It was usually in their cradles that murderous beasts strangled and killed very young children. Sometimes the children were a little older, like the five-year-old boy killed by a sow at Savigny in 1457.
Another sow was condemned to be killed by a blow to the head for having devoured the chin of a child from the village of Charonne. The sentence ordered that the flesh of this sow be cut up and thrown to the dogs. The owner and his wife had to make a pilgrimage to Notre-Dame-de-Pontoise where, on the day of the Pentecost Feast, they were to cry out: “Merci!” (This word literally means “Mercy” in French. It is used these days to say “No, thank you” in particular, and just “Thank you” in general.) They were to bring back a certificate to prove that they had done it.
Things did not always take place as simply as we have seen up until now. In 1572, at Moyenmoutier, in the region of Saint-Die, a pig devoured a young child. The animal, surprised in the act, was arrested and locked up in the prison of the abbey (moutier is an old French word for “monastery”) under the name of “pig Claudon”, from his owner’s name.
The procurer immediately began his enquiry, interrogated witnesses, who were confronted with the animal. Then, the mayor, the municipal magistrates and other prominent people were convoked to hear the sentence which was to be read by the lawyer. It was the death sentence for the animal.
The reading finished, the mayor, the municipal magistrates, all of the men led the pig to the stone cross and there, the mayor cried out three times: “The Provost of Saint-Die!… ” Religious justice, not being able to shed blood, presented the guilty one again, this time to civil justice, the Provost of Saint-Die.
It was then believed that death on the gibbet applied to an animal guilty of murder, would always inspire horror of the crime, and that the beast’s owner was sufficiently punished by the loss of his animal, for the damage caused to others.
It was not only pigs who expiated their faults on the gibbet. Bulls, horses, donkeys were also brought to justice and condemned.
In 1499, a judgement of the bailiwick of the Abbot of Beaupre, Order of Citeaux, near Beauvais, condemned a bull which had killed a young man, to death on the gallows.
A cat was executed, on 30 March 1467, for having “strangled” (suffocated?) a child of fourteen months, in the home of Clement le Bachelier, of Longueville. The cat was hung on the field gallows.
In 1389, a horse was condemned to death on information given by the municipal magistrates of Montbard, for having killed a man. Bullocks and cows, wild or domestic, according to the charter known as the Eleanore Charter, drawn up in 1395, could be legally killed if they were found pilfering.
Donkeys which were guilty of the same misdeed were treated with more humanity. They were assimilated to thieves of a higher condition. The first time that a donkey was found in a cultivated field which was not that of its master, one of its ears was cut off. If it did it again, its second ear was cut off. If the misdeed was committed a third time, it was not hung like other beasts but was confiscated by the prince.
This favouritism disappeared when it was a question of homicide. The accounts for the Provost’s jurisdiction of Dijon for the year 1405, show the payment of the sum of five francs, paid to Master Collard, the Executioner, for having taken to the Dijon gibbet and having put to death, a donkey which had killed a child.
From the year 1120 up until and including 1741, in diverse provinces of France, no fewer than ninety-three condemnations against animals guilty of homicides and damages were pronounced.
A few animals were also condemned to death for the crime of sorcery. At Bale, a rooster accused of laying an egg, in August 1474, was handed over to the Executioner who publicly burnt it, with its egg. At the time, sorcerers were thought to use rooster eggs, supposedly containing a serpent, for their invocations.
Voltaire reports that there was a case, in 1610, about a trained horse, like those in circuses. The master and his horse were accused of using spells and it was debated whether or not they should both be burnt.
Ninth part tomorrow.