Throughout history, countless individuals were legally persecuted for acts of heresy, deeds of witchcraft, or other similar unholy activities. Surprisingly, the historical justice system not only applied to humans but also to non-human animals. Many animals were tried and convicted for crimes throughout two differing justice systems. These court proceedings were divided into the criminal proceedings which were acts against human individuals and the ecclesiastical system, which condemned animals who plagued communities.
The Trial of Insects
In a number of medieval towns log books contain accounts of insects being examined for illegal acts of community harassment or property damages. Generally, it was believed that due to the insects crawling upon the ground they could be easily influenced by demonic forces which created a colony of non-compliant vermin. A common court case would include a complaint who believed termites, weevils, or a similar pest purposely damaged his property. A court official would approach the lair of the accused insects and read the proclamation demand the insects’ appearances at their trial. Of course, the disobedient insects would not appear at court when directed. Thus, the insects’ insubordinate act of defiance was considered an admission of guilt. They would be declared guilty as charged and their nest would be enclosed and put to flame.
Larger Animal Defendants
Other animals tried for being demonic or unholy included; roosters who laid eggs, hens who crowed, or dogs that bit their masters. These animals were convicted and burned at the stack because they were influenced by devils.
Cases of Animals that Killed Humans
Several farm animals were tried for injuring or killing humans. Donkeys, bulls, and horses frequently were condemned for kicking or gorging farmers. Strangely, one French donkey was accused of savagely and attacking a neighboring farmer. The donkey was acquitted because his owner testified the donkey was usually gentle without malice. However in the late 1300’s, a bull was condemned for sadistically killing a five year old boy. The bull faced the torch because he murdered the youngster due to demonic influences. Likewise, historic records report several horses being legally tried for refusing to pull their owner’s plows or for violently kicking their masters.
A Very Interesting Case
Perhaps the most interesting animal trial occurred when a pig killed an infant child. The pig discovered the unattended infant as it rooted nearby. The pigs ate the child’s arm and face before being discovered. Oddly, while awaiting his faith, the pig was jailed in a cell with human defendants. After some time the pig was convicted. The pig faced the same ferocious attack he committed upon the child. The pig had its face and arm cut off by the executor’s knife. Then it was burned to death as order by the court.
Court Rulings Continued
Court proceeding continued well into the 1700’s and beyond. Neither man nor beasts were considered beyond the sway of witchcraft or bedevilment.