Strange Days: A Book Of Curious Forgotten Lore

By GH Finn

A Book of Days celebrating the peculiar world of Twitter's @lorecurious

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Onward Christian Soldiers by G. H. Finn - Part 2

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Dearest Darkest Reader,

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Part Two

For some considerable time I had been privately collecting folktales and historical accounts concerning were-wolves, with the intention of one day publishing a volume devoted to the subject. In France, the were-wolf of Gévaudan was a notable example, and extremely well documented. The monstrous Beast that had plagued Gévaudan carried out its first recorded attack early in the summer of 1764, one-hundred-and-one years ago.

An unsuspecting girl, who was out tending to cattle in the Mercoire forest near Langogne, which lays in the eastern part of Gévaudan, was frightened beyond measure when the demonic Beast stalked her. God in his mercy was watching over her that day, for the bulls in the herd of cattle, realising the danger, had charged at the Beast and somehow kept it at bay. I do not know how many of the cattle were killed, but the accounts of the time state that the bulls eventually managed to drive the creature away. But only after it had attacked a second time. Shortly afterwards the first human victim of the Beast was slain. A poor, unfortunate fourteen-year old maiden named Janne Boulet. She was slaughtered near the village of Les Hubacs, not far from the town of Langogne. I pray that Our Father in Heaven welcomed Mademoiselle Boulet to his side. I would pray that the girl did not suffer, but some prayers cannot be answered.

The accounts of the Beast of Gévaudan were of particular interest to me for a number of reasons. These included the fact that they were relatively recent, at least fresh enough that there would still be some descendants living locally who had heard reports of the incidents from friends and relatives who had themselves witnessed the attacks first hand. In addition, the case was already exceptionally well documented. Further more, rather than just a couple of garbled stories told by illiterate and uneducated peasants, the existing, official, written accounts were compiled by some of the most learned members of the French aristocracy, clergy and even representatives of the Royal Court itself.

Throughout the later months of 1764, numerous attacks were reported throughout Gévaudan and many believed the slaughter to be the work of a Were-Wolf. Terror gripped the entire population of the region. The Beast had become as fearless as it was ferocious. It began to menace and attack children at play, young women walking in the woods, and even able-bodied men tending their livestock in the forests. The reports I studied repeatedly stated that the monster was huge, unstoppable, and would savagely leap at its human prey, seeking to tear their throats open, snap its foul jaws around their necks and rip its victims’ heads bloodily from their shoulders.

By late in the December of 1764 rumours had begun circulating throughout Gévaudan that there might be not one creature but a pair of such beasts conducting the murderous attacks. There had been so many sightings and so much slaughter in such a small amount of time, and over so great an area, that is seemed impossible that a single monster could be responsible for all of the outrages. Indeed, many of the attacks had been recorded as happening at the same time but in different locations. A few of the contemporary accounts suggest the creature had been occasionally seen with another such monster. Some witnesses thought the horrendous Beast was accompanied by its own demonic offspring.

On January 12, 1765, a little over one-hundred years ago, a man by the name of Jacques Portefaix, together with no less than seven of his friends, was set upon by the Beast. The group of men stood back-to-back and defended themselves desperately. After several attacks, the party managed to drive the monster away. This event, and particularly the fact that the Beast was so fearless in its desire to destroy human lives that it would even assault a large group of men, eventually came to the attention of his Majesty Louis XV. The King was impressed by Jacques Portefaix’s bravery and awarded 300 livres to him, with a further 350 livres to be shared among his companions.

Further to this, King Louis decreed that the government of France would itself now seek to locate and kill the Beast. Three weeks after hearing of the attack on Jacques Portefaix and his comrades, Louis XV dispatched two professional wolf-hunters to Gévaudan, Jean-François and his father Jean Charles Marc Antoine Vaumesle d'Enneval. The hunters arrived in Clermont-Ferrand on February 17th 1765, bringing with them a pack of bloodhounds which had been trained in wolf-hunting.

Contemporary descriptions of the Beast varied, though it was always described as looking like a wolf, yet one of massive size and monstrous nature. Most witnesses agreed that it was as big as a pony or a calf. It was said to have had a large canine head, with small straight ears, a massive chest, and a vast mouth which exposed long and wickedly sharp teeth. The Beast's fur was most often said to be of a reddish colour, though its back was streaked with black. Over the next four months the father and son hunted for wolves, disbelieving the details of most of the accounts of the monster and assuming the attacks were carried out not by a single giant Beast but rather by an entire pack of wolves. However, as the murderous onslaught continued, and as the hunters were unable to end the reign of terror by killing all the wolves they discovered in the area, the two men were replaced in the June of 1765 by François Antoine. Antoine was the King's Arquebus bearer, in effect his Majesty’s Master-of-Firearms. For this royal commission François Antoine also bore the title Lieutenant of the Hunt. He arrived in Le Malzieu on June 22nd.

By September 20th, 1765, around one-hundred-years ago, Antoine had killed his third huge grey wolf. This last wolf, which was named Le Loup de Chazes after the nearby Abbaye des Chazes, was said to have been unusually massive. At the time, Antoine officially claimed, "I declare by the present report, signed by my hand, I have never before seen so large a wolf that could it be compared to this one. That is why I believe this could be the fearsome Beast that has caused so much carnage."

The unfortunate, though no doubt deadly, Wolf of Chazes that Antoine had slain was further identified as the perpetrator of the recent monstrosities by survivors of attacks. These witnesses stated that they recognised scars on the wolf’s body caused by wounds they had inflicted upon it while defending themselves.

The huge Wolf of Chazes was stuffed by a taxidermist and then sent to Versailles, where Antoine was received as a hero, being rewarded by the King with a large sum of money as well as being granted other awards and titles.

Such is the folly and vanity of man.

For later, on December 2nd 1765, The Beast of Gévaudan again attacked and grievously injured two men.

A dozen more grizzly deaths are reported to have followed further ghastly attacks in the region of La Besseyre-Saint-Mary.

The Beast of Gévaudan was eventually slain, not by a royal emissary but by a local hunter named Jean Chastel, who shot and killed it during a hunt organized at the behest of a local nobleman, the Marquis d'Apcher, on June 19th, 1767. Upon being slit open, the monster's stomach was shown to contain human remains.

The local folklore, based upon Chastel’s own account, records that the hunter shot the creature with a silver bullet, although the term bullet is actually a misnomer. Chastel had made his unusual ammunition himself, by melting a large silver crucifix and then fashioning it into several solid silver musket-balls of a suitable size for a Charleville musket, which was the favoured firearm in France at that time. Chastel had then had the silver ammunition blessed by the local priest, before setting out to hunt and slay the Beast.

For my part, I firmly believed it was the fact Chastel had used a Crucifix, and had received a Holy Blessing upon the ammunition, which had allowed the man to finally kill the Beast. The contemporary accounts state that the monster had previously been shot and hit on numerous occasions with little or no effect. I was sure, in my faith, that it was the use of the Holy symbol of the Cross that had finally allowed the monster to be lain to rest. But, as I confessed earlier, I did acknowledge the possibility that there might be some special property in the nature of silver which may perhaps have been responsible for the Beast’s demise.

I never expected to find myself in a position where my theory would be tested.



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