The True Story “Beauty and the Beast” is Based On

Portrait of Petrus Gonsalvus (1537 - 1618)
Portrait of Petrus Gonsalvus (1537 - 1618)
Portrait of Petrus Gonsalvus (1537 – 1618)

Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve, the creator of the 1740 French fairy tale “Beauty and the Beast,” actually drew her inspiration from real historical events. In the 1500s, a man named Petrus Gonsalvus was born in Tenerife, Spain, with a rare genetic condition called “hypertrichosis,” or “werewolf syndrome.” At a young age, he was sent in an iron cage as a gift to Henry II of France and was seen as a mythical wild man.

Henry II, however, discovered that Petrus Gonsalvus had a quiet and calm nature and decided that he would transform him into a true gentleman. In the royal court, Gonsalvus learned how to speak, read, and write in three languages, and his social station rose significantly.

After the death of Henry II of France, his widow, the infamous Catherine de’Medici found Gonsalvus a wife, also named Catherine. The couple had seven children together, and the four that were born with “hypertrichosis” were sent as gifts to other European courts. Thus, the tale as old as time was born and the famous love story of “Beauty and the Beast” was spread far and wide.

Petrus Gonsalvus and Lady Catherine
Petrus Gonsalvus and his wife, Lady Catherine. Their marriage may have influenced one of the most famous love stories in world literature, the 1740 French fairy tale “Beauty and the Beast” by Gabrielle-Suzanne de Villeneuve.

“Hypertrichosis” is a rare medical condition that continues to perplex scientists to this day. The inherited skin disease causes excessive hair growth on the entire body, except for the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. The hair growth is especially extreme on the face, ears, and shoulders, and the individual may have facial and dental deformities as well, giving them the “beastly” appearance.

It is a genetic condition, and the disease has dominant traits, so it is very likely that someone with “hypertrichosis” will pass it on to their children – just like Gonsalvus did. While there is no cure for it, symptoms can be mitigated through hair removal.