View Full Version : What Was the Beast of Gévaudan?

Wednesday, October 12th, 2005, 09:24 AM
by Derek Brockis

A GREAT ENIGMA OF HISTORY - La Bęte du Gévaudan was a real wolf-like monster prowling the Auvergne and South Dordogne areas of France during the years 1764 to 1767, killing about 100 people, often in bizarre circumstances. Every effort to stop her failed and she became nationally infamous. The King - Louis XV - took a personal interest, one reason being the unrest she caused in an area of religious/political tension and potential revolution. Many explanations - mutant, prehistoric beast etc. - were put forward at the time and during the two centuries since but none has ever been generally accepted. The important firm fact is that sufficient evidence remains to prove La Bęte really did exist and was not just a myth. Among all the popular monster mysteries she is unique - she left behind one hundred bodies proving herself real and guilty beyond doubt. This article gives a balanced view on La Bęte, about whom surprisingly little has been written outside France, where she remains a household name to respect or ridicule, according to choice. We always laugh at what we secretly fear.

The true tale of La Bęte du Gévaudan is like a Shakespeare play, loving a plain woman or being a member of parliament - the more you put in the more there is to take away. A greater depth of information than has previously been available in English on her career is therefore offered - all based on recorded facts and including no fiction. The French rightly claim their wine and this mystery as the world's best. You can drink more deeply of either at a price. For wine the price is only money and a headache but the price for La Bęte's is never again to feel safe when walking alone in a sunny country lane. In France she is quoted as 'The Greatest Enigma of History'. Prowl on but do look over that left shoulder occasionally.

And little maids all in a row

On at least 5 occasions beasts rumored to have been La Bęte ranging from large wolves to a baboon-like animal were killed but in all cases except the last, a not very formidable deformed wolf-like creature killed in June 1767, she recommenced her attacks shortly afterwards.
For example, on 16th September 1764 a wolf known as Le Loup de Pradels was killed and assumed to be La Bęte but the real Bęte took only until the 26th to kill a girl at Thorts and prove the presumptive assumption wrong. Le Loup de Pradels was soon found to be a fraudulent attempt to claim the reward for La Bęte. It was an ordinary she-wolf, stuffed with various items to give the impression she had devoured humans.

Later, after the death on an unlucky 13th of another little girl - only her bonnet and clogs were ever found - La Bęte was reported to have been shot in the estate of the Abbaye des Chazes by an aristocrat - M. Antoine, the King’s Gunbearer. The big dead male wolf was named ‘Le Loup de Chazes’. The ruins of the abbey can still be seen. This was on 21st September 1765 but she was seen at Marsillac on 26th, 27th and 28th of that month. There has been much speculation on whether the Chazes wolf was a genuine or staged killing but either way it was not La Bęte. Its body was widely exhibited long after it became smelly.

In spite of being assumed dead, La Bęte started a new two year killing career on 21st December, the shortest day of the year and a long Silent Night for little Agnes Mourges. The winter wind hid a very sharp bite indeed, and Christmas cost Agnes more than the usual arm and a leg:- the Church said, 'insufficient remains for burial' - not enough for a church service or to fill a stocking. La Bęte had herself a merry little Christmas and stopped the carol singers from making their usual killing because nobody dared open doors barricaded against her. Snowy New Year 1765 yielded, for example, the head of little Marie Jeanne Rousset of Milienettes, recognizable only by her staring eyes, everything else being cleanly gnawed away.

One poor woman, over 60 years old, nick-named La Sarabande, after the triple-tempo Spanish dance, could find no grass for her cow - her only possession - because of the deep snow. She led it to a marshy area, where sometimes a little greenery penetrated through. La Sarabande’s body was ambushed for three days but La crafty Bęte did not return. She liked marshy areas because her agility and relatively light weight enabled easy escape from mounted pursuers, whom she often deliberately led into mires and left floundering. Even the local men liked playing this trick on the arrogant and gaudily dressed dragoons they regarded as useless for pursuing La Bęte and as costly nuisances.

One father and son - Jean and Antoine Chastel, everyday countryfolk - were in fact imprisoned for it, possibly in the cellar, still to be seen, of an old school, in Sauges en route to the dungeons in Mende. They misled some hunters, proudly led by a Royal Huntsman wearing King’s uniform, who ended up sitting on his horse stuck in the mud. The Chastels might have got away with it had they not threatened him with a gun when he complained.

An attack with an agricultural theme was on a farmer, who rose early and started scything his wheat harvest by moonlight. He saw a movement coming towards him but the animal itself was hidden by the tall wheat stalks. His first thought could well have been it was one of the farm dogs coming for a fuss but it proved to be La Bęte coming for his blood. He managed to fight her off with the scythe but on arriving home was unable to speak for four hours, being paralysed with terror.
There was the case of the wicked stepmother who had two sons, one of whom was not her own. She often sent the one that was not her own to fetch water from a well La Bęte was known to frequent. Guess whom La Bęte chose to leave in small pieces at the bottom of a nearby ravine?

One typical attack occurred at dusk - locally called 'the hour between dog and wolf' - on 6th September 1764 at Estrets. A woman was tending her humble cottage garden when La Bęte seized her by the throat, beginning with her usual apéritif of blood - sucked, not stirred - and did not cease until neighbors armed with axes, sickles and forks arrived. The woman died but La Bęte, having enjoyed her liquid refreshment, lived on. It is worth noting that many members of the large cat family usually start to eat a kill by licking the blood from an open throat wound. For example, animals like The Beast of Bodmin - reported in the UK as a cat species - start this way.

Another woman - a servant - going to mass at Escures on 29th April 1765 saw La Bęte and tried to delay her because men were approaching fast. She paid for her bravery by losing face, throat and life.

There was the mysterious case of the three women of Pompeyrac, going to church near the wood of Favart, when a dark man offered to escort them through the wood. They refused and before leaving he touched one of them with a fur-covered hand. Dragoons arriving on the scene warned the terrified women not to go into the wood, because La Bęte had just been seen there.

Two women of Escures also on the way to church had a similar experience in an area where, unknown to them, La Bęte had just been seen by several people. This time they saw that the man accosting them was covered in fur only when his shirt blew open in the wind. It was said at the time that La Bęte, instrument of the Devil, was trying to stop them from going to Mass.

As with all good monster murder mysteries, there has to be the wicked aristocrat solution. In one case the murderer was supposed to have hidden among the nuns of the Cistercian abbey of Mercoire, which is now a farm The abbess was thought to have taken contributions for hiding fugitives. Some documents mention a name - Count Vargo or Vargas - as being a werewolf or having other connection with the La Bęte story. A human solution to the La Bęte mystery is unacceptable to most serious students of the subject but perhaps he really did exist.
There are other instances where appearances or attacks by La Bęte were associated with human presence, including a famous witnessed sighting from a cottage window by a stream in the moonlight. There were also the two bodies found roughly reclothed after death. Fact, fiction or imagination? The relationship of these occurrences to Robert Louis Stevenson and Brothers Grimm is referred to later.

Source: http://labete.7hunters.net/

Wednesday, October 12th, 2005, 10:51 AM
(Black) Dogs or Wolf-like creatures were very often menationed in Folklore and old "horror stories", but I have known them alost exclusively from Great Britain. ("Black Dogs In Folklore (http://www.stavacademy.co.uk/mimir/blackdog.htm)"); so interesting story, Frans! Thanks for sharing!

Saturday, October 15th, 2005, 06:07 AM
There has been a French cheesy movie, dating from 2001, about this famous story. Gévaudan is a wild place, quite mysterious.

Gévaudan (quite southern for you)








La bête. "A lion" they said...






"Shape of the Monster who devastates the Gevaudan, this beast is as big as a young bull, she attacks women and children. She drinks their blood, cut their head, and takes it away. 2700 (?) of reward to whom would kill this animal."