The Beast of Gévaudan, the plural animal
Master memory - 2016
FRA 4550. Master memory.
European and American studies, French branch.
Institute of European Literature, Civilization and Languages.
University of Oslo. Spring 2016.
Director of the thesis: Olivier Darrieulat, lecturer in French civilization.
To quote this work: MOURLAT Laurent, The Beast of Gévaudan, the plural animal, 1764-1767,
under the direction of Olivier Darrieulat, University of Oslo, Blindern, 2016, 185 p.
This translation was made with a digital translator. It's not perfect, I know that.
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The first attacks
It was on June 30, 1764 that a series of singular events began in Gévaudan. A 14-year-old girl is found dead in the village of Hubacs, parish of Saint-Etienne-de-Lugdarès. On August 8, in Masmejean d'Allier, parish of Puy-Laurent, a 15-year-old girl was "devoured".
The reactions are strong and the Count of Moncan, Lieutenant-General of the King's armies and second in command for the province of Languedoc sends the order to give chase to Mr Du Hamel, captain aide-major of the Volunteers of Clermont-Prince. The four companies of dragoons of the regiment of Clermont-Prince being in Langogne and Pradelles from the autumn of 1763, they are made available.
We do not yet know the identity of the attacker but we strongly suspect Canis lupus. Indeed, Gévaudan was at the time a region quite conducive to colonization by the wolf. Combining the middle mountains, isolated forests and scattered pastures, this territory presents geographical and topographical characteristics of choice for our predator. The population lives there mainly from livestock and is not concentrated in the villages.
The scattering of the inhabitants as well as the type of agricultural activity practiced in the region give wolves the possibility of attacking people and isolated livestock. The problems linked to the presence of this opportunistic animal are also recurrent because it has been rampant, and has been for centuries, throughout the kingdom. In 1641, Henri de Laurens noted the disappearance of a sheep or a goat “that the wolf ate”. In August 1844 in Bazaigues, Baraise and Éguzon, communes of Indre “only part of the bones of the mare were found and no vestige of the filly, an “ox and a calf” were devoured, thirty dogs disappeared” .
Located in the center of the kingdom of France, within a poor and harsh territory already hard hit by the plague, the population of Gévaudan will, in this second part of the 18th century, witness a hecatomb. From 1764 to 1767, the "Beast of Gévaudan" attacked around 289 people. 108 are killed, more than 49 are injured and about 132 are unharmed. The study of the archives devoted to these incidents shows that the animal wreaked more havoc in Auvergne than in Languedoc.
In Lozére, which is then the region most affected by the attacks, it is the cantons of Saugues, Pinols, Le Malzieu, Ruynes and "Aumont et Fournels" which pay the heaviest tribute to the voracity of the Beast, this with respectively 34, 23, 22, 14 and 10 assaults. To the disastrous events that take place in Gévaudan the authorities respond first of all with the usual measures. We then organize hunts in the regions of Gévaudan and Vivarais.
The beast of Gévaudan, an original animal in the Age of Enlightenment
In a century where reason prevails and where critical examination tends to found a new humanism, we are witnessing the birth of innovative ideas. If scientists are torn on the validity of new models, the Church is also the scene of major disagreements. On the side of the ecclesiastics, the Jansenists, apostles of an austere practice and respect for the scriptures, fought the Jesuits, themselves supporters of the free will of man. In scientific circles, Buffon opposes new theses to Linnaeus who defends a hierarchical vision of species.
At the beginning of November 1764, far from the Parisian quarrels, a strange beast was hunted in Gévaudan. Described at the time by Du Hamel, captain of the horse hunters of the Clermont-Prince volunteers, as an “original” animal, the beast in question will very quickly prove to be a catalyst for beliefs. This observation is significant because the period in which the facts take place is not neutral.
Indeed, it is because these events occurred a few years before the end of the Old Regime, at a time when science tended to dethrone metaphysics, that one can wonder whether the interaction between enigmatic nature of the Beast of Gévaudan and the debate of ideas specific to the 18th century participated in the development of original beliefs. It is then the whole popular imagination of the Beast that was able to fluctuate according to a dynamic process whose analysis is linked to the history of ideas.
The execution of this study must therefore be done with a view to integrating the evolution of the paradigms attached to the Age of Enlightenment, a period on which specialists such as Pierre-Yves Beaurepaire or Daniel Roche have published various writings. The abundant bibliography devoted to this story contains a large number of clues that show that the most extravagant theses circulated throughout the kingdom.
Knowing if these were latent or if the Beast, in spite of itself, was at the origin of new types of beliefs is a very fascinating subject. In view of the information gathered during my readings, my hypothesis is that the appearance of this animal was indeed at the origin of new beliefs. The object of my research is to establish an analysis of superstitions in Gévaudan during events and to reveal elements which will confirm or invalidate my hypothesis.
II. A field survey
A. Work prior to “in situ” research
For me, the process of building a network took the form of reading articles, books and web pages dedicated to the subject. Quite quickly, I realized that we had to separate the wheat from the chaff. Indeed, there are a multitude of sites, articles and books that contain errors and sometimes eccentric theories. After making a selection of serious articles, I set out to find their authors. For this, I used the white pages of the telephone directory. In case the numbers were not found, I contacted the publishers.
They have sometimes refused to respond to my request. To remedy this problem, I wrote to the associations of which certain authors were members. After a few explanations, they kindly informed me. The identification of the wanted persons having been completed, I made contact with them, by means of a telephone conversation. From that moment, and this is what was sought at the start, I was able to build up a real network made up of associations, publishers and authors. The network established, my goal was to go to Gévaudan by car. The reason is that the different people I wanted to talk to are in isolated places in Margeride.
B. Resident approach strategy
During my stay in Gévaudan, and this in parallel with the scheduled meetings with the authors, I tried to mingle with the population to gather information. So I walked around the town of Saugues, taking care to linger in front of the meeting places. After scouting cafes and restaurants, I realized that there were two types of places: those aimed at tourists and those aimed at locals. In one establishment, and this after taking care to examine the customers from the outside, I was able to observe that the visitors seemed to know each other because they were talking aloud about things that related to the problems of the region.
I also noticed that one of the customers had parked a vehicle in a nearby parking lot. The vehicle was equipped with a trailer that featured objects that appeared to be related to those used to erect fences. I then thought that it was possible that this person was a farmer. Having set my sights on an establishment that was a little out of the way, I went there because I had the impression that it was there - and nowhere else - that I could converse with growers or even better… hunters. So I pushed the door and started the conversation directly by presenting my research and my motivations to the owner of the place.
C. Acquire knowledge of the territory of the Beast
The contact attempt was successful. Not only was the landlady very talkative, but this conversation out loud led other people to tell me details about the hunt and the region. At the end of the day, I had managed to gather testimonies on the hunt, the topography of the region and… the coordinates of the manager of the forest where the Beast was killed in 1767. The strategy of approaching the inhabitants described here above turned out to be the correct one. A preliminary observation of the places and this in detail, an adapted dress, a direct approach of the people of the vintage, here are the ingredients which allowed me, and that in a few hours to collect important information.
Very direct and very instructive, making contact with the inhabitants made me realize that I also needed to document myself on the relief and the nature of the surrounding mountains. The following day that I therefore returned to Mende to obtain a map from the IGN and it was while practicing the forests of Gévaudan that I realized the extent, nature and layout of the predation territory. of the Beast.
Moreover, even if it is established that there were less forests at the time of the attacks, successive incursions into the woods made me realize that the hunts must have been extremely difficult. This reflection came to me because I could see that the fir forests (some of which were a few kilometers from the very places where the beast was killed) were very dense. The closeness of the trees contributing greatly to the lack of light, how to pull an animal in a forest of trunks very close together where the light is low? This practical question is perhaps one that Du Hamel asked himself when organizing the hunts.
As we can see, focusing on understanding a region and its inhabitants proves to be useful in carrying out the research I have decided to undertake. Would I have been able to realize the particularity of the forests of Gévaudan without conversing with the inhabitants? I do not think so. It was during an informal conversation with local people that I realized how much the layout of the territory could have influenced the course of events that took place in Gévaudan in the 18th century. Here again, it has been demonstrated that field work is an essential component of the researcher's work.
This is only a tiny part of this study that I advise you to read in its entirety.
If you wish to cite this master, please note the following information about your work:
MOURLAT Laurent, The Beast of Gévaudan, the plural animal, 1764-1767,
under the direction of Olivier Darrieulat, University of Oslo, Blindern, 2016, 185 p.
You can view this (French) study online or download it for free (.pdf ~ 6.5mos) by clicking on the icon below