Tag Archives: Benais

The Wolves of Paris

I have always thought that France was fairly unlucky as a country to have been ravaged over the centuries by various Beasts, the majority of which nobody has been able to identify with 100% certainty.  They have all been dismissed as merely oversized wolves, perhaps with attitude problems, but, somehow, I just cannot agree with that. Too many people who saw wolves perhaps three or four times a week were completely puzzled when they saw the Beast of Gévaudan, for example:

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Or when they saw the Beast of Benais or the Beast of Sarlat or the Beast of Auxerrois/ Trucy or the others whose individual blogposts I have not yet launched out into “Le Monde du Blogging”. Creatures such as the Beast of Lyonnais or the Beast of Cévennes/Gard/Vivarais or the Beast of Caen and Chaigny or the Beast of Orléans or the Beast of Veyreau. The Beast of Cinglais or the Beast of Gâtinais. The blood splattered list goes on.
What I did not realise, though, is that there are completely documented and wholly accepted  historical accounts which detail attacks on Paris by wolves. And not just one wolf or even one pack of wolves. These were a whole series of large scale attacks by animals which broke all of our present day rules of how to be a politically correct wolf. They gleefully attacked and ate people. French people. Parisians:

Iberian Wolf alpha male feeding on deer, its mouth tinted with f

The first wolf invasion came during the winter of 1419-1420. Over Europe as a whole, the weather that winter was unbelievably cold. In the east, in what is now Turkey, the Bosphorus was completely frozen over and it was possible to walk over the ice from Üsküdar to Istanbul, which was then called Constantinople.

In Western Europe, virtually all of France had already been made wretched by the debilitating effects of the Hundred Years War which was to last, rather inaccurately, 116 years, from 1337–1453:

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The winter of 1419-1420 was equally severe over the whole country with very low temperatures and copious amounts of snow falling for prolonged periods. Paris was occupied by the English and the famine there was so great that unfortunate Parisians spent all of their daylight hours wandering around just searching for food. Numerous packs of wolves, as hungry as the people, advanced into the suburbs of the capital, which was now just a vast, frozen wasteland. The River Seine froze over and people could cross over from one side to the other without problem:

hiver-paris-1891

Two years later, in 1421-1422, there was another winter of  almost unbelievable severity. Wolves again entered the city. Every night they roamed around the streets of Paris, dug up recently buried corpses in the local graveyards and ate them. Anybody who tried to intervene was ripped to pieces and eaten, presumably, as a second course. Any wolves which were killed were strung up in the streets by their back legs the following morning, as a perhaps, slightly over optimistic warning to the rest.

It was so cold during this winter that bottles of wine, grape juice and vinegar froze in the cellars of Parisian houses and in some cases icicles formed on the vaults of cellar roofs. The River Seine, which had previously been in spate, froze over in less than three days and the ice quickly became firm enough to walk on. On January 12th 1422, there began in the French capital what was considered at the time to be the most severe spell of cold ever experienced by man.
The River Seine froze completely throughout its entire length. Wells froze after four days. This harsh cold persisted for almost three weeks. To compound Parisian misery, a couple of days before the beginning of this extremely cold weather, there had been a heavy snowfall. Because of the severity of this snow and the subsequent extreme cold, people were completely unable to work. Instead, they resorted to jumping games, playing ball and other vigorous activities to keep warm. The freezing conditions were so intense that the ice in the streets and public squares persisted until March 25th. It was so cold that on the heads of cockerels and hens, their combs froze:

cockerel

Equally surprisingly, there were no wolves reported in Paris during the extremely harsh winter of 1433-1434. The big freeze began on December 31st 1433 and then lasted for nine days short of three months. After this, another severely cold period followed, from March 31st 1434 until April 17th 1434. Just as a comparison, during this particular winter, the entire River Thames in England had frozen completely solid from December to February and remained completely impassable to shipping.
The wolves, though, were back with a vengeance in the second Parisian “Winter of the Wolf”, “L’Hiver du Loup”.  This came in 14371438, when the weather was equally, if not more, glacial.
The River Seine again froze over completely and packs of wolves wandered into the French capital, roaming the streets in search of food. Here is an anachronistic photo of the River Seine, frozen over in 1437.  How can you tell that, mon cher Sherlock?

Seine-gelée-paris-1893

In actual fact, there had been five unbelievably cold winters in succession over the whole of the European continent, and this was the last of the five. In England, the famine was so severe from 1437-39 that it was second only to the worst years ever in 1315-1317. These latter years were so wet that virtually all the nation’s crops failed and as many as 10% of the population may have eventually perished, in a decade characterised by crime, disease, mass death and cannibalism.

From 1437-1439, though, the winter cold was such that the English people in the countryside  were driven to attempt to make bread from fern roots and ivy berries. An unbelievably prudent Mayor of London had avoided this situation in the capital by importing a good supply of rye from Prussia. This may have been Mayor William Estfeld (1437) or Mayor Robert Large (1439) but personally I would go for Stephen Broun the Grocer (1438).

The only record of wolves in Paris which I have been able to trace during these three years of 1437-1439 came as early as the last week of the month of September 1439, when a desperate pack entered the city in search of fresh meat. They ripped out the throats of around fourteen people and duly devoured them. This occurred in the area between Montmartre in the north of the city:

monty

And the Porte Saint-Antoine in the east, right next to the Bastille prison:

antony

From 1450-1850, and possibly beyond that, into the early years of the twentieth century, the so-called Little Ice Age held sway over Europe. In 1457-1458 in Germany, for example, extreme cold froze the Danube River to such a thickness that an army of 40,000 men was able to camp on the ice. Two years, later during the winter of 1459-1460, the entire Baltic Sea was frozen and people could cross between Denmark, Germany and Sweden both on foot and on horseback:

basltiv

In France, the most severe weather came right at the beginning of the Little Ice Age during their very worst winter of 1449-1450. During this period the weather in France was very wet, extremely cold, and there were, consequently, huge quantities of snow. Indeed, the winter had begun as early as October 1449, when large numbers of olive trees began to die of the cold across the whole country.

It was during this exceptional winter that Paris became the victim of its most famous attack by man-eating wolves, “des loups anthropophages” (a very useful mouthful, should you ever need the phrase on holiday, or perhaps wish to prove your sobriety to a French police officer).

This pack, “The Wolves of Paris”, (Oh somebody, form a Heavy Metal Band…the name is crying out for it!), “Les Loups de Paris”, are thought to have killed and eaten large numbers of hapless human victims of all ages over the course of the winter. The animals initially entered Paris through the very large holes in its dilapidated city walls, which had been built some 250 years previously in the early 13th century. Of course, the original builder, King Philippe Auguste, had intended the walls to protect the city from human invaders rather than animal predators:

wolf pack one

The leader of the pack was a wolf named “Courtaud” which means “Bobtail”, as he had a tail which had been “docked” or shortened in some unknown incident. The descriptions of “Courtaud” at the time said that he was reddish in colour, not really a pigment that you would expect in a pure 100% common, Eurasian or Middle Russian forest wolf as the subspecies canis lupus lupus is variously known across Europe.  Suggestions have been made that its unusual colour was because it was an Iberian Wolf canis lupus signatus on its holidays from Spain, but there is a problem with that. As far as I can see, the Iberian Wolf is not particularly reddish. Here he is. Just look at that blood:

Iberian Wolf alpha male feeding on deer, its mouth tinted with f

According to the Wikipedia entry in the link above, canis lupus signatus has a lighter build than the European Wolf, some white marks on the upper lips, dark marks on the tail and a pair of dark marks in its front legs. There is no mention of red.
Don’t get me started, but my explanation for all those various Beasts (bêtes féroces, bêtes dévorantes ou bêtes anthropophages) which ravaged France over the centuries now comes into its own. I believe that they were members of a more aggressive, larger and now extinct species of wolf. If any unusual colour is mentioned for La Bête du Gévaudan, La Bête de Cinglais, La Bête de Caen, La Bête du Lyonnais or La Bête du Vivarais, it is always, exclusively, red. And, as we have just seen, Courtaud too had fur of this colour.

That is why I just do not believe that ordinary wolves were responsible for these blood spattered killings. And anyway, aren’t ordinary wolves a friendly looking bunch of chaps? They would not dream of eating anybody:

621166__the-wolf-pack_p

At first, there were around twenty wolves in the Parisian pack and they killed dozens of people. Gradually, wolf numbers built up, and the list of victims grew longer and longer. In the first month, supposedly around forty people perished, with a total kill for the whole winter of several hundred. They included, for the most part, anybody the wolves found wandering around the city at night, or any individuals who were outside sleeping rough. Inevitably, the inhabitants of Paris in that winter of 1449-1450 were swept by a feeling of total panic. Attempts to kill the wolves in their dens were totally ineffective. The wolves became so self confident that they often enjoyed a sing-song on their way back from the pub:

singing

Eventually, though, Parisians became increasingly enraged that it was no longer safe to walk the streets of their beautiful city. Furious at all the deaths, a brave group of volunteers found a couple of unwanted cows and killed them. Then they set off, dragging the mutilated corpses along behind them on ropes, so that they left a bloodied trail. Eventually, the wolves began to follow the scent, and slowly, slowly,  Courtaud and his bloodthirsty colleagues were lured and prodded into the very heart of the city:

map

When the wolves reached the Ile de la Cité (middle of the map), they arrived at the large square in front of the cathedral of Notre Dame, which is called the Parvis Notre Dame. Here they were trapped, surrounded by pre-prepared wooden barricades. Here is Notre Dame cathedral. See if you can spot the hunchback:Notre_Dame_de_Paris_DSC_0846w

And here is the large square in front of the cathedral, which is really quite extensive in size. I wouldn’t like to have chased a pack of wolves across here:

parvis-Notre-Dame

Finally, the angry Parisians stoned and speared the entire pack, until every single wolf was dead. Courtaud was paraded dead around the city in a cart, pulled by the triumphant crowd. Here is one of those bizarre modern art exhibitions which was held in Paris recently. I don’t suppose it’s Courtaud and his pals from 1449-1450, but I do hope that no real wolves died to make it:

leadership-defaillant xxxxxxxxxxx
I do not really believe that Paris’ historical scrapes with wolves have necessarily finished. Grey wolves were completely extirpated from France in the 1920s and 1930s, but ten years ago they started entering the country again from Italy. There are now around 300 wolves in France and the farmers allege that they have killed more than 6,000 sheep in the last twelve months. The woods around Paris are well stocked with deer and boar and they would make an ideal hunting ground for wolves. Indeed, this year, wolves have been sighted just 40 miles from the city:

wolves
Presumably preparing the Parisian populace for the latest lupine invasion, there are a number of different books available, all of which are all entitled “The Wolves of Paris”:

The first is by Michael Wallace:

“It’s the winter of 1450 and Paris is in a panic. A pack of ravenous wolves is loose in the city, feasting on human flesh. Lorenzo Boccaccio is summoned by a Dominican inquisitor who….”

The second is by Daniel P Mannix and a reviewer promises:

“an extraordinary story with verve and deft pacing. In the reading of what is a tale of high drama, building remorselessly to the climax…”

After that remorseless climax, where next, but the boxset by Lance Roddick, also available in separate sections:

gay wolves of paris

One of the sections has a wonderful review:

“The book started off talking about the hard times France was going through.”

You don’t say!

If you can, always finish a blogpost with a song. And what else could it be except…

 

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

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

A strange and worrying zoo in France

I have now written quite a few articles about the various Beasts of France, beginning with the most famous, the Beast of Gévaudan, which flourished from 1764-1767:

second-beast

And then it was the Beast of Benais, followed by the Beast of Noth, not forgetting the Beast of the Cévennes, the Beast of Primarette, the Beast of Orléans, the Beast of Lyonnais, the Beast of Sarlat, the Beast of Auxerre, the Beast of Cinglais, the Beast of Gâtinais, the list just goes on and on. Some of them were really quite peculiar creatures, even by the contemporary standards of Beastliness:

beast 1709

Not all French monsters are wolf-types, however. Here are just a few of the inmates of what the original website called “Un Zoo étrange et inquiétant en France”, “a strange and worrying zoo in France”.

The first animal is a snake, which used to live in the Forest of Fontainebleau, just to the south west of Paris:

forest of fontaineblasu

It was seen, and duly killed, by the King (Quite right too!). According to legend, it was 18 feet long, with a weight of some 160 kilos (around 350 pounds):

Giant_snakezzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

This monster was venomous and used to hide in a great pile of rocks which offered him protection as no group of attackers was able to approach the creature simultaneously. Only one adversary at a time could reach him.

One day, King Francis the First or le Roi François Premier, was out hunting in the area. This king was a contemporary of King Henry VIII, at the start of the sixteenth century:

220px-Francis1-1

The King and His Royal Nose decided to put an end to this creature which had sown terror and desolation throughout the land.( Well, it was a very big pile of rocks).

BOA

The king had commissioned a suit of armour covered with razor blades. When the snake tried to coil itself around him, the razor blades, quite literally, cut the monster to pieces.  “Scratch one constrictor!” as they say.

What other animals are in the “strange and worrying zoo”?

Well, back in 1965:

“In the Toulouse area, flocks of sheep belonging to Trappist monks at the Abbey of St. Mary of the Desert, and also those belonging to the Count of Orgeix, suffered extensive depredations from a mysterious animal. Three students from the area of Cadours who were driving around one  night in the car, saw two animals which were larger than a dog or a wolf. They had light beige fur. These strange creatures were like enormous mastiffs, with huge, round, bulging eyes. The four footed killers then disappeared from the area as mysteriously as they had appeared.”

One year later, in May,

“In the region of Pignans (in the département of Var), a tenant farmer, Monsieur Baptistin, asleep in his small house, which was located some two kilometres from the village, was awakened by furious barking from his dog. He got out of bed, switched on the light and saw the silhouette of a huge animal which was disappearing into the darkness:

bigfoot giph

The next morning, he discovered near the water trough animal tracks of a startling size:

jerry-crew-taught-by-bob-titmus zzzzzzzzzzz

The authorities were alerted. The Forestry Services photographed the tracks and made a cast, but nobody was able to ascertain what kind of animal they belonged to.

For several weeks, the locals no longer dared to go out at night. The more daring people who did venture out never failed to take a reliable rifle with them.”

(Actually, it wasn’t Bigfoot, or at least I don’t think it was. It’s just that the details of this story are so vague that it is actually possible to interpret the events as being “Grand-Pied” himself, rather than some, presumably, fairly run-of-the-mill Alien Big Cat.)

In mid-August of 1966, a monster was seen haunting the area around Draguignan near the road to Grasse , a region where many UFOs had been seen, both in flight and on the ground:

“A former member of the armed forces, Monsieur Paul G… , found himself one morning around seven o’clock  face to face with an unknown creature. The animal had its mouth open.  It had a pointed snout, which was rather long, and triangular teeth. Under its neck, it had a goitre which gave it a frightening appearance. The ears were short, like those of a dog, but they were very pointed. The body was very long and covered with grey fur. The animal had a long tail, at least 40 centimetres (16 inches) in length.”

imaginative chaingyu

Interestingly, the town of Draguignan has a name and a coat of arms which are both redolent of another species of legendary animal. The town was founded around 400AD after Saint Hermentaire, the Bishop of Antibes, had overcome a dragon in single combat. Exactly how he managed this does not seem to have been recorded, but here is the coat of arms:

draguignan

It was definitely not a friendly dragon:

friendly dragon

In 1967, the presence of a number of monsters was reported throughout the whole of France. In the Creuse region in particular, between Royère and Chavanat:

Département_creuse zzzzzzzzz

…a feline of unknown species was flushed in the hamlet of Cloux Valleret by a farmer named Monsieur Simo:

surrey puma original

A week earlier, farmers in the Vosges area had already stalked an animal of indeterminate species which looked rather like a wolf:

wolf bounding

All that was easily topped though, by a report from Italy:

“In June 1970, in Meldola, about ten kilometres from Forli, a farmer claimed to have encountered some kind of dragon, six to seven metres long, with a body some 15 inches in diameter.

dragon

The Italian police organized a hunt which did not turn up anything. The monster appeared once or twice more and then disappeared forever.”

Back to France, in 1972:

“In the area around Vigan in Hérault, some medical students, out hunting in a snow covered area, discovered the footprints of an unknown animal:

yeti tracks

They followed the tracks for several kilometres. Suddenly they disappeared just in front of a rock which was projecting up out of the ground. The beast seemed to have reared up on his back end and then been recovered by his masters on board a flying machine.”

Don’t think though, that the French are especially weak minded and that this is why they continually report crazy sightings of weird animals. In this area, the British, quite rightly, are streets ahead of their nearest and dearest neighbours. But first of all, let’s just forget our many, many, ferocious Black Dogs such as Shuck and his like:

dog

Forget the werewolves seen more than once at Alconbury USAAF Air Base:

werewolf attack

Forget the sightings of Bigfoot in Cannock Chase and Sherwood Forest (an “eight-foot, hairy man beast with red glowing eyes” seen in late 2002) (allegedly):

red eyeszzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Just on cats alone we are well in front. The most famous cat of all, of course, is the Beast of Bodmin:

bodmin1

But don’t forget his less famous sidekick, the Beast of Exmoor. And before that Gruesome Twosome, it was the Surrey Puma. And don’t ever forget the heyday of the Nottingham Lion.

But look at this list, put together originally by George M. Eberhart.

Don’t just skip through it. Select your top three:

“The Ashley Leopard, the Ayrshire Puma, the Beast of Ballymena, the Beast of Barnet, the Basingstoke Beast, the Beast of Beacon Hill, the Bennachie Beast, the Beast of Bin, the Blagdon Beast, the Beast of Bont, the Broadoak Beast, the Beast of Broomhill, the Beast of Bucks, the Carsington Beast, the Beast of Chiswick, the Essex Beast, the Inkberrow  Beast, the Beast of Margam, the Beast of Milton, the Beast of Otmoor, the Shropshire Border Beast, the Beast of Tonmawr, the Beast of Tweseldown (sic), the Black Beast of Gloucestershire, the Black Beast of Moray, the Brechfa Beast, the Cadmore Cat, the Chiltern Cougar, the Crondall Cougar, the Durham Puma, the Eccles Cheetah, the Fen Tiger, the Highland Puma, the Lindsey Leopard, the Mendips Monster, the M25 Monster, the Munstead Monster, the Norfolk Grinder, the Pink Panther of Derbyshire, the Penistone Panther, the Penwith Cougar, the Beast of Powis, the Rosshire Lioness, the Terror of Tedburn, the Tilford Lynx and, last but not least, the Wolds Wild Cat.”

For me it’s, in third place, the Norfolk Grinder. Second is the Penistone Panther, but my own winner is…….. the Eccles Cheetah!!

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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.

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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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Filed under Cryptozoology, France, History, Wildlife and Nature