripts, the Lindisfarne Gospels, and became the final resting place of St Cuthbert, who had been Abbot and later Bishop of Lindisfarne. It was a peaceful place of contemplation and worship.

All that changed on June 6, 793 CE. On that day, the Abbey was raided and destroyed by Viking raiders. It was the first major assault on the British Isles by Vikings, but many more would follow over the next few centuries, culminating in England’s invasion and takeover by the Viking-descended Normans in 1066. Some of the monks escaped with the body of St Cuthbert and the Lindisfarne Gospels manuscript, but the abbey itself was destroyed and not rebuilt until after the Norman Conquest.

Referenced in:

Lindisfarne — Iona
Lindisfarne — Stormwarrior
Lindisfarne (Anno 793) — Ancient Rites
793 (Slaget Om Lindisfarne) — Enslaved
In Memorandum Lindisfarnae — Rebellion
From Horned Lands To Lindisfarne — Behemoth