PETRUS GONZALES – Wolf Boy of the Canary Islands

The sixteenth- and seventeenth-century must have been a simply enchanting time as fairy-tales seemed to spring into reality and the shelves of cabinets of curiosities overflowed with unusual items. The old stories of wee folk, giants and misshapen monsters seemed to be confirmed reality and in 1556 it seemed as though werewolves were also a factual entity when Petrus Gonzales stepped forward into the light of history.

Little is know of the parents of Petrus Gonzales as he was taken, as an infant, from his home in the Canary Islands to be presented to King Henri II in Pairs. Why was Petrus of such interest? Petrus Gonzales’s entire body – including his face, was covered in long, wavy hair and he was an immediate medical sensation.

In 1557, the first formal report appeared, written by Julius Caesar Scaliger. In his report about the famed boy of Paris, Scaliger referred to the lad as Barbet – the same name used to identify a breed of shaggy dog. A second report in the same year confirms the arrival of Petrus in Paris and states that King Henri ordered that the furry boy was to receive a formal education – not to be kind but rather out of curiosity – the King believed that Petrus was a savage and incapable of learning. His progress was monitored closely and he proved the King quite incorrect by not only learning the basics of education but also becoming fluent in the noble gestures, etiquette and tact. He became quite fluent in the language of the affluent, Latin, and took to wearing splendid robes that actually further accentuated his furry covered face. It was in this way that Petrus became a sought after court guest, a prodigy royal dignitaries and ambassadors flocked to see. He became a great asset to the court of King Henri and was rewarded for his service.

At the age of seventeen, in 1573, Petrus married a young French lady and by 1581 he was the father of two children. Both of his children, one son and one daughter shared his unique appearance and the entire family became the most sought after curiosity of the era. In 1581 the family began a tour of Europe. In 1582 their portraits were painted in Munich by the order of Duke Albrecht IV of Bavaria. In 1583 the Gonzales family went to Basel where they were studied by the famed anatomist Felix Plater and he published a detailed account of the visit in his Observationum and further less detailed accounts followed the travels of the family until the early 1590’s.

In the mid 1590’s in Bologna another detailed account updates much of the information on the family as the eight year old daughter of Petrus was the subject of an examination by Count Aldrovandi. The count also commissioned a drawing of the family which now included Petrus, his twenty year old son and two young girls. It is assumed that his wife and eldest daughter had died.

The family seemed to break apart at this point and various members joined up with various European royal courts. A girl by the name of Tognina Gonzales – assumed to be the youngest daughter of Petrus came to public attention and the naturalist Ulysses Aldrovandi claimed in his Historia monstrorum that Tognina was eventually married in the court of Parma and had several children of her own.

For the next 40 years members of the Gonzales family ebbed and flowed from the course of history making brief appearance in noble courts. Considering their unique condition, it is unusual that more accounts and records do not exist. It is unknown what exactly happened to Petrus or his descendants. The last historical mention of a Gonzales can be found in a in a memorial plaque attributed to a Horatio Gonzales – an likely descendant of Petrus – and given to a certain Mercurio Ferrari from 1635 which reads:

Here you see Gonzales, once famous in the court of Rome,
Whose human face was covered with hair like an animal’s.
He lived for you, Ferrari, joined to you in love,
And in the portrait he lives on, still breathing although he is dead.

image: A portait of of Petrus Gonzales.


Excerpts of the above taken from the work of Jan Bondeson and his book The Two Headed Boy.

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