It's a tale as old and time. A beautiful village girl is captured and falls in love with a Beast. But is it based on a hair-raising true story?
The world sat back and smiled when Disney’s cartoon ‘Beauty and the Beast’ was turned into a live-action film, featuring Emma Watson.
But there are rumours that Disney’s tale was based on a real-life couple, from the 16th century.
Released in 1992, Disney’s princess classic saw an arrogant young prince and his servants become trapped under a spell by an evil enchantress.
The only way the spell could be broken was by true love – he needed to learn to love, and be loved.
The prince was turned into a hideous beast, who lives in isolation before he captures Maurice, Belle’s father.
Brave Belle storms Beast’s castle and draws him out of the darkness, where he learns true love.
It’s difficult to imagine this tale happening in the real world, but apparently in 1537, a “Wolf-boy” was born like Disney’s Beast on the island of Tenerife. This ‘Wolf-boy’ was actually
nobleman Petrus Gonsalvus, who was covered head to toe in thick ‘beastly’ hair.
Petrus was diagnosed with rare condition called hypertrichosis, all known as Ambras syndrome, which causes abnormal, animal-like hair growth.
The boy was bullied and isolated for his terrifying appearance, and soon his father gave him to King Henry II of France as a ‘gift’.
The 10-year-old was kept in the Royal Zoo as part of a freak show, but he soon began to read and write – earning the respect of his elders and peers.
Multiple languages including Italian, Latin and French were in his vocabulary, which only made respect for him grow much like his beastly hair.
Yet like in the Disney film, poor Petrus could not learn to love and no woman, it seemed, could love him for his appearance.
But all hope was not lost – the Queen of France found a wife for Petrus named Catherine, who was not told of his hair before their wedding.
Kind-hearted Catherine looked past his hideous hair and fell in love with the intelligent, brave man inside.
As the years went by, the couple had seven children – four of which were struck down with the same condition as their father.
The couple settled in Italy, living aristocratic lives before Petrus died in 1618, aged 81.
It is widely rumoured that their love story was the inspiration behind French novel ‘La Belle et la Bête’ in 1740, written by Gabrielle-Suzanne de Villeneuve.
This is the book the Disney film was supposedly based on.
Although some have made the link between Petrus to Madame Villeneuve’s book – thus being the inspiration behind the Disney Classic – others have highlighted that her novel is
about the kidnap of a girl by a beast.
When you scratch beneath the surface of true love, it appears that the book is about women’s rights and marriage in the 18th century.
We see a girl trapped in a tower, cut off by her family as she dotes on her beastly kidnapper.
She has nothing but to fall in love with her captor, thus marrying him – highlighting the isolation of women in marriage in that era.
We will never know the truth behind a tale as old as time.