Medieval Europe was a funny place. Kings ruled over a feudal system which saw land given to nobility who in turn made peasants tirelessly work the fields to make a living. It was no surprise that for a peasant, life expectancy was only around 32 years of age (mostly due to child mortality). Work hard, play hard right? Na, you can forget about that holiday to the seaside, just leaving the boundaries of the manor would have been a big deal. The one word which you could use to describe life for your quintessential peasant in medieval Europe, shitty.
In the middle of the 12th century, King Henry ii introduced a new legal system which saw England slowly do away with Trial by Ordeals. Instead of making someone hold a burning rod and check back in a few days to see if his wound was healing (if it was infected, it was determined that God deemed you guilty the crime), there would now be a proper trial with a jury adjudicating. Now these were not perfect, as the jury could be completely biased, but it was a step in the right direction and an overall better system then dunking someone in water to see if they drown or not (trial by water). Funnily enough, this new justice system wasn’t exclusive to humans. Animals were also put on trial.
In 1386, in the town of Falaise in Normandy (France), a pig was put on trial for killing a young boy. The sow had eaten the boy. Probably due to the peasants, who led shitty lives, not feeding the pig enough, or maybe the pig was just an asshole. Who knows. But what is certain is that the new judicial system would be put into place. Rather than just kill the sow, the sow was to stand trial.
On the day of the trial Miss Piggy was dressed up in mens clothing, humiliating for a sow but her spirit would not be broken. She remained resilient, proud and defiant in the face of certain conviction, and certain death. She called upon no witnesses, didn’t answer any questions (yes questions were asked!) and refused to swear an oath to the God of men. Miss Piggy stood no chance. She was convicted and sentenced to death. She was led up the steps to the platform where her head was bashed in and legs broken. She squealed in pain hoping it would end soon. But she knew she had killed a child. Her ordeal would not be swift. She would go in and out of consciousness but in one final humiliating blow, she is hung in the town square, in front of hundreds of cheering people. And human justice is served.
Crazy right? But it did happen. And it wasn’t a one off. Animals have been put on trial throughout the middle ages. A lot of the information about these trials can be found in the book The Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals by Edward Evans. I”ll leave you now with a quote from that book that seems to try to justify the process of a trial for animals. Middle Ages you cray.
“Why should not animals be held responsible for their conduct as well as human beings? There are men apparently less intelligent than apes. Why should the man be capitally punished and the ape not brought to trial? And if the ape can be made responsible and punishable, why not the dog, the horse, the pig and the cat?”
Yeah why not?