Bugs and Beasts Before the Law

Featured image: Pig being hung for murder. Detail from frontispiece of The Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals (1906) by E.P.Evans. SOURCE: Public Domain Review. (Public Domain).

From The Public Domain Review:

A Project of the Open Knowledge Foundation

Murderous pigs sent to the gallows, sparrows prosecuted for chattering in Church, a gang of thieving rats let off on a wholly technical acquittal – theoretical psychologist and author Nicholas Humphrey* explores the strange world of medieval animal trials.

On 5 March 1986 some villagers near Malacca in Malaysia beat to death a dog, which they believed was one of a gang of thieves who transform themselves into animals to carry out their crimes. The story was reported on the front page of the London Financial Times. “When a dog bites a man,” it is said, “that’s not news; but when a man bites a dog, that is news”. Such stories, however, are apparently not news for very long. Indeed the most extraordinary examples of people taking retribution against animals seem to have been almost totally forgotten. A few years ago I lighted on a book, first published in 1906, with the surprising title The Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals by E.P.Evans, author of Animal Symbolism in Ecclesiastical Architecture, Bugs and Beasts before the Law, etc., etc. The frontispiece showed an engraving of a pig, dressed up in a jacket and breeches, being strung up on a gallows in the market square of a town in Normandy in 1386; the pig had been formally tried and convicted of murder by the local court. When I borrowed the book from the Cambridge University Library, I showed this picture of the pig to the librarian. “Is it a joke?”, she asked.

No, it was not a joke. All over Europe, throughout the middle-ages and right on into the 19th century, animals were, as it turns out, tried for human crimes. Dogs, pigs, cows, rats and even flies and caterpillars were arraigned in court on charges ranging from murder to obscenity. . . . Read Complete Extensive Report w/Illustrations

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