The Beast of Gévaudan (French: La Bête du Gévaudan; IPA: [la bɛːt dy ʒevodɑ̃], Occitan: La Bèstia de Gavaudan) is the historical name associated with the man-eating wolf, dog or wolf-dog hybrid which terrorised the former province ofGévaudan (modern-day département of Lozère and part of Haute-Loire), in the Margeride Mountains in south-central France between 1764 and 1767. The attacks, which covered an area stretching 90 by 80 kilometres (56 by 50 mi), were said to have been committed by a beast or beasts that had formidable teeth and immense tails according to contemporary eyewitnesses.
Victims were often killed by having their throats torn out. The French government used a considerable amount of manpower and money to hunt the animals; including the resources of several nobles, the army, civilians, and a number of royal huntsmen.
The number of victims differs according to sources. In 1987, one study estimated there had been 210 attacks; resulting in 113 deaths and 49 injuries; 98 of the victims killed were partly eaten. However, other sources claim it killed between 60 to 100 adults and children, as well as injuring more than 30.
Descriptions of the time vary, but generally the beast was said to look like a wolf but about as big as a calf. It had a large dog-like head with small straight ears, a wide chest, and a large mouth which exposed very large teeth. The beast's fur was said to be red in color but its back was streaked with black.
An 18th-century print showing a woman defending herself from the Beast of Gévaudan.
The Beast of Gévaudan carried out its first recorded attack in the early summer of 1764. A young woman, who was tending cattle in the Mercoire forest near 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 the town of Langogne.
Over the later months of 1764, more attacks were reported throughout the region. Very soon terror had 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 to only target the victim's head or neck regions.
By late December 1764 rumours had begun circulating that there may be a pair of beasts behind the killings. This was because there had been such a high number of attacks in such a short space of time, many had appeared to have been recorded and reported at the same time. Some contemporary accounts suggest the creature had been seen with another such animal, while others thought the beast was with 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.
An 18th-century engraving ofAntoine de Beauterne slaying the Wolf of Chazes.
Three weeks later Louis XV sent two professional wolf-hunters, Jean Charles Marc Antoine Vaumesle d'Enneval and his son Jean-François, to Gévaudan. They arrived in Clermont-Ferrand on February 17, 1765, bringing with them eight bloodhoundswhich had been trained in wolf-hunting. Over the next four months the pair hunted for Eurasian wolves believing them to be the beast. However, as the attacks continued, they were replaced in June 1765 by François Antoine (also wrongly named Antoine de Beauterne), the king's harquebus bearer and Lieutenant of the Hunt who arrived in Le Malzieu on June 22.
On September 20, 1765, Antoine had killed his third large grey wolf measuring 80 cm (31 in) high, 1.7 m (5 ft 7 in) long, and weighing 60 kilograms (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. 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 recognised the scars on its 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, 1765, another beast severely injured two men. A dozen more deaths are reported to have followed attacks by 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 during a hunt organized by a local nobleman, the Marquis d'Apcher, on June 19, 1767. Writers later introduced the idea that Chastel shot the creature with a blessed silver bullet of his own manufacture and upon being opened, the animal's stomach was shown to contain human remains.
The wolf shot by François Antoine on 21 September 1765, displayed at the court of Louis XV
According to modern scholars, public hysteria at the time of the attacks contributed to widespread myths thatsupernatural 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 mastiffbelonging 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 the unusual color. In reality the Beast of Gévaudan was not one, but several man-eating wolves acting in isolation. When they were all killed there were no more human victims. The problem of attacks by wolves in those years was very serious, not only in France but throughout Europe, with tens of thousands of deaths only in the eighteenth century.
- the first 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 faithfully revisited Berthet's idea with his novel 'Wolves: An Old Story Retold' which once again featured both awerewolf and a huge savage wolf. The 'Beast Of Gévaudan' as previously fictionalised by Elie Berthet is referenced in the introduction as being the source of the story.
- Robert Louis Stevenson travelled 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:
In popular culture
- 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.
- The beast featured in an episode of Animal X suggesting 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 a popular feature film based on the legend. The film took several creative liberties in order to make the story more interesting to a general audience. 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 organisation, 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 ofthe 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 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 the DVD board game, Atmosfear, Gévaudan is the name of the blue werewolf "Harbinger" character that can be used as a player token.
- In the second Dresden Files book, Fool Moon, the last loup-garou rampage is reported as occurring in Gévaudan, France, in the 16th century, when 200 people were killed in one year. The loup-garou is a type of werewolf that goes on a killing spree during the full moon.
- 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 popular webcomic, Stray Dog by the French artist VanRah is a steampunk, gothic retelling based on the lore of the Beast of Gevaudan.