September 21, 2016 Source There aren’t many wolves left in the Norwegian wilderness Just 68, in fact. But Norway’s government has decided even that’s too many. Authorities announced plans this month to kill 47 wolves, or about two-thirds of the remaining population. FLICKR/BJARNE LOHMANN MADSEN The move has sparked both intense criticism and praise. Farmers […]
Werewolves are supposed to be frightening, aren’t they? Creatures of nightmare? Yet I struggle to think of a time when they frightened me, rather than fascinated me. I don’t think I’m alone in this. In modern media, the werewolf is often the hero of TV shows, movies, books, comics …
It’s easy to be fascinated rather than frightened when you know that something is just fiction. It’s easy for teenage girls (or thirty-year-old women) to imagine falling in love with a werewolf or a vampire when they’re depicted as tortured souls, out to make amends/get revenge/insert suitable back story here …
I write the Wolf Land series – beautiful witch falls in love with handsome werewolf. Okay, there’s more to the stories than that but … in my books the werewolves are (for the most part) the good guys. They fight on behalf of the dispossessed, they fight to stop the forests being destroyed, they fight to help protect the real wolves from destruction.
And I’m not the only one who writes and reads this sort of fiction. So I have to wonder: were people ever really frightened of these creatures? Or did they always see them as the fictional creation that they (probably) are?
While writing the Wolf Land series I read a lot about the werewolf trials of the past. I refer to two of them in Wolf Land Book Two, and I’d like to delve into both a little more deeply in this blog.
The Werewolf of Dole
The first trial I refer to in the book is one which one of my characters, Maria, attended in her past. Maria speaks of a trial she witnessed where: ‘The man being tried had, undoubtedly, done terrible things. He had killed young children. Consumed their limbs and … oh, you do not need to know the gore. The man claimed that he had done these things only because he had been cursed. He claimed to be a werewolf.’
Although I add some fictional elements, I was inspired by a very real trial when I wrote this section. The trial I was thinking of was that of Gilles Garnier, a trial that took place in France in the 1570s. Gilles was also known as the Werewolf of Dole, and the Hermit of St Bonnot. Gilles lived much of his life as a hermit and, when he eventually took a wife, he found that feeding two mouths was more difficult than feeding just one. So he took the rather extreme action of turning to cannibalism. He killed and consumed children, carrying out the killing alone. He would, however, take the leftovers home for his wife.
Gilles claimed that he carried out these acts in the form of a wolf. One night while out hunting for food, he said, a spectre appeared to him and gave him a magic ointment that would allow him to transform, and so make hunting easier. He was found guilty of crimes of lycanthropy and witchcraft, and was burned at the stake in 1573.
The Werewolf of Bedburg
Later on in Wolf Land Book Two the rector tells the local children the lovely tale of Peter Stumpp. Some of you may have heard of Peter, though perhaps not under that name. The Werewolf of Bedburg was known by many names, often spelled differently: Peter Stube, Pe(e)ter Stubbe, Peter Stübbe or Peter Stumpf … Abal Griswold, Abil Griswold, Ubel Griswold …
If you google the subject, you’ll find many stories about this man and his crimes. He confessed that the devil had given him a belt which allowed him to transform into a wolf. The crimes he is said to have committed in this form, under insatiable blood lust, began with killing sheep and newborn lambs; he soon progressed to murdering and consuming human victims. His victims number 14-18, depending on the source. They include the unborn fetuses of two pregnant women. He is even said to have eaten the brain of his own son.
These crimes, if true, are incredibly unsettling. The details of Peter’s execution, however, are more unsettling still. He was put on a wheel on October 31st 1589, his body splayed out and stretched painfully. The flesh was torn from his body by hot pincers, and his limbs were broken by the blunt side of an axe to prevent his body from returning from the grave. He was beheaded, then, before being burned on a pyre. His head was placed on a pole as a warning to others who might be tempted towards sorcery or shapeshifting (y’know, in case Satan ever offers them a magical belt). It’s said that his daughter and his mistress (the Gossip of the pamphlet I link to below) were considered accessories to his crimes. They were said to be raped, flayed and strangled (because, of course, it’s not a sin if it’s a sinner you’re doing it to) and their bodies burned alongside his.
The main source of information on this subject is a pamphlet named the Damnable Life and Death of Stubbe Peeter (you can read it here – please let me know about any dead links). Two copies of this pamphlet exist, one in the British Museum and one in the Lambeth Library. It was produced in 1590, and it is a translation from a German pamphlet detailing the case and trial of Peter Stumpp. There are no remaining copies of the German pamphlet, and the English translation was rediscovered in 1920 by the occultist, Montague Summers. Montague reprinted the pamphlet,including a woodcut, in his work, The Werewolf.
There is some additional information in the form of an alderman’s diary entries, and some German broadsheets. The broadsheets, however, were probably reprinted from the English translation. Any original German documents about the trial were apparently lost; Peter’s date of birth is unknown, too, because local church records were destroyed in the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648).
Such a dearth of real information will always lead to speculation. There are some who believe that Peter Stumpp’s trial was a political trial in disguise. In Wolf Land, Sorcha tells us Brian Farrell’s theories on the subject: ‘I too knew the story of Peter Stumpp, but I knew the story as Brian told it; Brian, a man eager to believe in werewolves, had always said that this was not a story of the horrors of werewolves, but a story of the horrors of man. Peter Stumpp was caught in the middle of a religious war – he was a powerful Protestant in an area where others were determined to re-establish Catholicism.’
There were reasons for such theories. Peter grew up in Bedburg, and so was quite likely a Protestant. When the area was overthrown in 1587, in an effort to establish Catholicism, it’s conceivable that – if Peter was a Protestant in a position of some power – the new Catholic authorities may have wanted to make an example of him. Many powerful people came to his trial, and in a time when such trials were ten a penny, this was unusual. But … if Peter really did commit the crimes he confessed to, the trial would have been quite a draw, so perhaps the attendance of the peers and princes of Germany was not so unusual after all.
I began this post with a question in mind: does anyone really fear werewolves? And after reading about the trials in this blog, and so many similar cases against witches and werewolves over the centuries, I’m no closer to an answer. It could be argued that, in such trials, calling oneself (or being accused of being) a werewolf or a witch was just an excuse.
It wasn’t my fault, your honour, the devil made me do it.
Kill him, he’s in league with the devil. Never mind that it’s terribly convenient for us that this man no longer exist, just … kill him. I’m telling you – he’s got a magic belt and he knows how to use it!
But imagine we did believe that Gilles and Peter were werewolves. Imagine we believed that the countless women tortured, abused and murdered during the witch-hunts over the centuries really were witches. Would they still fascinate us or would they become something to fear?
I – and many others – create worlds filled with witches and werewolves. I’ll continue to do so. And they’ll (almost always) be the good guys. My werewolves aren’t serial killers or child murderers. But they might just chow down on the guys that are carrying out such heinous deeds. And as for my witches, if they’re ever tempted to resort to the blackest of magics, then I’ll make sure their hair looks good while they’re doing it 🙂
‘We have three beasts to destroy, that lay burdens upon us. The first is the wolf, on whom we lay five pounds a head if a dog, and ten pounds if a bitch. The second beast is a priest, on whose head we lay ten pounds; if he be eminent, more. The third beast is a Tory, on whose head if he be a public Tory we lay twenty pounds; and forty shillings on a private Tory. Your army cannot catch them; the Irish bring them in; brothers and cousins cut one another’s throats.’ – Major Morgan (MP for Wicklow), speaking at Westminster in 1657.
Nowadays we think of the word tory as being a colloquial name for the British Conservative Party or its supporters. Whilst there is an interesting history behind why the name came to be used in English/British/UK politics, today I’m going to focus on the original meaning of the word.
The word tory comes from the Irish word tóraidhe – meaning an outlaw or a pursued man (the Irish word tóir means pursue, and some translate tóraidhe as pursuer rather than pursued man). Basically the tories were Irish rebels, and those rebels were on the run. They were disbanded Confederate soldiers, raiding English-held areas and operating as guerrillas against invaders. They operated in rugged areas, such as the Wicklow mountains, attacking Parliamentarian soldiers and stealing their supplies. Oh, and they attacked tax collectors, too. Obviously, the Parliamentarian soldiers were not too happy about such things. The New Model Army meant to reconquer Ireland, and such rebel activity was not to be tolerated.
If an area was a suspected tory stronghold, then the soldiers must do anything to bring things back under control. And when I say anything, I mean anything. Crops would be burned. Cattle would be destroyed. Burn them out … starve them out … any tactic was acceptable. Some areas were free-fire zones – everyone had to get out, and if they did not, they would be considered tories or tory sympathisers, and be slain.
The fact that innocent people died, or had their crops and houses razed forcing them to become dispossessed … well, all’s fair in war. The tactics led the country into famine – a terrible famine which was worsened by a plague outbreak. The population was decimated (most deaths being those of civilians). The country was in ruins. The country was on its knees. The country was – as intended – ripe for re-conquest.
Most tories met unpleasant fates. Some were sold into slavery. Some were given deals which allowed them to leave the country to serve as soldiers in France (the English Royalist court was in exile in France) or Spain. But such deals were not always what they seemed. In 1653, the last organised tories surrendered in Cavan, thinking that they were to be sent to France. In fact, they were either executed or sent to penal colonies.
Of course some rebels remained and, despite the formal surrender, they would continue their activities on a smaller scale for the remainder of the 1650s.
The Irish Confederate (Eleven Years’) War:
So why were the tories seen as Royalist supporters? Why support one form of English rule over another? Well, the fact is that they probably did not. Affiliations are rarely iron-clad, but held only as long as is convenient.
The Eleven Years’ War (1641-1653) did not start out with Royalist support as its aim. In fact, the original Confederation was a Catholic movement, with the intention of fighting English soldiers sent by the government of Charles I. But even then there were grey areas as to allegiance and objective – otherwise why would the Confederates have felt the need to insist that their fight was against the King’s advisers rather than the King himself?
The war began in 1641 with the Ulster Rebellion – in which thousands of English and Scottish settlers were killed. Until 1649 the Confederates had somewhat of a de facto rule over Ireland. They professed to side with the Cavaliers, they claimed loyalty to Charles I, and they had the support of the Catholic clergy.
It was a complicated war, with constantly shifting loyalties and, at one stage, a brief civil war within the Confederate factions themselves. It was the arrival of the New Model Army which put an end to it all (a brutal and bloody end), but most people reading about the events arrive at the same opinion: had the Confederates been united instead of constantly shifting sides and engaging in in-fighting, then the Irish Confederate Army might well have won Ireland back for good. In the words of the 17th century poem Tuireamh na hÉireann, the Eleven Years’ war was ‘an cogadh do chríochnaigh Éire’ – the war that finished Ireland.
This is a messy subject – hard to simplify, and even harder to confine to a short blog-post. There was no ‘right side.’ With people being killed on the basis of their religion, every side carried out what would be called ethnic cleansing today. There is a wealth of material dealing with this period (much of it available online) and I spent a huge amount of time poring over it all. At the end of that research this was the conclusion I came to: in this Irish conflict, the only thing that anyone really supported was their own best interests. Human nature?
But war is ever-present. The world today is filled with those displaced by conflict, desperate to find a safe place, a place to call home. So let’s not end on a cynical note. Let’s end on a hopeful one. In recent weeks, huge swathes of people have been marching to ask that Syrian refugees be welcomed into their countries. There are people – ordinary people – inviting these refugees to share their homes. Perhaps some of us are changing. Perhaps some of us are looking past our own immediate concerns. Perhaps four hundred years from now historians will look back and say: in the 21st century, people cared.
The eradication of the wolf in Ireland was not what you would call an overnight success. Supposedly, the last wolf in Ireland was killed in 1786, but the campaign to exterminate them had been going on for a long time.
There are early historical references to wolves attacking people, such as in the Annals of Tigernach (1137) where it states: The Blind one of … that is, Giolla Muire, was killed by wolves.
In the Annála Connacht (1420) it is stated: Wolves killed many people this year.
The first legislation to exterminate wolves, however, did not come until 1584. More legislation followed over the years, but during the Cromwellian re-conquest of Ireland, the campaign really stepped up.
During wars, there will be bodies, and where there are bodies there will be wolves. Wolf numbers increased, giving rise to the nickname Wolf Land (or wolf-land, depending on the source). But … Irish men could hardly be allowed to hunt, could they? Hunters would need weapons, and weapons were something that the Irish were not supposed to have. Hunters from elsewhere would have to be attracted to Wolf Land, and the only way to do that was to pay them a whole lot of money.
In Wolf Land Book One, Sorcha lists out some typical bounties at the time. She tells us: They will earn six pounds for every female they kill, five for the males, two pounds for the younger wolves and ten shillings for the cubs.
Even with such money on offer, getting rid of our Irish wolves was not an easy job. In 1652, for example, it was forbidden to remove any wolf-hounds from the country because, with a wolf population like ours, hunters would need the help of such able dogs at their side. So why was Ireland such a special case? Why were our wolves so difficult to eradicate? I have read that, in Ireland, we saw them as a part of the landscape; indeed, their Irish name, Mac Tire (son of the land) would suggest just that. Whatever the reason, most Irish people I talk to still have a inexplicable passion for wolves. It may be 2015, but Ireland is still a Wolf Land at heart.