In these trials, all the formalities were rigorously observed, as if the animals were human. In the dossier of an affair judged in 1499, we even find the minutes of the notification made to the murderous young pig, in the prison where the condemned were kept, before being taken to the place of execution.
In a receipt, written on 16 October 1408, the cost of the daily food of a young pig, incarcerated for the murder of a child, is listed at the same price as that indicated in the accounts for the individual food of each man then held in the same prison.
The execution of these death sentences was carried out with the same solemnity as for ordinary criminals. Usually, the animal’s owner was obliged to witness it, as well as the father of the victim, if the victim was a child. This was a way of punishing them. One for his negligence in letting the beast roam, the other for not having sufficiently watched over his progeniture.
The beast was taken to the execution in a cart. The sergeants escorted it to the gallows, where the executioner performed. At other times, the animal was buried alive, in a grave dug for this purpose.
In the month of March 1463, the municipal magistrature of Amiens paid Phelippart, Sergeant of High Justice of the town, sixteen sols for having buried two young pigs which had eaten a child from the suburbs of Amiens. At Saint-Quentin, on 6 December 1557, a young pig was condemned to be buried alive in a grave, for having eaten a little child at the Hotel de la Couronne.
Sometimes, it wasn’t possible to discover which animal was guilty when, for example, it was part of a herd. In this case, the whole herd was included in the trial.
The next affair is particular, perhaps unique, at the very least exceptional. Letters of pardon and remission were accorded to the accused animals.
The 5 September 1379, while Perrinot Muet, son of Jean Muet, known as Hochebet, common swineherd in the little town of Jussey, was helping his father with his work in the municipal fields, three sows rushed up at the cry of a young pig, threw themselves on him, knocked him over and bit him with such fury that, when his father and the Prior’s swineherd, who was keeping his herd not far from there, arrived to help him, he was only able to mumble a few words and died on the spot.
Having heard of the event, the Prior of Saint-Marcel-les-Jussey, Humbert de Poutiers, Lord High Justice, not wanting to leave the affair to the officers of the Duke, ordered the mayor to imprison the guilty parties, including his own herd which, in the confusion, had mingled with the other one, and to immediately start their trial.
But, when the two herds were locked up and this first satisfaction had been given to public vindictiveness, the Prior and the municipality soon understood that their interests were going to be seriously compromised if, as it seemed fairly certain, the trial ended in capital punishment.
Any executed animal was considered to be impure, and was consequently unfit to serve as food for the public. Therefore, it had to be immediately buried, if it wasn’t burnt. The poor swineherd had recognized the three murderous sows, but would ducal justice, always prompt to intervene in the affairs of inferior jurisdictions, admit this supreme witness statement? Would it not consider the two herds as being accomplices?
The case was not clear. However, as there was no time to be lost, Humbert de Poutiers rushed to Montbard, where Duke Philippe le Hardi was at the time. He managed to see the prince, and exposed the facts to him. The Duke mandated the Bailiff of the county of Burgundy to execute the three sows and a young pig belonging to the Prior, and ordered the restitution of the herds to their owners. The poor pigs had had a narrow escape.
The motive for the Duke’s clemency was not, as could be supposed, the impossibilty of punishing so many guilty creatures all at once. Certain documents show that, in other circumstances, this consideration did not stop the course of justice. Around 1450, the mayors and municipal magistrates of Rouvres condemned sixteen cows and a goat, and the sentence was executed.
Death by fire was reserved for those who were guilty of the crime of bestiality. It was like this among the Hebrews, and Roman law, as well as the Chapters of Charlemagne and the Establishments of Saint Louis, were only conforming to this tradition.
The simple attempt, not followed by success, was sufficient to have the guilty parties condemned to death. The beast, passive instrument, was burnt with the guilty person, as well as all of the trial documents so that no trace of such monstruous crimes remained.
There were nuances in the application of the punishment. Sometimes strangulation took place before the fire was lit. Sometimes the guilty were strangled after having been lightly burnt. At other times, it was decided that they would be burnt alive.
Executions of this kind were relatively frequent, and there is hardly a region where a few cases cannot be found.
Tenth and last part tomorrow.