Hello, this is Luke Lore!
A companion piece to The Ghost Story Guys podcast, where I share some of the folklore surrounding the stories the main episodes tell.
Today I'll be taking a look at the story of << Beast of Gevaudan >> as a companion piece to episode <<53: The Haunting of France – Vive le Fantome>>.
This should be painfully clear already, but this Lukelore contains excruciatingly poor pronunciation of what should be easy French names… As we dig into a widely reported werewolf attack!
18th Century France, the Gevaudan province to the South. The first reported attack was in 1764 as a young woman tending cattle was attacked by something she described as “a large, wolf-like creature with reddish fur, small ears, a dog-like head, and a long tail.” Luckily for her, the cattle she was looking after managed to drive it away.
So… Sidenote? Cows 1 – Werewolves 0.
A few days later, not far from the first reported attack sight, a fourteen year old girl called Janne Boulet goes missing. There was no sign of a body, just her bonnet and clogs were found.
Across the Summer of 1764 more and more reports of attacks came in. Most often against people working alone.
Hysteria began to take hold. The people of Gevaundan province began to arm themselves and attack the local wolves in an attempt to put an end to the Beast.
Reported injuries showed that victims were targeted around the neck and head. Talk began that the Beast was attacking not for food, but just for fun.
As Winter hit, the frequency of attacks increased. By this point, reports were split. Rationalists insisted this was either one singularly large wolf, or else it was the work of a pack of wolves. The more supernaturally inclined, and bear in mind this was the 1700s, were convinced this was the work of a werewolf. A half man, half beast slaughtering the innocent.
The Beast only got bolder! Eventually attacking a band of armed men, including a young man called Jacques Portefaix. News of this attack got back to King Louis XV. The King compensated the attacked men, including paying for the education of Jacques Portefaix, and declared that the government would see to the hunting down and slaying of the Beast of Gevaudan.
The hunt for the Beast then becomes a comedy of errors which gets less funny when you realise how many innocent wolves were killed as a part of the panic.
A pair of professional hunters go first in the early months of 1765, on the assumption they were dealing with a Eurasian grey wolf. Tweedle Dumb and Tweedle Dumber proceed to kill hundreds of grey wolves, and don’t appear to have even accidentally disrupted the attacks - which continued without pause.
As the victim count rose going into the Summer of that year, the King replaced the dumbasses with his own personal Lieutenant of the Hunt: François Antoine.
François took the novel approach of actually looking for big wolves, instead of just going on a puppy murder rampage. As the hunt went on to Autumn he managed to kill the three biggest wolves yet. Of those three the biggest was over five and a half feet long, coming in at 31 inches tall and weighing 130 pounds.
The King decreed this to be The Beast, stuffed it for the royal palace for everyone to see, and showered François in rewards.
Horror movie fans know what’s coming next. It’s basically Jaws, only somehow this is a historic event with a bloody werewolf.
The attacks continued. After a brief break though, of about three months. Although now I think on that, maybe people just stopped reporting attacks when they thought it was over…
Anyway! Attacks continued into 1767.
At that point, locals go nuclear.
A local inn keeper called Jean Chastel puts together a group of hunters reported to be three hundred strong and goes on the warpath. They supposedly get the Beast, and the attacks do seem to stop. But there’s one last twist, a detail added to the story that was an unusual rumour anyone in a modern audience would immediately understand the significance.
People had claimed that the hide of the Beast turned aside bullets. Only rumour was, Chastel used a SILVER bullet to put the Beast down.
This actual reported Beast, it’s victims, and it’s escalating hunt may well be where the myth about silver bullets killing werewolves comes from! True, the stature of the beast likely grew in the retelling, and it’s eventual defeat almost certainly became a more epic battle than what happened in reality, but this is a brilliant foundation for what is now popular folklore!
Speaking of popular folklore, the Beast itself is pretty well known in pop culture, and is a pretty famous werewolf for the retellings. A quick search turns up mentions in the recent ‘Teen Wolf’ tv series and the film ‘Brotherhood of the Wolf’, as well as more classic literary takes such as ‘La Bête du Gévaudan ‘.
Not to be a spoilsport, but I did come across a theory which may explain the Beast without any supernatural elements.
Let's talk a little about exotic pets...
The rich and easily bored have something of a storied history of picking up exotic pets, with a fun kharmic subset of stories about said exotic pets then eating them. Even this year a giant cat has been photographed in Britain, most likely an escapee from a posh mansion were someone with more money than sense picked up a wild animal as a status symbol. Britain especially has something of a history with big cats spotted in the wild, the lead theory being that they self liberate from posh confines. It could well be Gevaudan had an extra angry example of this.
But then we have reports of a giant monstrous wolf, right? Most eye witness reports say it looked like a tall wolf, with some saying it stood as large as a small horse.
One quick question: How the heck would an eighteenth century French peasant know what a lion looks like?
Zoos were private collections, often of the aforementioned rich idiots. Heraldic designs only show you badly drawn lions with manes.
They know what a hungry wolf was to stay away from it, though. That could well be the only context they had for a man eating quadruped, although still a little odd they didn't think “giant cat” as a possibility.
The theory I came across reckoned immature lion without a mane, but a lioness works too. Without the only real frame of reference they have for "lion", and it damn well wouldn't be meowing to give away it's feline heritage, this theory starts to seem possible. Don’t forget that the first known report specified “reddish” colouring, and every hunt seemed to spiral into an exercise in grey wolf killing futility.
Add panic to the mix, and the body of the true beast never being recovered for public display back in more civilised Paris, it's a pretty compelling take on the Beast of Gevaudan. Not as much fun, but I doubt "fun" was how the terrified peasants took the attacks. Quibbling over what particular murderbeast could descend upon them at any moment likely wasn’t high in their list of priorities.
"Oh, it's only a giant maneating cat on the loose. Calm down and try not to look delicious on your way back to work."
That was the story of the Beast of Gevaudan, a real scourge upon France which appears to be were the idea of silver bullets to kill a werewolf comes from. Or at the very least, become populised worldwide. It was possibly a local tidbit of lore applied to the greater myth surrounding the slaying of the Beast.
This is only an overview of this story for the most part, although I hope I found some interesting things to share. There’s actually The Museum of the Beast of Gévaudan in Saugues, Auvergne. If I ever manage to make my way over there I may do a follow up episode, possibly even a video tour of the Museum to share (depending on how angry that would make the curators).
That’s all for Luke Lore this time.
I will be back in a month with another topic, it’s looking like Black Dogs right now, and followers on Patreon get this early so check out patreon.com/ghoststoryguys for that and plenty more cool stuff if you want to support us directly.
But just listening is plenty of support in and of itself.
I hope you enjoy my companion show and please feel free to reach out to either the show or myself directly via email or social media if you have any questions, feedback, or requests for Luke Lore.
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Goodbye for now.