Everyone knows about the terrifying witch trials of the past, but fewer of us are aware of those people who were convicted of being werewolves. But it’s true – thousands of people were convicted of lycanthropy in the 16th century in France alone. There’s been a resurgence of all things monster-related in the 21st century, from vampires and werewolves in Twilight and Underworld, to witches and fairy tales in American Horror Story, Supernatural, Once Upon A Time… and the list goes on. The trend of fictional monsters is very popular, but most of our favorite monster shows are, in some way, historically based.
We’re not about to convince readers that there are Wolf Packs like Jacob and co. out there, but the following were believed to be twenty real life – and, indeed, convicted – werewolves.
20. Ann, The Werewolf of Meremoisa
The first werewolf on the list was actually a woman, so the term is contradictory because ‘were’ is in fact Old English for ‘man’. Ann was from the small village of Meremoisa, on the outskirts of the Estonian capital, Tallinn. She was one of thirteen women and eighteen men who were prosecuted in a series of court trials in 1623.
She confessed that she had been a werewolf for four years, and that she had hidden the wolf skin “under a stone in the fields.” She was blamed for the death of a horse and some smaller animals, though she denied those claims.
19. The Klein-Krams Werewolf
One day, during a great hunt, a young cavalry officer came upon a screaming group of youngsters running out of a house. He saw nothing pursuing them and asked what the problem was, and one child said that the son of the Feeg family, when no adult was home, customarily transformed himself into a werewolf and terrorized the neighborhood children. The officer was amused at the child’s imagination, but then he caught a glimpse of a wolf in the house, and – allegedly – in the next few moments a small boy stood in its place.
18. Henry Gardinn
Henry Gardinn was a man from Limburg, a state of the Holy Roman Empire. In 1605 he was charged with witchcraft, for being a sorcerer and a werewolf. He was accused of transforming himself into a werewolf, along with two other men, and then he confessed that the three of them attacked, murdered, and ate a child. He was judged guilty and was burned alive at the stake. Two years later his accomplices were caught and executed as well.
This legend goes way back. Damarchus – or Demaenetus – was an Olympic boxer from Parrhasia, a region in Arcadia. In Ancient Greece, the Lykaia was a ritualistic festival held on the top of Mount Lykaion (“Wolf Mountain”), which involved a human sacrifice to Zeus. A young boy was killed and then eaten by one of the participants in the Lykaia, in this case Damarchus, and Zeus transformed the cannibal into a wolf.
If the werewolf abstained from human flesh for nine years, he would be transformed back into a man, but if he ate any human flesh he would be a werewolf forever. Damarchus abstained and was transformed back into a man after 10 years of living as a wolf.
16. Claudia Gaillard, The Werewolf of Burgundy
Henry Boguet was a famous witch-hunter who was brought to trial and caused the deaths of hundreds of unfortunate people. Claudia Gaillard was one of these unfortunate people. According to eyewitnesses, Claudia was spotted behind a bush assuming the form of a tailless wolf. She underwent great torture for her sin, and was then brought to trial. The judge commented on the torture, saying, “Common report was against her. No one ever saw her shed a single tear, whatever effort might be made to cause her to shed tears.” She was then, unsurprisingly, burned to death at the stake.
15. Raimbaud de Pinetum, The Werewolf of Auvergne
Raimbaud de Pinetum was a French soldier. After he was disinherited by a nobleman, Ponce de Chapteuil, Pinetum began to prowl around in the forests like a wild beast, and one night he lost his senses and turned into a wolf. As a wolf with military training, Pinetum caused great chaos, forcing numerous farmers to abandon their homes. He mangled old people and ate children, and at long last he had his fore-paw chopped off by a woodsman and regained his human form. He then admitted in public that“amputation of a limb frees such men from their calamitous condition.”
Vereticus was a Welsh king who refused to convert to Christianity. One day St. Patrick (yes, the same St. Patrick to whom we raise a pint of green Guinness every year) was missioning in Ireland and became disgusted that the tribes continued to resist his efforts to convert them to Christianity, so he turned Vereticus and his followers into werewolves.
They stayed as wolves for seven years, and then transformed back into men, only to transform back into wolves after seven more years. Despite this horrible cycle, they were not denied sacraments, and in 1191 a man named Giraldus Cambrensis recorded the testimony of a priest who swore that he gave sacraments to werewolves.
13. Michée Bauloz, Jeanne de la Pierre, and Suzanne Prevost, The Werewolves of Vaud
Michée Bauloz, Jeanne de la Pierre, and Suzanne Prevost were three women from Vaud, Switzerland. On April 22, 1602, the fearsome threesome were condemned to death. They purportedly changed into wolves via an ointment given to them by the Devil, and then kidnaped a child and ate him at the Sabbat. They did not eat his right hand, however, because “God hadn’t permitted.”
12. Perenette, Pierre, and Georges Gandillon, The Gandillon Werewolves
During the spring of 1958, in the Alps, two children were out picking fruit when a massive wolf attacked them. The sister was killed, but the brother pulled a knife and wounded the wolf. He was then killed also. The angry townspeople went on a hunt and came across a girl named Perenette Gandillon, who was covered in blood and scratches. The mob tore her to shreds and continued to the Gandillon household (the family had been suspected of witchcraft for some time).
They tortured Perenette’s brother, Pierre, who admitted that Satan had granted him powers to shapeshift into a werewolf via a magic salve. Pierre’s son, Georges, also admitted to being a werewolf after being tortured, and they were both burned to death. One of the hunters was Henry Boguet, and he used the Gandillon family as an example to show what happens when people deal with Satan.
11. Michel Verdun, Pierre Burgot, and Philibert Montot, The Werewolves of Poligny
In 1521, the Inquisitor Jean Boin of Besancon tried Michel Verdun, Pierre Bourgot, and Philibert Montot for lycanthropy and for making a pact with the devil. The men supposedly attacked a traveler as wolves, but the traveler defended himself and injured one of them, forcing them to retreat.
The man followed the blood-trail of the wolf and came to a hut where he found Michel Verdun under the care of his wife, who was washing a wound on his body. The traveler notified authorities and they arrested Verdun who, under torture, admitted he was a shapeshifter and revealed the names of his accomplices. He also confessed to diabolism, murder, and eating the flesh of a nine-year-old girl. The three were promptly executed.
10. Jacques Roulet, The Werewolf of Angers
In 1598, some local Frenchmen came upon the mutilated corpse of a fifteen-year-old boy. Two wolves ran away as they approached the body, and they gave chase. The locals discovered a half-naked man where the tracks ended, and his hands were covered in blood and flesh, and his nails, hair, and beard were long.
Roulet was arrested for the murder of the boy, and in court admitted to being able to transform into a wolf by means of a salve given to him by his parents. He claimed to have eaten many women and children, and the prosecutor demanded execution, but after confusing trial answers his confession was deemed unreliable and he was instead placed in an insane asylum for two years.
9. The Werewolf of Pavia
In 1541 in Pavia, Italy, an unnamed farmer supposedly attacked and killed many men in the open country. After many hunts he was caught, and the man proceeded to tell his captors that the only difference between himself and a natural wolf was that a true wolf’s hair grew outward, while his grew inward. To prove his assertion, magistrates cut off his arms and legs to see for themselves. Unsurprisingly, the man died from his wounds. It’s kind of like that old witch story: throw a bound witch into a river – if she drowns she’s innocent, and if she floats she’s a witch and burned alive.
8. Manuel Blanco Romasanta, The Werewolf of Allariz
The most recent werewolf case came in 1853, when Spain’s first documented serial killer, Manuel Blanco Romasanta, admitted to thirteen murders. He claimed he was not responsible for the killings because he suffered from a curse that turned him into a wolf. Queen Isabella II rejected his defense but commuted his death sentence to allow doctors to investigate him for clinical lycanthropy. He died in prison, and his case is seen by psychiatrists as a missed opportunity to legitimize psychiatry in 19th century Spain.
7. Vseslav of Polotsk
Vseslav Bryachislavish was an 11th century ruler of Polotsk, and briefly the Grand Prince of Kiev. He reigned for 57 years, and during that time he was known as Vseslav the Sorcerer and was believed by many to be a werewolf. Supposedly he was born “in a shirt,” or wrapped in membrane, which was a sign of lycanthropy. According to legends, such a person had the gift of transforming into a werewolf and learning witchcraft.
6. Hans the Werewolf
Hans was an 18-year-old Estonian who was caught up in a combined werewolf-witch trial. In 1651, he confessed that he had hunted as a werewolf for two years, and claimed that he had received the body of a wolf from a man in black. The judges asked him if his body took place in the hunts, or if it was only his soul that was transformed, and also if he felt himself to be a man or a beast while transformed. He said he felt himself to be a beast, and the court considered this proof that he really did transform into a werewolf… Therefore, he had undergone a magical transformation, and the “man in black” was obviously Satan, so he was sentenced to death.
5. Gilles Garnier, The Werewolf of Dole
Gilles Garnier was a hermit who lived outside the town of Dole, in France, with his new wife. Unaccustomed to being married and having to feed more than himself, he found it difficult to provide for his wife. During the 1570s, several children went missing and were found dead, and the authorities of the province issued a proclamation that allowed people to apprehend and kill the supposed werewolf responsible.
One evening a group of travelers came upon what they thought was a wolf, but then recognized it was Garnier with the body of a dead child. He was arrested, tried, and claimed that a specter had appeared and offered to give him an ointment to change him into a wolf and make it easier for him to hunt. He confessed to killing at least four children, and was put to death.
4. The Werewolf of Chalons
One of the worst lycanthropes ever arraigned was the unnamed Werewolf of Chalons, otherwise known as the “Demon Tailor.” He was arraigned in 1598 on murder charges that were so gruesome that the court ordered all documents of the hearing to be destroyed. He was believed, according to “witnesses”, to lure children into his shop, abuse them, slit their throats, and then powder and dress their bodies, before quartering them like a butcher. Pleasant. Barrels of bleached bones were found in his cellars, and it was said that when he burned to death he was blaspheming and unrepentant.
3. Jean Grenier, The Boy Werewolf
In 1603, young children (big surprise) from small villages began disappearing. One witness – a 13-year-old girl named Marguerite Poirier – claimed that she had been attacked by a savage wolf under a full moon, but had defended herself with an iron staff. The next day, she claimed, a 13-year-old boy named Jean Grenier – who had been tending Marguerite’s cattle – boasted that it was he who attacked her, as a wolf, and that he would have torn her limb from limb if it wasn’t for that pesky staff. He was tried and found to be mentally retarded, which spearheaded a movement to reconsider werewolfism as a mental illness and therefore provide more lenient sentences for accused lycanthropes.
2. Thiess, The Livonian Werewolf
Perhaps the starkest contrast to the child-stealing, raving lunatic, Hannibal Lector-esque werewolves comes in the form of an 80-year-old man named Thiess. In 1692, the old man was put on trial for heresy, where he openly proclaimed himself to be a werewolf. However, he claimed that, for three nights every year, he ventured into Hell with other werewolves in order to do battle with the Devil and his witches, and to rescue the grain and livestock that the witches had stolen from Earth.
He called himself a “Hound of God,” and denied that he ever signed a pact with the Devil, and in fact claimed that werewolves were agents of God and better than any priest. Desperate and unable to gain a satisfying confession, Thiess was sentenced and received just ten lashes for his actions of idolatry…
1. Peter Stumpp, The Werewolf of Bedburg
The most famous werewolf trial that ever took place accused the Rhenish farmer Peter Stumpp of cannibalism and serial killing. In 1589, after being stretched on a rack and tortured, Stumpp confessed to having practiced black magic since he was twelve. The following is not for the squeamish:
Stumpp claimed the Devil gave him a magic belt that enabled him to transform into a wolf, and for 25 years he had hunted, killed, and eaten two pregnant women and fourteen children, one of which was his own son born from incest with his own daughter. After the trial, Stumpp’s execution was one of the most brutal on record. He – together with his daughter and mistress (who was a distant relative) – were put on a wheel in public, had flesh torn from their body with pincers, had their limbs broken, flayed, their heads decapitated, and then their bodies burned.
The case of Peter Stumpp – who was a converted Protestant – is thought by many to be a barely-concealed political trial by the new Catholic lord of Bedburg, in order to bully and terrify the Protestants of the region back into Catholicism.