Les chasseurs luttent contre la Bête du Gévaudan

Jacques Portefaix

Life of Jacques Portefaix whose fight against the Beast has gone down in history

Jacques was born in 1753 at Villeret; of Pierre Portefaix his father and Madeleine Meissonier, his mother.

His parents gave birth to 10 children, but unfortunately only 4 will survive. Jacques the eldest, Madeleine, Antoinette and Mathieu.

Because of the Beast of Gévaudan, Jacques Portefaix led a very different life than his companions.

The courage he demonstrated in La Coustasseyre, on January 12, 1765 not only earned him his fame (which went beyond the limits of la Margeride) but also an annuity of 300 livres for his education paid by the financial services of the King.

Thanks to this allowance, he was able to receive a good education, and practice a profession he went on to enjoy. He was also introduced to some important people of his time, including the King himself! While his companions were staying in Margeride to be farmers or craftsmen like their parents, Jacques was given the opportunity to climb the social ladder which was unusual for the son of a farmer in those days.

The beast was now dead 18 years when Jacques died at the age of 32, on August 14, 1785 in Franconville la Garenne.

What is less known is that Jacques, while relating his adventure against the beast, was also trying to inform the King of the distress felt by the inhabitants of the Gévaudan. He wrote a report that Monsieur de Saint-Priest (Bursar of Languedoc) sent to Monsieur de Laverdy (General Comptroller of Finances.)

This document has never been found, and Monsieur Lagrave, in his book « Jacques Portefaix, a child at the time of the Beast » hazarded a guess at what Jacques Portefaix might have written.

Look out! This text is a fiction imagined by Monsieur Lagrave.

« Majesty,

I was only ten years old when my friends and I were attacked in the Coustasseyre by the beast, near our village Le Villaret d’Apcher in the Margeride of Gévaudan. During this event, I demonstrated bravery that you were so kind to acknowledge and reward. Thanks to your generosity, I learned how to read and write at “The Brothers of the Doctrine of Montpellier”. I also learned the art of reflection.

It is because of this faculty to reflect on this event, unique in the history of your Kingdom, that I dare present to you this humble report. I beg you to forgive my audacity in addressing you, as I am just of common birth, son of a farmer. My only desire is to bring some light on this affair to your Highness, with all the realization of the magnanimity in which your Highness envelops the people of France that you love so much!

This beast was not a wolf. On my way back from the fairs and gatherings, as a youngster, I had already seen a few of these animals living in the forests of this area; witnessing them approach our trails and herds! Dead, when one of us would kill the animal that he would carry on his back, going from farm to farm in order to receive a few liards, reward for his courage.

And the beast, I watched her from very close when she attacked us in the prairie: black hairs, dirty and hiding her face, long ragged nails ending her hands like claws, chest thrust forward like somebody suffering from a strained back.

A beast who was a man, a man who was not a man any longer. With the appearance of a beast without really being a beast. Like in the fairytale, “Beauty and the Beast”. During the attack, the beast was standing on her hind limbs, using her arms and with her claws trying to grab one of us, which she did!

When the beast understood that our bayonets were really dangerous to her flanks, she abandoned the young Jean Veyrier, I watched her run on her two hind legs which were human legs. She rolled herself over in the spring nearby as if trying to drown the meanness that she was full of.

Forgive my audacity, my Lord, but I have to tell you, the ones who said that the beast was a wolf, lied to you. I, who saw the beast from close, have to tell you the truth. The beast was not a wolf, nor a bear (bear-leaders go through our villages and we know the bear) nor a hyena, nor any other animal. The beast was a cursed man, inclined to commit crime, probably possessed by the devil himself. He has paid today for his odious faults. The goal of this report is not to denounce but try to explain this dark story and shed some light on this mystery.

Majesty, you have to know, your little people from Margeride are very unhappy; an ingrate soil, icy winters, summers of ashes, much too heavy taxes, your subjects hurt a lot. They endure the silence like the good subjects of your Majesty that they are, but their misery is difficult to bear. Would they be able to approach you and tell you about their suffering, perhaps your generosity would probably find a remedy to their condition! But nobody is listening to their complaints. The local Lords are in their castles, Monsignor the Bishop is in Mende, at more than fifty lieues from our homes. Only the priests from our parishes understand and suffer with us. No voice rises to tell our fate and ask for help…

Are we doomed forever to this despondency?

Still, if your Majesty were informed, I’m certain that your Majesty would answer their call, like your Majesty knew how to make a student of me; which to this day I will never cease to thank you for. But you are in Versailles. Your entourage and ministers don’t speak to you of our miseries. What could our farmers in Gévaudan do to to reach your kindness and receive some help?

And then came this beast, carrying violence in her womb. After the first victims, some sketches were spread through France and Europe. Laments were sung in fairs, newspapers spoke of crimes from the monster. Now, we finally talk about “Gévaudan!”

Perhaps all this will tell you of our misery? Perhaps the cries of victims will be heard by our beloved King? Because of this beast who bites in the flesh of their daughters, will you come upon these terrified parents and offer them help? Already for this relief, rewards are offered by the Bishop of Mende, by the Governor of your province, on behalf of your Majesty!

Then, in the agony who darkened their conscience, these men of Margeride began to think that this violence would have to be pursued to end their despair. Their own children were victims, but instead of staying forever in this extreme state, it seemed best to bear with the crimes of the beast until your generosity manifests. They accepted the death of their children hoping that it would bring relief to a condition they could no longer endure.

And the beast went on with her ravages, one day here, another there. Often children. Until the day when this violence became even more unbearable than their misery.

Then, without mentioning the crime, the men got rid of this unspeakable beast in which they had placed their expectations. In order to understand this abomination, Majesty, one had to live day after day, the lives of these men.

The women who deliver stillborn babies because they don’t have the strength to bring them to term, the children too pale who die from anemia because the raves they are fed are not enough, hail that destroys their harvest leaving the loft empty for a year of starvation, the drought that roasts the « soup greens » in the garden and have to be replaced by nettle, taxes that cannot be paid any longer, the task that overwhelms when one is already tired by too much work.

I beg you , Majesty, to forgive me when I tell you about these harsh truths, they are the ones from your people that love you and invest their hope in you.

Majesty, I, Jacques Portefaix, your pupil, full of gratitude, will I dare telling you?

Leave this circle of entourage and go to your people.

Listen to their grievances, so numerous they could fill a notebook.

Cease your wars so costly and lighten the weight of taxes.

Stop the allowances to the beautiful women, the parties too sumptuous, the non-necessary expenses.

You will be able then to heal your subjects, better feed them, clothe them like human beings.

Majesty, just like Joan-of-Arc who heard the voices telling her to serve your ancestor to push the enemy out of your Kingdom, I too, son of a farmer of la Margeride, I hear voices, the voices of the people of France.

Against the current state of society, they scream violence, perhaps revolution!

Do so that the violence we have known in Margeride through the beast does not spread to the entire Kingdom.

Majesty! I beg you, listen to our sufferings! »

Le combat de Jacques Portefaix

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