The Curious 16th Century Case of Peter Stubbe: The Werewolf Of Bedburg

One of the first werewolf accounts is retold in Ovid’s Metamorpheses. It tells of King Lycaon and his punishment by Zeus for serving human flesh. But the Greeks likely stole the idea of lycanthropy from an old Phoenician cult dating back to 1200 BCE. Whatever the case, there have been historical accounts from all over Europe. One such was Peter Stubbe, a verified werewolf killed for his admitted crimes in 1589 CE.

A pamphlet resurfaces

The source of this story is a pamphlet circulated in London during 1590. It was a reprint of a lost German publication from the year before. Only two copies of the English pamphlet survive; one is in the British Museum, the other in Lambeth.

The pamphlets were found by Montague Summers, an English clergyman and author of the 1928 book, The Werewolf. In his book, he reprints the entire 16-page publication. It details the life and death of Peter Stubbe, witness accounts, and his trial.

An inclination towards evil

Let us begin with his story. He is called Stumpp and Stumpf in the German. He was born in the village of Epprath near the country-town of Bedburg in the Electorate of Cologne. His age is unknown as the local church registers were destroyed during the Thirty Years' War (1618–1648). He went by the alias Abal, Abil, and Ubel Griswold. He was likely renamed Stubbe (Stumpf in German) after his left hand was cut off, leaving a stump.

Sometime in the 1580s, he was left a widower of two children. One was a daughter named Beele (Sybil) and the other a son of unknown age. Surprisingly, he was a relatively wealthy farmer of his rural community. But it was said in the pamphlet that “from his youth was greatly inclined to euill.”

After being stretched on the rack, Stubbe admitted to practicing black magic since the age of 12.

The werewolf belt

Stubbe claimed he made a pact with the Devil to turn himself into a beast. He was able to do this with a magical girdle the Devil gave him which transformed him into a beast. The pamphlet describes his form as “the likeness of a greedy, devouring wolf, strong and mighty, with eyes great and large, which in the night sparkled like fire, a mouth great and wide, with most sharp and cruel teeth, a huge body, and mighty paws.”

When he removed the belt, he became a man again. For 25 years this went on. The pamphlet paints him as a serial killer. He murdered livestock, women, and children. He admitted to the killing of 14 children and the murder of 2 pregnant women.

The pamphlet describes his murder of the pregnant women in detail, saying he ripped the babies from the womb and “ate their hearts panting hot and raw.” You can see why they tortured him. He later called the baby hearts, “dainty morsels.”

No belt was ever found.

Executed on October 31, 1589

Peter Stubbe was put to the wheel and tortured with hot pincers. It’s said they ripped the flesh from his body in ten places. Then they broke his arms and legs with the blunt side of a wood-cutting axe to prevent him from returning from the grave. Then he was beheaded and burned.

In the pyre beside him was the tortured bodies of his daughter and mistress. They were flayed and strangled with collaboration in witchcraft. He was said to have had an incestuous relationship with his daughter and his mistress was a distant relative, also seen as incest.

After his burning, they placed his head on the dead corpse of a wolf and spiked it outside the town as a warning.

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