The Real Life 'Werewolf' That Terrorized France In The 1700s

France is an amazing nation, known for everything from world-class cheeses to Napoleon. Werewolves, though? Believe it or not, the late 1700s were a surprisingly scary time to be a French peasant, primarily because an allegedly supernatural creature terrorized hundreds of people. This might sound like a wacky tall tale, but these murders were all too real, and centuries later, the true identity of the so-called "Beast of Gévaudan" remains one of history's great mysteries.

In 1700s France, something scary happened ...

Okay, so here are the facts: from 1764 to 1767, according to National Geographic, the French region of Gévaudan saw scores of innocent civilians brutalized and/or slaughtered by an alleged "beast." The first attack happened to a 14 year old girl, as Vice explains, who was found with her throat gouged out. Soon, the body count piled up, and local villagers became convinced that a supernatural entity was responsible, which possessed the ability to shape-shift from beast to human. Eyewitnesses described a gargantuan canine covered in red-black fur, according to Atlas Obscura, and before long, newspapers across Europe were discussing France's werewolf issues. 

Now, this created a big PR problem for ol' King Louis XV, so he rounded up some accomplished monster hunters and sent them into the woods. Since this was real life, instead of a horror movie, they didn't find any werewolves. Thus, beast attacks continued for a full three years, until a French farmer named Jean Chastel decided, finally, that he'd had enough. As the story goes, this dude melted down a religious amulet into silver bullets, tracked the beast into the woods, and sat praying over an open Bible, to taunt the demon into attacking him. When it did, he shot it dead, and carted its ridiculously massive carcass to King Louis. 

The end. Or was it? 

Hundreds of people died. What really happened?

Similar to how there's no "real" chupacabra, but lots of real chupacabra sightings that eventually prove to be coyotes with mange, the legends surrounding the Beast of Gévaudan were certainly based on real animal attacks. What kind of animal, though? Was it really just the big wolf that Jean Chastel shot? 

Probably not. If anything, it's more likely that the attacks were perpetrated by a whole pack of wolves, if not wolf-dog hybrids, possessing an unusually aggressive temperament. Some have further speculated that Chastel's "beast" corpse might've been his own mastiff (!), while others theorize that the beast could've been a rogue hyena ... which sounds wild, until you hear the even wilder theory that it might've been an escaped lion, simply being misidentified because, well, you don't really expect a lion to come rushing at you in France, right?

The truth, sadly, remains unrevealed. Either way, the whole debacle is a fascinating footnote in French history, and continues inspiring a great deal of popular werewolf folklore to this day.