A Historic Renaissance Werewolf Executed on Halloween
The famous case of the German farmer Peter Stubbe presents a story of extreme violence. Terrible mutilations of livestock and people plagued the German town of Bedburg in the mid-1500s. For many years the ripped and half-eaten remains of sheep, goats, and even people were found in fields and woodlands. Locals attributed the attacks to a large wolf-like beast.
In 1589 hunters and their dogs finally pinned the beast only to discover that it was not a wolf but a local farmer named Peter Stubbe. At this time in Europe, interrogation meant torture, and Peter went on the rack. A horrendous confession ensued. Peter admitted that he had been performing black magic since the age of 12, and the Devil had given him a wolf fur girdle. When he wore this item, he became a werewolf capable of biting and tearing apart animals and people. His crime spree encompassed rape, murder, mutilation, incest, and cannibalism that included consuming the fetuses of pregnant victims.
His execution took place on October 31, 1589, a date we know as Halloween. The lethal force of the State was nearly as grisly as the crimes to which he was accused. While he was tied to a wheel, men with red hot pincers tore off his flesh. His limbs were broken and then he was beheaded and burned. His daughter and mistress were forced to witness this public spectacle, and then they were burned alive as well because they had been named as accomplices in his sorcery.
Unlike the countless werewolves of folklore and mythology, the case of Peter Stubbe actually has a surviving primary source to place it in history. The British Museum and the Lambeth Library each contain a copy of a 1590 chapbook complete with woodcut illustrations. Published in London only a year later, the chapbook translated the original German documents about the case.
This historical document should not be seen as proof of the reality of black magic and werewolves. Whether Peter Stubbe was an innocent victim of a community’s need for a scapegoat or an actual serial killer of the most gruesome kind is impossible to know. Torture is well known to be completely unreliable.
This Early Modern era of Europe also known as the Renaissance produced thousands of such gory cases in which all manner of fantastic crimes were described under torture. Interrogators often coached their victims on what to say according to their own beliefs and perverse fantasies. This was the era of the witch burnings that swept through Europe for about 250 years and caused an unknown number of innocent people to be killed with terrible brutality. Scholarly estimates on the body count range from the hundreds of thousands into the millions.
But if Peter Stubbe was an actual serial killer, then his peers would have perceived him as a Devil-worshipping sorcerer. There also remains the possibility that the nasty mutilations were done by regular wolves or wild dogs, and a society in the throes of decades of violent unrest convicted Peter wrongfully.
A society that accepted the public mutilation and burning of criminals as normal is astonishing to contemplate. Were the men that put Peter Stubbe to his final tortures any less vicious than the Devil-made beast he was supposed to be?
Werewolves serve as a metaphor for the savagery that plagues humanity. We are capable of compassion, altruism and artistic expression as well as brutal bloodshed. We like to attribute vicious violence to the predators of the animal world, but, as a species, our hands bare the darkest stains. The wolf hunts for food and may fight to defend territory. But that species lacks human mechanisms of terror like propaganda and gangs of thugs that impose the authority of the few over the many.
Europe in the time of Peter Stubbe was in the midst of a religious war that would take decades of excruciating violence to settle. The Protestants and Catholics vied for control of the body and soul of Europe. Each side regarded the other as corrupt and foul. The superstitions about magic and monsters that had existed for centuries were now accusations that neighbors hurled against neighbors as one group tried to assert political power over another.
This shockingly turbulent era has always fascinated me. How could a time that produced such exquisite art also be a time of massive unrest and human brutality?
As a fantasy writer, I entered this historical period and made real the magic and folklore of the time. But instead of a monster, I created a werewolf hero: Thal. I held up his animal power as a mirror to so-called human civilization. The violence of Renaissance society did not compare well to the natural need of a predator to sometimes kill.
From the case of Peter Stubbe, I took the detail about the wolf girdle given him by the Devil. In the novels of the Werewolves in the Renaissance series, I gave Thal an enchanted fur created by his sorcerer father. Thal can use it at will to change into a werewolf. He is not dependent on the full moon. He is both man and wolf in his heart and mind at all times.
To celebrate the upcoming release of my tenth novel Journey of the Hunted: Werewolves in the Renaissance 2, I have some special offers. The first book Werelord Thal is currently a free ebook. And until its November 8th ebook release, Journey of the Hunted is only $0.99 on preorder. Please see more details about this exciting new series of historical fantasy.
Thal is wanted for Devil worship and shape shifting but still boldly walks the streets of 16th century Prague. Jesuits hunt him. Mercenaries fear him. Musicians sing his praise, and women are captivated by his alpha swagger.
Free at Brave Luck Books – Kindle format available
Kindle – ask Amazon to price match other retailers
Free at iBooks, Nook US, Nook UK, Kobo, and Smashwords (Kindle format also available)
Journey of the Hunted: Werewolves in the Renaissance 2
The folklore beliefs of the 16th century Renaissance come wildly to life in the werewolf hero Thal. Created by the infamous sorcerer Sarputeen, Thal now battles the dark servants of Tekax, wizard to the Turks and nemesis of Sarputeen. While escaping the Holy Roman Empire, Thal discovers more about his werewolf powers as he struggles to reach a refuge shrouded in mystery.
$0.99 Preorder – Release date is November 8, 2014
About Tracy Falbe
I was born in Michigan in 1972 and grew up in Mount Pleasant. It's called the "Mountain Town" but there is no mountain and it's debatable about whether it's pleasant. They say it's a party town and based on extensive research as a young adult I can concur.
Because I always had the childhood fantasy of running away and joining the circus, I moved to Las Vegas, Nevada in 1995 and lived there until 1997. Those who only stay a week are wimps, but I will say that it's the second year in Vegas that wears you down. Then I realized the pioneers were trying to get to California, so I moved to Chico, in Northern California and lived there until 2009.
In 2000, I earned a journalism degree from California State University, Chico with the conscious ambition of becoming a fiction writer. With the rapid demise of the newspaper industry and journalism in general, novelist is not such a daft pursuit after all. It's not like I'm actually going to get a job that values my education. Luckily I'm cursed with the impulse to write in a popular yet competitive genre.
My wandering has circled back and I'm currently residing in Battle Creek, Michigan, and for now my existence within the post-apocalyptic Rust Belt is suitably fascinating.
Visit her website Brave Luck Books or her blog Her Ladyship’s Quest.