Les chasseurs luttent contre la Bête du Gévaudan

François Antoine

Arquebus holder of King Louis XV

Born around 1694 in Paris is a French soldier, second lieutenant of the Royal Captaincy of Saint-Germain-en-Laye and arquebus holder of Louis XV.

He is remembered for allegedly killing, on September 20, 1765, the famous Beast of Gévaudan. This feat of arms is disputed since the attacks resumed a few weeks after his departure from Gévaudan.

François Antoine belongs to the nobility with the rank of squire. François is his first name and Antoine his surname. No "land name" is attached to the latter, contrary to the assertions of many authors who call it "de Beauterne". It is actually a courtesy title used by his youngest son, born in 1748: Robert-François-Marc Antoine, dit "de Beauterne".

In June 1765, under the orders of Louis XV and Étienne-François de Choiseul, François Antoine succeeded the Norman wolf-keepers d’Enneval father and son to kill the Beast of Gévaudan. "The King has just decided to send Mr. Antoine, his arquebus holder, with six other good shooters and good dogs, to Gévaudan, to hunt the monster there". Antoine receives the king's order on June 8 and arrives at Malzieu on the 22nd of the same month, accompanied by his son Robert-François de Beauterne, a young seventeen-year-old light horse.

For Antoine, the Beast is nothing but a wolf. This is what he writes in one of his many correspondences: the traces found offer "no difference with the foot of a great wolf". However, the arquebus holder does not immediately manage to flush out the animal. Undermined by the geography of the country, he asks for new dogs as reinforcements. In mid-July, he moved with his guards to Besset, parish of La Besseyre-Saint-Mary.

On August 9, the Beast was flushed out near Servières but it fled without being able to shoot it. The hunters turn back towards Le Besset. Less than three hours later, the Beast comes to kill a cowgirl less than 500 meters from the windows of the castle. On the 16th of the same month, he imprisoned three members of the Chastel clan in Saugues, after an altercation with his own guards from the royal captaincy.

On September 19, after long months of tracking and failures, he went near Saint-Julien-des-Chazes in Auvergne, where the Beast had never been reported there. He sees a huge wolf coming towards him and shoots him in the eye with his canardière (large shotgun, derived from the harquebus), loaded with 5 shots of strong powder, 35 wolf posts and a caliber bullet. This blow knocks him back two steps. The wolf falls but immediately gets up.

M. Antoine, who hasn't had time to reload, draws his hunting knife and turns his canardière to stun the animal with the butt. Game warden Rinchard runs up and fires a rifle. The wolf advances a few meters and dies.

Mr. Antoine concludes that it is the Beast, (See the report at the bottom of this page) and immediately has it opened by a surgeon from Saugues. The body arrives at Versailles. The King declares the Beast of Gévaudan officially dead and authorizes his arquebus holder to carry a dying wolf in his arms to honor his feat of arms.

However, the massacres resumed in Gévaudan after the departure of the hunters. The Intendant of justice of Clermont-Ferrand reports in a letter the suspicions against the King's harquebus holder: "It was said that nothing proved that the wolf killed was the author of all the evils". For Ollier, parish priest of Lorcières, François Antoine "deceived both the Court and the people by saying that he is a wolf".

Bès de la Bessière, consul of Saint-Chély-d'Apcher, states that "the animal killed by Mr. Antoine was not the Beast that had done so much damage - Antoine killed three wolves in the same hunt and led them to Paris in post - but no doubt he only showed one to better play his role and make people believe that it was the famous Beast. Perhaps he ceded the others to people who carried them hither and thither to make money."

Despite the general discontent and the consternation of the priests, François Antoine will not return to Gévaudan. He will maintain that he did kill the Beast, although local burial records from 1766 and 1767 contradict his claims.

François Antoine died on September 8, 1771 in Dax.

Source: Wikipédia. Corrections & illustrations, Patrick Berthelot (Many thanks)

François Antoine de Beauterne - © PPL. Berthelot
Messieurs Antoine père et fils - © PPL. Berthelot
Procès-verbal établi par M. Antoine concernant la chasse faite aux Chazes. 19 septembre 1765.

Gentlemen Antoine

Father son

Minutes drawn up by Mr. Antoine concerning the hunt at Les Chazes. September 20, 1765.
(Source Departmental Archives of Puy de Dôme)

Click on the image to view it

Cavaliers de la Maréchaussée de Langeac - © PPL. Berthelot

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