The Beast of Orléans and his grandson

This blog post will introduce you to yet another killer monster (or monsters) in the long, long series of killer monsters which have ravaged different areas of France from around 1550 until the present day. I started this long list by telling you about the Beast of Gévaudan. Then it was the Beast of Benais, the Beast of Auxerre and Trucy, the Beast of Cévennes and Gard and Vivarais and then the Beast of Sarlat. This illustration has been used to represent more or less all of them by the uninhibited copyright thieves who wrote sensationalist pamphlets in the Eighteenth Century:

Bete_de_Cinglais_1632 xxxxxx

This time I will be looking at the area near Orléans, where a number of “incidents” have taken place over the years:orleans map

Many people at the time thought that the culprits were just ordinary wolves, but, as we will see, there are more than enough anomalies to cause the odd doubt here and there. Once again, I will be looking at a number of websites written in French, offering you my translations and you can then make your own mind up between them.

The first website actually begins with a man who was writing about wolves in the region around Orléans. Here is the coat of arms of that beautiful city:

600px-Blason_Orléans_svg.png zzzzzzz

This was in 1911, and the writer in question was an historian called Charles de Beaucorps. He wrote:

“In 1691, the wolves’ misdeeds caused many justified complaints and the Royal Commissioner duly informed the national authorities. Learning that the incidents caused by these predators were increasing every day, he asked the King to allow the inhabitants of ten or twelve parishes to have firearms in their homes.  Normally they did not dare do so for fear of prosecution by the officers of the Royal Hunt. The Royal Commissioner also told them to carry out hunts and asked Monsieur Béchameil, an officer of the crown, to direct them. Nothing was done to stop this scourge: it grew to such an extent that every day people were being killed or injured by wolves. On September 12th, within musket range of the Chêne Brûlé, a parish in Cercottes, a sixty year old woman was devoured. The King’s Prosecutor in the Neuville Guard, who was keeping a register of children killed or injured by wolves using the death certificates written by parish priests, had listed more than 60 young victims in the space of fifteen months. “

Interestingly enough, this was not, apparently, completely outrageous by the usual standards of behaviour of French wolves, animals which had grown accustomed to feeding on human corpses in open charnel pits until as recently as 1820:

wolf bounding

Charles de Beaucorps, however, was nothing if not a very thorough investigator:

“Despite the hunts and more than two hundred wolves killed, the attacks continued for years, right up until 1702 (a total of eleven years). The first teams of hunters obtained hardly any results. It needed the militia and the Duke of Vendôme, supported by thirty musketeers, to stop this scourge.

In 1700, an “Enormous Beast” was killed in the forest and brought back for the Royal Commissioner, leading to the payment of a reward of thirteen pounds.”

werewolf attack

And nobody, of course, managed to write a precise scientific description of exactly what this “Bête énorme” was. Presumably, though, for it to be considered a “Bête énorme” in the middle of more than two hundred dead wolves, all of which must have looked pretty much the same as all the others, it cannot have been an ordinary wolf.

Around the same time, there were equally strange events in Fontainebleau:

“In 1679, woodcutters were killed and eaten in the Forest of Fontainebleau. The parish registers of Bois-le-Roi mentioned several cases of attacks.”

It might have been wolves, but I am surprised that, if it were, they did not say so. As the map shows, these gory killings took place not a million miles from Orléans:

fontaineb

Shortly after this, came the animal which was to become really famous. It was given the name of “The Beast of Orléans”. According to a website we have already visited:

“There were actually two distinct episodes which took place almost a century apart. The first, the Beast of Orléans, happened in 1709, as attested by a letter from Monsieur Polluche Lumina, who lived in the Rue des Hennequins, dated June 17th 1765. It says this:

“I am taking the liberty to write to you about the ferocious Beast of Gévaudan. The more I reflect on all the stories which appeared in the newspapers the more I find a resemblance with what has happened here and what I myself saw in part after the Great Winter of 1709. There appeared an animal which people called “The Beast” which only attacked women and children. There were the same ways of moving around, the same
sharpness and even timidity as the Beast of Gévaudan:

second-beast

The devastation was so serious that in six months there were more than 100 people killed and as many wounded. This provoked the king to send his royal wolf catchers. The officer who commanded them did not bother to follow the trail of destruction which this animal produced and which was normally around the perimeter of the forest.

He decided instead, every morning, to have several hunts in the woods with bloodhounds, after which his men went on a reconnaissance.  Then, without making any noise whatsoever, they positioned marksmen all around the area. The dogs were then released into the forest.

If the Beast was not found, they would go and carry out the same tactics in another area to pursue the Beast. There was hardly any hunt where the men did not kill one, two or three wolves, because the Beast was nothing different from them. Could they not employ the same tactics to destroy the so-called Beast of Gévaudan? I presume that the situation there is just like it was here. Just wolves and nothing more. I forgot to say that they killed a good hundred wolves in this area. In the stomach of several they found hair and other things which proved that they had eaten human flesh. They managed to destroy the species, the wolf, to such a point that there was no longer any question of there being a so-called “Beast” to which fear had given names and features each one more frightening than the last.”

Clearly, Monsieur Polluche Lumina thought that the Beast of Orleans was merely a wolf or wolves, seen under conditions of extreme stress and fear. Such terror supposedly exaggerated the witnesses’ testimony to such an extent that the idea of a monster was born. Not everybody, though, went for this rather simplistic explanation.

A short pamphlet about the Beast was printed at Chartres by Garnier-Allabre, the well-known local manufacturer of wallpaper and pictures. He may well have interviewed the witnesses about what they had seen. Garnier-Allabre produced this illustration which, to me, looks nothing like any wolf I have ever seen, even a stylised one. It has scales! It is armoured! It is as much like an anklylosaurus as a wolf!:

beast 1709

The leaflet also contained the following text:

“This cruel beast tears and devours everything it encounters in its path and causes desolation among whole families in the areas that it moves through. Last December 25th, near the entrance to a village near Beaugency, it found an unfortunate woodcutter and his wife and his eldest son. The ferocious beast first attacked the unfortunate woman. The poor woodcutter and then his son tried to defend her and a terrific battle ensued. Despite their efforts and those of several other people who rushed to the rescue, the unfortunate woman was killed and several others were wounded.
It is impossible to calculate the number of unfortunate people who were victims of the rapacity of this wild beast; it is covered with scales, and no weapon has any effect on it. Let us pray to God, my dear friends, to deliver us from this monster, and pray, too, for the speedy recovery of those injured by this animal. “

The local historian Monsieur Lottin also makes mention of the Beast and links the Beast of Orléans to the Beast of Gévaudan:

“A cruel beast, believed to be a hyena and which ravaged Gévaudan, Auvergne, Nivernais , Bourbonnais and the areas around Orléans and against which regular frontline troops had operated , was killed at that time , by the Sieur Antoine, a skilful hunter. This ferocious animal had caused the greatest devastation and had inspired universal terror. Coloured pictures, produced by Monsieur Letourny, a paper merchant in the Place du Martroi , who had gained a reputation for this kind of engraving, were sold by the thousand.”

Alas, none seem to have survived.

Extremely close to Orléans is the tiny town of Chaingy. It is represented by the red square:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Even nowadays Chaingy has only 3,669 inhabitants. It was here that an unbelievably aggressive creature struck more than a century after “The Beast of Orléans”. The same website continues:

“In 1814, the Beast of Chaingy also gave rise to an abundance of images. There has been much confusion between the two creatures, at least on the level of how the illustrations would represent “The Beast”. This is not surprising: the printers did not trouble themselves over exact details and were more than willing to copy each other’s efforts:

Bete_de_Chaingy_ws1028371882

 

The case of the Beast of Chaingy took place in 1814. It is possible that it reflected other cases of “Beasts” from a long time before, such as the one described by Monsieur Polluche Lumina which took place a long time before (1709). The Beast of Chaingy is a creature which has been a little better documented :

“On December 6th, 1814 , several women and children who were collecting dead wood in the forest were attacked by a she-wolf . The animal killed two and injured eight more. The Baron de Talleyrand, whose magnificent full name was Alexandre Daniel de Talleyrand-Périgord was Prefect of this area. He ordered a hunt and the beast was slain near Cercottes.”

This is as maybe, but, for me, if this creature was just an ordinary canis lupus, then its behaviour was absolutely extraordinary. Nobody nowadays would expect a group of people to be attacked, or even challenged, in a wood by a lone she-wolf. To then have two individuals killed and eight more wounded is quite astonishing. All I can suggest is that this animal was, as has been said so many times both about the Beast of Gévaudan and about many others:

“C’était comme un loup mais ce n’était pas un loup.”
“It was like a wolf but it was not a wolf.”

In 1868, the last real wolf in the region was killed by a poacher in Chaingy, a man called Blaise Basset. The body of the animal is now on display at the Museum of Natural Sciences in Orléans.
And here it is:

real bete

Hardly the type of creature to kill two people and wound a further eight. I’m more scared of those polyester slacks if truth be told.
And finally. Let’s hope that this is merely an imaginative drawing of the Beast of Chaingy. If it’s from a trailcam, we could all be in trouble:

imaginative chaingyu

 

 

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17 Comments

Filed under Cryptozoology, France, History, Science, Wildlife and Nature

17 responses to “The Beast of Orléans and his grandson

  1. France sure had things rough back then! Just think what Ripley’s believe It or Not could have done with these guys, eh? 😉

    • You are absolutely right! Politically, in France, the king was considered to be divinely appointed and every single working person was a mere peasant with no rights whatsoever. That was why, only 25 years after the Beast of Gévaudan, the French had a revolution!
      The more affluent French middle classes were financially better off, but any major noblemen could ask the king to sign an arrest warrant and the person named in it could then be thrown in jail, indefinitely without trial. The king could sign his own warrants if he so wished, with no second signature needed.
      All that, no TV and monsters everywhere! No surprise that the French were so keen to help out the fledgling USA!

  2. Amazing. So where these kinds of stories rally cries to wipe out wolves in France?

    • Perhaps, but remember that the France of 1765 was not unlike the Canada of 1965. The forests in Gevaudan may have stretched uninterrupted across Germany, Poland, Russia and as far as the Urals. They were largely unexplored in any meaningful way. The biggest impact on French wolves was, around 1838, to stop burying paupers, victims of disease, and anybody else on the fringes of society, in open, easily accessible burial pits, where wolves could drop in for a snack and then develop a taste for human flesh.
      (Canada in 1965 was largely unexplored in the wilderness and forest areas, It would have been impossible to eradicate wolves from such a deserted country, and nobody knows what else was living in the wilderness with the wolves)

      • Do you personally believe there is something more to these stories than mere exaggerated wolf attacks?

      • The more I read about it, the more I think “Yes, there was something there. It was probably some unknown creature on the verge of extinction that looked rather like a wolf, but was not a wolf”. I have just finished a book by Francois Fabre (1905), who himself thought that the all of these beasts were in actual fact wolves but who does also say that “Everybody who saw it from the back thought it was a wolf. Everybody who saw it from the front thought it wasn’t!” The native peasants, of course, were all totally familiar with wolves. They were not rare animals in 1765.
        Fabre has all the illustrations of the Beast over the years, and it is interesting how unlike a wolf all the early ones were. I shall look at that in the future sometime. Another interesting avenue would be to attempt to match the appearance of monsters in France with severe weather in the unexplored forests of Eastern Europe. Perhaps ice and snow had driven the French monsters west!
        Overall though, this is an intriguing topic the more you look at it.

  3. Will you do a post sometime about ‘The Beast of Bolsover’?

    • You have my solemn promise that if Dennis Skinner ever begins to attack French visitors to his Bolsover constituency on a regular basis, I will be the first to oblige!
      On only a slightly more serious note, I have been working on some of the monsters spotted in England (allegedly). They include Bigfoot on Cannock Chase and in Sherwood Forest, the Flixton Werewolf, and the most intriguing of the lot ,.. the Beast of Cumbria.

  4. Sounds like a lot of Frenchman on the old vino! There may well be someone in it, but it has no doubt been hyped up over the years and turned into something it isn’t. For lore, legends etc are all exaggerations of the truth. But, interesting to read none the less.

  5. I know wolves do not normally act like this, John, so it is very puzzling as to what creature this actually was. Was it a hybrid of sorts or a malformed wolf? I found this story fascinating! I wonder if this mystery will ever be solved. ❤

    • I think that this was an animal which is now extinct but which was present in small numbers way back in 1700-1800. I think they lived in the deepest forests and only came out when they were very, very hungry. You are absolutely right that ordinary wolves do not behave in this way. Wolves have always been a much maligned animal but they just do not seem to attack humans in the normal course of events. If wolves were so horrible, then why did cavemen befriend the cubs, so that, thousands of years later, we all have a chance to love “man’s best friend”? By the way, thanks a lot for your interest, Amy.
      !

      • I like the way you think, John. I’m just as curious as you are. And you are quite welcome for “my interest”. You took a long time to put this post together and the least I could do is comment how interested I was in what you wrote about. 🙂

  6. I understand the only wolves left in France are those with two legs and pants. 🙂 But one does wonder how stories such as this proliferated…much like Bigfoot today, I guess.

  7. Yes, I suppose all these stories are a little bit like present day Bigfoot or the Yeti. Personally, I think many of the ancient French beasts were a species which is now extinct but which used to put in an occasional appearance, eating shepherdesses and generally being obnoxious. Possibly, they normally lived in Eastern Europe and migrated eastwards in times of severe weather. Thanks very much for your interest, by the way.

  8. Pingback: A strange and worrying zoo in France | John Knifton

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