Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 17.djvu/637

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LEGAL PROSECUTIONS OF ANIMALS.

LEGAL PROSECUTIONS OF ANIMALS.
By WILLIAM JONES, F. S. A.

AMONG the strange practices of olden times nothing can be conceived more truly absurd than the trial, by legal proceedings; of animals accused of high crimes and misdemeanors, which prevailed, more or less, from the twelfth to the seventeenth centuries, and present a curious picture of the habits of thought during those periods.

The trials in question were conducted with all the solemnity of the law. In every instance advocates were assigned to defend the animals. Domestic animals were tried in the ordinary criminal courts; wild animals of a noxious description, such as rats, locusts, caterpillars, and such like, were subjected to the ecclesiastical courts. The first excommunication fulminated against animals is recorded in the twelfth century. St. Foix, in his "Essais Historiques sur Paris," states that the Bishop of Laon pronounced in 1120 an injunction against the caterpillars and field-mice, on account of the ravages they made on the crops.

The mode of trial in the criminal courts was this: The accused animal was committed to prison; the procureur, or officer who exercised the functions of prosecutor at the court, after hearing witnesses and taking down their depositions, and the crime of homicide being proved, the judge condemned the animal to be strangled, and hung by the back-legs to an oak-tree, or a gibbet, according to the custom of the country. In the case of damages done to property, the inhabitants of a district suffering therefrom, experts were appointed by the court to survey and report on the subject. A lawyer was then appointed to defend the animals, and show cause why they should not be summoned before justice. They were then called three times, and, not appearing, judgment was given against them in default. The court then issued an admonition, warning them to leave the district within a certain time, at the expiration of which, if they were still contumacious, they were to be anathematized with all due solemnity. Instead, however, of feeling the effects of this terrible sentence, it is recorded that in some instances the noxious animals, contrary to "withering off the face of the earth," became more abundant and destructive. This the lawyers attributed neither to the injustice of the sentence, nor want of power of the court, but to the machinations of Satan, who, as in the case of Job, is at certain times permitted to tempt and annoy mankind.

From the thirteenth to the sixteenth century there are numerous examples of proceedings in the criminal court in the case of pigs (and sows, more particularly) who had devoured children. As one may see at present in certain localities, these animals in the middle ages ran about the streets of villages, and were, it would seem, more addicted