Medieval animal trials

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.

It sounds as if it shouldn’t be true, but it is. In parts of medieval Europe animals were thought to have moral agency and they were held criminally responsible for their actions.

Nicholas Humphrey’s article can be found here. At its end you will find links to the sources of information on animal trials. Chief among them is The Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals by E.P.Evans (1906). It’s well worth rummaging through.

A BBC World Service podcast on this topic is available here.

Incidentally, the illustration is entitled ‘Trial of a Sow and Pigs at Lavegny’. The sow was sentenced to death. Her piglets were acquitted because they were too young to know what they were doing. [Source]

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