Beast of Gévaudan
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Artist's conception of one of the Beasts of Gévaudan, 18th-century engraving by A.F. of Alençon
|Other name(s)||La bête du Gévaudan (French)|
La Bèstia de Gavaudan (Occitan)
|Region||Gévaudan (modern-day Lozère and Haute-Loire)|
The Beast of Gévaudan (French: La Bête du Gévaudan; IPA: [la bɛt dy ʒevodɑ̃], Occitan: La Bèstia de Gavaudan) is the historical name associated with a man-eating animal or animals which terrorised the former province of Gévaudan (consisting of the modern-day département of Lozère and part of Haute-Loire), in the Margeride Mountains of south-central France between 1764 and 1767. The attacks, which covered an area spanning 90 by 80 kilometres (56 by 50 mi), were said to have been committed by one or more beasts with formidable teeth and immense tails, according to contemporary eyewitnesses. Most descriptions from the period identify the beast as a wolf, dog, or wolf-dog hybrid.
Victims were often killed by having their throats torn out. The Kingdom of France used a considerable amount of money and manpower to hunt the animals responsible, including the resources of several nobles, soldiers, royal huntsmen, and civilians. The number of victims differs according to the source. A 1987 study estimated there had been 210 attacks, resulting in 113 deaths and 49 injuries; 98 of the victims killed were partly eaten. Other sources claim the animal or animals killed between 60 and 100 adults and children and injured more than 30. The beast was reported killed several times before the attacks finally stopped.
Descriptions of the time vary, and reports may have been greatly exaggerated due to public hysteria, but the beast was generally described as a wolf-like canine with a tall, lean frame capable of taking great strides. It had an elongated head similar to that of a greyhound, with a flattened snout, pointed ears, and a wide mouth sitting atop a broad chest. The beast's tail was also said to have been notably longer than a wolf's, with a tuft at the end. The beast's fur was described as tawny or russet in color but its back was streaked with black and a white heart-shaped pattern was noted on its underbelly.
The Beast of Gévaudan committed its first recorded attack in the early summer of 1764. A young woman named Marie Jeanne Valet, who was tending cattle in the Mercoire forest near the town of Langogne in the eastern part of Gévaudan, saw the beast come at her. However, the bulls in the herd charged the beast, keeping it at bay. They then drove it off after it attacked a second time. Shortly afterwards the first official victim of the beast was recorded: 14-year-old Janne Boulet was killed near the village of Les Hubacs near Langogne.
Throughout the remainder of 1764, more attacks were reported across the region. Very soon terror gripped the populace because the beast was repeatedly preying on lone men, women, and children as they tended livestock in the forests around Gévaudan. Reports note that the Beast seemed only to target the victim's head or neck regions.
By late December 1764, rumours had begun circulating that there might be a pair of animals behind the killings. This was because there had been such a high number of attacks in such a short space of time, and because many of the attacks appeared to have occurred or were reported nearly simultaneously. Some contemporary accounts suggest the creature was seen with another such animal, while others report that the beast was accompanied by its young.
On January 12, 1765, Jacques Portefaix and seven friends were attacked by the beast. After several attacks, they drove it away by staying grouped together. The encounter eventually came to the attention of Louis XV, who awarded 300 livres to Portefaix and another 350 livres to be shared among his companions. The king also directed that Portefaix be educated at the state's expense. He then decreed that the French state would help find and kill the beast.
First captain Duhamel of the Clermont-Ferrand dragoons and his troops were soon sent to Le Gévaudan. Although extremely zealous in his efforts, non-cooperation on the part of the local herders and farmers stalled Duhamel's efforts. On several occasions he almost shot the beast, but was hampered by the incompetence of his guards. When the village of Le Malzieu was not present and ready as the beast crossed La Truyére, Duhamel became frustrated.
When Louis XV agreed to send two professional wolf-hunters, Jean Charles Marc Antoine Vaumesle d'Enneval and his son Jean-François, Captain Duhamel was forced to stand down and return to his headquarters in Clermont-Ferrand. Cooperating with d'Enneval was impossible as the two differed too much in their strategies; Duhamel organised hunting parties while d'Enneval and his son believed the beast could only be shot using stealthy techniques. Father and son D'Enneval arrived in Clermont-Ferrand on February 17, 1765, bringing with them eight bloodhounds that had been trained in wolf-hunting. Over the next four months the pair hunted for Eurasian wolves, believing that one or more of these animals was the beast. However, when the attacks continued, the D'Ennevals were replaced in June 1765 by François Antoine (sometimes wrongly identified with his son, Antoine de Beauterne), the king's sole arquebus-bearer and Lieutenant of the Hunt, who arrived in Le Malzieu on June 22.
On September 20 or 21, Antoine killed a large grey wolf measuring 80 cm (31 in) high, 1.7 m (5 ft 7 in) long and weighing 60 kg (130 lb). The wolf, which was named Le Loup de Chazes after the nearby Abbaye des Chazes, was said to have been 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. Hence, we believe this could be the fearsome beast that caused so much damage." The animal was further identified as the culprit by attack survivors, who recognised the scars on its body inflicted by victims defending themselves. The wolf was stuffed and sent to Versailles, where Antoine's son Antoine de Beauterne was hailed as a hero. Antoine stayed in the Auvergne woods to chase down the female partner of the beast and her two grown pups. Antoine succeeded in killing the female wolf and a pup, which seemed already larger than its mother. At the examination of the pup, it appeared to have a double set of dewclaws, a hereditary malformation found in the Bas-Rouge or Beauceron dog breed. The other pup was shot and hit and was believed to have died while retreating between the rocks. Antoine kept his fear and doubts: after all was not the beast shot, stabbed, and believed to be killed at different occasions, too? With one pup that Antoine could not find, he returned to Paris and received a large sum of money (over 9,000 livres) as well as fame, titles, and awards.
However, on December 2, two boys were attacked, one of 6 and one of 12 years old, suggesting that the beast was still alive. It tried to capture the youngest one, but it was successfully fought off by the older boy. Soon after, successful attacks followed and some of the shepherds witnessed that this time, or this beast, showed no fear around cattle at all. A dozen more deaths are reported to have followed attacks near La Besseyre-Saint-Mary.
The killing of the creature that eventually marked the end of the attacks is credited to a local hunter named Jean Chastel, who shot it at the slopes of Mont Mouchet (now called la Sogne d'Auvers) during a hunt organised by a local nobleman, the Marquis d'Apchier, on June 19, 1767. Abbé Fabre reprinted the sworn account which said that Chastel shot the creature with a large-caliber bullet and buckshot combination, self-made with silver. The body was then brought to the castle of Marquis d'Apchier, where it was stuffed by Dr. Boulanger, a surgeon at Saugues. Dr. Boulanger's post-mortem report was transcribed by notary Marin and is known as the "Marin Report" on the beast. Upon being opened, the animal's stomach was shown to contain the remains of its last victim.
According to modern scholars, public hysteria at the time of the attacks contributed to widespread myths that supernatural beasts roamed Gévaudan, but deaths attributed to a beast were more likely the work of a number of wolves or packs of wolves. In 2001, the French naturalist Michel Louis proposed that the red-colored mastiff belonging to Jean Chastel sired the beast and its resistance to bullets may have been due to it wearing the armoured hide of a young boar, thus also accounting for its unusual colour.
Attacks by wolves were a very serious problem during the era, not only in France but throughout Europe, with tens of thousands of deaths attributed to wolves in the 18th century alone. In the spring of 1765, in the midst of the Gévaudan hysteria, an unrelated series of attacks occurred near the commune of Soissons, northeast of Paris, when an individual wolf killed at least four people over a period of two days before being tracked and killed by a man armed with a pitchfork. Such incidents were fairly typical in rural parts of western and central Europe.
The Marin Report describes the creature as a wolf of unusually large proportions "This animal which seemed to us to be a wolf; But extraordinary and Very different by its figure and its proportions Of the wolves that we see in this country. This is what we have certified by more than three hundred people from all around who came to see him:"
Despite the widely held interpretation, based on most of the historical research, that the beast was a wolf or other wild canid, several alternative theories have been proposed, such as a hypothetical lion.
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- The earliest known literary reference to the Beast of Gévaudan occurs in Élie Berthet's 1858 novel La Bête du Gévaudan (translated as "The Beast of Gevaudan", but not currently available in English), in which the killings are attributed to both a wolf and a man who believes himself to be a werewolf.
- In 1904, the author and journalist Robert Sherard reworked Berthet's idea in his novel Wolves: An Old Story Retold, which once again featured both a werewolf and a huge savage wolf. Élie Berthet's La Bête du Gévaudan is referenced in the introduction as being the source of the story.
- 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.— Chapter: 'I Have A Goad'
- In the Patricia Briggs novel Hunting Ground, the beast is in fact Jean Chastel, who is a werewolf.
- In the Jim Butcher novel Fool Moon, part of The Dresden Files, the beast is mentioned as an example of a particularly powerful and vicious type of werewolf known as a loup-garou (the French phrase for a werewolf), with the curse being hereditary. Chastel's claim of using silver bullets is also referenced in the sole weakness of the loup-garou – bullets made of inherited silver.
- In the Jun Mochizuki manga series The Case Study of Vanitas, the Beast of Gévaudan and events surrounding it are fictionalized to fit the work's world. In the story, Jean-Jacques Chastel is a vampire who willingly becomes a curse bearer, thus taking form as the beast. Chapters 23 through 43 are highly centered around Chastel and his companion Chloé d'Apchier, a fictional descendant of the Apchier family.
Film and television
- The beast is featured in an episode of Animal X, which suggested it was a wolf-dog hybrid that was trained to attack people.
- 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 an action film based on the legend. In the film, the Beast is a lion dressed up in armor to mask its identity.
- In the 2010 remake The Wolfman, the wolf-headed cane given to Lawrence Talbot was acquired, according to the previous owner, in the city of Gévaudan.
- 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 a striped hyena, a long-haired species of hyena now extinct in Europe.
- In the MTV drama Teen Wolf, the character Allison learns in the sixth episode of the first season that her werewolf-hunting family was responsible for slaughtering the Beast of Gévaudan. The same beast is the main focus of the second half of the series' fifth season.
- The beast was featured in an episode of the podcast Lore entitled "Silver Lining".
- "The Fear of Wolves: A Review of Wolf Attacks on Humans" (PDF). Norsk Institutt for Naturforskning. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2008-12-09. Retrieved 2008-06-26.
- Pourcher, Pierre (1889). Translated by Brockis, Derek The Beast of Gevaudan AuthorHokuse, 2006, p. 5 ISBN 978-1467014632
- Boissoneault, Lorraine (June 26, 2017). "When the Beast of Gévaudan Terrorized France". Smithsonian. Retrieved 19 March 2018.
- "Beauceron Dog Breed Information". American Kennel Club. Retrieved 2018-09-21.
- Bressan, David (June 28, 2017). "How An Ancient Volcano Helped A Man-Eating Wolf Terrorize 18th Century France". Forbes. Retrieved 19 March 2018.
- 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 man-eater of Gévaudan: when the serial killer is an animal, by Giovanni Todaro, 2014, Lulu Com, 539 pages, ISBN 9781291503401
- Jean-Marc Moriceau (2007). Histoire du méchant loup: 3000 attaques sur l'homme en France (XVe–XXe siècle) (in French). Fayard. pp. 463–.
- Pierre Rousseau (1765). Journal encyclopédique... [Ed. Pierre Rousseau] (in French). De l'Imprimerie du Journal. pp. 173–.
- Favre, Jean-Paul (2017). La Bête du Gévaudan: légende et réalité. Debaisieux. p. 159. ISBN 978-2-913381-96-4.
- Chabrol, Jean-Paul (2018). La bête des Cévennes et la bête du Gévaudan en 50 questions. Alcide Éditions. p. 111. ISBN 978-2-37591-028-3.
- "Solving the Mystery of the 18th-Century Killer 'Beast of Gévaudan'". National Geographic Society. 2016.
- Carnivore Attacks on Humans in Historic France and Germany: To Which Species Did the Attackers Belong? by Karl-Hans Taake. ResearchGate. 2020
- Patrick Volson (Director) (2003). La Bête du Gévaudan (Motion picture).
- Christophe Gans (Director) (2001). Le Pacte des Loups (Motion picture).
- "The Real Wolfman". History Alive. Season 4. Episode 16. History. Retrieved 2009-10-29.
- Massabrook, Nicole (February 24, 2016). "'Teen Wolf' Season 5B Spoilers: Episode 19 Synopsis Released; What Will Happen In 'The Beast Of Beacon Hills'?". International Business Times. Retrieved March 9, 2016.
- Aaron Mahnke (October 16, 2017). "Silver Lining". Lore (Podcast).
- Media related to Beast of Gévaudan at Wikimedia Commons
- 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).
- Solving the Mystery of the 18th-Century Killer “Beast of Gévaudan” (National Geographic)
- Beast of Gévaudan web site (various languages)