In the summer of this year, in the area round Langogne, a woman and various young folk guarding their cattle are set upon by a wild animal, thought at first to be a wolf. Nothing unusual there, since wolves are common in all regions of France. At the beginning of July 1764 a young shepherdess is killed outright and eaten. Hunts are organised round Langogne, in the forest of Mercoire among other places. Feeling the net closing on him, the ferocious animal promptly quits the neighbourhood of Langogne for regions further to the west. From then on, from the autumn of 1764, its attacks multiply inexorably; in Gévaudan and in the south of the Auvergne, hardly a month goes by without its tally of victims -children, adolescents and women young and old - their throats ripped apart and their corpses devoured.
Dragoons are mustered to hunt the ravening creature. The most proficient huntsmen converge from all corners of France to track the 'Beast' down. These hunts will go on and on for three years. Louis XV dispatches his personal fuselier, M. Antoine de Beauterne, to Gévaudan, together with the elite of the royal guard and the finest wolfhounds from his own packs in bid to destroy the beast. And M. de Beauterne is successful, to the extent that in September 1765 he does indeed kill an enormous wolf and the carnage does indeed stop for three months.
But then it starts all over again. Finally, in June 1767, in the course of a hunt to the north of Mont Mouchet, at a place called la Sogne d'Auvers, one of the hunters (and a poacher) by the name of Jean Chastel kills another huge wolf. After that there are no further attacks on anybody. In the course of those three years, round about a hundred people have lost their lives. Since then there has been endless speculation about what the Beast actually was - a big dog? A hyena? A lycaon (African wild dog)? Or a sadistic killer? Even the Marquis de Sade himself?
The author rejects all these hypotheses, and after an 'in depth' examination of the facts and the testimony of witnesses, he arrives at the conclusion the the Beast of Gévaudan was in fact not one but three large wolves killed one after the other.
In support of this view, he refers to the surviving documentation and the opinion of zoologists, as well as his own personal experience - as an amateur naturalist, he has studied wolves for many years, and has raised wolves himself.
As he examines the whole affair in great detail, the author invites his readers to re-live with him the history of the Beast of Gévaudan. His book is a journey through time, in a clear and lively style, and a well-documented evocation of the harshness of rural life in Gévaudan and the Auvergne a quarter of a century before the French Revolution.
Release date : 1970
Year of publication of the presented edition : 1970
Editor : Fayard
Jacques Delperrie de Bayac is a French journalist, writer, historian and novelist. His historical research, and in particular his reference work 'History of the Milice1918 -1945' (1969) were used in the course of the trial of Paul Touvier, a former member of the Milice. In 1997 he collaborated on the screenplay of Alain Ferrari's full-length documentary film noir 'Milice' , based on his book.