Tag Archives: Falaise

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.

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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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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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