The Wolf of Ansbach

Jul 13, 2023 0 comments

Like most wild animals, wolves predominantly inhabit remote areas, maintaining a natural inclination and capability to steer clear of human presence. But under certain circumstances, such as human encroachment into wolf territories and lack of game, encounters between wolves and humans can occur leading to potential conflicts and rare instances of attacks. Throughout history, spanning back to the medieval era, there exists a documented record of numerous instances where humans have encountered and fallen victim to wolf attacks, numbering in the thousands. Among these historical accounts, there is one in particular that is noteworthy.

The hunting of the wolf of Ansbach.

In 1685, a wolf began attacking livestock and children in the Principality of Ansbach, in the modern German state of Bavaria, then a part of the Holy Roman Empire. An idea soon spread that the perpetrator of the attacks was not an ordinary wolf, but instead a werewolf. There was little uncertainty regarding the identity of this loathed creature—Michael Leicht, the despised Burgomaster of Ansbach, who had recently met his demise after imposing a tyrannical and deceitful reign upon the town for an extended period.

Speculation arose suggesting that the deeply despised official had, in fact, eluded death by transferring his spirit into the form of a wolf. Reports surfaced of alleged sightings of him at his own funeral, while a contemporary flyer depicted Michael Leicht, in the form of a wolf wrapped in a white-linen shroud, return to his former residence and scare the new occupants.

The Burgomaster appears as a wolf to scare the people of Ansbach.

It thus became necessary to hunt the fierce wolf, not only to protect the children, but to free the city from the spirit of the Burgomaster. It was also an opportunity to avenge years of harassment and mistreatment.

The hunters prepared a Wolfsgrube, or the “wolf pit”, with a hole dug in the ground and the entrance covered with branches and straws. A rooster was placed at the bottom of the pit as bait. Soon enough, the wolf came smelling the prey, wandered around the scrubs until it fell into the trapping pit. The hunters pounced upon the trapped animal and swiftly killed it.


Also read: How The Beast Of GĂ©vaudan Terrorized 18th-Century France


The hunting of the wolf was not terribly eventful. What they did with its body afterwards, however, is pretty macabre.

The lifeless body of the animal was paraded through the streets, to assure the public that the threat had been vanquished. The animal was then skinned and its muzzle severed. A cardboard mask bearing the features of Leicht was then placed over its head. They also dressed the wolf in a wig and cloak giving it the appearance of the former Burgomaster. The wolf's body was then hanged from a gibbet for all to see.

 

Poems were written about the wolf and the deeds he was accused of:

I, wolf, was a grim beast and devourer of many children
Which I far preferred to fat sheep and steers;
A rooster killed me, a well was my death.
I now hang from the gallows, for the ridicule of all people.
As a spirit and a wolf, I bothered men
How appropriate, now that people say:
“Ah! You damned spirit who entered the wolf,
You now swing from the gallows disguised as a man
This is your fair compensation, the gift you have earned;
This you deserve, a gibbet is your grave.
Take this reward, because you have devoured the sons of men
Like a fierce and ferocious beast, a real child eater.

The ghastly nature of the punishment serves a symbolic purpose, according to writer and producer Ivan Cenzi of Bizzarro Bazar.

On the one hand, depriving the wolf of his fur and replacing it with human clothes meant showing Satan himself that his tricks did not work. The townspeople of Ansbach were able to recognize the man concealing under the fur; this was therefore a warning, addressed to the Devil himself — this how your evil servants end up, around here! — and it had a clear apotropaic intent.

On the other hand, there was an undeniable political aspect. This was a “by proxy” execution of the former ruler; the commoners, who had failed to overthrow their oppressor while he was alive, did so post-mortem.

The wolf remained hanging from the gibbet for a few days, perhaps as a warning to the new burgomaster, before it was removed and its corpse preserved and put on permanent display at a local museum.

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