On October 23, 2023, the esteemed British actress Haydn Gwen, renowned for her portrayal in the cinematic masterpiece “Beauty and the Beast,” unfortunately succumbed to illness. While this news plunged cinephiles into sorrow, it invariably rekindled collective recollections of the aforementioned film. The cinematic gem “Beauty and the Beast” draws inspiration from the eponymous fairy tale penned by the French authoress Madame Beaumont. The benevolent Belle, in encountering the initially monstrous “Beast,” catalyzed a metamorphosis, culminating in the transformation into a resplendent prince, attaining the sweet elixir of love.
Less illuminated is the genesis of this fairy tale, an obscure narrative woven by Madame Beaumont from the fabric of real lives. In stark contradistinction to the felicitous conclusion in the fairy tale, the existence of Pedro Gonzalez, the living embodiment of “The Beast,” was steeped in abject wretchedness. Born afflicted with hirsutism, Pedro was branded an aberration from infancy, subjected to detention, coerced to partake in macabre rituals involving blood consumption, and eventually bartered into a circus to endure a life akin to that of fauna. Subsequently relegated to a mere plaything and experimental subject for the royal echelon, Pedro’s maternal bonds were severed upon the birth of his progeny, and he remained perennially dehumanized until his demise—a tragic saga emblematic of the era’s systemic discrimination.
A Nightmarish Inception:
On August 16, 1537, on the isle of Tenerife in the Canary Archipelago of Spain, a rustic woman named Inéli ushered her son Pedro Gonzalez into the world. Gazing upon the infant for the first time, Inéli was struck with incredulity, for the cherubic Pedro was enveloped in a luxuriant pelt, resembling an anthropoid. Her spouse Andrei, momentarily aghast, and her mother-in-law, in exclamation, decried, “Oh my God! You must have incurred divine wrath to birth a hirsute monstrosity! This is too dreadful! This aberration cannot abide within our abode; we must cast it away!” In defiance of postpartum frailty, Inéli, impelled by maternal instinct, shielded the infant in her arms, entreating her mother-in-law for clemency.
Pedro, in truth, was afflicted by an uncommon manifestation of hirsutism, an enigma unbeknownst to the denizens of that epoch. Unfamiliar with this peculiar ailment, the populace construed the birth of the “beastly” Pedro as divine retribution for perceived transgressions committed by Mr. and Mrs. Andre. Rumors, aspersions cast upon Andrei, burgeoned, causing Inéli to gradually relinquish her filial affection for Pedro, ultimately acquiescing to her husband’s decree and confining the child to a cage.
Pedro’s liberty was irrevocably forfeited. More disconcerting was the metamorphosis of his progenitors into custodians who regarded him as a feral creature. The sustenance meted out to him was not the staple fare of bread and milk but rather raw meat ensconced in fur and blood. Initially repulsed, hunger compelled Pedro to partake in the gruesome repast of raw hair and sanguinary draughts. Intrigued onlookers, drawn by curiosity, frequented Pedro’s cage, reveling in voyeuristic fascination as he consumed morsels of raw meat—an occurrence eventually commodified by Andre, who levied a fee for the voyeuristic privilege.
Reduced to a commodified spectacle, Pedro, despite his hirsute veneer, exhibited normalcy in other facets. A lad of tender years, imbued with a yearning for freedom, was ensconced within confines too confining to afford even a semblance of respite. His lustrous eyes, shrouded by a hirsute visage, reflected perpetual trepidation, fearful of paternal inebriation culminating in capricious assaults. His heartached during frigid nights, as echoes of familial warmth, laughter, and maternal endearments emanated from an adjacent chamber, further accentuating his desolation.
In the crucible of anguish and dread, Pedro matured with each passing day. As the constraints of the iron enclosure strained against the burgeoning boy, the yearning for freedom crystallized into fervent entreaties, only to be met with paternal rebuffs. In protest, Pedro articulated his discontent through vehement roars. Alarmed by this manifestation, Andre opted to sever paternal ties.
Soon thereafter, Andre secured an alternative domicile for Pedro: the circus. A troupe from Seville procured Pedro for 4,000 pesetas, relegating him to a simian enclosure. Vocal in his protestations—“I am human; do not incarcerate me amidst beasts!”—Pedro was derided by the circus impresario: “Henceforth, you are a simian!”
Compelled to emulate simian antics for sustenance, Pedro, resigned to this ignominious fate, honed his skills through brutal tutelage. His adeptness at simulating authentic simian behavior beguiled spectators, blurring the line between man and beast. The circus proprietor, content with Pedro’s performances, offhandedly pledged, “Once you amass sufficient revenue, liberation shall be your reward.” Unbeknownst to the cheering audience, Pedro’s heart waned in tandem with their exultations.
During a performance, an eccentric elder availed himself of an invitation to interact with the simians. Proffering Pedro a pear, he intoned, “Your hirsute adornment is a divine bestowal. Traverse life with dignity.” These words induced instantaneous tears from Pedro, who, with a gracious bow, pledged remembrance. The baffled audience conjectured, “A conversant simian?” Henceforth, Pedro’s celebrity burgeoned, compelling him to acquire an expanding repertoire daily, satiating base voyeuristic curiosities.
The Lurking Specter of Humiliation:
In the 16th century Europe, an avidity for amassing oddities pervaded society. Eccentric collections, the more anomalous, garnered heightened attention and accolades. King Ferdinand I of Hungary, for instance, acquired a dwarfish damsel, captivating in countenance yet merely 67 centimeters in stature. Confined within a specially crafted glass receptacle, she was euphemistically hailed as the “Glass Doll.” The aristocracy clamored for an audience, showering the monarch with opulent tributes for the privilege to behold the diminutive spectacle. Ferdinand I not only amassed substantial wealth but also luxuriated in the caresses of vanity.
Within this milieu, an entrepreneur, John Canas, conceived the notion of presenting Pedro as a gift to the potentates. In 1547, Canas negotiated with the circus impresario, lavishing an exorbitant sum to procure Pedro. His aim was to bestow this living curiosity upon Henry, the French crown prince, in anticipation of securing a foothold within the royal court.
After a perfunctory education, Pedro entered the palace during Henry II’s coronation in October 1547. His presence, bedecked with cascading tresses, elicited astonishment from the assembled dignitaries. Confronted with accusatory fingers, Pedro, in a hushed plea, asserted, “I am not a beast; I am a ten-year-old child.” Yet, his protestations fell on deaf ears. To the nobility, Pedro was a beast—a talking anomaly.
Interned within the royal bastion, Pedro became the subject of scrutiny by court physicians and scholars. Following an exhaustive examination, Dr. Darnell, a venerable figure in the medical fraternity, apprised Henry II, “Pedro is no monster; he is but a ten-year-old child. Apart from his hirsute integument, he bears no disparity from us.” Disregarding Darnell’s testimony, Henry II, under the veneer of benevolence, mandated a nominal education for Pedro. Privately, however, the monarch persisted in viewing Pedro through the lens of bestiality. Pedro, subjected to deliberate or inadvertent humiliations, found solace solely in the compassionate ministrations of Dr. Darnell.
Humiliating Pedro in the name of research has become a daily regimen for most court physicians. They thoroughly drenched Pedro, then expelled him outdoors to ascertain if he would succumb to the cold; they employed intense firelight to agitate Pedro’s eyes, testing whether he would exhibit fear akin to a wild creature in the face of flames. They even confined the waiter with Pedro, who had endured three days of hunger, to “observe” if Pedro would devolve into an “animalistic” state and consume the waiter…
Pedro had grown accustomed to a myriad of degradations, but fortuitously, he remained remarkably contemporary. Despite the lack of interest from his instructors, he unfailingly seized every opportunity to avidly acquire knowledge. Whenever time allowed, he sought guidance from Darnell and borrowed various tomes for perusal. A few years later, a remarkable transformation occurred in Pedro. He not only spoke the intricate medieval Latin fluently but also demonstrated proficiency in Galician and Basque languages. Even the exceedingly intricate palace etiquette became comprehensible. All acquired.
Regrettably, regardless of Pedro’s erudition, he could not alter his destiny. Henry II marveled at Pedro’s intellect but failed to accord him the treatment befitting a genuine person. In February 1553, Henry II took Pedro to visit Portugal. It was Pedro’s inaugural sojourn abroad, albeit not as a guest but merely as a “novelty” in Henry II’s parlance. During the visit, Henry II exploited Pedro to steal the spotlight: he instructed Pedro to perform as a “simian” in plain view of the public, reciting poems in Latin, and even baring himself to flaunt his luxuriant hair.
Feeling debased, Pedro plucked out his hair one by one in the dead of night. The agony was excruciating, yet he consoled himself: “Perhaps, by shedding all my hair, I can become truly human!” However, people extended no aid to Pedro in this dire moment. Upon discovering his self-mutilation, Henry II issued a stern warning: “If you engage in this behavior again, I shall confine you to an aquatic prison!”
In despair, Pedro capitulated and pledged to Henry II to “cherish” his own hair. He finally comprehended that no one permitted him to embrace normalcy, destined to remain the plaything of the influential.
In November 1559, Henry II succumbed to a heart attack. Pedro sensed an opportunity. If he could escape the palace, he could initiate a new life. However, fate did not smile upon Pedro. What he perceived as a turning point in destiny was merely the prelude to a new tragedy…
The tragedy would persist until death. Following Henry II’s demise, Queen Catherine assumed control of the entire royal household. Pedro implored Catherine: “I have faithfully served the court for twelve years. Your benevolent Majesty, I implore you to grant me freedom.” Unexpectedly, Catherine not only rebuffed Pedro’s plea but also resolved to wed him.
Evidently, Queen Catherine’s taste was even more deplorable than her husband’s. She desired to ascertain the progeny Pedro could sire with an ordinary woman, one that would also possess hirsutism. In February 1562, Queen Catherine selected a maiden named Mary Kay from among her attendants and proffered her to Pedro. On the nuptial night, Mary Kayne beheld Pedro’s hairy countenance for the first time and promptly fainted. Pedro reproached himself profusely, compelled to shroud his face with a piece of fabric to prevent alarming his new wife upon her awakening.
Upon Marylin’s recovery, she remained apprehensive upon witnessing Pedro “fully armed” by her side. Pedro expeditiously elucidated: “Hear me out, I am a normal individual and shall never harm you!” That night, Pedro disclosed to Mary Kaylin the entirety of his life’s vicissitudes, concluding sincerely: “When we are in private, I shall endeavor to keep my distance from you. However, in the Queen’s presence, we must comport ourselves as a conventional couple; otherwise, the Queen will not relent.”
As Queen Catherine’s attendant, Mary Kaylin was well-acquainted with the Queen’s disposition. In desperation, she resolved to cultivate amicability with Pedro. Post-marriage, Pedro’s earnestness gradually disarmed Mary Kaylin. Simultaneously, she discerned numerous virtues in Pedro: his extensive literary knowledge and courtly manners rendered his conduct truly gentlemanly. Moreover, Pedro held Mary Kayne in high esteem, regarding her as a treasure. Touched, Mary Kaylin genuinely embraced him, peculiar appearance notwithstanding.
Two years hence, Mary Kayne bore two children. Fortunately, both offspring were unblemished by Pedro’s genetic traits. Pedro breathed a sigh of relief, presuming he had finally attained the felicity he had long yearned for. Alas, Queen Catherine harbored no intention of releasing him. Disappointed that their progeny were ordinary, she summoned Mary Kaylin and conveyed: “You must comprehend my expectations. Your duty is far from fulfilled. Continue to procreate, one after another.” Born, collectively.”
Mary Kaylene dared not defy the Queen. She assented with tears in her eyes, silently beseeching in her heart: “My children, whenever you come into this world, never resemble your woeful father.”
Yet fate proved cruel. The third child Mary bore was, akin to Pedro, shrouded in hair. The Queen rejoiced and directed Mary to persist in childbearing. Subsequently, Pedro and Mary Kaylin brought forth a total of seven offspring, of which four were afflicted with hirsutism, unfurling a new chapter in Pedro’s tragic saga. Queen Catherine dispatched the Pedro family to various royal “expositions” across Europe, where they were paraded as if circus animals. At each locale, royal physicians scrutinized the Pedro family, endeavoring to discern the reason behind their “bestial” growth. Although every examination yielded no answers, the nobility reveled in the spectacle. Additionally, each royal household commissioned artists to craft portraits of Pedro’s family, these renditions serving as gifts exchanged among the potent to satiate their morbid curiosity.
Pedro grew accustomed to this form of ignominy, but witnessing his children cower behind him like startled deer drove him nearly insane with anguish. To prevent his offspring from enduring his tragic fate anew, he even contemplated ending their lives with his own hands, allowing them to depart with dignity. Yet, as a father, he could not muster the cruelty. For this reason, Pedro implored Queen Catherine incessantly: “Please liberate my children. I shall accede to any demand. I entreat you to release them.” Nevertheless, the queen harbored no affection for Pedro’s progeny. She exhibited no clemency whatsoever. In her heart, Pedro’s family was no different from kittens and puppies. She even devised a more malevolent scheme – gifting Pedro’s four “little fur babies” to princes of other realms, serving as “companions” for “socializing”.
Over the ensuing decade, Queen Catherine bequeathed Pedro’s four hirsute children to nobles from diverse royal families, consigning them to serve as the playthings of the powerful. On one occasion, when Pedro was dispatched by the queen to Hungary for an “exhibition,” he encountered his youngest son, Doro. Doro’s diminutive frame was tethered by an imposing chain, manipulated and berated without reprieve, yet exhibiting no reaction. Pedro felt his heart shatter. He called out his son’s name vehemently, but when Doro glimpsed him, his eyes betrayed no flicker of recognition.
Doro, merely six years old, appeared afflicted with mental disturbance! Confronted with the tragic state of his son, Pedro utterly lost control. He vaulted over the crowd, endeavoring to reclaim his child, only to be ruthlessly felled by the guards and left unconscious. When Pedro regained consciousness, Doro was nowhere to be found. Pedro comprehended that, subsequent to this farewell, father and son might never reunite. From that day forth, Pedro’s mental state devolved. He conversed with walls, gesticulated aimlessly, and clawed at the air. When roused, he would shriek and weep: “My hapless children, I should never have brought you into this malevolent world!”
Initially despondent over her son and grieving, Mary Kaylene, witnessing her husband’s descent into madness, succumbed to severe illness and passed away on March 17, 1610. The demise of his wife proved the coup de grâce for Pedro, and he descended into complete insanity. Realizing that Pedro had outlived his utility, the queen expelled him from the palace. Subsequently, Pedro, accompanied by his three unaffected children, resettled on a small island in Bodimont, Italy. There, the specters of humiliation, mockery, and derision were nonexistent. It was the life Pedro had yearned for throughout his existence. Alas, it was too late; his mental landscape had crumbled entirely, his soul seemingly departing his corporeal form long ago to join his departed wife and children…
On September 11, 1618, Pedro breathed his last. His demise failed to stir the indifferent hearts of the populace, and the church declined to orchestrate a funeral for a “beast”. Ultimately, Pedro left no trace in death and vanished into the annals of history. A scant few portraits persisted in the hands of nobility, bearing witness to his fleeting existence in this world.
More than a century later, the French authoress Madame Beaumont encountered the portraits of Pedro’s family. Touched by the tragedy of Pedro’s life, she penned the renowned fairy tale “Beauty and the Beast.” In her narrative, she bestowed a happy denouement upon the beast – transforming into a prince and leading a contented life. Through this fairy tale, Madame Beaumont sought to convey to the world that one should not judge individuals based on appearance, affirming that every person deserves control over their own destiny.
Nevertheless, Pedro was never the prince of the fairy tale. From birth to demise, he was never accorded the treatment befitting a human being. Throughout his existence, he was scorned, wounded, and tormented by the epochs, yet his silhouette traversing suffering deserves remembrance by the world.