By punishing animals, were the courts recognizing that animals were responsible creatures? Ancient legal advisors do not seem to think this.
Durel writes: “If the beasts do not only wound, but kill or eat little children, as experience has shown, like you eat piglets, death is due, and they are condemned to be hung and strangled, so as to lose the memory of the enormity of the deed.”
Another legal advisor from the XVIth Century, Laurent Bouchel, is more explicit: “If we still see one hung and strangled on the gallows, for having eaten a baby, it is to warn fathers and mothers, nurses, domestics, not to leave the children alone or to lock up their animals well, so that they cannot hurt or do something wrong.”
If pigs are designated in these two citations, it is because there is no other animal against which more condemnations have been pronounced. In some villages, pigs were still roaming freely in the streets and eating little children who were not being watched properly.
The animal must then answer to criminal justice, and here is how the procedure unfolds: as soon as a misdeed is reported, the delinquent animal is seized, and taken to the prison of the seat of criminal justice where the case was to be presented. Witness statements were drawn up and an enquiry was immediately started.
The deed being established without any doubt, the procurer, that is to say the officer who exercised the function of public minister for the lord’s justice, required that the guilty party be brought to trial. After having heard the witnesses, and on their affirmative statements, the procurer made demands, according to which the judge rendered his sentence, declaring the animal guilty of homicide and condemning it to be strangled and hung, by its two posterior members, to an oak or on a gibbet, according to local custom.
Often, the magistrates called to rule in these sorts of affairs surrounded themselves with councils of practising officers and other good people of their jurisdiction, seneschalsy, bailiwick or provost jurisdiction, according to consecrated custom. Such rigour was brought to the observation of all formalities in matters of criminal procedure, in some places, that the sentence was only executed after having been read to the animal itself in its prison.
It has also been said that the animals were interrogated, their screams, under torture, passing for admission of guilt. No formal proof of such practices has been found.
The first judgement against a murderous animal that History has registered, bears the date of 1266. It was rendered against a young pig who was burnt at Fontenay-aux-Roses, near Paris, for having eaten a child.
Roughly fifty years later, a similar trial took place in the duchy of Valois. A farmer from the village of Moisy had let a wild bull escape. The bull, having met a man, pierced him with his horns. The man only survived his wounds for a few hours. Charles, Count de Valois, having learnt of this accident at the Crepy Castle, gave the order to seize the bull.
The beast, in virtue of this order, was apprehended, and a case was opened. The Count’s officers travelled to the place where it had happened to obtain information, and on witness statements, they recognized the truth and the nature of the misdemeanor. The bull was condemned to be hung. The execution took place at the village gibbet.
However, this execution was far from closing the incident. The sentence of the Count’s officers was appealed, because of their incompetence as judges, before the Chandeleur Parliament.
This appeal was drawn up in the name of the procurer of the hospital of the town of Moisy. The parliament decided that the judgement of the executed bull was equitable, but that Count de Valois’ officers had no right to order any proceedings on the Moisy territory.
Around the same time, 1349, a sow was judged and hung at Chatillon for having devoured a child. Another sow suffered the same punishment at Gondrecourt in 1354.
An inhabitant of Orleans, Guillaume de Coulons, was feeding some young pigs in his hotel. One of the animals screamed loudly. A child, intrigued by these cries, entered the chamber and was rapidly partially devoured.
The procurer of the bailiwick demanded the execution of the pigs. The animals’ owner argued in his defence that the child had not been wounded by the pigs, of their own, spontaneous movement. A doctor from Paris had seen no trace of mutilation on the child’s body. He had died because of a fever provoked by fear, before being eaten. After these declarations, the animals were returned to their master.
Another case, which lasted several years, took place in 1383, between the lord of Gerberoy and the local chapter, when a young pig was seized at Haussez for having eaten a child’s face.
In 1386 in Falaise, for the same crime, a sow was hung by its rear legs, after having had its snout mutilated, and covered by the mask of a human face. This sow was also dressed like a man to suffer its punishment. A jacket was put on it, as well as breeches and white gloves.
Eighth part tomorrow.