I’ve been reading about medieval animal trials this week. As in, people used to bring in misbehaving animals to court and put them on trial for their crimes. My friend sent me an article about it at least six months ago, but I only now got around to reading it because I’m a horrid friend.
Regardless, I’m utterly fascinated with this practice. After the first article, I moved on to two more before I found a paper in an academic journal on the subject. The more I read, the more I laughed because, in addition to being a horrid friend, I’m a horrid person.
Apparently pigs were a violent lot back then, tearing off children’s arms and killing people left and right, so off they went to court. Weevils and rats that terrorized crops were usually tried in absentia. This shit happened.
Secular courts handled cases with large mammals and their major crimes while ecclesiastical courts handled insects and small vermin. The courts relied heavily on witness testimony and character references. The accused even got a defense attorney who would argue zealously on their behalf.
Someone even made a movie about animal trials called L’Heure du Cochon (The Hour of the Pig), though they unfortunately made the English title something more respectable: The Advocate. Colin Goddamn Firth stars in it, and inexplicably, it’s very sexually explicit. I can’t find it streaming anywhere, so I’m convinced he’s done his absolute best to bury this bananas movie about a criminal defense attorney who represents pigs and rats. Regardless, I will find a way to watch it—that I promise you.
If you too are interested in finding out more about animal trials, here are some links:
- Beastly Justice by James McWilliams via Slate
- The Truth and Myth Behind Animal Trials in the Middle Ages by Eric Grundhauser via Atlas Obscura
- The Historical and Contemporary Prosecution and Punishment of Animals by Jen Girgen via Animal Law Review at Lewis & Clark Law School
The form rejection I got this afternoon really pissed me off, but at least the image of a lawyer grandstanding for weevils is keeping my spirits up.