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A pig became a defendant and was sentenced to death

Old Bruegel’s famous painting “The Fable of the Netherlands”, the image of a pig appeared many times. For example, in the center of the picture, there is a person who is sprinkling roses on pigs, putting beautiful things in such a situation, which just reflects the ignorance of “playing the piano with cows” and “steaming pears with pears.

In December 1457, in Savigny, France, a sow and its 6 piglets were arrested by the police for “murdering” a 5-year-old boy, and then put in prison together with the pig owner. A month later, 7 pigs and their owners were escorted to the local court for trial. According to court records, three lawyers were present: two were the prosecutors and one was a defense lawyer who was responsible for defending pigs. The trial records showed that nine witnesses appeared in court to testify. Based on their testimony, the judge believed that although the owner of the pig should supervise his livestock more closely, the sow bears full responsibility for the death of the boy. So the sow is clearly the culprit. After consulting with local customary law experts, the judge solemnly announced that the sow would be sentenced to death. The death penalty was tied to a tree and hanged. In addition, because there is no direct evidence that the piglets were involved in the “murder case,” the judge decided to let them go.

This is like a frightening surreal story. But this is far from an isolated case. In the Middle Ages and the early modern period, animal trials were widespread throughout Europe, especially in France. Although it is difficult to obtain exact figures, there were more than 100 recorded cases involving various animals and various crimes between the 10th and 18th centuries. Typical of them are rats and locusts destroying crops, roosters “unnaturally” lay eggs, dogs steal food, and so on. However, pigs are by far the most common “criminal” found. Almost all cases involving pigs are accused of killing children.

Animals are tried in court like humans
The earliest recorded trial of pigs took place in 1266 in Fontenay-aux-Roses, outside of Paris. By the beginning of the 15th century, the trial of animals had become a practice in Normandy and Île-de-France. This custom then spread to Burgundy, Lorraine, and Champagne, and then to Italy, Germany, and the Low Countries (now the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg).

The procedures for the trial of animals usually follow a fixed pattern. Rats, voles, eels, locusts and ants are wild animals and are under the jurisdiction of the church courts, while pigs, horses, donkeys, dogs and sheep are under the jurisdiction of secular authorities. After drafting a formal accusation document (usually using very precise legal vocabulary to describe the crime committed by an animal), the bailiff or judge will hear the case. The lawyer will present an argument, then the witness will be summoned to court, and the evidence involved in the case will be examined in court. In most cases, animal defendants were found guilty and sentenced to death.

As in the case of Savigny sows, the preferred method of death penalty is hanging, but other punishments are not uncommon. For example, in 1266, the pigs of Fontenay-O-Ross were tied to a wooden stake and burned to death. In 1557, a pig “criminal” in Saint Quentin, France was buried alive. Generally speaking, the execution of animal death sentences is entrusted to the local executioner in charge of killing. If a town is too small without an executioner, one will be hired from other places. For example, in March 1403, an executioner traveled more than 50 kilometers from Paris to a small town in order to kill a sow and to “justify” the baby who was killed and eaten by the sow. Just like hanging a person, after hanging a pig, the executioner will get a new pair of gloves as a reward (this is only a partial reward), which means that they are in the execution of a court sentence and therefore have no guilt.

Roman law says that animals cannot be convicted
Of course, strictly speaking, the pig should not be put on trial at all. Anyone who knows the “Encyclopedia of Civil Law” in ancient Rome knows that animals cannot be convicted. This is a basic principle of Roman law. Because they are irrational, animals cannot hide their criminal intentions, so they cannot constitute a crime. Because of this, any mistakes committed by animals are the responsibility of their owners or their caregivers. For example, if a pig harms someone out of control, then the pigger (not the pig) will be held liable for negligence. If the owner of the crime committed by the animal cannot be controlled at all, then the owner may either compensate the victim or hand over the “criminal” animal to the victim.

However, in northern France, Roman law did not formally enter the court system. Although the kings of the Capet dynasty of France worked hard to expand the influence of the royal decree, the secular courts were still mainly in charge of local lords, and local courts mainly relied on customs rather than regulations to hear cases. However, French jurists still regard the “Encyclopedia of Civil Law” as a model for imitation. Since the 13th century, jurists have been drafting local customary law manuals, trying to establish order for France’s rather chaotic legal system. These customary laws are called “customs” and are usually derived from the “Civil Law Encyclopedia”, and sometimes they incorporate certain provisions. Not all jurists discuss the trial of animals in detail, but some people do oppose it. For example, the “Burgundian Customary Law” (approximately 1270-1360) stipulates that if a cow or horse is guilty of “one or more homicides”, it shall not be tried, but shall be determined by “the lord of their jurisdiction.” Custody”.

In the Middle Ages and the early modern period, animal trials were widespread throughout Europe.

Unfortunately, the compilation of customary law by jurists is too “academic” to affect actual operations at all. Especially in areas like Normandy and Burgundy, people in these places enthusiastically defend their traditions, and their laws are usually shaped by folk beliefs and run counter to Roman law. People in these places have a completely different understanding of animals from Christianity and Roman law. Despite the efforts of Christian missionaries to draw a sharp distinction between animals and humans, the belief in anthropomorphizing animals is widespread. Country folks in these places believe that animals have the same characteristics as humans, and that they also have reason and will. This recognition makes them believe that animals can be responsible for their actions. The medieval French folk long narrative poem “Roman de Renart” (Roman de Renart) is widely circulated. The poem not only depicts animals with human behavior characteristics, but also often mentions animals subject to court trial. At the same time, many jurists are also very willing Approve this approach.

Why do you judge animals?
Even if pigs can be held responsible for their actions, why do localities still feel the need to prosecute them? Isn’t it easier and cheaper to kill “guilty” animals on the spot compared to being interrogated and publicly executed?

Even at the time, some jurists were puzzled by this issue. In order to find a reasonable explanation, they tried to find meaning for punishing animals. Philippe de Beaumanoir (Philippe de Beaumanoir) pointed out in the late 13th century that, legally speaking, the practice of condemning pigs to death is absurd. Therefore, the purpose of the trial can only be to increase the lords where the case is located. Wealth, and trial is just a fundraising activity.

However, the result of the trial is generally to put the pig to death, so the lord will not get anything, and the litigation procedure is actually very expensive. Another jurist, Pierre Ayrault, took a completely different view. He believed that the purpose of trying and executing animals was to deter. Although seeing pigs shaking on the gallows is unlikely to prevent other pigs from continuing to commit crimes, Airo believes that this will persuade parents not to “leave their children alone.” But Airo’s explanation is also likely to be wrong. Some historians point out that if the intent is to deter, why are some animals being tried in absentia and “executed”? If there are no pigs dangling on the gallows or trees, how can parents be vigilant?

In recent decades, scholars have also been searching for the answer to this question. The legal anthropologist Esther Cohen proposed an interesting explanation. She noticed in her research that, for many rural communities, the fact that children were “murdered” by pigs means that pigs threaten humans’ influence on the natural world. Legal rule. Therefore, if you think that pigs are also rational, you can put them within the scope of human justice and re-establish “power over them.” Cohen pointed out that in order for the trial to have a significant effect, not only must the animals be tried according to legal procedures, but they must also be executed in exactly the same way as humans.

However, some critics believe that if the purpose of judging animals is to restore natural order, as Cohen said, then there is no need for trial at all. Because cutting the pig’s throat at will, it is more certain that humans have “power” to the animal kingdom, which brings us back to the original problem.

Perhaps the most convincing explanation is the role of the law itself. The trial of animals in France is firstly out of concern for rituals, and humanizing pigs is part of the ritual. Pigs are always charged with “murder” (rather than “eat”) a child; trials are conducted by “appropriate” legal personnel; and the death penalty is strictly enforced in accordance with the highest justice requirements. The point is not the gallows, the point is that after a child dies randomly and unpredictably, it inevitably brings fear to the world, and by turning pigs into “humans”, they are judged and placed in public places. After the execution, the world became stable and controllable again.

Is the pig’s situation getting better?
It is hard to say that the trial of pigs is for enlightenment. But for legal historians, this behavior is very enlightening. By studying how and why animals should be tried, we can better understand the development of French justice and the function and influence of law in shaping its society.

Infants being eaten by pigs may be the most worrying events in medieval communities, but the cruel punishment of animals also reveals the powerlessness of customary law and how difficult it is to impose folk law on a cruel and unforgiving world.

Fortunately for pigs, from the heyday when they were sent to the gallows, human legal attitudes towards animal crimes have changed dramatically. Except for a few rare cases, the pig no longer has to worry about being prosecuted and being hanged. But does this mean that our attitude towards them is better than in the past? To answer with an English proverb-pigs might fly, which means unless the sun comes out from the west.

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