The year of our Lord, 1547, a young boy was captured, born in Tenerife, Spain and presented to the Henry II, the King of France. From there sent to the court of Margaret of Parma, regent of the Netherlands.
He suffered from hypertrichosis, as you can see in his portrait. His name was Pedro Gonzalez, better known now as Petrus Gonsalvus, referred to by Ulisse Aldrovandi as “the man of the woods”.
He was assumed to be part animal and was treated as an experiment. The court decided to raise him as a gentleman to see if they could “make the beast a man.”
After Henry’s death, his queen Catherine de Medici decided it was time the beastman married and produced more beast children. So she selected for him the daughter of a upper palace servant, also named Catherine.
Unfortunately, little is known about Catherine prior to her remarkable marriage, not even her maiden name. All that is known is she had no idea who she was marrying when she went down the altar, so certainly she was more than a little surprised to see who her groom was.
The couple had seven children together, four of whom also had hypertrichosis. Sadly, Petrus and his four children with his affliction were not seen as people, but as animals. His children who were afflicted as he was were given away as “gifts” to other royal and noble families.
The couple and their remaining children eventually settled in Italy. They were always regarded as oddity, but lived a fairly quiet life in the end. Petrus is believed to have died in 1618 while Catherine’s death is recorded in 1623.
It was wondered for years whether or not Catherine loved her unusual husband, but this little image found in a book of oddities seems to suggest she did.
Note how Catherine has her hand on her husband’s shoulder. This was a sign of affection back then. The fact that Catherine wanted to show this in their painting suggests that she truly did care about her husband. Perhaps after years of being the “odd couple” of the courts and raising children together, losing some to be given away as pets, they had come to love each other and found their own happiness.
Catherine and her husband nearly vanished from history, But thanks to Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve, they were immortalised.While there have been myths and legends around the world about humans marrying animals. There is little doubt that Petrus and Catherine’s story inspired the French tale Le Belle et La Bete by Villeneuve’s his eighteenth century tale, La Belle et la Bête-or Beauty and Beast-took off as one of the most universal stories about looking for the goodness inside a person.
- Smithsonian Documentary : “The Real Beauty and the Beast”
- http://www.surlalunefairytales.com/beautybeast/history.html (link and title)
- Animalia Rationalia et Insecta (Ignis)- Plate by Joris Hoefnagel, National Gallery of Art Washington
- Portrait of a Girl by Santi di Tito
- Beauty and the Beast illustration by Walter Crane
You can watch and interesting mini-documentary on Petrus and Catherine here