ATLAS OBSCURA

Illustration of the wolf shot in 1765 (via Wikimedia) 1765 illustration of the beast (via The London Magazine) 18th century illustration of the Beast of Gévaudan (via Wikimedia)

Of Wolves, Men, and Delicious Little Girls

A sensational trial in Germany in 1589 saw a man accused of making a deal with the devil, shapeshifting into a wolf, and killing 128 people, among other assorted gruesome crimes.

Known as the “Werewolf of Bedburg,” Peter Stubbe (or Stumpp) was executed on October 31, 1589, along with his daughter and mistress. As an example to others tempted by the devil’s offer of magical shape shifting garments, the execution was spectacularly horrific. The story was spread throughout Europe in a pamphlet describing the trial, torture, and death with relish. Then, as now, a story with a title like A True Discourse. Declaring the Damnable Life and Death of One Stubbe Peeter, a Most Wicked Sorcerer sold like hotcakes, and the werewolf myth gained more ground in the popular mind.

After lurid accounts of his supposed crimes including assorted murders, acts of cannibalism, and the ripping of children from the wombs of their mothers, after which he “eate their hartes panting hotte and rawe,” his final execution was described thus:

…his body laide on a wheele, and with red hotte burning pincers in ten seue∣ral places to haue the flesh puld off from the bones, after that, his legges and Armes to be broken with a woodden Are or Hatchet, afterward to haue his head strook from his body, then to haue his carkasse burnde to Ashes.

Today there is debate over whether Stubbe was a spectacularly bad man — a serial killer of the day — or if perhaps the spate of deaths might in fact be blamed on actual, non-demonic, non-shifting wolves, or whether he simply found himself, like so many others, on the wrong side of an inquisitor’s political or religious agenda.

…So much more on the long, storied history of Wolves, Men, and Delicious Little Girls…