Tag Archives: Beast of Benais

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.
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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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Filed under Cryptozoology, France, History, Science

If you go down to the woods today, you’d better not go alone…

One more monster to terrorise the local peasantry of bygone France was the so called “Bête de Cinglais” which was also called the “Bête d’Evreux”. Its bloodstained career lasted from 1632–1633, as it terrorised the province of Normandy, bringing violent death to one of the most beautiful areas of a beautiful country. Indeed, there is a sharp contrast here with the wild mountains frequented by so many other of the monsters we have read about. Here is a map of northern France:

basse norm map national

And here is a bit more of a close-up. The green UFO marks the precise location:

basse norm map

As always, the best approach is to take an average of the various French websites. The “Virtual Institute of Cryptozoology”, the “Institut Virtuel de Cryptozoologie”, states that:

“In 1632, about fifteen kilometres to the south of Caen, in the Forest of Cinglais, an animal carried out a reign of terror. Those who survived its attacks described it as a kind of huge mastiff of extraordinary agility and speed. Two historical documents mention the mysterious beast: the “Gazette de France” of March 19th 1632 and the edition of June 17th 1633. The edition of 1632 announces that the predator has already devoured around fifteen people in a month.

Forest rangers have shot at it with their muskets but are unable to cause any injury. The priests are trying to mobilize the inhabitants of the neighbouring parishes but the population is so traumatised that very few volunteers dare to take part in the hunts. The hunters themselves do not want to venture into the woods unless they are in a large group. The 1633 edition of the newspaper announces the killing of an animal at the end of a massive hunt lasting three days, organised by the Count de la Suze, with the participation of between 5,000-6,000 hunters and beaters. The Beast of Cinglais looks like a kind of wolf, but is longer, and more red in colour with a more pointed tail and a wider rump than an ordinary wolf. At least thirty people have now been killed.”

This, conceivably, may be a depiction of the creature:

perhaps cinglais

Interestingly enough, there was a further series of attacks only some fifteen years later in the Forest of Fontainebleau. This is a very similar area to the Forest of Cinglais and is not particularly far away at all:

sous-bois-dans-la-foret-de-fontainebleau

The Fontainebleau story is carried by the same website:

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

A website which specialises in the ghostly aspects of the beautiful Forest of Fontainebleau also carries a few tales of ancient beasts thought to live there:

“There used to exist around the beginning of the sixteenth century a fabulous animal that spread terror in the Forest of Fontainebleau and its surroundings. All indications are that it was a wolf, but some cried “Werewolf”, or tried to blame a magician who was said to be an expert in the art of shape shifting.”

“And then, around 1660, long before the famous Beast of Gévaudan, there was already talk around this area of the Bête du Gâtinais, the  Beast of Gâtinais, a frightful creature which looked like a monstrous wolf. His greatly exaggerated exploits, murdering children and young girls, used to feed people’s fears. Such stories caused many sleepless nights. It was even said that the Beast used to cross the River Seine to come and steal little children and animals on the far side.”

Even in fairly modern times:

“Towards the end of the nineteenth century, an old woman recounted the story of a great evil beast which lived in the forest and which came out from time to time to attack farm labourers, shepherds and flocks of sheep. The monster had to its credit a whole multitude of atrocities, dead sheep, dogs killed and children who just disappeared. The little girl who set off to gather hazelnuts in the woods, and was never seen again. The young nine year old boy devoured near the village of Nanteuil les Meaux”

The website’s author states that:

“It is quite possible that these three stories all refer to the same species of animal, described at different times in history….With evidence of this type, spread over long periods of time….it is not easy to make sense of things, to separate the mythical and imaginary monster from a mere animal.”

That “mere animal”, of course, is the wolf, considered in the France of bygone years to be guilty of far more serious attacks on humans than, say, the wolves of present day North America or Europe. This is the location of Fontainebleau. Compare this map with the maps for the Beast of Caen/Evreaux/Cinglais”:forest of fontaineblasu

As far as Fontainebleau during the first half of the sixteenth century is concerned, there were certainly many people who thought that nobody should ever go down to the woods. If they did, they would certainly be sure of a really big surprise, one with lots of a fangs and an aggressive attitude that needed quite a lot of adjustment. And yes, there were lots of marvellous things to eat, (in a way) but it was better not to go alone. It’s really lovely down in the woods, but perhaps it is safer to stay at home:

The same fascinating website continues:

“In the reign of King François the First, during the first half of the sixteenth century, a certain Sebastian Rabutin was to rid the country of a terrible lynx which was just as murderous as any of our previous beasts. It too was devastating the same region, devouring in turn both young girls and children. This monster, which appears in a fresco in the ballroom of the Château de Fontainebleau where it is depicted as some kind of hybrid between a wolf and a feline, was so formidable that no one dared confront it . For the record, the “loup-cervier”, in Latin “lupus cervarius”, which means deer wolf, is the common name of the Lynx, a big cat which hunts hares or rabbits, but never deer or men.”

I have not been able to trace the fresco in the ballroom of the château, but there is quite a lot to go at:

salle_bal_00

There is absolutely no way though that any of these French monsters was a lynx, as I have already discussed in a previous blogpost about the Beast of Benais.

Fairly close to both Caen and  Fontainebleau is the beautiful cathedral city of Chartres:

chartres_cathedralxxxxxxxxx

The “Institut Virtuel de Cryptozoologie” reports how:

“At Chartres, in 1581, a young boy was buried at Ver-les-Chartres, killed by a “wild beast”, “une beste sauvage” whose identity we are not at all sure of.”

If this were not a wolf, and a wolf would surely have been recognised, then it may well have been one of the mysterious beasts we have been examining.

But let’s just forget this supporting cast for the moment. Let’s return to “La Bête de Cinglais”. Another interesting blogpost about this fearsome creature comes from Evelyne Achon:

“The Forest of Cinglais is about 15 kilometres to the south of Caen. The “Beast of Cinglais” is also called “The Beast of Evreux” or “The Beast of Caen”. It refers to a man eating animal behind a series of attacks on humans.

The first attack was mentioned in 1632. These attacks are known through articles in contemporary newspaper. The Gazette de France therefore reported on March 19, 1632:

“News from Caen in Normandy. The 10th of March in the year 1632. Since last month in the forest of Cinglais, and then between there and Falaise, people have seen a wild beast that has already devoured fifteen people. Those who have avoided his fangs report that this savage beast is similar to a large mastiff of such a speed that it would be impossible to run and catch him on foot. He is of such extraordinary agility that people have seen him jump right over the river in certain places. Some people call him Thérende. Local residents and forest gamekeepers have shot at him from range with their arquebuses on several occasions, but without wounding him. They do not dare approach him, or even to reveal themselves, until they are organised in a large group, exactly as they will be today when they hear the sound of the alarm bell, to which all the parishioners from all the parishes around have been invited by their village priests, as three thousand people are assembled to carry out the hunt. “

A gigantic beat was organized in June 1633, with the participation of between 5,000 and 6,000 men. An animal was killed, and the attacks ceased.

Here is an old engraving of the Beast. Spaghetti for lunch:

Bete_de_Cinglais_1632

The Gazette de France reported on June 17th the death of the creature as follows:

“This raging mad beast which I wrote about last year as having eaten in two months more than thirty people in this forest was believed by everybody to be a creature of magical properties. But the Count de la Suze, having assembled by the order of our Lieutenant General on the 21st of this month between 5000 to 6000 people, has pursued the creature so keenly that after three days it was killed by a shot from a flintlock musket. It turned out to be some kind of wolf but longer, redder in colour with a pointed tail and a rump wider than normal. “

Here is the Forest of Cinglais:

Foret-cinglais1xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Wikipedia supplies a little information, but seems, perhaps, rather coy:

“This beast was identified as a wolf, but a mystery still remains. It was described as a kind of red wolf with an elongated body and a more pointed tail than a common wolf. It seemed very quick and agile.”

Another old friend, Vampiredarknews knows the details equally well:

“In 1632, this Beast killed fifteen victims in only one month. It struck in Normandy, where those who escaped described it as a great extremely fast and agile mastiff. It then settled in the Forest of Cinglais, about fifteen kilometres south of Caen. It then killed a dozen or so victims before they organized a hunt that lasted three days and brought together more than 5000 people. It was killed on June 23, 1633 by the Count de la Suze.”

One final website makes a very good point:

“It will eventually be described as a wolf, but a great mystery still hangs around this story ; the behaviour and the agility of the creature are in no way anything like that of a wolf.”

In the fullness of time, I will finish this almost interminable list of “Monsters of France” and draw them all together as the same unknown species. This particular creature is a good example. The Forest of Cinglais, the Forest of Fontainebleau and the charming countryside around Orléans are all pretty much the same kind of environment. The looks and behaviour of these beasts are not unique. Other localities have had strange reddish animals, animals with noticeable tails, animals with extreme agility or with great speed or an ability to leap long distances. There must be a link between them all.

I am very struck by the words of Abbé Pierre Pourcher about the Beast of Gévaudan:

“Everybody who saw it said it was not a wolf. Everybody who did not see it said it was.”

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

The Beast of Benais

The ferocious so-called “Beast of Benais”, in central France, was either one unbelievably long lived monster, or a series of, conceivably, related animals.

7741547673_carte-de-situation-de-benais-indre-et-loire

According to one account…..

“At the end of the winter of 1693, on February 19th, a wolf attacked a nine-year-old child, Pierre Boireau, at Saint-Patrice. The victim was found partially devoured and five days later, a mother found the remains of her own daughter, Antoinette, aged seven, in the heathland around Continvoir. In March 1694, a wolf killed two more victims, adults on this occasion, at Benais. In April, there were three more, four in May and eight in June, including a mother and her child.

chateau ccccccc

Monsieur de Miromesnil, the Lord Lieutenant in charge of the province of Touraine, then organised a series of beats. According to his account in June 1694, “In fewer than six months, wolves have killed in the area around Benais more than 70 people and have wounded the same number”.

benais

In June two shepherdesses had their throats ripped out, a father died defending his daughter at Ingrandes and in July there were three further killings in Benais and at Les Essards. In August a sixty four year old woman was devoured in Benais, and the same fate befell a little girl and two adult women in Bourgueil. None of this  behaviour, of course, is that of a wolf such as we experience them in the 21st century. As I have noted elsewhere, only one attack by a wolf on a human being has ever been documented in North America, and even then, it was a wolf which was used to scavenging on a landfill site and  had therefore lost its fear of Man.
Until the following winter of 1693-1694, the attacks stopped but the population of the area was still completely terrified. Two wolves were killed during the beats organised by Monsieur de Miromesnil, but the death of a young man of eighteen in December 1693, with two other young people killed in Saint-Michel-sur-Loire  in the January of 1694 proved that the Beast far from finished. There was, however, a long hiatus until the very last victim came in August of that same year, 1694. Then everything came to a stop.

coloiur village

Some fifty seven years later, on June 9th 1751 a young shepherd was attacked and devoured at Nouzilly to the north of Tours. The animal was not seen but wolves were considered to be the culprits. The body of the young man was horribly mutilated accorded to the description given by the village priest, Danican, the man charged with burying the body…

“The child from La Charité who used to live near your tenant farmer at Les Fosses Rouges, looking after his six animals, was ripped to pieces and devoured at eight o’clock in the morning by carnivorous wolves.  I buried her at quarter past twelve. They brought the sad remains of her corpse to the church, wrapped up in a woman’s apron with the child’s own clothes covered in blood. The beast had ripped her tracheal artery and part of her right cheek and had eaten her thigh which had been ripped off her body as far down as the knee.  This was in such a way that the top part of the bone of this thigh was extensively gnawed away and devoid of flesh as if it had been trimmed off purposefully by a knife. The beast in order to devour her intestines had eaten all of her belly and gnawed her ribs. Of all her viscera, there remained only one foot of (illegible, perhaps fortunately) and a small part of the spleen.”

This formidable animal resembled in every point including its behaviour « La Bête du Gévaudan ». To be convinced of this, it is enough to be aware of the story which was told by the village priest at Varennes…

“These beasts were almost like a wolf, except that they had much wider muzzles. When they first saw people, they were amiable like a dog would be, but then they leapt on their throats.”

Here is a different account

“A ferocious beast of which nobody knew the name, but with an unheard of daring and ferocity, struck, for the most part, in the Forest of Benais, not far from the village of the same name. It began in 1693 and the attacks were to last for a year and a half……during this time the animal had 300 victims. The attacks suddenly stopped in the month of August 1694. The Beast of Benais was never killed.”

A different website says…

“According to the evidence of the village priest at Varennes, it was thought that there were 300 victims, whereas the parish registers of the area report only 72 deaths caused by animal attacks during the same period, a total which is both more plausible and yet still quite a considerable one……The witnesses of the era said to the priest that there was not just one beast but several acting in concert and that the latter looked like wolves, but may not have been real wolves. They were very much like wolves but had a wider muzzle. One detail of their behaviour was quite remarkable in that they allowed themselves to be patted, but then leapt on the throat of the victim. People thought that they were “loups cerviers”. The people, however, were not so sure”.

“loups cerviers” does not exist as a phrase in the online foreign language dictionary that I usually consult, but I did find it in what looked to be quite a good alternative to my initial choice. In any case, the writer of the original cryptozoology website has added in brackets after “loup cervier”, the word “lynx”.  Google agrees with this and offers the expression as the French Canadian phrase  for “Le Lynx du Canada”. Strangely enough, when the French police spend a merry weekend recently looking for a wandering tiger near Paris, the suggestion that their expert put forward was that the animal was a “loup cervier”. In none of these cases, however, does the unbelievably secretive behaviour of the lynx, Camadian or otherwise, fit the details given by the witnesses.

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In France at this time, parish registers would perhaps record the fact that somebody had died, but there was no legal stipulation that the person writing the account (usually the priest, the only one in the parish who was literate) should record the reason for death. If the priest at Varennes recorded his total of animal attack victims as three hundred, then this might well be a reasonably accurate total, based on his own local knowledge of the real facts, whereas the parish registers of an area which reports only 72 deaths caused by animal attacks might merely be providing a politically more acceptable figure. Certainly, this economy with the truth is known to have happened with the Beast of Gévaudan, whose kill rate was deliberately suppressed once the King’s official representatives, the d’Enneval father and son, had supposedly put an end to the monster.

Could the Beast or Beasts of Benais have been a number of feral dogs or the hybrids of wolves and large dogs? Certain death counts attributed to the Beast or Beasts are incredible. I do not really have the time to be meticulously exact but this list captures the flavour…

“In November 1693, there were deaths on the 18th, the 19th, the 22nd, the 23rd, the 25th, the 26th and the 27th. At Mazières, from November 29th to December 3rd, there were four victims. In Langeais in three days, November 29th-December 1st, there were three dead. More followed in Langeais on December 13th, 14th and 15th.
In early March of 1694, several children in Continvoir were devoured. Desperate, the inhabitants no longer knew what they could do to stop this scourge. The local clergy increased their prayers. God, after turning a deaf ear for so long, finally heard them. At the beginning of the month of August 1694 the carnage ceased.”

Subsequent writers then began their own attempts to count the victims. The priest at Varennes suggested 300 victims. Marie-Rose Souty proposed 95 definite kills, but added that this figure was certainly much lower than the real one, because most village priests of the time did not ever mention the cause of death for their parishioners when  recording their demise. Marie-Rose Souty suggests then, at least 200 victims in a year and a half, that is to say around ten or eleven per month. Above all, the monster seems to have appreciated “fresh meat” and always attacked the weakest people, those who were the least able to defend themselves. Its ferocity was unbelievable. Even the Beast of Gévaudan only managed a mere three victims a month.

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Yet more creatures appeared in Touraine in 1751 in the north of the province, and then more in 1808 and more again in 1814. They were all thought to be wolves,  even though the behaviour of wolves in our present era just would not encompass their attacking human beings, killing them and then devouring them. Wolves just don’t behave like that nowadays!

As an afterthought, the more I read about these many monsters in the France of yesteryear, the less satisfied I am about any of the most frequently quoted explanations. I would reject wolf more or less totally and even feral dogs or wolf-dog hybrids seems to me increasingly less likely, whether or not they were trained by serial killers, sexual psychopaths or whoever. The peasants of the time were familiar with wolves and frequently rejected that animal as an explanation for the Beast of Benais. Their descriptions often have, variously, wide muzzles, reddish fur, black manes, a black stripe between head and tail, a belly that drags low towards the ground and a full tail, that could even be used to strike people. The more books I read the less I understand this. Perhaps in France there was  a very small and thinly scattered population of a ferocious animal, nowadays extinct, but which still hung on in the wilder regions. Perhaps we should be looking at the idea of a mesonychid ?

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