French Monsters : the solution

I think that I have established by now, in a long series of articles, that large numbers of innocent people in France were being attacked, and frequently eaten, by wild creatures of some sort from the late 1400s possibly right up to the end of the nineteenth century.
My eagerly awaited conclusion to all this is that we are dealing here with an unknown creature which was essentially a wolf type animal and which is now extinct. It lived in thick forests and deep ravines, and behaved in a way so different from a modern wolf that it cannot possibly have been one. It killed and killed again.

Some sources attribute 150 deaths to what they call “just one ordinary, but large wolf”. Impossible! At the same time, “The Prime Suspect” was not necessarily hyper distinctive, and may not have been totally obvious at first sight:

Gevaudanwolf xxxxxx

Let’s begin by looking at a list of creatures which could have been this wolf type animal. I have compiled it from as many French Internet sites as I could find! There may be some copying between the websites involved here, but I prefer to think that descriptions which are similar are describing the same species of unknown animal. And don’t forget, most of these monsters are separated by both time and space.

As a rough comparison, a French author, Pascal Cazottes, has found fifteen monsters of this type, carbon copies, more or less, of the Beast of Gévaudan. Here is my contribution to the list:
1500-1510, Fontainebleau. it was supposedly a wolf, a werewolf or a shape shifter. Possibly six individual animals.
1510, Fontainebleau. a lynx, or a hybrid of a wolf and a feline, it devoured young girls and little children.
1595-1598, Vendômois, south/central France, 25 people killed by “wolves”. This was not normal wolf behaviour.
1632 – 1633 and then possibly in 1672, Cinglais, Evreux, Caen, Falaise, Calvados, between 15-30 people killed. It was not a wolf but resembled a large mastiff of enormous speed and agility, capable of  leaping across the river. At first sight, it was like a wolf, but was longer, more red, and had a more pointed tail and wider haunches. It was eventually identified as a wolf, but the local peasants had serious misgivings about this middle class verdict.

perhaps cinglais
1633-1634, the Forest of Besnats, Anjou, more than 100 people were mutilated and killed, their bodies lacerated by claws. It was “an enormous beast”.
1650, Fontainebleau, apparently, a female wolf of enormous size, with supposedly more than 600 people killed.
1660, Gâtinais, near Fontainebleau, apparently a huge wolf, it would cross the river to seize children and animals
1690, Forest of Douvres Saint-Riez-en-Belin, Sarthe, there was a report of a child, Cécile Le Boet, devoured by “a fierce creature”
1693-1694, Benais, 200-250 victims. There were several beasts acting in concert which looked like wolves, but had a wider muzzle. They behaved in remarkable fashion, allowing themselves to be patted, but then leaping on the throat of the victim. They appreciated “fresh meat”, and ate the weakest people. It was supposedly a lynx, but lynxes don’t attack human beings:

loup cervier 1vvvvvv

1691-1702, Orléans, over 60 young victims in fifteen months. A huge beast was killed in the forest and was then picked out from 200 dead wolves. It cannot have been a normal wolf, therefore.
Great Winter of 1709, Orléans, in six months more than 100 people were killed and the same number were wounded. The Beast of Orleans only attacked women and children, and had the same way of moving, the same sharpness and even occasional timidity, as the Beast of Gévaudan. It was covered in scales and no weapon could harm it.  A cruel beast, it was thought to be a hyena:

beast 1709

1731-1734, Auxerre, a big wolf or a tiger, “like a wolf, but not a wolf”, with very aggressive behaviour.
1746, Corrèze, an eleven year old boy was killed “by some kind of wolf” called a “mauvaise bête”, an evil beast.
1747-1752, Primarette, seven  victims, thought to be a Lynx (see above).
1751,  Latillé, Vienne, eight children killed in three weeks.
1751, Benais, supposedly a wolf but the peasants frequently rejected wolf as an explanation. The animal had a wide muzzle, a bigger mouth than a wolf, and was covered in reddish fur, with a black mane, a black stripe between head and tail, a belly that dragged towards the ground and a full tail, which could even be used to strike people. It resembled the Beast of Gévaudan on all counts. It frequently behaved to people like a dog who wanted to be patted, but would then jump up and rip their throat out.

second-beast
1754-1756, the Beast of Lyonnais, Meyzieu, Savigny, a kind of large wolf with short legs, its skin was spotted with various colours, (“two fierce animals, one like a big pony, reddish, resembling a wolf except for a short tail , the other like a large mastiff , but white on the belly and a big long tail.”)

1763Dauphiné, the size of a very large wolf, rather light in colour, with a blackish stripe on the back, a belly of dirty white, a very large rounded head  a fluffy tuft on the head and next to the ears, a furry tail like a wolf but longer and upturned at the end. It ignored sheep to attack the shepherd boy. Many prominent people, both clergy and nobility, seem to have been totally convinced by the theory that this monster was the very same individual animal as the Beast of Gévaudan.

bete-du-gevaudanzzzzzzz

1764-1767, Gévaudan, witnesses were adamant that the animal was a canid, but not a wolf. It was an animal that they did not know. In addition, wolves cannot have a white breast and underparts. The many witnesses, all accustomed to wolves, spontaneously called it “the Beast”. It resembled a wolf but it was huge, between a calf and a horse in size. Its fur was mostly red, its back streaked with black. It had large dog-like head, a snout like a wolf and a mouth full of large formidable teeth. Its jaws could open very wide and seize a human head. It had small straight ears, smaller than a wolf, which lay close to its head, a strong neck and a wide chest. Its tail was immensely long, and somewhat like that of a panther. It possibly had claws. People struck by the tail said that it was a blow of considerable force.

666666

Professional hunters refused to believe that it was an ordinary wolf. It seemed relatively invulnerable, when hit by bullets, and would always stagger back to its feet. It did not ever fear man. In the face of resistance from the victim, it would retreat, sat down to think, and then renewed the attack. It was very aggressive, much more so than from mere hunger. It was very agile and could jump over high walls. It could perhaps manage some steps on its hind legs. It once attacked a man on horseback…not a wolf’s, or even a bear’s, behaviour.

66666

March-August 1766, Sarlat, 18 victims, it was supposedly a rabid wolf but “rabies is a quick killer” (3-4 days). One wolf of extraordinary size was killed.
When ready to seize its prey, it supposedly put up its hackles, and its eyes became flaming red. It raised itself up on its back legs and tried to seize the victim, often  by the head.
1791, Wales, between Denbigh and Wrexham. it was the size of a horse, eating livestock, dogs and men, and even attacked a stagecoach. It was an enormous black beast, almost as long as the coach horses, and was possibly an overgrown wolf. One farmer was found terrified, after witnessing an enormous black animal like a wolf kill his dog. The monster pounded on the door, stood up on its hind legs and looked in through the windows. Its eyes were blue, intelligent and almost human. It foamed at the mouth,

1792, Milan, northern Italy, an ugly beast as big as a dog, but with a horrible mouth. Children said: “a big head with big ears, a pointed snout and large teeth, black and coloured hair on top, whitish underneath, a thick, curly tail”. (with some variation depending on the child). A farmer said “As big as a normal calf, head like a pig, ears like a horse, white hair like a goat underneath, reddish on top, thin legs, large feet, long claws, a large, broad chest and slim flanks.”
It was not a wolf, but was perhaps an exotic animal. “Many have recognized the wolf in the beast, but some argue that it is a different animal.”

beast of milan

1796, Châteauneuf- Brimon region of France, it killed a dozen women and children.

1799, Veyreau, “tens of victims”, the locals thought the Beast of Gévaudan was visiting the region, It was slimmer and more willowy than a wolf and had such agility that it was seen first in one place, but then four or five minutes later in a different place perhaps several miles away. This was possibly evidence of a small population of these animals, or perhaps even some kind of migration or irruption.

1809-1817, Vivarais/Gard/Cévennes, 29 victims, it was the size of a donkey with brown fur, a black mane and large udders. Other witnesses described a creature like a wolf but the size of a calf, with a grey and red coat and black hair over its back. It had a huge belly with white fur, almost dragging on the ground, possibly with tiger/tabby coloured spots. The white fur underneath its body means that it was not a wolf. It had large, long ears, a long muzzle and head and a thick, heavy, luxuriant tail sticking up at the end. Six of its victims were beheaded. It was never captured or killed.

1810, the mountains of Cumberland, England, an unknown creature killed as many as eight sheep a night for six months. The victims had only a few bodily organs removed and eaten, and were drained of their blood. Recent theories have said that this monster was an escaped Thylacine, but my own researches have proved this to be untenable as a valid explanation.

December 6th, 1814, Chaingy, some women and children in the forest were attacked by a she-wolf, with two killed and eight injured. This behaviour is absolutely extraordinary. If it was rabid this was not mentioned when the animal was killed shortly afterwards. For me, definitely “a wolf but not a wolf”:

Bete_de_Chaingy_ws1028371882

1817, Trucy, a second carnivorous beast ravaged the forest around Auxerre/Trucy for a few months, at the exact same place as the animal from 1731-1734. It was like “a mastiff dog with pointed ears”

1874, County Cavan and Limerick, Ireland, a mystery animal killed sheep, as many as thirty in one night. Throats were cut, and blood sucked, but no sheep were eaten.

end of the 19th century, Fontainebleau, “a great evil beast which left the forest to attack farm labourers, shepherds and flocks. It attacked children, such as the little girl gathering nuts in the woods or a 9 year old boy devoured at Nanteuil-lès-Meaux.”

7777777

1966/7, Vaucluse,  Monsieur Henri C., a hunter, killed an unknown animal near a small wood at the edge of the Hautes Alpes. It was the size of a large dog (25 kilos). It had a head like a fox, but a sloping forehead gave it exceptional length. It had pointed ears and formidable fangs. Its fur was short and red, its paws were round, and it had a long tail.

1977, the Vosges area,  a witness described a beast of 60 kilos, with pointed ears, a drooping tail, a coat of yellowish-grey or red. It was larger than a German shepherd. Others thought it was like a wolf. Hair analysis said a canine, but nothing more exact. Existing photos are too poor for a conclusion.

.
A visit to a very interesting website called “La Taverne de l’Étrange” only served to confirm my ideas. The website author, Tyron, makes the point that in comparatively recent history, lions and
leopards, for example, could still be found in Europe, as could bears, wolves and lynxes, scattered more or less across the whole continent. France at the end of the Middle Ages, for example, was still covered with huge areas of forest wilderness, which, like the mountain regions, were practically uninhabited. Animals completely unknown to science could well have been living there.

One suggestion has been that the mystery species was a mesonychid, an animal last seen millions of years ago:

Another suggestion is that it was the Waheela, a giant predator which some, such as Alaska Monsters, still believe to be present in northern forests. Traditionally it decapitates victims, and supposedly lives in the Nahanni Valley in the Northwest Territories of Canada. Opinions differ about exactly what a Waheela is:

wahoooooooooooooooooooooooooo

Supposedly, it may be an Amphicyonid which is a prehistoric carnivore of the Miocene and Oligocene eras:

Amphicyon-ingens_reconstruction

Many people disregard the wolf interpretation of the Beast of Gévaudan completely and look at its behaviour, its long tail and its habit of swishing a long, rather heavy tail. It seems perhaps almost bizarre to suggest a felid at this point, but the fit is actually, quite a good one. This is a cave lion:

Hoehlenloewe_CaveLion_hharder

It was certainly big enough and fierce enough to fit the bill. The colours in the illustration are just guesswork, of course. The animal may well have had a coat of exactly the same colours as the Beast of Gévaudan. Furthermore, he Cave Lion is known to have occurred in southern Europe, and to have been present in the forests of Southern Germany and Central Europe until fairly recently at least. Perhaps as recently as 100 AD. And if the Cave Lion was there in 100 AD, it could equally well have persisted through to 1764 AD.

The unknown monster may equally well have been a prehistoric hyena:

cave hyena xxxxxxxx

It may have been a dire wolf, which was a large wolf but from the Pleistocene era:

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In actual fact, the Dire Wolf is not that bad a suggestion, although so far, it has only ever been found as a fossil in the Americas.

My favourite idea, though, is that this formidable killer was a species of canine completely unknown to science. It was not anything particularly strange, though, just an animal that was, with careful study, seen to be, to quote the peasants of the area, “like a wolf but not a wolf”. No doubt this fierce beast was some kind of leftover from a previous epoch. It had perhaps hung on desperately for centuries in the deep forests of Southern Germany, Central Europe or even Poland or Russia. For some reason, increasingly severe weather, lack of prey or whatever, some of them had now moved westwards to the beautiful countryside of France, perhaps establishing a small breeding population:

wolf baby

And from, say, 1500 onwards, they all gradually disappeared. Perhaps they were even wiped out during the continuing slaughter of the French wolf population, and nobody even noticed.

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13 Comments

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

13 responses to “French Monsters : the solution

  1. atcDave

    This has been a fascinating series. It is exciting and frightening to think such beasts could have survived from another era.
    It does seem to me most viewers can identify “some sort of cat” from “some sort of dog” pretty easily, even if specific features don’t match. So I would think a wolf of pre-historic canine is far more likely than a lynx or lion; but there is just enough variation in accounts it’s impossible to know.
    It does still seem unlikely that a wholly unknown species was involved, but there have been surprising finds over the years, so who knows?

    • I’m glad I have kept you interested! I fully agree with you when you say “a wolf or pre-historic canine is far more likely than a lynx or lion” but I don’t think we will ever get a definitive answer until the first time machine is constructed. Now that would make you a good long term modelling project!

      • atcDave

        I would think f it was anything too odd it would have been preserved in somebody’s trophy collection? THAT is actually something that could conceivably still show up at some point.

  2. This really has been a fascinating series and I have to commend you on your research. I was reading the section about disregarding the Wolf theory even though witness reports claimed as such. This could be an example of “re-constructive memory” whereby a witness reacts so quickly to a threat or a disturbing sight that they retreat without really assessing what they saw. When asked what they saw by friends and family the brain tries to make sense of it all by recalling what it originally registered and then subconsciously (and unintentionally) fills in the blanks by what was most likely to have been what they saw. In this instance they saw a four legged creature carry out a horrific attack and given the prevailant fear of wolves in Europe at this time then a wolf becomes the imagination’s fuel. Therefore it could very well have been one of the creatures you outlined but got mistaken for a wolf in a moment of high emotion.

    • I think your idea is a very good one! The brain tries very hard to rationalise things and doesn’t always reach the correct answer. How amazing that you are the first person to come up with that idea in 250 years.
      The peasants of the time were not allowed any guns, but used to arm themselves with knives tied to long poles. There are three or four occasions where a group of, usually. children, formed squares, back to back, and held the Beast at bay with their home made weapons. Two men were once marooned on a wagon while it circled around them for half an hour.
      And always, the feeling seems to come back, of “a wolf but not a wolf”.
      Thanks very much again for your contribution!

  3. Incredible stuff. I had a lot of doubts about the realism of these creatures, they all seem to come from the same era (ish) and the same region (ish). It’s a bit like aliens, why do they all look the same ie based on human features. Maybe as Tony points out, in the heat of the moment, and I don’t doubt that attacks did happen, maybe the minds of those witnesses filled in ‘gaps’ to create something more in-line with the events of the day. It would be interesting to know the truth behind these creatures and what happened to them. Maybe, evolution has finally played it’s part and they have similar died out. Fabulous research and tenacity on your part. Well done John.

  4. Very well researched post, I have always wondered about some of the exotic animals which are carved on the temples especially the lions – were they real or just the artists imagination? Reading this piece connects some dots of evolution of the various species on earth.

    • Thanks very much for your interest. There are quite a few creatures on temples in Asia which are now being reconsidered, and people are wondering if they were not quite as mythological as was initially thought. The best example would be in Babylonia with the strange being called the “sirrush”.

      • Wow, the “sirrush” seems to be quite an animal – a unicorn, dragon, lion tail, eagle claws and many more. If this strange being is true then I don’t mind believing in the exotic lions and dragons. It is so good to know so many new things from your blog 🙂

  5. Geff

    Several mention that weapons could not harm them, also some looked like they had scales. In my investigation of the Beast of Gevaudan I concluded it was most likely a hybrid trained by Jean Chastel wearing some type of thick coverings on its sides but not its chest nor around the eyes. Thats why a girl was able to stab it close to its chest (on a shoulder if i remember right) and kids poking it close to his eyes, but gun fire would not damage it. These might be battle dogs or wolves trained to kill. But thats just one of my theories. I love to think it was some big prehistoric creature now extinct though.

    • There are so many theories about this creature. I think the Jean Chastel theory is quite reasonable but, as with every other theory, there are things it doesn’t explain. If you look through my blogs, I have done quite a few about the many, many other beasts which appeared in France around this time. And yes, a lot may be wolves behaving quite unlike they seem to behave nowadays, but a number were not thought to be wolves at the time. In one case, the people in a distant area actually thought that the Beast of Gevaudan was their very own animal which had moved on to another place. The two creatures seem to have been so similar in appearance. Even in Gevaudan, the creature appeared in two places so far apart but so close in time that the locals thought that there must be at least two Beasts if not more. Jean Chastel could not have done that. For me, the only explanation that will fit all of the scenarios (except Werewolf) is the relict population of some now extinct prehistoric creature. Unless you go down the road of parallel dimensions but that is just a cop out for me. And thanks a lot for your input. It’s just amazing how this creature can keep people guessing for so long!

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