Tag Archives: Gatinais

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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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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