Why such a page? Because it is important to know the social context of Gévaudan to understand better the case itslef. It allows us to see the world through the eyes of those who made it. Moreover you can't talk about a case without placing it in time and space. Time is the eighteenth century, two and a half hundred years ago. Space is Gévaudan, lost region in the center of France.
When I say "lost region" it is not just words, on the contrary! Gévaudan is the only region of France where there are no roads. The closest road in the west goes through Limoges and Brive, that of the east goes through Lyon, Valence and Montélimar. But in between, nothing. Well there are a few tracks, paths that people often use with their donkeys (which will stay untill the begining of the 20th century, the most safe and easy way to travel in Gévaudan) then creating crossraods and shortcuts and as many "travers as they call them there.
To come in Gévaudan from Paris, it takes at least fifteen days, which represents three days more than to go from Versailles to Marseille. That is what next map chows, made in 1920 and again in 1926, to understand better the slowness (very relative slowness though) of modes of transportation in these times. You may notice that all distances are given from Paris:
Because if Gévaudan has a wild nature, human nature can also be wild. We're not in Chicago, but not far, really not far. Court records are full of gloomy cases, as that lieutenant of the constabulary who was killed for being too careful in a murder case, in the region of Saint-Etienne de Lugdarès. Bandits are legion in this part of France. The border between Gévaudan and Vivarais is famous for its fierce thieves and inhabitants, in the most remote places willing to murder to get rid of a potential intruder.
But indigenous are not the only ones to give trouble to the authorities. The very recent project of raod going through the Mayres valley, in Vivarais, attracts many people and the paths and tracks are full of vagabonds. In a land eight times more populated than today, people did not know anymore what a simple journey can hide. Without considering the Beast problem.
In this chaos, justice is hard to act, even if it is hierarchical. Right before the king, you have de bishop of Mende. You read well: it is monseigneur de Choiseul Beaupré (whose cousin, François Etienne duc de Choiseul, is considered like the prime minister in king Louis XVth's court) who rules the province. He owes that to a special status he has and which gives him the last decision in every domain (exept for everything to see with the king, that only the king can hang). André Aubazac, author of the book "La Bête du Gévaudan" published in 2009, explains that "the appearance of suspects deaths was better handed in Vivarais. They never spoke of a beast, exception for the death of the Ubacs near Saint-Etienne de Lugdarès, closer from Langogne". Closer from Langogne, but more, closer to the influence of the Church.
Because in Gévaudan, everybody - or almost - is catholic and practicing. The life of peasants is ruled by the Church's bells. Evening prayers, the rosary around the neck or in the pocket, Sunday Mass, holly days, etc... And his statuts gives to the bishop a king-like position, caliph instead of the caliph might we even say. It's his statement, read in all the church on december 30th 1764, that will start psychosis in the case of the Beast of Gévaudan. Because he blames it on the peasant. Very good Very good point in terms of mass manipulation. What better way to bring the sheep back to the fold, and peasants back to church? Fear makes you do anything. To live in chains for example. We could talk for hours about that psychological dammages made by religions, but we'd go too far from our case here.
In Gévaudan, it as the abbot who does everything in the village. He writes acts (birth, baptism, death) a,d personnaly knos each ad$ every citizen because he hears them all in confession. And don't think of a calm and quiet confession with a nice priest who gently nods his head. A confession in these times could easily turn to fomal interrogatory. The abbot must tell his superiors (in final, the bishop of Mende) everything he thinks must be told. Most of the time it's rape cases, murders or pedophily, very severely punished. The first because sex is forbidden out of marriage (in a church, of course), the second because it is one of the ten Commandments of the Bible, the third for the same reasons than today. Less abbot means less chances to end in a justice court.
Maybe you've heard that Gévaudan had been stuk by "scourges" that might have weaken the region and people. It's true, but I don't think it explains the appearance of this beast, besides the Seven Years War and yet... Anyway it is good to know thses past problems to be aware of the state of mind of people when the case of the Beast occured.
And each time, the people scared to death turned to its only master and savior: the Church.
So the stage is set, and I hope it will help you dive deeper into the world of the Beast... If you have any info about what I just talked about, send me an e-mail !Top of page