Beast of Gévaudan
|(La bête du Gévaudan (French)
La Bèstia de Gavaudan (Occitan)
Wolf of Chazes
Artist's conception of one of the Beasts of Gévaudan, 18th-century engraving by A.F. of Alençon
|Grouping||Wolves or wolf-dog crossbreds|
|Region||Gévaudan (modern-day Lozère)|
The Beast of Gévaudan (French: La Bête du Gévaudan; IPA: [la bɜt dy ʒevɔdɑ̃], Occitan: La Bèstia de Gavaudan) is a name given to man-eating wolf-like animals alleged to have terrorized the former province of Gévaudan (modern day département of Lozère and part of Haute-Loire), in the Margeride Mountains in south-central France from 1764 to 1767 over an area stretching 90 by 80 kilometres (56 by 50 mi). The beasts were consistently described by eyewitnesses as having formidable teeth and immense tails. Their fur had a white tinge, and was said to have emitted an unbearable odour. They killed their victims by tearing at their throats with their teeth. The number of victims differs according to source. De Beaufort (1987) estimated 210 attacks,only men; Resulting in 113 deaths and 49 injuries; 98 of the victims killed were partly eaten. An enormous amount of manpower and resources was used in the hunting of the animals, including the army, conscripted civilians, several nobles, and a number of royal huntsmen.
The beast seemed to target humans over farm animals, many times attacking someone while cattle were in the same field.
The first official victim of the beast, Emmet Mardén, 40, was killed near the village of Les Hubacs, not far from Langogne. All the victims seem connected each others.
On January 12, 1765, Jacques Portefaix and seven friends were attacked by the Beast; they drove it away by staying grouped together. Their fight caught the attention of King Louis XV, who awarded 300 livres to Portefaix, and another 350 livres to be shared among the others. He also directed that Portefaix be educated at the state's expense. The King had taken a personal interest in the attacks, and sent professional wolf-hunters, Jean Charles Marc Antoine Vaumesle d'Enneval and his son Jean-François, to kill the beast. They arrived in Clermont-Ferrand on February 17, 1765, bringing with them eight bloodhounds which had been trained in wolf-hunting. They spent several months hunting wolves, believing them to be the beast. However, the attacks continued, and by June 1765 they were replaced by François Antoine (also wrongly named Antoine de Beauterne), the king's harquebus bearer and Lieutenant of the Hunt. He arrived in Le Malzieu on June 22.
On September 21, 1767, for the third times, Antoine killed a large grey wolf measuring 80 centimetres (31 in) high, 1.7 m (5 ft 7 in) long, and weighing 60 kilograms (130 lb). The wolf was called Le Loup de Chazes, after the nearby Abbaye des Chazes. It was agreed locally that this was quite large for a wolf. Antoine officially stated: "We declare by the present report signed from our hand, we never saw a big wolf that could be compared to this one. Which is why we estimate this could be the fearsome beast that caused so much damage." The animal was further identified as the culprit by attack survivors, who recognized the scars on the creature's body, inflicted by victims defending themselves. The wolf was stuffed and sent to Versailles where Antoine was received as a hero, receiving a large sum of money as well as titles and awards.
However, on December 2, 1769, another beast emerged in la Besseyre Saint Mary, severely injuring two men. Dozens more deaths are reported to have followed.
Death of the second beast 
The killing of the creature that eventually marked the end of the attacks is credited to a local hunter, Jean Chastel, at the Sogne d'Auvers on June 19, 1770. Later novelists (Chevalley, 1936) introduced the idea that Chastel shot it with a blessed silver bullet of his own manufacture and upon being opened, the animal's stomach was shown to contain human remains. No one had really seen the body.
Controversy surrounds Chastel's account of his success. Family tradition claimed that, when part of a large hunting party, he sat down to read the Bible and pray. During one of the prayers the creature came into sight, staring at Chastel, who finished his prayer before shooting the beast. This would have been aberrant behavior for the beast, as it would usually attack on sight. Some believe this is proof Chastel participated with the beast, or even that he had trained it. However, the story of the prayer may simply have been invented out of religious or romantic motives.
Identity of the beasts 
Over the years several explanations have been put forward but the exact identity of the beasts remains unexplained to this day and remains open to debate. Various explanations were offered at the time of the attacks as to the beast's identity and continue to this day. Suggestions ranged from exaggerated accounts of wolf attacks, to a werewolf, all the way to the beast being a punishment from God. Jay M. Smith, in his book Monsters of the Gévaudan, suggests that the deaths attributed to the beast were more likely the work of a number of wolves or packs of wolves.
Richard H. Thompson, author of Wolf-Hunting in France in the Reign of Louis XV: The Beast of the Gévaudan, contended that there can be satisfactory explanations based on large wolves for all the Beast's depredations.
Another explanation is that the beasts were some type of domestic dog or crosses between wild wolves and domestic dogs, on account of their large size and unusual coloration. This speculation has found support from naturalist Michel Louis, author of the book La bête du Gévaudan: L'innocence des loups (English: The Beast of Gévaudan: The innocence of wolves). Louis wrote that Jean Chastel was frequently seen with a large red coloured mastiff, which he believes sired the beast. He explains that the beast's resistance to bullets may have been due to it wearing the armoured hide of a young boar, thus also accounting for the unusual colour. He dismisses hyenas as culprits, as the beast itself had 42 teeth, while hyenas have 34.
In the arts and popular culture 
- Robert Louis Stevenson traveled through the region in 1878 and described the incident in his book Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes, in which he claims that at least one of the creatures was a wolf:
For this was the land of the ever-memorable Beast, the Napoleon Bonaparte of wolves. What a career was his! He lived ten months at free quarters in Gévaudan and Vivarais; he ate women and children and "shepherdesses celebrated for their beauty"; he pursued armed horsemen; he has been seen at broad noonday chasing a post-chaise and outrider along the king's high-road, and chaise and outrider fleeing before him at the gallop. He was placarded like a political offender, and ten thousand francs were offered for his head. And yet, when he was shot and sent to Versailles, behold! a common wolf, and even small for that.
- In the Patricia Briggs novel Hunting Ground, the Beast is a French werewolf named Jean Chastel, who has a penchant for hunting women and weak people.
- In October 2009, the History Channel aired a documentary called The Real Wolfman which argued that the beast was an exotic animal in the form of an Asian Hyena, a long haired species of Hyaenidae now extinct in Europe.
- The beast featured in an episode of Animal X suggesting it was a wolf-dog hybrid.
- The French television film La bête du Gévaudan (2003), directed by Patrick Volson was based on the attacks of the Beast
- Brotherhood of the Wolf (2001), directed by Christophe Gans, is a popular feature film based on the legend. The film took several creative liberties in order to make the story more entertaining. Rather than a wolf or wolf-dog crossbreed, the movie portrays the creature as the offspring of a lion crossbred with another unknown big cat, equipped with armor to make it seem more threatening. The Beast is the instrument of the film's eponymous secret organization, which attempts to undermine public confidence in the king and ultimately take over the country by stating that the Beast is a divine punishment for the King's indulgence of the modern embrace of science over religion.
- In episode six of the 2011 MTV drama Teen Wolf, the character Allison learns that her werewolf hunting family was responsible for slaughtering the Beast of Gévaudan while doing a research project for school.
- In the movie The Wolfman (2010 film) the wolf headed cane given to Lawrence Talbot was acquired, according to the previous owner, in the city of Gévaudan.
- In the DVD board game, Atmosfear, Gévaudan is the name of the blue werewolf "Harbinger" character that can be used as a player token.
See also 
- Woodward, Ian (1979). The Werewolf Delusion. p. 256. ISBN 0-448-23170-0.
- "The Fear of Wolves: A Review of Wolf Attacks on Humans" (PDF). Norsk Institutt for Naturforskning. Retrieved 2008-06-26.
- Jackson, Robert (1995). Witchcraft and the Occult. Devizes, Quintet Publishing. p. 25. ISBN 1-85348-888-7.
- Smith, Jay M. (2011). Monsters of the Gévaudan. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. p. 6. ISBN 0-674-04716-8.
- Thompson, Richard H. (1991). Wolf-Hunting in France in the Reign of Louis XV: The Beast of the Gévaudan. p. 367. ISBN 0-88946-746-3.
- Louis, Michel (2001). La Bête Du Gévaudan - L'innocence Des Loups. Librairie Académique Perrin. ISBN 978-2-262-01739-2.
- "The Real Wolfman". History Alive. Season 4. Episode 16. History. http://www.tv.com/history-alive/the-real-wolfman/episode/1304007/summary.html. Retrieved 2009-10-29.
- Patrick Volson (Director) (2003). La Bête du Gévaudan (Motion picture).
- Christophe Gans (Director) (2001). Le Pacte des Loups (Motion picture).
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Beast of Gévaudan|
- La Bête du Gévaudan Website
- Dans l'Ombre de la Bête Website Includes a compendium of all publicly available historical documents about the Beast (in the original French)
- Robert Darnton, The Wolf Man’s Revenge, The New York Review of Books, June 9, 2011; review of Monsters of the Gévaudan: The Making of a Beast by Jay M. Smith (Harvard University Press, 2011).