Werewolf Wednesday: Sabine Baring-Gould Chapter 6 (1865)

Detail from a sixteenth-century woodcut by German artist Lucas Cranach the Elder, widely (and inaccurately) used online to illustrate the case of Gilles Garnier, which occurred years after the artist’s death.

Titled simply “A Chamber of Horrors”, the sixth chapter of Sabine Baring-Gould’s Book of Were-Wolves is a round-up of historical cases from France.

The first of these is from concerns the 1521 trial of two men, Pierre Bourgot and Michel Verdung, who were accused of witchcraft and cannibalism. Bourgot is quoted as relating an incident that happened to him around nineteen years previously when he went  looking for lost sheep and received an offer of help from a “black horseman”:

“We agreed to meet again in four or five days. My flock I soon found collected together. At my second meeting I learned of the stranger that he was a servant of the devil. I forswore God and our Lady and all saints and dwellers in Paradise. I renounced Christianity, kissed his left hand, which was black and ice-cold as that of a corpse. Then I fell on my knees and gave in my allegiance to Satan. I remained in the service of the devil for two years, and never entered a church before the end of mass, or at all events till the holy water had been sprinkled, according to the desire of my master, whose name I afterwards learned was Moyset.”

Although Bourgot later moved out of Satan’s sway, he was eventually tempted back to evil by Verdung. The two then became werewolves:

“In a wood near Chastel Charnon we met with many others whom I did not recognize; we danced, and each had in his or her hand a green taper with a blue flame. Still under the delusion that I should obtain money, Michel persuaded me to move with the greatest celerity, and in order to do this, after I had stripped myself, he smeared me with a salve, and I believed myself then to be transformed into a wolf. I was at first somewhat horrified at my four wolf’s feet, and the fur with which I was covered all at once, but I found that I could now travel with the speed of the wind.”

The chapter goes on to outline some of the grisly attacks upon women and children committed by the two lycanthropes prior to their arrest.

Next is the case of Gilles Garnier, which has been repeated enough to receive its own Wikipedia article. The third case to be covered is that of the Gandillon family, and unlike the previous accounts, Baring-Gould cites a source: Henry Boguet’s Discours de Sorciers, 1603-1610. The affair is an intriguing (and disturbing) example of what was clearly a psychological issue being filtered through superstition:

Pernette Gandillon was a poor girl in the Jura, who in 1598 ran about the country on all fours, in the belief that she was a wolf. One day as she was ranging the country in a fit of lycanthropic madness, she came upon two children who were plucking wild strawberries. Filled with a sudden passion for blood, she flew at the little girl and would have brought her down, had not her brother, a lad of four years old, defended her lustily with a knife. Pernette, however, wrenched the weapon from his tiny hand, flung him down and gashed his throat, so that he died of the wound. Pernette was tom to pieces by the people in their rage and horror.

Directly after, Pierre, the brother of Pernette Gandillon, was accused of witchcraft. He was charged with having led children to the sabbath, having made hail, and having run about the country in the form of a wolf. The transformation was effected by means of a salve which he had received from the devil. He had on one occasion assumed the form of a hare, but usually he appeared as a wolf, and his skin became covered with shaggy grey hair.

Baring-Gould then skims over some other cases of alleged lycanthropy from the era of witch-hunts, the accused being Thievenne Paget, Clauda Isan Prost, Clauda Isan Guillaume, Isan Roquet, and an unnamed tailor from Châlons who was executed by burning in 1598. The chapter’s final topic is Jacques Roulet, who was arrested for murdering a 15-year-old:

“What is your name, and what your estate?” asked the judge, Pierre Hérault.

“My name is Jacques Roulet, my age thirty-five; I am poor, and a mendicant.”

“What are you accused of having done?”

“Of being a thief—of having offended God. My parents gave me an ointment; I do not know its composition.”

“When rubbed with this ointment do you become a wolf?”

“No; but for all that, I killed and ate the child Cornier: I was a wolf.”

“Were you dressed as a wolf?”

“I was dressed as I am now. I had my hands and my face bloody, because I had been eating the flesh of the said child.”

“Do your hands and feet become paws of a wolf?”

“Yes, they do.”

“Does your head become like that of a wolf-your mouth become larger?”

“I do not know how my head was at the time; I used my teeth; my head was as it is to-day. I have wounded and eaten many other little children; I have also been to the sabbath.”

The lieutenant criminel sentenced Roulet to death. He, however, appealed to the Parliament at Paris; and this decided that as there was more folly in the poor idiot than malice and witchcraft, his sentence of death should be commuted to two years’ imprisonment in a madhouse, that he might be instructed in the knowledge of God, whom he had forgotten in his utter poverty

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