Who really was Jean Chastel?
Stèle dédiée à Jean Chastel à l'entrée de La-Besseyre-Saint-Mary

If there is someone you must learn about in this case, it is Jean Chastel. He inspires sympathy, horror, pity or disgust dependinf on the theory you believe in.
Why? The answer is simple: ignorance.
We know very few about him and that's no surprise: a peasant from the 18th century did not write down his life, no one did it for him. The only traces we still have are oral tradition and several signatures in death or birth reports, or even for marriages. Besides, nothing.

But that was before.
Because new information have been found in 2013 and 2014, then verified and confirmed (by both sides: those accusing Chastel and those defending him).
I, myself, have pointed out something on Chastel's signatures, convinced it was more than the sign of a troubled mind. And I was right. But where it is funny, it is when you know that it confirms the other new discoveries...

Who was Jean Chastel?

I always thought about Jean Chastel as a simple peasant working in the crops, poaching from time to time, official witness of the abbot in La Besseyre. An average intelligence but literate. This can have many origins: a caring pastor in his childhood, a parent himself literate who tought him, a neighbour...
But I seem to have underestimated him.
Let's begin with the begining: oral tradition.

Jean Chastel was a peasant but also a great wolf hunter. In the family, he was remembered as a great "wolf killer". We know that he was literate, which was not usual in these times. He was a simple farmer but was not afraid to assert his rights against the powerful people of the time.

The jobs of Jean Chastel don't have anything extraordinary either, and we can be sure of what we say because many a time it has been writen on reports where he signed. So we can tell that Jean Chastel was était ploughman/farmer, innkeeper and even brassier. Attention : a brassier is someone working with his arms, not someone making ale!
So he aws surely all of that at the same time: He had a small "inn" and a few animals - probably cows -.

A simple life at first sight. But the first detail to accuse Jean Chastel is his signature. Where almost every men sign with their first name and last name he added endless interlacing.

Signature de Jean Chastel
Signature de Jean Chastel

Signature of a troubled mind?

These interlaces have been interpreted, in the years 2000, by graphologist Anne-Marie Simond, who declared in the documentary by David Teyssandier:
"We had to deal a secretive man, cautious, calculated, undoubtedly with a personality and a personality which could be violent because the writings are heavy, it sure that the quills of that time did make stains, but there we can think that he had pulsions and a pretty intense nature."

But as the documentary was clearly accusing man and because I don't beleive much in that theory, I wanted to know more. And I first realized that many other people have interlaces in their signature, and that they were far from beign crazy in any way, because it's often notaries or clergylen.
So Chastel had a special status in the village. A church boy?

Signature du curé Hilaire

Above, signature by abbot Hilaire, containing the same interlaces, with some variations as shown in the picture below:

Signature du curé Fournier

Both types mixed together:
Signature du curé de Septsols

These different styles in the signature of the same man (a priori the abbot Fournier, from Septsols) only confirm that it was usual i these times to add motives to their signature.

One day, after many times of search for information, I got an answer from Odile Halbert's blog. Clear and unequivocal: the interlaces are "hives" and absolutely don't show a troubled mind but allow to authenticate the signature and replace the emblazoned seal of nobility. The goal is to find an authentication difficult to counterfeit particularly for the Chancellors and notaries.
So it's clear: Jean Chastel was not a troubled murderer, but some sort of bourgeois, or at least someone important (financially and/or politically speaking). Anyway, more than I originally thought. Is this the reason why he could afford a double canon gun, too expensive for peasants at this time?

Retour en haut de la page

The church records of La Besseyre

Once again thanks to the precious and friendly help of Michel Dumas (Généal43), who gave me scans from all the churh records for La Besseyre from 1677 to 1768, I've been able to make a table and all the statistics that go with it. That doesn't show anything we did not know, anyway, no big surprise. I began with the wrong idea that there were very few signatures from Chastel since I saw the documentary by D. Teyssandier. So I wanted to verify by myslef.

Like Franz would say "That is something we should one day clarify". So let's talk about those damn signatures. What do they have so special? Nothing. Don't think that the following statistics show anything, it is not the case. Or at least... Well you'll see later.
First things first: how many signature from a member of the Chastel family? Seventy. I counted them myself to be sure. But of course, what is of any interest for us is to know how many times did Jean Chastel sign?

Let's be precise (and let me justify my last four weeks of work on that subject...): he signed alone for 5 burials, 4 baptisms and 8 marriages. If you add every time he signed with his brother Pierre, you must add 13 burials, 17 baptisms and 4 marriages. So you have it like this:

Which makes a total of 51 certificates at the bottom of which Jean put his signature.

Out of this amount of signatures, thoses fifty certificates give us a significant indication: Jean Chastel is mentioned only once as innkeeper on December 18th 1748, for Jeanne MARIE's burial. There are only two certificates before and only one after, for which no job is mentioned. But from January 26th 1751, for the marriage between Pierre Boyer and Marie Chaleil, and until the end of the records (end of December 1768), he won't be mentioned otherwise than ploughman. Can we say goodbye to the legend of a Jean Chastel innkeeper? No, but we know for sure it wasn't official, nor his main activity.

That is for the context, let's go to what we're really intersted in: the interlaces. If it is not surprising to see them in most of the signatures of Jean, some signatures don't have any. There are, to be exact, seven certificates which have simple signatures:

The most surprising is to see that Jean's brother, Pierre, used to sign with a simple and almost academical "Chastel", has also signed with the same interlaces in his signature:

That's it. I told you theses statistics did not show anything special, didn't I?
But it's not over yet!

Top of the page

The -big- Chastel family

That's good, but not enough.
Patrick Berthelot is the one who pointed out that explanation. Always trying to find the truth about the main aharacters of the case, he found a relationship between the Chastel, the d'Apchier and the de Morangiès!

Yes! As suspected by mister Aubazac, where he exposed that the Chastel familly had cousins and relatives at different levels in all the entire peasantry, it is so for the nobility! And when everybody wa s scandalized, they could only confirm what P. Berthelot had found.
So what relationships? With who? Since when?
It's all here.

First of all, you must know that there are three distinct Chastel families: the Chastel from Servières, those from Condres and those from La Besseyre. They all have a common root I give you here:

Then the branch of the De Chastel from Condres:

The the De Chastel from Servières :

And to finish, those we're most interested in, the Chastel from La Besseyre:

If you prefer to read these documents on paper, you can print those .pdf files (needs Adobre Acrobate Reader):
- Original genealogy of the De Chastel
- Genealogy of the De Chastel from Condres
- Genealogy of the De Chastel from Servières
- Genealogy of the Chastel from La Besseyre Saint Mary

Retour en haut de la page

Conclusion (attention, recommended aspirin)

A great, big Chastel family indeed.
Jean Chastel - who killed the Beast - is not anymore to me the peasant I thought he was. His signature doesn't show his troubled mind but a belonging to a more noble family, the De Chastel from Servières, and Jean's grand-father, Pierre Chastel, was maybe an illegtimate son of that family. Well not so illegitimate, because his presumed brother Jean De Chastel - lord of Servières - will be the Godfather of his son Jean, brother of Claude (father of Jean, killer of the Beast).

That explains how a presumed peasant was able to buy himself a double canon gun he used: he would have the money himself, or maybe was it a gift from a distant noble relative? Thats is also the reason why his fight with the royal gamekeepers (which was punishable bu death), only cost hima few weeks in jail without any other kind of judgement, or the reason why he knew how to read and write...
Anyway, we must completely review the interpretation that wea had of Jean Chastel.
Of course all this is just my interpretation of these different elements. I don't claim I have found the truth, and I encourage you to contact me if you have any information on the subject, whether they confirm or not what I've said (better if they don't).
But it's only my own personnal private opinion!

Top of the page

Page written thanks to disussions with Bernard Soulier, Patrick Berthelot, Marie-Hélène Soubiran, Michel Dumas, Odile Halbert and the members of her blog, thank you very much!
Genealogy realised from the biography on the Chastel by Mr Pasquet and the data from Michel Dumas.