The Beast first appeared in June 1764, in the south of Gévaudan, a district which subsequently became the Département of la Lozère.
It soon sent shockwaves throughout the inhabitants of this bleak rural region, already suffering the effects of the wars of religion, severe winters, famines and epidemics. Those who survived an attack were absolutely adamant that this was no ordinary wolf, but another kind of animal altogether, unknown in the region, which they would come to refer to as the Beast.
Its attacks were primarily aimed at children who had been given the job of guarding cattle, whom it killed with terrifying audacity. It managed to avoid all the traps which were set for it and to outwit all the search parties organised by the best and most experienced huntsmen sent by King Louis XV himself. Finally, after four years of carnage, the Beast fell to the bullets of a peasant called Jean Chastel, and the attacks stopped forever.
In addition to his knowledge of the region, Chastel had made the discovery that the Beast was not an ordinary animal; furthermore, it was not acting alone but had a human accomplice. So simply killing the Beast was not enough in itself to put an end to the attacks. It would take more than that.
Who could have dreamed up a ruse like this, and for what purpose? The French Revolution was only 25 years off, and tensions were also beginning to build up in the provinces. Old antipathies were re-surfacing. There were several local aristocrats who could have been tempted to pay back the grudges they held against a monarchy that was already beginning to look shaky.
The Beast, with its murderous attacks, was one way among others to destabilise the kingdom, much as agitators deliberately set out to engineer provocative situations for democratic governments today. This particular diabolical device would, in the course of over a thousand days, until 19th June 1767, cost the lives of 80 human beings that we know of, 70 of them children, in nearly 170 officially recorded attacks. Ever since then, in France, it is the wolf that has too often had to take the blame in this loathsome business, whereas in fact any such involvement can be entirely ruled out.
The object of this second book is to get closer to the truth by offering a plausible explanation for events which cast a pall over a distant chapter in our history and at the same time to exonerate the wolf unequivocally from all blame.
HERVÉ BOYAC, Quartier Clos d'Aron, 83780 Flayosc
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Thanks to Malcolm Mc Donald for the translation
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