Tag Archives: shepherdesses

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.

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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”.

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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.

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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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Hallowe’en Nights (2) The Beast of Auxerre

After researching “The Beast of Gévaudan”, I was amazed to find that over the centuries, a large number of different areas of France have been ravaged by man-eating creatures, such as the monsters in the countryside around Auxerre, Lyon,  Orléans or the Vosges Mountains. On a number of occasions what was probably one single animal might even be called by several different names as it wandered widely around various places. «La Bête des Cévennes », « La Bête du Vivarais » or « La Bête du Gard », for example, were all one and the same monster.
The majority have always been considered wolves, although of course, in our time the wolf no longer seems to behave in this aggressive way. Strangely enough, for a substantial number of these less widely known beasts, the witnesses were often keen to say that it was a wolf but not an ordinary wolf like the ones which they saw virtually every single day. It may have had a wider muzzle, or a belly that dragged on the ground. It may have had pale or even white underparts. Ironically, this latter identification feature on its own actually excludes the wolf as a possibility.
All three of these details, of course, the muzzle, the belly and the underparts were  features of the “Beast of all Beasts” in Gévaudan.  The peasants, shepherds and shepherdesses were armed only with a stick, or a pole with a knife attached to it, because the lower classes were forbidden to carry firearms, which was the exclusive right of the nobility.  Agricultural workers, though, were all highly experienced  at identifying wolves. And lightly armed as they were, the population of the average administrative area in rural France in the eighteenth century might still kill a hundred wolves a year between them.
Nowadays, the wolf seems a much calmer animal. They have become extremely rare in Western Europe, and even in Eastern Europe they seem to be less dangerous than old oral traditions would have us believe. Furthermore, it is certainly a fact that only one person has ever been killed by wolves in North America, and even then the wolves involved had become over-habituated to Man through frequent feeding on a landfill site.
The process by which wolves are believed to have become man killers in France is described in a French Wikipedia article, entitled “Le Loup dans la culture européenne”…“The Wolf in European Culture”

….Thanks to the improvements made in the field of agriculture, Man ceaselessly extended his cultivated land and increased the area for his livestock at the expense of woods and forests. The Feudal System and hunting as a leisure pursuit constantly reduced the number of animals to hunt, and attacks by wolves became therefore increasingly frequent. Flocks of sheep were an easy prey item during a period when food was short.
In normal times the wolf does not attack Man and indeed, even when he is hungry he fears human beings, above all when he is forced to confront an upright enemy. Faced by a man, the wolf always backs down or just runs away. Nevertheless wolves in the Middle Ages used to follow men around when they were out at night walking between villages. The wolves always remained a certain distance away from them. Without doubt they were doing this to get food, thinking that the man must be hunting and that they could grab any unwanted food that was left behind. These stories of wolves which followed men at a distance, sometimes over dozens of kilometres, accentuated the phenomenon of fear of the wolf.
However, attacks by wolves on men were reported for the first time towards the end of the Middle Ages, from the time of the Hundred Years War onwards. These attacks also correlate with epidemics of rabies which can change a wolf’s behaviour completely.
At this time of famine the wolf might have started devouring the corpses left behind by the warring armies. Not rabid wolves, but wolves used to the taste of human flesh would have committed acts of predation towards weak human targets. These cases of predation disappeared around 1820 because of the disappearance of open air mass graves from this period onwards. There will always remain nevertheless a small number of isolated attacks linked to epidemics of rabies, but in this case the cause of the illness is easily identifiable.”

(My own translation)

Further ideas come from « Mikerynos » writing on his own excellent website. He sees the entire French population as having within them a deep seated fear of the wolf, much as other nations might have traditional fears of people of a different race or cultural background from themselves.

“Nowadays beasts still appear in the French countryside but they only kill sheep or other animals. The most famous of all was the Bête des Vosges in 1977.
Feral dogs, escaped zoo animals, animals trained by malicious pranksters and sometimes wolves are used to explain these episodes.
But the Old Demons are not yet ready to fade away. The arrival of Italian wolves in the Parc National du Mercantour has brought about the raising of a protective shield wall on the part of livestock farmers and hunters, who have not been at all afraid of introducing the question of the danger to human life, for in the collective subconscious of the whole French nation, some monstrous beast can still be seen lurking dimly behind these innocent wolves, which have absolutely no connection whatsoever with it.
Over the course of the centuries in France there have been many other episodes similar to the Beast of Gévaudan, even if they were less blood soaked. And the explanations are always exactly the same. Wolves are the guilty ones.

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Nowadays all zoologists are in complete agreement with each other that the wolf practically never attacks Man. Indeed on the contrary, the Wolf always flees from Man. The idea that a Wolf is a man eater is essentially a French one which has led some people to deduce that the wolves in France must be the only ones to exhibit such behaviour! In the same way the theme of the werewolf, a man who can change into a wolf, is above all a French one.  And The Beast who brings together both of these two themes is, in exactly the same way, as we already said, a very French concept.
In a word, though, it is the fear of untamed nature which shines through these themes, a fear which has become particularly focussed on certain species such as the wolf. Every animal attack which seems beyond rational explanation very quickly leads to gossip and rumours. The Beast of Gévaudan is not the only animal to have spread terror across France. There was “la Bête d’Evreux”  (1632-1633), “la Bête de Brives” (1783) and “la Bête du Cézailler” (1946-1951).
The most ferocious seem to have been “la Bête de l’Auxerrois” and “la Bête du Vivarais”.
The former appeared in 1731 and killed 28 victims. It was described as a tiger or a wolf. The “Bête féroce de Sarlat” was famous in Périgord from 1766 onwards. Its peculiarity was not to attack women but to kill exclusively men. In 1814 it was the turn of the « Bête féroce d’Orléans » to achieve a certain success. It ripped to pieces and devoured the poor inhabitants of the countryside, massacred entire families, destroyed and devastated everything which appeared in its path and carried out the most appalling carnage, if one is to believe the caption explaining an etching of the period. A lament was even written about it; the style is not too clever but we can imagine the fear of the audience who were listening to such verses. The official disappearance of the wolf from France came in 1937 when the very last one was killed in Limousin. Or more precisely, the Wolf was presumed extinct insofar as the breeding population was diminishing between 1930 and 1939.
From 1818 to 1829, more than 14,000 wolves were killed in France every year. That was the era of the appearance of the single shot rifle (1830) then there were repeating rifles and the double barrel shotgun. Firearms became henceforth extremely accessible and extremely effective. Wolves could be killed at a range of more than 100 metres. The number of hunting permits awarded just grew and grew. In parallel, the use of poison spread among wolf hunters: monkshood the wolf killer, added to ground glass, meadow saffron, a concoction with tamarack, water hemlock and nux vomica.”

(My own translation)

I have found it a fascinating idea that only two hundred or so years ago a highly developed European country like France could have been repeatedly ravaged by man-eating animals, whether they were wolves or, just plain, simple monsters of the type the Hillbilly Hunters chase after on a weekly basis in the TV show “Mountain Monsters”.
I intend therefore to bring these unknown creatures back into the public eye. Had they been active in an English speaking country, I am sure that they would be a lot more famous than they are now, although, of course, they do appear in a good many French websites on “la cryptologie”. The first one to feature, on a purely alphabetical basis, is the “Bête de l’Auxerrois ou la Bête de Trucy”….

Called by two alternative names, the “Beast of Auxerre” or the “Beast of Trucy” was either one or several man-eating animals which were behind an extensive series of attacks on humans. Nowadays, the tiny village is called “Trucy-L’Orgueilleux”.

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The first incident came in November 1731 when a young boy of 12 years old was working close to the wood of Trucy-sur-Yonne to the south of Auxerre with his mother. She managed to snatch him back from the carnivorous animal which was trying to devour him, but he died in her arms as they made their way back home.

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Attacks then succeeded each other in such quick succession that King Louis XV offered a reward of £200 to whoever could kill the beast. Beats were organised and numerous wolves were killed. The poisoned carcasses of sheep were left out in the fields but the attacks continued, with young children the principal victims. The beast even ventured into the village of Mailly-la-ville and carried off a young child who was playing in front of his house. Trying to snatch him back from the beast’s fangs, his nurse was only able to recover one of his feet (or just one of his arms according to other witnesses).

Illustrations of the “Beast of Auxerre” or the “Beast of Trucy” seem pretty well non-existent on the Internet. The engraving below appears on one website, but it is also featured elsewhere as being the  “Beast of Orléans”…

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In five months the local priest of Val-de-Mercy recorded 14 deaths due to the attacks of this carnivorous animal. By the end of the year 1734 a grand total of 28 victims had been listed. The animal supposedly killed a total of nine children, nine women and ten men according to the death certificates which have so far been located. In 1734 two wolves were killed in the course of a hunt and the attacks stopped shortly afterwards. There was however, no irrefutable concrete indication that either of these two animals was behind the attacks which had lasted for three desperate years. Contrary to the Beast of Gévaudan, these killings seem to have concerned as many men as women
In 1817 a second carnivorous beast ravaged the forest around Trucy for a few months, strangely, at the very same place as the animal from eighty years previously. One child was devoured close to Charentenay, another at Fouronnes and numerous people were injured. Poisoned sheep were placed close to the woods and the beast duly disappeared without leaving any trace whatsoever. No carcass was ever found but mercifully the attacks stopped.

This picture allegedly shows the “Beast of Auxerre” or the “Beast of Trucy” but it had previously been used in pamphlets about the Beast of Gévaudan.

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For the attacks of 1731–1734, contemporary rumours talked of a werewolf, of several wolves and even of demons. The witnesses spoke of either a huge wolf or a tiger. Following the usual pattern, the witnesses’ descriptions indicated an animal that was “like a wolf” but which nobody thought was just an ordinary wolf. According to the experts nowadays the monster was probably some exotic wild animal which had escaped from its owner, but given the descriptions, it was most probably not a common-or-garden wolf.

Unlike the countryside though, in the towns, certainly, the majority of the people had little idea at all of what a wolf was like. Here is a contemporary picture of a wolf….

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For the second series of attacks in 1817, local talk was of a hyena although one statement described a mastiff dog with pointed ears.
It is always worth looking at a second account of what are clearly the same events

“In 1731 there appeared in the woods around Trucy, to the south of Auxerre, a beast which terrorised the region. The first attack was on a boy of twelve in November 1731, very close to the tiny village of Trucy-l’Orgueilleux. The number of victims quickly increased, with 17 in three years, of whom the majority were children. The king offered a reward of £200 to whoever could kill the beast but without result. The creature then continued its carnage until 1734 when it quite simply disappeared without anyone having been able to kill it despite numerous beats being organised. Overall it killed approximately 30 people, the majority of them children.
In 1817 it was a different beast which ravaged again the very same area of Mailly-la-ville and the Forest of Trucy. Described as a tiger or an enormous wolf, people finally concluded that it was a wolf of enormous size and particular ferocity. It killed 28 people (nine children, nine women and ten men) and was never killed despite numerous beats being organised and the poisoned carcasses of sheep being placed randomly in the surrounding area. Like its predecessor this animal just disappeared “back into Nature” so to speak.”

Clearly there has been some confusion between the two websites over victim totals, but it is always best to see at least two variations of the same story. If you want to see more than just these two then go to the French Google and search for either “La Bête de Trucy” or “la Bête de l’Auxerrois”.

Another website…..

 “…a mother grabbed her twelve year old son from the jaws of an enormous beast without managing, alas, to save him… After this they killed a number of wolves, but the beast continued to attack young children, women and men…… 28 victims were eventually listed. Then they killed a couple of wolves, and the attacks ceased. People talked of werewolves, of wolves gone mad, and even of Demons. Witnesses spoke of the “Beast like a Wolf” but actually “Not a Wolf”. The experts nowadays tend to speak of a wild animal, but seldom of a mere wolf.”

At least one other website which lists “The Monsters That Ravaged France” clearly places “La Bête de Trucy ou la Bête de l’Auxerrois” not in the category of the wolf but in that of the “bête mystérieuse”.
These same details are given by that great expert, « Mikerynos » in the very first article on the page….

“(Elle) est apparue en 1731 et a fait 28 victimes. Elle est décrite comme un tigre ou comme un loup.”

What is most striking about “La Bête de Trucy ou la Bête de l’Auxerrois”, though, is the sheer number of victims consumed. In English we say “as hungry as a wolf”. I don’t know if the French have an equivalent but if they do, it should probably relate to Trucy or Auxerre!

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