The Beast of Lyonnais

The Beast of Lyonnais was yet another killer monster (or monsters) in the long, long series of various creatures, beasts, feral dogs, hybrid dogs, wolves with attitude, sexual psychopath or good old fashioned serial killers who have ravaged different regions of France from around 1550 until the present day, with particular reference to the period 1750-1820.

I will freely confess that I knew nothing whatsoever of this type of event until very recently, when I started reading about the Beast of Gévaudan. Then I realised that there had been a Beast of Benais, a Beast of Auxerrois/Trucya Beast of the Cévennes/Gard/Vivarais (it did like to travel about a bit) and then a Beast of Sarlat.
There seemed to be any number of them, and I deliberately selected the ones which seemed not to be the most obvious of wolves. This is also the case with the Beast of Lyonnais, which, as we will see, hardly any of the witnesses at the time thought was good, old canis lupus lupus, even if all the noblemen at the time told them that they were mistaken (despite the fact that none of them had ever seen it):

wolf 1 xxxxx
Once again, I will begin by looking at a number of websites written in French, offering you my own translations and you can then take your own average between them.

We start with a hoary old favourite:

“The Beast of Lyon was a man eating animal behind a series of attacks on humans. The first attack was mentioned as being in the summer of 1754. Until the end of 1756, one or more ferocious beasts then ravaged the countryside, initially between Vienne in Isère, Meyzieu and then around Savigny in the Rhône area. This or these, animals claimed about thirty victims, mostly children or teenagers. Here is Meyzieu:

mey sssssssss

In early August 1754 the Royal Notary of Vienne was summoned by the most important individuals in the parish of Luzinay to proceed with the identification of the body of a young boy who had been found devoured. We know that at least two other attacks occurred in this same area, around Villette-de-Vienne and Régnié-Durette, before the Marquis of Marcieu, the Governor of the province, ordered a large hunt to trap the beast.
.
The Great Hunt took place on September 10th, 1754 and lasted two days. It mobilized around 2,000 hunters from 26 different villages, but had no effect other than increasing the extent of the predator’s territory. All trace of the Beast was lost in the last three months of 1754.

The beast resurfaced in February 1755 in the parish of Sarcey, where it killed a new victim. Until at least October, at least one death on average per month could be attributed to the creature, mainly around Savigny and L’Arbresle . There was then no more news of the creature during the winter of 1755-1756. Here is Savigny:

savigny

On Easter Tuesday, April 20th, 1756, a girl was found devoured in Saint-Julien-sur-Bibost. During this attack, for the first time, witnesses reported two beasts together.

In early 1757, the parish priest at Brietton in the parish of Sourcieux-les-Mines estimated that a total of some 25 people had been attacked in the local area since the Easter of 1755. According to the priest, the (two) creatures were wounding more people than they killed and these victims might equally well have been eaten if nobody had come to their rescue.

On November 24th 1756, the last victim was devoured and left half consumed at Montrottier. The local parish priest was the first to hypothesize that the beast might be a hyena. This hypothesis, which has been challenged by present day research, was also put forward at the time to explain the Beast of Gévaudan:

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Following this apparently final attack in November 1756, the parish registers have no further mention of people being devoured by wild beasts in the vicinity of Lyon.
The accounts of burials that we still have give comparatively little information about the animal or animals ravaging the Lyon area between 1754 and 1756. The priest of Saint-Julien-sur-Bibost is the only one to have left us any evidence:

“This April 20th 1756, I buried in the cemetery of St Julien sur Bibost Marguerite Pinet, aged about eleven, the daughter of Jean-François Pinet, a resident of this parish & Jeanne Subrin. The child was employed by Monsieur Subilon in the hamlet of Bernay in the parish of Besenay to watch over his animals in the fields”

lyonnais xxxxxxxxx

“There were two ferocious animals, one as big as a small horse, reddish in colour, resembling a wolf, except that it had a short tail. The second animal was as big as a good sized mastiff, but it had white on the belly and a great long tail ; they seized Marguerite by the throat and neck causing enough damage to kill the child; she was buried in the presence of Mathieu Crois and Jean Guainon , witnesses required by the parish, who said they were illiterate and could not sign this form. These animals have devoured a good number of shepherds in the area. This has gone on for two years. Berbier, Priest.”

Here is a shepherdess, the meal of choice for the majority of monsters and beasts during this era. The sheep were usually ignored:

bergere xxxxxxx

The descriptions of the time mentioned a wolf, but with shorter legs. The fur was more coarse and the skin was mottled with several different colours. The evidence of the priest at Montrottier was that rumours of a hyena had currently gained momentum.

The theory of a werewolf was equally popular at that time and was mentioned by the Marquis of Marcieu in his instructions for Great Hunt held on September 10th, 1754:
“The Officers of both the Fusiliers and the Trackers must make every effort to destroy the ordinary people’s fanatical belief in werewolves:

Dog-Soldiers-2002-Movie-Ixxxxxxxxxxx

We must prove to them that these are just ordinary wolves which unfortunately are accustomed to eating human flesh.
Even if the woods are full of lynxes, bears and tigers, we must prove to them that these are just animals which a bullet from a rifle will kill, and which it is necessary to destroy.”

The French word “loup-cervier” appears on a number of occasions connected with these mystery monsters. I have found it impossible to trace the word in the Online dictionary which I normally use,
but Google Images for France provides any number of photographs of lynxes, mostly Canadian lynxes but also European ones. I eventually discovered that “loup-cervier” originally meant a lynx which hunts stags, and is used nowadays as a favourite metaphor for predatory financiers. “Cervier” seems to have no real existence except when attached to the word “loup” or very occasionally “chat”.

In any case, a Lynx, whether European or Canadian, is more or less out of the question as regards the Beast of Lyonnais. Lynxes are unbelievably shy and retiring creatures and it is inconceivable that they would attack human beings. In Europe their favourite prey item is Roe Deer. This is a European Lynx:

euraianLynx_lynx-2 xxxxxxxx

In North America, they hunt mainly Snowshoe Hares. This is a Canadian Lynx, the so-called “loup-curvier”:

loup cervier 1vvvvvv

To me, they are more kute than killer:

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Wikipedia carried a list of the victims of the Beast(s) of Lyonnais:

Pierre Morel (5 years old), Claudine Tardif (45), François Beloud (8), Madeleine Joubert (?),Christophe Cambria (7), Anne Tricaud (14), Pierre Guillon (10), Marie Berchoud (13), Mathieu Gervais (9), Hélène Berquet (6), Marie Berger(6), Claudine L’Hospital (8), Catherine Cusset (10), an unknown toddler(2), Jean-Marie Duboy (13), Pierre Vaché (8), Benoite Daverdi (9), Marguerite Pinet (11), Benoît Thiver (10), Pierrette Devilard (7), Étienne Manu (6), Pierre Delorme (13), Jean-Baptiste Chazaud (7), Claudine Allioud (8), Anne Tiron (10), Elisabeth Blanc (11), Benoît Mortan (12), Jean Malaval (9), Marie Lombard (10), Benoit Barroh (sic) (1), Claudine Guillot (4), Pierre Paleron (6), Jean-Baptiste Bazin (14) and Anne Sarrazin(9).

This seems to be twice the usually quoted figure of seventeen. The first victim was killed on June 5th 1754 and the last on November 24th 1756. Very roughly, the deaths occurred perhaps once or twice a month, although in some months there were no killings at all. The original list gave dates without any further details but as far as I can ascertain, there were no occasions when two victims might have been killed together. On several occasions, one victim may have been quickly followed by another at the same location, but they were always killed on different days. In some cases, the animal or animals might have returned repeatedly to kill its prey, such as at the village of Savigny (6 slayings), Saint-Pierre-de-Chandieu (3) and Saint-Romain-de-Popey (2). This is Savigny nowadays. It looks a lot quieter:

280px-Savigny_1 xxxxxx
I just do not know if ordinary wolves would return to the scene of the crime like this, although all predators, both animals and birds, tend to be very much creatures of habit, following the same paths and game trails every single day.
Another familiar website tells a fairly similar tale, but comes to a very different conclusion:

In all, seventeen young men and children were bitten, ripped to pieces or even devoured. Those who saw the animal, or believed they saw it, said that it was approaching the size of a wolf, with shorter legs, a coarser coat and skin mottled with various colours-an exact portrait of a hyena.
From these accounts, people were all agreed that it was a real, genuine hyena. But who is unaware that fear may magnify things, or change them completely. The descriptions that people have given of this carnivorous animal have probably been inspired by their heated imaginations. Fleeing at top speed, how could exact measurements be taken by eye? And running along, the creature must have seemed a lot lower than he really was. The frantic motion of his entire body made his hair stand on end and lastly we know that glare changes shades of colour.  Take away these circumstances from your sighting, and instead of a hyena, much more likely it was a question of a big wolf driven by famine in that harsh winter of 1754.
The excessive winter weather of 1754 forced the animals of this latter species to seek in the villages what the countryside could no longer supply to them. Moreover, the hyena is an animal entirely foreign to our climate:

S H 3.png vvvv (2)

How would he have got to France? Can we suppose with any degree of probability whatsoever that he has crossed the immense expanses which separate us from his native home without leaving behind any traces whatsoever of his journey?

We are forced to conclude that too often we consider something miraculous when it is nothing out of the ordinary. “

Another description was of:

“two ferocious animals, one as big as small horse, verging on red in colour, like a wolf except it had a short tail. The other was the size of a large mastiff, but it had white on its belly and a big long tail”

When I wrote about the Beast of Gévaudan and examined in some detail the solutions to the mystery, I thought that the centuries old puzzle was solved. The Chastel family was the guilty party, and in particular, long and greasy haired Antoine. But then I read about the Beast of Cévennes/Gard/Vivarais whose behaviour was nothing like that of a wolf. And then came the puzzle of the Beast of Benais who the local people actually thought at the time was the “Beast of Gévaudan on Tour”. After that, it was the Beast of Sarlat which was supposedly a rabid wolf, although none of the locals thought so, preferring a werewolf as the likely explanation:

werewolf

Next came the Beast of Auxerrois/Trucy which was not a wolf, the locals said, but a tiger, a demon or a werewolf.
Throughout my articles, I had deliberately ignored obvious wolves as culprits and deliberately selected only the creatures which seemed to me not to be obvious wolves.

The enduring problem was that there just seemed to be any number of these strange creatures and so many of the “wolf but not a wolf” category. You can’t stretch the Chastel theory to explain away all of them.

Soooooo……..
I have returned to C.R. Rookwood who, in one of his blog posts, suggested that the Beast of Gévaudan, was a prehistoric mammal, a mesonychid, which were very large ancient predators with huge heads, long tails, and hooves instead of feet.

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I do not have enough scientific knowledge to be quite so precise, but I would certainly go for some kind of relict creature, a fierce animal left over from a bygone age, its ever diminishing population dwindling on in the trackless forests and mountains of south-central Europe. Perhaps it was some kind of hyena such as the Cave Hyena. These photographs give an idea of their size:

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I said that I did not think these monsters could be wolves, but the “Dire Wolf” is not a wolf. Or at the very least, it is a wolf, Jim, but not as we know it:

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Who knows? And indeed, who ever will?

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11 Comments

Filed under Cryptozoology, France, History, Science

11 responses to “The Beast of Lyonnais

  1. atcDave

    Fascinating stuff. Obviously werewolf is the most reasonable answer…

  2. I wonder if it were possible that a serial killer(s) merely left his victims and the animals found them and enjoyed a free lunch. Human hysteria would explain the different witness’ statements on the animals in a feeding frenzy and no animals with rabies lives long enough to do all this….
    How’s that for a theory, John?

    • It’s not bad at all! You are totally right that it cannot have been rabies because an animal is always dead after less than a week. The only problem with your theory is that the killings were widely separated in distance but not in time. In those days, peasants very, very rarely had horses and, unless there was a ring of mass killers, it is difficult to see how they would have been able to have moved around the country quickly enough. The other major problem is that the Beast of Gevaudan was actually seen, shot at on occasion, or held at bay with spears. These witnesses said that it was “like a wolf but not a wolf”, so at least one animal must have been involved. Don’t worry. People have been trying to solve this mystery for 350 years, with little real success. Thank you too for passing by.

  3. What strikes me about these tales of beasts is that as meat eaters, surely there would be animal carcasses about from other ‘meals’, they’re could not have lived on human flesh alone. Has this part been ‘ignored’ by the history books and eye witness accounts or was there simply no evidence of this? Secondly, if they were eating the humans (for food) surely they would need more ‘meals’ than they were eating, especially if there were more than one animal. Can we assume they have all died out now as no humans (as far as I’m aware) have been eaten for some time? A fabulously interesting selection of beast stores, ripe for those cold dark winter nights. They’re great!

    • I’m glad you enjoyed them. As far as I am aware, they only feasted on humans. The Beast of Gevaudan on several occasions, completely ignored sheep and cattle to attack the children minding them. As with many predators, the beasts often devoured only part of their meal, preferring perhaps the thighs and the insides. Sometimes they would eat most of a small child. I presume this meat was enough for them, rich as it was in calories. Certainly, I have never heard of any kills by the Beast of Gevaudan other than humans. It once attacked a horse and cart but ignored the horses, preferring the two men on top.
      I am sure that these creatures have died out. As you so rightly say, there have been no reported attacks for hundreds of years. I presume bears with cubs are now the most dangerous animal in the forest.
      Thanks a lot for your kind words, by the way. They are much appreciated.

  4. The French do seem to have had more than their fair share of man eating beasts. Do you think they are just unlucky or are they regarded as a delicacy in the world of monsters?

    • I have little evidence for this, but I strongly suspect that it’s down to the Roman Catholic church. Certainly most of the details of the Beast of Gévaudan are from village priests, “abbé”s, who had to keep diaries of events throughout most of the parishes of France for centuries on end. It is therefore possible to read about the various burials they had carried out, and the exact reason, for example, that an apparently healthy seven year old had died. You can see an example of this after the hyena slide show, and before the painting of the shepherdess.
      Only the parish priest cold read and write…a sure indication that a revolution is imminent.

  5. Good article, enjoy reading it. I remember coming across an theory that the animal ,being wolf or some other predatory species, may had been a some abomination or mutation of nature given the description of the creature.

    • Thanks very much for your time and I’m glad you enjoyed it. I suppose my ideas of it being some kind of super wolf, left over from a previous age, is not a million miles away from your idea.
      The man who initially wrote about the Beast of Gevaudan was called Pierre Pourcher. His great grandfather had actually seen and fought the Beast way back in 1766. Pourcher was a priest and he thought that the animal was “the Scourge of God” sent by the Lord to punish whatever bad things the locals had been doing. In other words, he too, was not very far from the idea of an “abomination or mutation of nature”. He just attributed a purpose to it. Thanks a lot for dropping by!

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