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The Past and Present Society

Law, Folklore and Animal Lore

Author(s): Esther Cohen
Source: Past & Present, No. 110 (Feb., 1986), pp. 6-37
Published by: Oxford University Press on behalf of The Past and Present Society
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/650647 .
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In the Middle Ages . . . law was the pointwherelifeand logic met.1

... it is impossibleto disentanglewhatthepeopleofthepastthoughtaboutplants

and animalsfromwhattheythoughtabout themselves.2


The practiceof law among westernEuropean people in the later
middleages and the earlymodernperiodhas long been the subject
ofresearch.Traditionallyscholarshave concentrated theirenquiries
mainlyin two different directions:the historyof learnedjurispru-
dence and theinstitutionaldevelopmentsresultingfromthegrowth
mentsofothersocietieshave posed different questions.Whilemany
oftheirconclusionsare based on specificcase studies,in theattempt
and comparative
to evolvecertaincross-cultural methodological tools
theyhave consideredseveral problemsof universalvalidity,and
the resultantconclusionscould, mutatismutandis, be applied to the
evolutionof European legal practicein thepast.4
In the firstplace, they have attemptedto reach a universally
* An earlierversionof this
paper was deliveredat the Annual Conferenceof the
AssociationforMedievaland RenaissanceStudiesofIsrael(June1983). I am grateful
to ProfessorYaakov Blidstein,Dr. Eli Yassifand Mr. David Cohen fortheirsugges-
tions,and to ProfessorMiriam Yardeni and Dr. Amnon Linder forreadingand
commenting upon an earlierdraftof thispaper.
1 F. W. Maitland,Collected Papers,ed. H. A. L. Fisher,3 vols. (Cambridge,1911),
iii,p. xxxvii.
2 Keith
Thomas, Man and theNaturalWorld(New York, 1983), p. 16.
3 For the intellectual
historyof medieval law, see among othersthe works of
HermannKantorowiczand WalterUllmann;mostoftheworkon law and governance
has been done in thecontextof Englishcommonlaw. See, forexample,BryceLyon,
A Constitutional and LegalHistoryofMedievalEngland(New York, 1960). For France,
see FerdinandLot and RobertFawtier,Histoiredesinstitutions francaisesau moyenage,
3 vols. (Paris, 1957-62),ii, pp. 289-506.
4 For a summaryand a reviewof the different trendsin legal anthropology,past
and present,see SallyF. Moore,Law as Process:AnAnthropological (London,
1978), pp. 214-56. For a recentapplicationoflegalanthropology withinthehistorical
contextof civillitigation,see theessaysin JohnBossy(ed.), Disputesand Settlements:
Law and HumanRelationsin theWest(Cambridge,1983).

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functionaldefinitionoflaw.5This was a necessarystepin theprocess
ofdistinguishinglaw fromcustom,a problemthathas also occupied
historiansof European law. One such distinctionis that custom
embodied social norms,while law had to pass througha process
of "double institutionalization" beforereachingcoercive,posited
status.6While legal historianshave alwaysclearlydistinguished be-
tweencustomand law, theiremphasiswas usuallyon originrather
thanon institutionalization.Societymaycreatecustom,butlegislation
was the ruler'sprovince.7
This dichotomyoflaw and customis problematic in thecontextof
actual continentalmedieval justice.8Side by side with legislation
therewas a continuousdynamicprocessof legal practice.Though
thestudyofcourtrecordsindependently fromlaw-codesand jurispru-
dentialliteratureis stillin its earlystages,one factis beginningto
emerge.The practiceofmedievallaw was notnecessarily dictatedby
its prescriptions.This phenomenonhas been observed in other
societiesby some anthropologists who concludedthatan absolute
"congruence between ideology and or betweenthe
social structure",
theoreticalformoflaw envisagedby legislatorsand therealityofthe
court-housewas a myth.9In factno medievalrulerpossessed an
5 This
attempthas produced a wide varietyof definitions, rangingfromMali-
nowski's,emphasizingtherole of mutualsocial obligations,to Bohannan's,stressing
theauthoritarian and coercivecharacterof law: B. Malinowski,Crimeand Customin
Savage Society(London, 1926); Paul Bohannan,"The DifferingRealms of Law",
Amer.Anthropologist, lxvii(1965, specialissue), pp. 33-42. Perhapsthemostencom-
passingdefinition is theone proposedby Leopold Pospisil,whosaw law as possessing
fournecessaryattributes: authority,intention ofuniversalapplication,[mutual]obliga-
tionand sanction:L. Pospisil,Kapauku Papuans and theirLaw (New Haven, 1958),
pp. 257-72; L. Pospisil, Anthropology of Law: A ComparativeTheory(New York,
1971),pp. 39-96.This definition bearsa startling resemblanceto theone propounded
by Thomas Aquinas: "an ordinanceof reason,forthe commongood, made by him
who has the care of the community,and promulgated":Summatheologiae (Rome,
1886), 1stpt. of the 2nd pt., q. 90, art. 3.
6 The termis Bohannan's: "The
DifferingRealms of Law", pp. 34-7; but most
modernauthorities,in a reactionto Malinowski'sapproach,have insistedupon the
coercivecharacterof law. For a present-day
institutional, assessmentofMalinowski's
importance,see IrvingL. Horowitz,"Crime, Customand Culture:Remarkson the
FunctionalistTheoryof BronislawMalinowski",Internat. Jl. ComparativeSociol., iii
(1962), pp. 229-44.
7 This
opinion has prevailedin westernculturefromthe Bible and Aristotleto
Thomas Hobbes.
8 I have deliberately excludedfromthe discussionthedevelopmentof the system
of Englishcommonlaw, whichis an entirelydifferent process.
9 See Moore, Law as Process,p. 69, discussing
Chagga society:"... although
universalityof applicationis oftenused as one ofthebasic elementsin anydefinition
oflaw, universalityis oftena myth.Most rulesoflaw . . . affectonlya limitedcategory
ofpersonsin a limitednumberofsituations".For theanalysisofthetensionbetween
ideologyand social structure,see ibid., pp. 33-42.

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absolutepower to enforcelegislationin everycourtof the realm.

Moreoverthe existenceof inviolabletraditionscircumscribedthe
veryabilityto legislate.A rulercould attempteitherto enforceor to
ignorethem,but he was almostneverable legallyto abrogatethe
existentbody of usage.
Those traditions,incorporatedinto medievalcustomarycodes,
held a positionpeculiarto European society.Unlike manyhuman
groupingsstudiedbylegalanthropologists, medievalEuropewas not
an illiteratesociety.It was composedof a smallbut ever-increasing
literateelementand a largebut decreasingilliteratesegment.For a
longtimetheprivilegeofstatingthelaw in practicaltermswas within
theprovinceofa largelynon-literate element.10The forceofcustom
was suchthatitwas eventually incorporated intothewritten tradition,
oftenachievingby theend ofthemiddleages thefullforceofposited
law. At thatpointthe distinctionbetweenlaw and custombecame
formalratherthan functional,even the most ardentsupportersof
Romanand monarchiclaw recognizing thelegalvalidityofcustom."
Beyond the definitionand circumscription ofthelaw, anthropolo-
gistshave usuallyinsisteduponexamining each legalsystemwithinits
specific socio-culturalcontext.12 In differentsocieties
could servenot onlyto preserveorderand justice,but also to settle
scores, safeguardhierarchicalstructures, providea settingforthe
testing and consolidation of societalvalues,legalor otherwise,and a
stage for ritualdrama thatreinforced society'sself-image.13While
theexactoriginsofEuropeanlegalcustomsarestillan openquestion,
thereis no doubtthattheywerefirmly anchoredin specificcultural
and social contextsand fulfilled certainsocietallyspecificfunctions
in consequence. These customsand theirpracticalapplicationin
10In France thisprivilegewas maintaineduntilthe end of themiddleages in the
formof the enquetepar turbe,whichdeterminedthe exactlocal customof any given
place on the strength of theevidenceofat leasttenturbiers. See H. Pissard,Essai sur
la connaissance et la preuvedes coutumes(Paris, 1910), pp. 98-112.
11 WalterUllmann, The MedievalIdea of Law as Represented byLucas de Penna
(London, 1946), pp. 62-70; WalterUllmann,"Bartoluson CustomaryLaw", in D.
Segoloni(ed.), Bartoloda Sassoferrato: Studi e documentiper il VI centenario
1961), pp. 49-73, repr. in his Jurisprudence in theMiddleAges(London, 1980).
12 "We musthave a look at societyand cultureat largein orderto findtheplace of
law withinthe total structure":E. Adamson Hoebel, The Law of PrimitiveMan
(Cambridge,Mass., 1954), p. 5. See also Laura Nader (ed.), Law in Cultureand
Society(Chicago, 1969), pp. 8-9.
13 Laura Nader, "The Anthropological Studyof Law", Amer.Anthropologist, Ixvii
(1965, special issue), pp. 19-20. For an analysisof a medievalexecutionalong those
lines, see Angus MacKay, "Ritual and Propagandain Fifteenth-Century Castile",
Past and Present,no. 107 (May 1985), pp. 3-43.

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courtmusttherefore be understoodas emanationsand manifestations
ofcertainculturalenvironments. Furthermore, theirfunctionscannot
be explainedexclusivelyin termsof peace-keepingor disputesettle-
ment.Medieval societycould use its courtsfora multitudeof pur-
poses, manyof thembeyondthe purelylegal sphere.
The conceptof culturehas been so widelyand indiscriminately
used thatitis necessaryto circumscribe itsmeaningwithintheterms
of thispaper. While legal processesmay have sprungfromcertain
beliefs,ritualsand perceptionsthatformpartofthegeneralexpression
of spiritcommonlytermedculture,those processesin themselves
consistequallyof a culturalmanifestation, notonlyin so faras they
stem froma specificculturalenvironment, but also because they
contributeto the formationof the same environment.As a rule
historianshave posited a dichotomybetweenlearnedand popular
elementsofculture.14 It is impossibleto applythisdistinction to the
realmofEuropeanlaw. Like otherliteratesocieties,Europepossessed
a remarkablemultiplicity oflegallevels,bothin therealmsoftheory
and of practice.15Learned Roman glosses,royallegislation,canon
law, customalsand urban statutesexistedside by side, each one
createdand affectedby a different social group and expressinga
different facetofcontemporary culture,butconstantly interpenetrat-
ing and influencingeach other.16 Bothciviland criminaljusticewere
administeredby royal,feudal,seigneurial,urban and ecclesiastical
courts.Judicialculture,therefore, was hardlya monolithic manifesta-
tion. It containedthe consilium of the Bologna professor,the town
magistrate'ssentenceand the peasant's evidence. It could not be
classifiedas eitherpopularor learned,itsveryscope makingpossible
the incorporation of thosewidelydivergentelements.
This considerablecomplexity is hardlyamenabletoanygeneralized
typology.In one realm,however,the historianhas the advantage
over the anthropologist: he or she can followthe evolutionof legal
practiceover a long period of time. The "processualcharacterof
law", as Moore calls it,17has long been self-evident to historians.
Law is made and re-madethroughconstantpractice,and any static
descriptionof a dynamicphenomenonmust necessarilybe faulty.
See, forexample,RobertMuchembled,Culture populaireetculture
Pospisil,AnthropologyofLaw, pp. 97-126.
See, for example, John H. Langbein, ProsecutingCrimein the Renaissance:
England,Germany, France(Cambridge,Mass., 1974), tracingthedevelopmentofthe
inquisitorialprocedurein canon and civil law.
Moore, Law as Process,pp. 42-8.

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Giventheexistentknowledgeofpastlegaland institutional develop-

mentsand of the evolvingrelationshipbetweenelite and popular
culturalexpressions,it is possibleto attempta long-term interpreta-
tion. One such practice,the criminalprosecutionand executionof
animals, may illustratethe interactionof variouslegal levels and
culturalinfluences.These trials,documentedin Europeanlegalhis-
toryfromthethirteenth to theeighteenth century,occupyan inter-
mediatepositionbetweenpopularand elitelegalculture.On theone
hand, theywere definitely not judicial folklore:the sentenceswere
passed and executedin properlyconstitutedcourtsof law by fully
qualifiedmagistrates, accordingto generallyacceptedlaws. On the
otherhand, thereis no questionthattheywere an integralpartof
customary law and owedtheircontinuedexistencepartially topopular
traditionsand influences.Theirhistory illustratesthecontinualinter-
actionbetweenpopularand learnedelementsin the sphereof legal
practice.At thesame time,theirvariousstagesofdevelopment serve
as evidenceof theprocessualand dynamiccharacterofwesternlaw.
Following the phenomenonthroughthe warp and woof of legal
history,fromcourt-houseto university and fromcustomalsto the
gallowsacrosscenturiesof changingperceptionsof nature,law and
justice,one mightattemptan interpretation ofcontinental European
law as practisedwithinits specificculturalcontext.

SeveralEuropeanlegallevelswereinvolvedin trialsofanimals.They
wereheld beforeroyal,urban,seigneurialand ecclesiasticalcourts.
Nevertheless, theyfollowedonlytwodistinctprocedures,secularand
ecclesiastical.While the formertypewas used to penalizedomestic
beasts that had mortallyinjured a human being, the latterwas
employedto rid the populationof naturalpeststhatcould notindi-
viduallybe punished.The two typeswere clearlydistinctin form
and development,and therefore requireseparatedescription.
In December 1457 thesow of JehanBaillyof Savignyand hersix
pigletswerecaughtin theactofkillingthefive-year-oldJehanMartin.
All seven pigs were imprisonedformurderand broughtto triala
monthlater beforethe seigneurialjustice of Savigny.Besides the
judge, the protocolrecordedthe presenceat the trialof one lawyer
(functionunspecified),twoprosecutors(one of thema lawyerand a
councillorof theduke ofBurgundy),eightwitnessesbyname,"and
severalotherwitnessessummonedand requestedforthis cause".

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Though the ownerwas formallythe defendant,it is clear fromthe
proceedingsthathe stoodaccused onlyof negligenceand was in no
dangerof any personalpunishment.Moreoverhe was allowed to
arguein court"concerningthe punishmentand just executionthat
should be inflictedupon the said sow", ifhe could give any reason
whythesow shouldbe spared.The ownerhavingwaivedthisright,
theprosecutorrequesteda deathsentence.The judge,havingheard
all therelevanttestimony and consultedwithwisemenknowledgeable
in local law, ruled, accordingto the customof Burgundy,thatthe
sow should be forfeitto the justiceof Savignyforthe purpose of
hangingby her hind legs on a suitabletree.The pigletscreateda
moredifficult problemas therewas no proofthattheyhad actually
bittenthe child, thoughtheywere foundbloodstained.They were
therefore remandedto thecustodyoftheirowner,who was required
tovouchfortheirfuturebehaviourand producethemfortrial,should
new evidencecome to light.When thelatterrefusedto give such a
guarantee,thepigletsweredeclaredforfeit to thelocal lord'sjustice,
thoughthey suffered no furtherpunishment.The court brought
fromChalon-sur-Saonea professional hangmanwho carriedout the
executionaccordingto the judge's specificinstructions.18
The case ofthesow of Savignyis typicalin manyrespectsofmost
secularanimaltrials.In thefirstplace, it was held in Burgundy,one
of the earliestareas to recordsuch cases. Animal trialswere first
mentionedduringthe thirteenth centuryin northernand eastern
France, whence theyspread to the Low Countries,to Germanyand
to Italy.The defendant'sporcinenaturealso recurredin a greatmany
trials. Pigs, who seem to have accountedforthe deaths of many
unattendedinfants,were the most commonculprits,but thereare
also recordsof homicidaloxen, cows, horsesand dogs. Most of all,
the trialis typicalin its painstakinginsistenceupon theobservance
of legal customand properjudicial procedure.This was neithera
vindictive lynchingnortheextermination ofa dangerousbeast.Other
recordsmention,in additionto pre-trial imprisonment, thegranting
of remissionsto wronglyaccused beasts,the burningin effigy of a
"contumacious"animal,and thepublicdisplayofan executedcow's

18 The fulltextof the trialhas been

publishedby J. Berriat-Saint-Prix,
et recherchessurles proceset jugementsrelatifsaux animaux",Memoires de la Societe
royaledes antiquairesde France, viii (1829), pp. 441-5; by Edward P. Evans, The
CriminalProsecution and Capital Punishment ofAnimals(London, 1906), pp. 346-53;
and by Hans A. Berkenhoff, Tierstrafe,
Tierbannungund rechtsrituelle
Tiertotung im
Mittelalter(Strasbourg,1937), pp. 120-3.

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head.19While the upside-downhangingof animalswas peculiarto
Burgundian custom,20 elsewhere differenttypes of execution pre-
vailed. Some of themcloselyparalleledthehumanprecedentwhile
othersprescribeda peculiarly"animal" formofdeath.Thus in some
places animalsweredraggedand hunglikehumanmurderers, while
in othersthe authoritiesresortedto stranglingor a knock on the
head.21The use of a treeinsteadof the "human" gallowswas also
occasionallyapparent,thougheventhena properhangmanperformed
thejob. Wherethehangman'sbillsare extant,theycloselyresemble
thosepresentedforthe executionof humans.22
The historyofecclesiasticaltrialsis less clear-cut.The motifofthe
holyman who exemplifies thedominionofGod's law overnatureby
cursing obnoxious recursthroughout
creatures medievalhagiogra-
19For imprisonment ofa sow in Meulan (1403), ofpigsin Laon (1494) and Moyen-
Moutier(1572), and of a dog in Leyden(1595), see Evans, CriminalProsecution, pp.
338, 355; Berkenhoff, pp. 124, 129. For a remissiongrantedbyDuke Philip
of Burgundyto pigs in Saint-Marcel-les-Jussey (1379), see Berkenhoff, Tierstrafe,
119. For burningin effigy,see Registrecriminelde la justicede Saint-Martin-des-
Champs,ed. Louis Tanon (Paris, 1877), pp. 227-8.A frescoon thewall ofthechurch
of Sainte-Trinite in Falaise, now paintedover, depictedthe executionof a sow in
humanclothing;theexecutiondid indeed takeplace in 1386, but as it antedatedthe
frescoby some fiftyyears, the picturecannot be taken as evidence: Berkenhoff,
Tierstrafe,pp. 16, 118. For a displayof a cow's head in Ghent(1578), see ibid., pp.
30-1. This anthropomorphic attitudewas expressedalso in the language of the
sentences:one statedthata pig had "committedand perpetrated. . . murderand
homicide": ibid., p. 120; anotherpig had "killed and murdered"a child: Evans,
CriminalProsecution, p. 336. A thirdhad shown"crueltyand ferocity"by killinga
humanbeing: ibid., p. 357.
20 Coustumes et stillesde Bourgoigne(1270-1360),art. 197: "L'on dit et tientselon
droitet la coustumede Bourgoigneque se un boeufou un cheuaufaitun ou pluseurs
homicidesil nan doiuentpoinctmorir,ne Ion nendoitfairejustice,feurquilz doiuent
estrepris par le seigneuren qui justiceilz on faitle delitou par ses gens,et lui sont
confisquezet doiuentestrevendus et exploictiezau prouffit du dit seigneur;mes se
autresbestesou juyfle font,ilz doiuentestrependus par les piez derreniers"("It is
statedaccordingto the law and customof Burgundythatifan ox or a horsecommit
one or morehomicides,theyshouldnot die, norshould theybe triedand executed.
Rather, they should be impounded by the lord in whose jurisdictionthey had
committedthe crime,or by his men, to be confiscatedand sold forthe said lord's
profit.But ifanotheranimalor a Jewdo it, theyshouldbe hungby theirrearlegs"):
quoted by C. Giraud,Essai surI'histoire du droitfrancaisau moyendge,2 vols. (Paris,
1846), ii, p. 302. While thistypeof executionwas applied to Jewsall over Europe,
its use foranimalsis peculiarto Burgundy.
21 For
"non-human"typesof execution,see Berkenhoff, pp. 24-40.
For billspresentedupontheexecutionofanimals,see Evans,Criminal Prosecution,
pp. 336-9; Berkenhoff, pp. 118-19.The itemization
Tierstrafe, and feescloselyresem-
bled thoseappearingin billsforhumanexecutions.Cf. CharlesDesmaze, Lespenalites
anciennes:Supplices,prisonset griceen Franced'apresdes textesinedits(Paris, 1866),
pp. 91-2; BibliothequeNationale,Paris, MS. fr. 7645, "Peines et supplicesde la
justicecriminelleen France au cinq derniers siecles".

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century.As in thecase ofseculartrials,thephenomenonhad a clearly
discerniblegeographicepicentre.All the earlytrialstook place in
Switzerlandand the borderingareas: Savoy,the Dauphine and the
Italian Alps. Subsequentlythe practicespread much fartherthan
secular trialsever did, relyingupon the international networkof
ecclesiasticaljurisdiction.In the followingcenturiesecclesiastical
animaltrialswere held not onlyin France,Germanyand Italy,but
also in Scandinavia,Spain, Canada and Brazil.23
These cases differed in procedureas littleas possiblefromhuman
procedure,wherebythe people of the affecteddiocese sued their
naturalscourgesbeforethe episcopal court. Prior to holdingany
ingand thepaymentofdue tithesas thebestremediesforanynatural
heaven-sentscourge.24Subsequentlythe court,viewinginsensate
creaturesas theequivalentofvulnerableminors,appointedan advo-
cateforthedefence.Thus, whenin 1587thesyndicsofthecommune
ofSaint-Julien-de-Maurienne sued thefliesthatweredestroying their
vineyards, the bishop's official
promptly appointed lawyerat a
modestsalary,"lest theanimalsagainstwhomtheactionlies should
The argumentsbetweenthelawyerson bothsides,dulypresented
in writing,consideredand rebutted,covera wide rangeofissues. In
thisspecificcase theycentredaroundtwo questions:the possibility
ofexcommunication ofanimalsby a humancourt(sincethiswas the
penaltytheplaintiffs requested),and thesurvivalrightsofbothman
and animalin nature.Othercases raisedthe even morebasic issue
of theveryjurisdictionheld by any humanjudge overanimals,but
thispointwas invariablyresolvedin favourofthecourt,whichbeing
ecclesiasticaldrewits authorityfromtheuniversalvalidityof canon
law. The sameargumentansweredalso theproblemofexcommunica-
tion,buttherightto survivalwas moreproblematic. The Saint-Julien
23 For a
thoroughanalysisoftheprocedure,developmentand spreadoftheecclesi-
asticaltrials,see Karl von Amira,"Thierstrafen und Thierprocesse",Mitteilungen des
osterreichischenInstituts xii (1891), pp. 560-72.
24 This was also theprocedurerecommended by theSpanishtheologianAzpilcueta
to the people of Sorrentowho wished to prosecutecertainfishthatinfestedtheir
waters.Martinde Azpilcueta,Consilium No. 52, in his Operaomnia,5 vols. (Cologne,
1616), iii, pp. 282-3.
25 ". . .ne Animalia contraque agiturindeffensaremaneant. .". The entire
protocolof the trialwas publishedby Leon Menabrea,De l'rigine,de la formeet de
l'espritdesjugements renduscontreles animaux(Chambery,1846), appendix.

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shouldbe punishediftheyacted contrary to his interests,
defencecounteredthatGod had grantedanimalsthe enjoymentof
natureeven beforethe verycreationof man. The latterargument
was unanswerableenough to make the communeofferthe fliesan
alternative in theformofa pieceoflandawayfromthevineyards, but
well-providedwithwaterand vegetation.It shouldbe emphasized,
however,thattherewas no pretenceof a reasonablesettlement with
the insects. Rather, the underlyingidea was that if the verdict
was accepted,the churchcould enforcesuch an arrangement. The
insensatecharacterof the insectswas in no doubt, but the ever-
recurring insistenceupon properprocedureand due justicecreated
an impressionof anthropomorphism. Thus, whentheratsofAutun
failedto appear in court in responseto a formalsummons,their
advocatepleaded his clients'fearof cats as an excuse,demandinga
safe-conductforthe accused. Years laterwhen he was one of the
leadingjuristsofFrance,BartholomeChasseneehad his plea quoted
back to him as a supremeexampleof mostthoroughgoing justice.26
A courtthatsaw itselfas possessingthe God-givenrightto tryall
livingcreatures,human and otherwise,had to grantall of them
It was thissame conceptofjusticethatallowedfarmoreflexibility
in theverdictofecclesiasticalcourtsthanin secularones. Conviction
in ecclesiasticalanimaltrialswas not a foregoneconclusion.While
the verdictin Saint-Julien is unknowndue to a lacuna in the text,
elsewherethe courtdid accept the advocate'sarguments,assigning
theanimalsa place to live unmolestedand unmolesting.27 Still,the
26 For
thoroughreviewsofthepro and con arguments, see BartholomeChassenee,
Concilium primumde excommunicatione animalium,in his ConciliaD. Bartholomaei a
Chasseneo,Burgundiiurisconsulti (Lyons, 1588), fos. 8'-16v;Gaspar Bailly,Traitede
l'excellencedesmonitoires(Lyons, 1668),repr.in Evans,CriminalProsecution, pp. 287-
306. For modernsummariesofsuchtrials,see vonAmira,"Thierstrafen"; Berkenhoff,
Tierstrafe, pp. 88-102; Evans, CriminalProsecution, pp. 18-135;J. G. Frazer,Folk-
Lorein theOld Testament, 3 vols. (London, 1918),iii, pp. 425-38.The case oftherats
ofAutun,as citedby Augustede Thou, Histoireuniverselle depuis1593jusqu'en1607,
16 vols. (London, 1734), i, bk. 6, pp. 414-16, was broughtback to Chassenee's
attentionby a noblemanof Ariespleadingformercyand justiceforProtestants. For
Chassenee'scontribution to thedevelopmentof Frenchlegalthought,see WilliamF.
Church,Constitutional Thoughtin Sixteenth-Century France:A Studyin theEvolution
ofIdeas (New York, 1969).
27 As in theprocessagainstthebeetlesofChur(n.d., fifteenth century).The source,
FelixMalleolus,"Tractatussecundusde exorcismis",in his Variaeoblationes, opuscula
et tractatus (Basle, 1497), fo. 79, describesthe summonsservedupon the beetles;
aftertheyfailedto appear,theyweregrantedthestatusofminorsand eventually also
the rightto live in peace upon a specifictractof land.

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case usuallywentto the plaintiffs and the churchthenexpelledthe
noxiousanimalsby means of exorcismor excommunication.28 The
sentenceswerecarried out in thesolemn ritualofa publicprocession
in the presenceof all local clergyand people.
Though both typesof trialswere commonin the earlymodern
period, it is impossibleto set a clear terminus ad quemforeither
practice.During the eighteenthcenturythey became increasingly
rare and informal,oftentakingthe formof villagejustice.A legal
practicethathad survivedforhalfa millenniumdied out.

The veryexistenceof animaltrialsin Europe poses severeproblems
forthehistorianofwesternculture.The practicerunscounterto all
commonlyacceptedconceptionsofjustice,humanity and theanimal
kingdom;and yetit survivedand flourished forcenturies.Moreover
theincreasingfrequencyof animaltrialswas contemporaneous with
the so-calledrevivaland acceptanceof Roman law, withthe great
codificationsof criminallaw, and altogether withan ever-increasing
coherenceof rationalsystemsof law and thought.
The basic difficulty lies in the commonoccidentalperceptionof
the relationshipbetweenman and nature.Startingwiththe Bible,
bothJudaismand Christianity have consistently viewedman as the
only creature in God's image and likeness, onlyone possessinga
reasonablesoul, aspiringto salvationand destinedforan afterlife.
Withinthe hierarchyof the universe,therefore,man occupies a
specialplace. Atcreationmanwas declaredlordand masterofnature,
and thisidea was ofteninterpreted as a God-givenmandateto utilize
naturefreelyforhumanbenefit.Carriedfurther, the same concept
meantthatthevegetaland animalkingdomexistedsolelyforman's
use. The perceptionof a universalhierarchy withman at thetop of
the mortalcreationwas currentin learnedcirclesthroughoutthe
middle ages and still accepted as an axiom in the early modern
In thissense,westernculturediffers radicallyfromothersystemsof
thoughtthatperceivemanand animalas existinguponone continuous
plane. The AmericanIndian spokeof "his brotherthebuffalo",the
The exactmeansused are somewhatobscure,as different
ably of exorcism,excommunication,anathema,adjurationand cursing(maledictio).
Oftentwo or moreof thesetermsare used in thesame text.The formulaeutilizedin
the actual ceremoniesmentionmostoftenanathemaand adjuration.
Thomas, Man and theNatural World,pp. 17-41.

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Mexican Indian perceivedanimalsas individualsoul-matesof each
humanand theBuddhistsawtransmigration ofsoulsbetweenhumans
and animalsas inevitable,30 but Europeanthinkersdid theirbestto
markan impassableboundarybetweenman and beast. Perhapsthe
mostextremeexpressionof thisapproachwas Descartes'sidea, that
animalsare automatapossessingneithersense nor feelings.Within
thisframework it was inconceivablethata beastshouldbe placed in
a human situationand treatedas a human being. Animal trials,
however,did exactlythat.
Most nineteenth-century scholarswho grappledwiththeproblem
solved it in termsof culturalpositivism.Animaltrialswere clearly
thelegacyofa primitive, past. This approachprovided
twospecificexplanations.The mostsimplistic viewedthetrialsas the
communalhistoricalequivalentof a child's tempertantrum:"This
childishdispositionto punishirrationalcreatures. . . is commonto
theinfancyof individualsand races". The otherexplanationplaced
thephenomenonwithina "primitive"culturalcontextthatattributed
eitheranthropomorphic or demonicqualitiesto insensatebeasts.31
tationsfor the two different types of trials,and neitherfitsthe
facts.The idea of childishretaliationcan hardlybe used to describe
sentencespassed (sometimesafterponderousdebatesand trialsyears
long)by episcopalcourtsandparlements, or legalopinionsofleading
juristsand law The
faculties.32 culturalexplanationshave themerit
of placing the phenomenonwithinits historicalcontext,but their
simplisticconflation of two differentproceduresmakesnonsenseof
30 J. E. Brown
(ed.), TheSacredPipe (Norman, 1953); FrankG. Speck,Naskapi:
The Savage Huntersof theLabradorPeninsula(Norman, 1935); Gary H. Gossen,
"Animal Souls and Human Destinyin Chamula", Man, x (1975), pp. 448-61; fora
clearstatement ofthisconceptin legal terms,see J. J. Finkelstein,TheOx thatGored
(Philadelphia,1981), pp. 52-4.
31 Evans, Criminal Prosecution,p. 186. The positivist interpretations belonglargely
to theschoolofnineteenth-century Frenchantiquarian-savants: J. Berriat-Saint-Prix,
"Des procesintentesaux animaux", Themis,ou bibliotheque i (1819),
pp. 194-7,and ibid., viiiB (1826), pp. 61 ff.;Berriat-Saint-Prix, "Rapportet rech-
erches";Menabrea,De l'origine, de laformeetde l'esprit;CharlesLouandre,"L'epopee
des animaux", Revue des deux mondes,xxv (1854), pp. 331-5; E. Agnel, Curiosites
judiciairesethistoriquesdu moyenage: Procescontre lesanimaux(Paris, 1858); A. Sorel,
"Proces contreles animauxet insectessuivis au moyenage dans la Picardieet le
Valois", Bulletinde la Societehistoriquede Compiegne, iii (1876-7), pp. 269-314.
32 In 1609 theparlement ofPariscondemneda cow to death,and a similarsentence
was passed in 1679 by theparlement of Aix-en-Provence againsta mare: Louandre,
"L'epopee", p. 334; Berriat-Saint-Prix, "Rapportet recherches",p. 431; in 1621the
Leipzig law facultygave an opinionon the mode of executionof a cow in Machern:
Evans, CriminalProsecution, pp. 169-70;Berkenhoff, Tierstrafe,pp. 31-2.

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the interpretation. Endowing animalswith human characteristics,
such as reason or malicious intent,can explainsecularproceedings
againstthem. Conversely, one could justifyecclesiasticaltrialsin
thosetermsonlyifindeedtheyconcernedtheriomorphic devilsrather
thanflesh-and-blood animals.By failing distinguish twotypes,
to the
the positivisthistorians were guiltyof confusingtwo distincttradi-
tions, and theirfinalexplanationfailsto covereitherphenomenon.33
All positivistinterpretations come up againstone mainstumbling-
block:thesequenceofevents.All sourcesclearlyindicatethatanimal
trials,bothsecularand ecclesiastical,becamecommonpracticein the
later middle ages, reachingtheirpeak of frequencyand greatest
geographicscope during the fifteenth, sixteenthand seventeenth
centuriesand subsequentlydeclining.Those factswere difficult to
square withthe of
picture humanityadvancing in linear progression
fromthesuperstitious middleages to therationalnineteenth century.
Indeed, one scholar commentedin a puzzled fashionthat "...
strangely enough,itwas in thelatterhalfoftheseventeenth century,
an age of comparativeenlightenment, thatthiscruelpenaltyseems
to have been most frequently Most of his colleagues,
though,werecontentto telescopetheentireEuropeanpastintoone
staticera of irrationality,thusneatlyshelvingtheproblem.
In responseto the positivistinterpretation, J. J. Finkelsteinhas
recentlyraisedan oppositetheory.Accordingto him,thetrialsin no
way indicatedan anthropomorphic viewof theanimalkingdom.To
thecontrary: they were a specificculturalmanifestation ofa mentality
that placed man above animal in the hierarchyof creationand
therefore feltobliged to stampout any infringement of thisorder,
suchas thekillingofa humanbeingbya lowercreature.The practice,
therefore, was specificonlyto theJudaeo-Christian traditionand had
no connectionwithanyinfluencesaliento thisframework. Such was
the horrorinspiredby the deed, thatthe Bible was not contentto
prescribethe stoningof a goringox, but forbadein additionthe
consumptionof its meat. The latterinjunction,Finkelsteinpointed
out, must have constituteda considerablehardshipin nomadic
33 Karl von Amirawas thefirstto insistupon thecleardistinction
(seculartrials)and Tierprocesse Evans and Frazer
subsequentlyconfusedtheissue once moreby pilingtherecordofone case upon the
otherin an anecdotalmanner.Berkenhoff returnedonce moreto von Amira'sdistinc-
tion,renamingthe second categoryTierbannung and addinga thirdone (rechtsrituelle
Tiertotung) forthe executionof animalsinvolvedin bestialitycases.
Evans, CriminalProsecution,p. 138.
35 Finkelstein,The Ox thatGored,pp. 48-72.

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This explanationdoes placethetrialswithina clearculturalcontext.

Unfortunately itis thewrongone. Finkelstein's theorydependsupon
hisfailuretofindanyanimaltrialsoutsidetheJudaeo-Christian tradi-
tion,a failurethatderivesfromhis strictly occidentalconceptof the
judicialprocess.In factmanynon-literate, non-western societiesprose-
cutedand punishedoffending animals,albeitless formally thanthe
Europeans,fortheirentirejudicialstructure was conceivedin a dif-
ferentform.These prosecutions wereoftenbasedupona perception of
naturethatwas totallyopposed to thewesternhierarchy of being.36
The idea of animaltrialsalso existedin westerncultureoutsidethe
Judaictradition, in Plato'swritings.37
Finkelstein reliedheavilyupon
thehorrorinspiredbytheanimal'sact,a feelingsufficiently visceralto
taintthebeast'smeat,inordertoillustrate thedeep-seatedcharacter of
thehierarchical conception.Thisrepulsiondoesindeedsurfaceinlegal
and judicialsources.A bull was sentenced"in detestation ofthesaid
crime",a pig executed "in detestation
and horror of the said deed".
Accordingtoone legalopinion,homicidalanimalsshouldbe executed
"in orderto erase all memoryof the enormity of the deed".38 The
feelingthatsuch an animal was unclean,however,seemstohavebeen
strongest antiquity, when theIsraelitesrefusedto eat theanimal's
meatand Plato had the carcass"cast out beyondthebordersof the
country".By thetimemedievalanimaltrialswererecorded,theneed
to obliterateall tracesof thehorriblecrimewas reservedforcases of
Moreoverthe uncleanlinessattachingto theanimaldid
not survivethe merelyhomicidalbeast's death: biblicalinjunctions
notwithstanding, themeatofexecutedbeastswas oftendistributed to
thetownpoor in theLow Countries.40 Finkelstein'sexplanationfits
36 For a widerview of law in non-literate
societies,see Pospisil,Anthropology of
Law, pp. 13-18;forevidenceofhumanjusticemetedout to animalsoutsideEurope,
see Berkenhoff, pp. 75-83. From his notes,it is obviousthatFinkelstein
was unawareof Berkenhoff's work.
37 Plato, The Laws, trans.R. G. Bury,2 vols. (London, 1968), ii, bk. 9, p. 267.
38 Baupre, 1499: Evans, CnminalProsecution, p. 358; Laon, 1494: ibid., p. 355;
JeanDuret, Traitedespeineset amendes(Paris, 1573), p. 36.
39 Von
Amira, "Thierstrafen",p. 556; Berkenhoff, pp. 103-7. I have
excludedbestialitycases fromdiscussionbecause theconcensusof latemedievaland
earlymodernjudicialopinionwas thattheseanimalswereinnocentparticipants, whose
destruction (togetherwiththatofall relevanttrialrecords)was necessaryto obliterate
all tracesofthecrime:JodocusDamhouder,Praxisrerum criminalium (Antwerp,1555),
ch. 96, pp. 351-61; Benedict Carpzov, Practicaenovae imperialis Saxonicae rerum
criminalium (Frankfurt,1652), pt. 3, q. 101, art. 20, p. 4; q. 131, art. 16, p. 257.
40 Middelburg,1571: Berkenhoff, Tierstrafe,pp. 30, 126: ". . That the same ox
. . should be condemned. . . and the meatdistributed. . . in thiscity". See also
(cont.onp. 19)

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Perhapsthesame concentration upon theancientprecedentlies at
therootof Finkelstein'sdismissalof ecclesiasticaltrialsthatpossess
no such antecedents,as "magic" ratherthanretributive justice.It is
clear, however,that no such distinctionexistedin the minds of
medievallegists.Accordingto them,the difference was functional,
notcausal: pigsor locustswho harmedman mustalikestandtrialin
the interestof universaljustice. Where the secular arm could not
reach, God's power was invoked to performthe same task. The
operativeprincipleunderlying bothtypeswas identical,so thatprece-
dents could freelybe drawn fromone practicein supportof the
The theory'sgreatweaknesslies in the implicitassumptionthat
historicalrealitymightbe inferredfromideologicaldata. As stated
above, no such congruenceexisted even betweenmedieval legal
ideologyand structure.The gap betweenancientpreceptsand med-
ieval judicialrealitywas evengreater.It is impossibleto assumethat
a practicelastingat least fivecenturiesall over Europe could have
survivedpurelyon thestrength ofa biblicalprecedent,whensimilar
injunctions had ceased to be legallybindingovera millennium earlier.
Indeed, the Pentateuchserved more oftenas justification than as
actual source for behaviouralmodels. The explanationforanimal
trialsmustbe soughtwithintheiractual social and intellectualen-
vironment, notin long-defunct Consequentlyanyinter-
pretationseeking to establish context, not precedent,musttakeinto
accountthe one factorignoredby thepositivistsand by Finkelstein
alike:thedevelopments occurringin anylivingjudicialprocessunder
the influenceof one or more culturaltraditions.The chronological
scope of theproblemin itselfshowsthatbetweenthethirteenth and
the eighteenthcenturymore thanone influencemusthave formed
thementalattitudesbehindthetrials.Withina developmental scheme
it is possibleto perceivealternatejustification and condemnation of
(n. 40 cont.)
BennoJ. Stokvis,"Bijdragetotde kennisvan hetwereldlijke dierenproces in de
noordelijkeNederlanden", voorStrafrecht,
Tijdschrift xli(1931),p. 415.
41 ThusChassenee freelyquotesGuiPape'sopinionsupportingseculartrials:"Ifa
brutebeastcommits a crime,as pigswhoeatchildren do, shoulditdie?":Guidonis
Papae decisiones
(Geneva,1667),q. 238, pp. 254-5,in hisdefence ofecclesiastical
fo. 16r).
42 Foran discussion
illuminating Christian-
ityacceptedPentateuchal andlaws,seeJohnBoswell,Christianity,
injunctions Social
Tolerance,andHomosexuality in theMiddleAges(Chicago,1980),pp. 102-3.Plato's
opinionon thematter wasunknown in thewestuntilthelatefifteenth
century, and
couldtherefore havehad no influencein thematter.
See Raymond Klibansky, The
ContinuityofthePlatonicTradition theMiddleAges(London,1939),pp. 21-9.

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one or both typesof trialsat differenttimes,as the culturaland
intellectualtrendsof each perioddictated.

The earliestextantrecordof an animaltrialis theexecutionof a pig
in 1266 at Fontenay-aux-Roses.Roughlyat the same time, early
French customalsbegan mentioningthe practice. Both types of
recordsindicateby theirmatter-of-fact fashionofrecordingthetrials
thatthecustomhad long been in existencebeforetheappearanceof
writtenrecords. Nevertheless,in this case writtenjudicial record
wenthandin handwiththefirstcommentsupon thepractice.Of the
two customalsmentioningthe fact,the Coustumes et stillesde Bour-
goignedoes no morethanprescribetheexecutionof mosthomicidal
animals. The Coutumesde Beauvaisis, however,adds a scathing
criticismto thefacts.Accordingto Philippede Beaumanoir,author
of the Coutumesde Beauvaisis,the onlyjustification forthe custom
layin thecupidityof seigneurialauthorities reluctantto relinquisha
profitablesourceofincome.The practicewas juridically meaningless
and invalid,forall crimepresupposesintent,and beastspossessing
neitherknowledgeof good and evil nor maliciousintentionscould
not be held responsiblefortheiractions.43
Philippe de Beaumanoirwas a secular intellectual,judge and
administrator. Though remarkably learnedin bothRomanand cus-
tomarylaw, his interests werelimitedto thepurelypracticalsphere.
He was notinterested in theoretical
speculationsconcerning theforce
of humanlaw in nature.It is hardlysurprising,therefore, thathe
shouldhavetakenthestandhe did. For a leadingclergyman toadopt
a similarpositionwas moreunusual,as theentireargument foranimal
trialsrestedupon theologicalfoundations.Yet no less an authority
thanThomasAquinasvoiceda strikingly similaropinionconcerning
ecclesiasticaljurisdictionoveranimals.While Beaumanoirbased his
argumenton thelegal conceptof intent,Aquinas centredhis objec-
tionsto theanathematizing ofharmful pestsaroundthephilosophical
idea of reason. Animals,definedas insensateand irrational,could
43 For theexecutionof 1266, see Abbe
JeanLebeuf,Histoiredu diocesede Paris, 15
vols. (Paris, 1755-8),ix, p. 400; C. du Cange, Glossarium mediaeetinfimae Latinitatis,
7 vols. (Paris, 1840-50), iii, s.v. homicida(wherethe quotationis misdated1268);
Berkenhoff, Tierstrafe,p. 26; Evans, CriminalProsecution, p. 140; Agnel,Curiosites
judiciaires,p. 8. For the customsof Burgundy,see above, n. 20. Philippede Beau-
manoir,Coutumes de Beauvaisis,ed. A. Salmon,3 vols. (Paris, 1899-1900,repr.1970),
ii, p. 481, art. 1944. Generallyspeaking,Beaumanoirstandsout amongthecustomal
authorsbyhis organization ofthematerialin judicialcategoriesand hiscommentaries.

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sufferno guiltfortheiractions,and consequentlyno punishment.
Cursesand anathemaspresupposedboththeobject'sculpabilityand
itsamenability to punishment.In thiscase theobject'snaturevoided
and nullifiedthecurses.Thus, in thepurelyphilosophicalschemeof
things,man and animalwereseparatedby theimpassablebarrierof
reason. Aquinas' finalargument,however,bringsthe entireissue
back into the realmof theology.Like the restof creation,animals
were God's creaturesfulfilling God's will by theiractions.Cursing
them,therefore, was more thanuseless: itwas blasphemous.Aquinas
did acknowledgethatnoxiousanimalsmightbe thedevil'semissaries
ratherthanGod's, but in thatcase, he pointedout,anyanathemaor
adjurationshould be addressedto thewillingauthorof thedamage
ratherthanto his unreasoningagents.44
The twocomments,secularand ecclesiastical,areroughlycontem-
porary,but show no evidence of any mutual influenceor even
awareness.Their near-simultaneous appearancewas the expression
ofa generaltrendof thirteenth-century eliteculturein itsrelationto
popular manifestations in generaland to popularconceptionsof the
animalkingdomin particular.Throughoutthelatermiddleages and
human characteristics, consistently attributedto themboth reason
and will in directcontradiction to learnedopinions.45Beyond the
purelyutilitarian sphere,theirperceptions wereinfluenced bya long
traditionof the fabulous. This tradition,transmitted throughthe
writings ofclassicalauthors,was rejectedas an expressionofpaganism
duringthe Carolingianrenaissance.It thus became subsequently
identifiedwitha popularlevel of cultureand belief.By the twelfth
centuryit had re-emerged intotherealmoflearningas a resultofthe
"Christianmodification and adaptationof ancientsubstrata".46 The
writingsof Honorius Augustudunensis,Hildegardof Bingen and
Lambertof Saint-Omerabound withanimalswho eitherphysically
or symbolicallytranscendedthe realmof the natural.Perhapsthe
clearestexpressionofthistrendwas therevivaloftheanimalloreofthe
classicalPhysiologus in theformofseveraltwelfth-century bestiaries.
44 Thomas Aquinas, Summatheologiae, 2nd pt. of 2nd pt., q. 76.
Thomas, Man and theNatural World,pp. 75-81; Frenchfolklorists have also
foundanimalanthropomorphy a commonruralelement:"Les gensde campagne,loin
de considererles betes comme simples machines,leur attribuentdiversactes qui
suppose un raisonnement":Paul Delarue et Marie-LouiseTeneze, Le contepopulaire
franqais,3 vols. (Paris, 1957-76),iii, p. 31.
46 Claude Lecouteux,
"Paganisme,Christianisme etmerveilleux", Annales.E.S.C.,
xxxvii(1982), pp. 712, 715-16.

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These handbooksof zoologyall coupled the physicaldescriptionof

each animalwithan allegoricalinterpretation,makingno distinction
betweenhorsesand unicorns,dogs and basilisks.The naturaland
thefabulousinhabitedtheworldoftwelfth-century zoologyin perfect
harmony.47 At the same timemedieval French literaturealso incor-
porated much fabulous matter not
concerning only beasts (like the
unicorn), but also beings thatmagically crossed the borderline be-
tween the two realms. Mermaids, women-serpents, werewolves,
child-swansand semi-humansavagespopulatetheliterature ofmira-
This tradition
was reinforcedbya richfolkloristic
stratum ofanimal
lore commonto the entireIndo-Europeanworld,aboundingwith
anthropomorphic elements.These appearedin theformofthebeast
epic, where animals did morethanadoptand illustrate humantraits;
theyalso followedhuman legal procedures.The strictimitationof
humanjudicial precedentswas especiallycommonin theRomande
Renard,wherethecleverfoxstoodtrialbeforeKing Lion, managing
to evade retributionby theuse ofa legaltechnicality.
The entiretext
is builtaroundacceptedlegalcustomary normsrangingfromloyalty
and vendettato fraudand rape, withthe camel (the papal legate)
supplyingthe ecclesiasticalpointof view.49
Otherpopularliterary motifsoutsidethebeastepic reinforced the
involvementof animals in the judicial process. One of the most
popularoftheseduringthelatermiddleagesand earlymodernperiod
in France was the so-calleddog of Montargis.The legendis based
upon a universalmotif:thefaithful houndwho avengesits master's
murder.The westernmedievalversion,however,had thedog do so
in a formaljudicialduel withthemurderer.The talewas firstwritten
in thetwelfth centuryas a chansonde geste,now lost. In thisversion
Concerningbestiaries,see especiallyFlorenceMcCulloch, MedievalLatin and
FrenchBestiaries(Chapel Hill, 1962); M. James,"The Bestiary",History,new ser.,
xvi (1931), pp. 1-11.
48 Daniel Poirion,Le merveilleux franqaisedu moyenage (Paris,
dans la litterature
1982), pp. 29-30, 110-15.
49 Jean
Deroy, "Le discoursdu chameau,legatpapal, dans le Romande Renard",
in JanGoossensand TimothySodmann(eds.), ThirdInternational Beast Epic, Fable
and Fabliau Colloquium(Cologne, 1981), pp. 102-7. The tale's Germanversion,
ReinhartFuchs,was writtenas a satireon late twelfth-century imperialjustice.More
thanany otherversion,thisone is entirelybuiltupon judicial situationsof lineage
loyalty,vendettaand trial.See SigridKrause, "Le ReinhartFuchs,satirede la justice
et du droit", in Danielle Buschingerand Andre Crepin (eds.), Comique,satireet
parodiedansla tradition
renardienne etlesfabliaux(Goppingen,1983), pp. 139-51.For
thecommonIndo-Europeanoriginsof thistradition, see JosephBedier,Les fabliaux:
Etudesde litterature du moyen
litteraire age,6thedn. (Paris, 1969).

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both victimand murdererwere knightsin Charlemagne'scourtof
the epic legends. Afterits master'smurderin the forest,the dog
returnedalone to the emperor'scourt,whereits continualattacks
upon themurderer,coupledwithitsmaster'sdisappearance,excited
enough suspicionto warrantverification. The dog was allowed to
"prove itsaccusation" likea man in a duel, wherehe vanquishedthe
murdererwho then confessedthe truthand was executed. The
storyenjoyedconsiderablepopularityand a numberofversionsand
translations duringthefollowingcenturies.By thesixteenth century
popular tradition had so internalizedthe tale thatit transferred the
eventsfromCharlemagne'smythicalcourtand timeto CharlesV's
historicalcourtat Montargisin 1371. The verisimilitude and histori-
cityof the myth were alreadysufficiently established by the fifteenth
century justify its citationas precedentby Olivierde la Marche in
his treatiseon duels.50
The tale of thedog of Montargisis therefore remarkablenotonly
foritslongevity. It containsabsolutelyno anthropomorphic, symbolic
or fabulouselements,and thereinlies its plausibilityforthe early
modern audience. Readers accustomedto seeing flesh-and-blood
animals stand trial as a matterof course could easily accept the
historicity of a storythatplaced a dog in anotherjudicialsituation.
Threecenturiesearlier,however,beforethisacceptancehad had time
to crystallize,the dog of Montargiswas considereda myth,not a
historicalfact.And in thethirteenth centuryanimalmotifsthattook
theirsubject-matter outside the purelyfactualrealm came under
attackby learnedelements,bothsecularand ecclesiastical.
The mainstreamof thirteenth-century thoughtwas directed
towardstheconsolidationofall knowledgein elitistforms,reflecting
a totallyhierarchicaluniversethat allowed no mixed categories.
Stronglyinfluencedby Aristotelian naturalphilosophy,the leading
thinkers of thistrendrejectedbeliefin mostextra-natural manifesta-
tionsinconsistent withthe immutablecategoriesof nature.Outside
the realm of theology,most of those beliefswere categorizedas
popular superstitions expressedin fablesand myths.The learned
elite, not contentwith the compilationof summae,was dedicated
to the eradicationof superstitions. The attackwas carriedbeyond
academicfulminations intothe pulpitsby preachers,manyof them
Dominicanslike Thomas Aquinas. One of the main targetsof this
J. Viscardi,Le chiende Montargis:Etudedefolklore juridique(Paris, 1932), pp.
54-67; Olivierde la Marche, Traitezet advis de quelquesgentilhommesfrancoissurles
duelset lesgagesde bataille(Paris, 1586), fos. 8-9.

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offensive was thefabuloustradition thattendedtoblurthedistinction

betweenhumanand animalrealms.Preachersinveighedagainstthe
beliefin "mixedbeings"- partlyman,partlybeast- condemning
it at bestas ignorantsuperstitionand at worstas demonolatry.With
theelimination offabulouscreatures,animalswereonce morefirmly
relegatedto theirsubordinatepositionin the hierarchyof the uni-
The oppositionto animal trialsin the thirteenth centurymust
therefore be seen againstthisbackgroundof uncompromising anti-
popular rationalism.The anthropomorphic mentalattitudesper-
ceivedin thoseproceedingsmadethemunacceptabletoan intellectual
elitethatrejectedanyblurringofboundariesbetweenmanand beast.
But in thisfieldthelearnedoffensive failed.The traditionofanimal
trialsmay have had its rootsin elements of folkloreand paganism,
butit was too deeplyintegrated intoinstitutional
be easily eradicated.The continuedsurvivalof animal trialsmust
therefore be examinedin thecontextoflatemedievaljudicialdevelop-


The learnedcriticismofanimaltrialsin thethirteenth elicited
verylittlewrittenresponseby way of apologeticsor justification.
Neitherpractitionersnorrecordersofpractisedlaw at thetimewere
much given to theorizing.Perhaps continuedimplementation was
themosteffective retort,and lawmen feltno need for anytheoretical
underpinningsfora practicehallowedby age and custom. Of all
the customarylaw textscompiledin France duringthe fourteenth
century,onlyJeanBoutillier'sSommerural,recordingthe customs
of the Tournaisis,mentionsand justifiesanimal trials.Boutillier's
frameof reference, however,is singularenoughto warrantdetailed
Under the rubricDe la bestetuerhommeBoutillierprescribes
the executionof killeranimalsby virtueof the biblicalinjunction.
However,he adds, ifthevictimwas a serfthebeastshouldbe spared
and its owner pay the serfs lord 30 denierssilversymbolizingthe
thirtygenerationsthat issued fromCham, Noah's cursed son.52
J.-C. Schmitt,Le saint levrier(Paris, 1979), pp. 27-42; J.-C. Schmitt,"Les
traditionsfolkloriquesdans la culturemedievale",Archivesdes sciencessocialesdes
lii (1981), pp. 14-16.
52 JeanBoutillier, generaldepratique,aultrement
Le grandcoustumier appelleSomme
rural,ed. L. Charondasle Caron (Paris, 1621), p. 267; thecustomsof Burgundythat
(cont.on p. 25)

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The referenceto Cham, which has no precedentin any legal or
ecclesiasticalsource,bringsout thequasi-religiousaspectof animal
executionand the execrablecharacterof a God-cursedcrime.This
repeateduse of the Bible, both literaland allegorical,is unusual
enoughin legaltexts,especiallythoserecording customary law. Some
customalsdid no more than to set down the facts,while others,
notablythose of Beaumanoirand Boutillier,attemptedto impose
someorderupon theirmaterialand providea commentary on specific
articles custom. In this enterprisetheyalmostinvariablyrelied
upon the categories conceptsof Roman,notancientJudaiclaw.
They also soughttheirprecedentsand justifications in thewordsof
Justinian, not of Moses.
This departurefromusual methodscan onlybe understoodwithin
thecontextoftheprocessescustomary law was undergoing in France
during the thirteenth
and fourteenthcenturies.The privateredaction
of customsbegan around the middle of the thirteenth centuryin
variousareas of northernFrance, continuingwell into thefifteenth
century.Most oftenthesecollectionswereoflocal character, describ-
ing the practiceoflaw in a area.
specific Most ofthepays de droit
possessed such privately written customals by theend of the middle
ages. They were writtenby local baillis,administrators, judges and
councillors.Most of these authorspossessed legal trainingin civil
law,a factoftenevidentin theirattempts toapproximatetheirmaterial
to Roman models. Nevertheless,theywereno university professors
who occasionallygave an outsideopinion. They were practitioners
of customarylaw, in need of a handbook,not of theory.53
The reasonforthis plethoraof customalslies in the paradoxical
developmentof law at the time. While customwas by definition
ancientpractice,realitysaw it undergoingconstantmodification.
Therewas a varietyoffactorsat work:firstand foremost, thegrowth
of royalpowerand of theconceptof thekingas lawmakercreateda
whole body of royalordinancesthatcould and oftendid supersede
local customs. Beyond legislation,customarylaw was constantly
made and re-made by judicial verdicts,some of them in direct
contradiction totheancientoralcustom.It was thisfactthatprompted
Pierrede FontainestowritethecustomsofVermandois.Local judges
(n. 52 cont.)
also ordainedanimalexecutionsmightdatefromthefirsthalfofthefourteenth century,
but theyprovidenothingbeyond the statementof custom. For Boutillierand his
influence,see Guido van Dievoet,JehanBoutillierende Sommerural(Louvain, 1951).
53 Auguste Lebrun, La coutume: Ses sources- son autoriteen droitprive(Paris,
1932), pp. 71-2; Pissard,La connaissance
et la preuvedes coutumes,
pp. 161-3.

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so farreliedupon theiropinionsand prejudicesratherthanupon the
custom,that"the countryis practicallydevoid of custom".54In de
Fontaines'sopinion, it was the ruler'sdutyto enforcethe proper
applicationof ancientunadulterated custom.55Indeed, Saint Louis
concurredin thisopinion,forin 1270 he regulatedtheinquestspar
turbewhose purposeit was to establishin writingand approveby
royalcommandthe exact customof each locality.56But even this
procedurecouldresultin somemodification and adaptationofancient
customsto modernneeds. Finally,thecontinuousgrowthofRoman
and canon law studies inevitablyinfluencedcustoms.Though all
customalauthorsaffirmed thatin thepaysde droitcoutumierRoman
law had no power,a statement repeatedin royalordinancesas well,57
theyconsistently quoted Roman matterin theircollections,adding
to theprocessof changein theirveryattemptto preserve.This was
doneespeciallyin theweakerareasofcustomary law,suchas contract
and obligationlaws. Similarly, canonlawinfluences modifiedcustom-
ary marriage laws in certain parts of France.58Royal ordinances
rarelyintervened in suchmatters, buttheyhad considerableinfluence
upon police and criminalpractice.
The contradiction betweenthedynamicchangesin customon the
one handand itsemphasisupon constancyon theotherhandprovide
thebasis notonlyfortheact ofwriting,butalso theincentiveforthe
searchofjustification and reason.Ifcustomcannotremainunchanged
fromtimes immemorial,it must at least accord with reason and
naturallaw.59Thoughno one definedexactlywhatthesetermsmeant,
theywereusuallyconnectedwitheitherRomanor canonlaw models.
Consequentlyauthorssoughtwheneverpossible, not so much to
bringcustomary law in linewithRomanmaximsbutratherto clothe
its manifestations of Roman terminology.
in the respectability
Seen in thislight,animaltrialspresenteda ratherdifficult
Not only did Roman law include no such practice,it specifically
54 Pierrede
Fontaines,Conseila un ami, ed. A. J. Marnier(Paris, 1846), ch. 1,
art. 3.
Ibid., ch. 22, arts. 31-3.
56 Pissard,La connaissance et la preuvedes coutumes,pp. 112-58.
57 Ordonnances des roisde Francede la troisieme race,ed. E. de Lauriereet al., 21
vols. (Paris, 1723-1849),i, p. 313; Guillaumedu Brueil,Stiluscurieparlamenti, ed.
Felix Aubert(Paris, 1909), pp. 5, 20-1, 52, makesit clearthatRomanlaw carriedno
authority whatsoeverin the terraconsuetudinaria.
58 Thus in twelfth-century Normandycanonlaw pressureresultedin themodifica-
tionof thecustomarydotalregime,makingwomen'sdowrieshenceforth inalienable:
Lebrun,La coutume,pp. 38-9.
59For a listof sourcesstatingthisrequirement, see ibid., pp. 50-1.

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enunciatedthe principleofNoxae deditioin such cases, statingthat
the offendinganimal should be turnedover to the injuredparty.
While this principledid assume thatthe consequencesof the deed
wereto be borneby theoffending agency,theseconsequenceswere
in no way punitive.Rather,theinjuredpartywas compensatedby a
transferof property.The animalwas therefore viewedas a chattel,
nota sentientbeing. In thiscase, customwas in directcontradiction
to the Roman precedent.Significantly, not onlywas the offending
animaloftenpenalized,but even thosethatweresparedwereforfeit
to the justice, not to the injured party.The elementof private
compensationwas totallylackingin customarylaw.60
This essentialdifferencebetweenthetwosystems probablyexplains
thesilenceofmostfourteenth-century customalson thesubject.61 The
only author to insistupon the legitimacy of animal trials(extremely
commonin his own jurisdiction)was forcedto invokean even more
venerableprecedentthanJustinian. The BibleprovidedBoutillier with
thebestofprecedents.However,his subsequentadditionconcerning
serfsindicates,despite biblical attributions, a probable Germanic
originofthecustom.The paymentof30 deniers silveris stronglyremi-
niscentofthe30 solidiofwergildpayableforkilledserfsin theancient
Burgundianand Salian codes.62It is no coincidencethatthosecodes
werewrittenand used duringtheearlymiddleages in theverysame
areathatlatersawthefirst appearanceofanimaltrials.Noris itchance
thattheywere recordedonlyin the customalsof thosesame areas,
thoughby thefourteenth centurytheywererifeall overFrance.
The embarrassedsilenceof mostcustomalshad littleeffectupon
continuedpractice.Animaltrialscontinuedto be held evenwithout
a Roman precedent.In the followingcenturies,while Beaumanoir
lay forgotten, Boutillierenjoyed greatinfluenceand popularity.63
Despite his Roman sympathies, his workand thatofothercustomal
writerseffectively preventedthe introduction of Roman law as the
operativecode of the realm.Customarylaw, providedwithrespect-
Corpusiuriscivilis,ed. P. Kruger,T. Mommsenand R. Scholl,3 vols. (Berlin,
1884-95),i, Institutiones
4.9; Digesta9.1. The Englishpracticeofdeodand,or surrender
of the offending animalto the king,parallelsFrenchcustomto some extent.Still,it
impliesonce morecompensationratherthanpunishment, and is therefore irrelevant
to our argument.
61 It is noteworthy thatBeaumanoir,despitehis familiarity withand respectfor
Roman law, did not use it in his condemnationof animaltrials.
62 Lex Salica, ed. K. A. Eckhardt(MonumentaGermaniaeHistorica,
Leges na-
tionumGermanicarum,Hanover, 1888-1969,iv), i, ch. 35, art. 2, p. 129; Leges
Burgundionum, Liberconstitutionum, ed. L. R. de Salis (ibid., ii), i, ch. 10, p. 50.
63 Dievoet,JehanBoutillier,pp. 116-24.

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able formand ancestryand includinganimaltrials,survivedformany
centuriesto come, eventuallyachievingformalpublicredactionand
the statusof royallegislation.64


Whilecustomary law actuallyrequiredverylittletheoreticalbasisfor
its practice,canon law was a different matter.Ecclesiasticalanimal
trialsraisedsome of themostcrucialpointsoftheChristianviewof
nature,man and justice.In consequence,thetheoretical vindication
sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.Specialistsin Romanand canon
law devotedlong treatisesto the subject,citingbothbiblicalprece-
dents and scholasticargumentsin supportof the practice.One of
thesetreatises,GasparBailly'sTraitedesmonitoires, wentso faras to
describetheexactprocedureand argumentation ofa purelyputative
trial.65Taken in conjunctionwithcontemporary trialrecords,this
literatureclearlyshows thatthoughecclesiasticalexcommunication
of animals was known before,its popularityas a commonlegal
recoursedates onlyfromthe fifteenth century.This procedurehad
its culturaland legal rootsin a traditionclearlydistinctfromthe
secularcustom.Though defendersof ecclesiasticaltrialsknewand
were preparedto use the secularapologeticswheneverconvenient,
boththeincreasingly popularpracticeand theoryofthetrialsbelong
to a different facetof culturalexpression.The learneddefenceof
ecclesiasticalanimaltrialstookplace duringtheperiodusuallyiden-
tifiedwith anothertrend,namelythe persecutionof witches.The
close parallelsbetweentwo phenomena,bothincorporating religion
and legal processes,raisethepossibilityof crossinginfluences.The
conceptof the devil as the enemyof the humanrace could interact
withthe idea of animalsharminghumaninterests, witha resultant
similarity of reactionto boththreats.
Firstofall, it is necessaryto definethetypeofwitchcraft involved.
Kieckhefer,Horsley,and severalotherstudentsofwitch-hunts have
noted alreadythe discrepancybetweenpopular beliefsin practical
sorceryand learnedconceptionsofdiabolismand devil-worship. The
gap was significant mainlyduringtheearlystagesofthewitch-hunts,
Rene Filhol, "La redactiondes coutumesen France aux XVe et XVI siecles",
in J. Gilissen(ed.), La redaction dans lepasse etdanslepresent(Brussels,
1962), pp. 63-86.
65 See nn. 26, 27 above,and von Amira,"Thierstrafen",pp. 570-2,fora fullreview
of the legal-canonisticliterature.

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beforethe learned traditionhad forciblybeen incorporatedinto
popularconsciousness.Thus bythelatesixteenth centurysimplefolk
werespontaneously confessing before the parlement of Paris and the
Geneva consistoryto diabolic pacts and sabbath-rides.Kieckhefer
has shownhow, a centuryand a halfearlier,people broughtin for
sorceryended by confessingto diabolic practicesaftertortureand
inquisitorialquestioning.The internalization oflearneddemonology
bypopular elements was due to thepersistentpressureofinquisitorial
activity,the resultsbecoming evident especiallyafterthe middleof
thefifteenth century.66 The influence of theinquisition'squestioning
methodsand ideas is also apparentin the factthatrecordsof early
contemporary ecclesiasticalor later secular cases.67Consequently,
whenattempting to drawanalogiesbetweenwitchand animaltrials,
one cannotconsiderthe entiretraditionof witchbeliefs.The only
possiblyrelevantparallelsto elitist,ecclesiasticaljudicialproceedings
against animals are the elitist,ecclesiasticaljudicial proceedings
against witches.68Most relevant,of course, are the concepts of
animalsvoiced in theseproceedings.
There was a cleardifference betweenthelearnedand thepopular
perceptionof the role of animalsin witchcraft and sorcery.In cases
relatingto simple,functional magic,animalsassumedan indisputably
naturalform. Some were used for the makingof potions: toads,
thanksto theirpoisonousqualities,came in forfrequentmention.
Most animals,especiallydomesticones, wereseen as objectsof,not
participantsin magic acts: cows that gave blood insteadof milk,
Richard Kieckhefer,EuropeanWitchTrials (London, 1976); R. A. Horsley,
"Who Were the Witches?The Social Roles of the Accused in the EuropeanWitch
Hist., ix (1979), pp. 689-715; R. A. Horsley,"Further
Trials", Jl. Interdisciplinary
Reflectionson Witchcraftand European Folk Religion", Historyof Religions,xix
(1979), pp. 71-95; Norman Cohn, Europe's InnerDemons(New York, 1975); E.
WilliamMonter,"Witchcraft in Geneva 1537-1662",Ji. Mod. Hist., xliii(1971), p.
199; AlfredSoman, "Les proces de sorcellerieau parlementde Paris (1565-1640)",
Annales.E.S.C., xxxii(1977), pp. 800-3; Keith Thomas, Religionand theDeclineof
Magic(London, 1971),pp. 512-19,presentsa similardichotomy in Englandsomewhat
laterthanin the Continent.
67 Kieckhefer, EuropeanWitchTrials,pp. 18-23,32-6; theauthorhimselfseemsto
be unawareof the judicial significance of his data.
68 The legal aspectof witch-hunting has longbeen neglectedin favourofthestudy
of its social implications.For a recentattemptto rectify the omission,see Christina
Larner,"CrimenExceptum?The CrimeofWitchcraft in Europe", inV. A. C. Gatrell,
B. Lenman and G. Parker(eds.), Crimeand theLaw (London, 1980), pp. 49-75;
Larner,though,ignorestheproblemofdual jurisdiction ofwitchcraft;on thissubject,
see JosephHansen,Zauberwahn,Inquisition undHexenprozess imMittelalter(Munich,
1900, repr. Aalen, 1964).

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sheep thatdied as a resultof a curse,etc. Conversely,the learned

traditionsaw both domesticand wild animals as active agentsin
diabolicrites.Theriomorphic devilsappearedeverywhere in thelore
of demonology,fromsimplewitches'familiarsto theincarnation of
evilspirits.Animalscarriedwitchesto theirsabbaths,wherethedevil
himselfoccasionallyassumedanimalform.69 Did thesesupernatural
animalshave anyconnectionwiththetrialsofrats,locustsand eels?
The wealthofsixteenth- and seventeenth-century argumentationon
the subjecthas providedseveralinsightsintocontemporary percep-
tionsofnoxiousanimals.Bythistimeincreasing hadextended
the scope of writtenevidencebeyondthe rarifiedcirclesof leading
juristsand theologians.By theearlymodernperiodit is possibleto
determine notonlytheviewsoftheparlement president andtheuniver-
sityprofessor,but also of thelocal priestor canon. As mightbe ex-
pected,morevariedsourcesinevitably providemorecomplexanswers.
The one point upon which everyoneagreed was the harmful
characteroftheanimalsin question.The reasonbehindtheiractions,
however,was in doubt. Many bishopsassumedthattheywereoften
God's emissaries,therefore insistingupon communalpenitencebe-
forecommencinganylegal proceedings.The eminentSpanishtheo-
logian,Martinde Azpilcueta,concurred,pointingout thatprayers
and fastingwere far more efficaciousthan exorcismsin this case.
Conversely,he argued,theymightbe the devil's agents,in which
case theclergywould do betterto addresstheexorcismto themaster
ratherthanto his servants.70 Seemingly,Azpilcuetaconsideredthe
fishnear Sorrento(the reasonforhis opinion)as belongingto the
lattercategory,forhe refersto themas "cacodemons".
Frenchjuristsdiscussingthesubjectprovidean evenmoreinterest-
ing approach.UnlikeAzpilcueta,neitherChasseneenorBaillywere
clergymenor theologians.They were secular juristswho had had
occasionto arguebeforeecclesiastical'courts, buttheirapproachwas
Both entirelyexcluded anysupernatural agency
at workbehind the animals' depredations.Animalswere insensate
and irrational,acting presumablyof theirown impulses,not the
69 For animalsin
popular sorcery,see Horsley,"Who Were the Witches?",pp.
697 ff.;Horsley,"FurtherReflections on Witchcraft", pp. 84-5. For theriomorphic
devils and animals in sataniccults, see Cohn, Europe'sInnerDemons,esp. ch. 11;
Jeffrey in theMiddleAges (Ithaca, N.Y., 1972), pp. 105-13,
B. Russell, Witchcraft
188; Monter,"Witchcraft in Geneva",p. 196; bycontrast,H. C. E. Midelfort,Witch-
Huntingin South-Western Germany,1562-1684(Stanford,1972), p. 106, foundvery
littleanimalimageryof the devil in his area of research.
70 See n. 24 above.

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devil's. Nevertheless,both recommendedexcommunication in the
interestsof the humanrace. In the hierarchyof creation,the lower
echelonsexistedfortheconvenienceand utilityofman. Justlikethe
homicidalpigs,locustsconsuminga harvestdestinedto feedhumans
were infringing upon the order of the universe.Thus Chassenee
argued that though,in themselves,irrationalcreatureswere not
amenableto excommunication, in theirrelationto man theywere,
fortheyhad oversteppedtheirboundaries.In a way, thisapproach
was ruthlesslyutilitarianand anthropocentric.71
Not all authoritieswere as consistent.A centuryearlierwhen
of Switzerlandofferedno argumentation, merelythe precedents
and procedureof animalexorcism.While the Swiss juristcarefully
avoidedanymentionofdemonicpowersat workamongtheanimals,
his methodsare telling. Unlike the French juristshe mentioned
neitheranathemanor excommunication (which,in a human case,
wouldbe utilizedagainsta sinner,nota demonicagent),butexorcism
withits diabolic connotations.Though the technicaltermwas used
fora varietyofprocedures,theyall retainedthebasic meaningofthe
use of divine power by ecclesiasticalauthorityforthe purpose of
Formulaeof exorcismvariedaccordingto place and circumstance,
butall exhibitedthedominanceofspiritualpoweroveritsopponents,
naturalorotherwise.72Whileitis doubtfulthatanimaltrialsborrowed
thesentenceofexorcismfromwitchcraft cases,bothpracticesreliedin
theirusageuponthesameecclesiastical-judicial tradition
goingback to earlyChristianity. The paralleluse of the same ritual
of expulsionin bothinstancessuggestsa similarperceptionof both
proceduresin contemporary minds.
This perceptioncan be seen in the fateof Malleolus' works.His
two treatiseson animaltrials,both entitledDe exorcismis, were the
bestknownworkson thesubjectin thefifteenth century.Originally
theywerepublishedin a collectionofMalleolus'writings, buttowards
theend ofthesixteenth centurytheywereincludedin a collectionof
tractateson witchcraft and demonologypublishedas a companion
volume to the Malleus maleficarum.73 The editorsof the Malleus
Chassen6e,Concilium, fos.14- 16v;Bailly,Traitedesmonitoires,in Evans,Criminal
Prosecution,pp. 287-306.
72 Felix
Malleolus,"Tractatusde exorcismis",fos.74v-79r; J. Forget,"Exorcisme",
Dictionnairede theologie
catholique,15 vols. (Paris, 1926-50),v, pp. 1762-80;forthe
specific ormaledictio,seevonAmira,"Thierstrafen", pp. 561-7.
The additionalvolume was publishedin Frankfurt,1582, Lyons, 1584, and
severalsubsequenteditionsof theMalleus maleficarum.

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the prosecutionof witches,even if theyneveronce mentionedthe
devil. Evidentlytheconnectionbetweenthetwolayin theprocedure
of exorcism.
Fifteenth-century witch-hunting was more concernedwith the
destructionof guiltypractitioners thanwiththe exorcismof inno-
centlypossessed victims.By the late sixteenthcenturyexorcisms
were becomingmore centralto the prosecutionof witches.74This
factwas reflected notonlyin thelong-lastingpopularity ofMalleolus'
work,butalso in thepublicationofexorcismmanualsthatshedlight
bothon thepracticeand upon its applicationto animals.In thefirst
place, they show almost exactlythe same phrasingof exorcism
formulaefordevilsand animals.75Bothadjuredtheirsubjectin the
name of God, the Trinityor the saintsto departfromtheirarea of
operations(humanbody,vineyardor lake) and to cause humansno
furtherharm. While the animal exorcismsrarelyassumedany de-
monicagencyto be atwork,theydid evincethesameanthropocentric
and utilitarianapproachvoicedbyFrenchjurists.Thus, theexorcism
recordedby Maximiliand'Eynatten,an early seventeenth-century
canon fromAntwerp,adjuredtheanimalsto depart"to such places
. . . whereyou shall be unable to harmany of God's servants".If
theywere the devil's emissaries,theywereadjuredto self-destruct,
so thatnonewould remain"exceptforthosewho bringaboutGod's
gloryand are of use and salvationto humanity".Anotherexorcism
by the same author, applied to animals suffering fromdemonic
possession,forbidsthe devil access to a certainplace "in detriment
. . of all thingsgrantedby God forthe use of humanbeings".76
74 See RobertMandrou,Magistrats etsorciersenFranceau XVIIe siecle(Paris, 1980),
pp. 163-79,251-60.
75 "I
adjure you, beetles,who dissipateand destroythefoodof menin thisplace,
thatyou shoulddeparthenceforth and go whereyoucan harmnobody"("Adiurovos,
limaces .. .alimenta hominumdissipantiaet corrodentiahoc in territoria . . . ut a
dicto territorio . . . dissedatis,et ad loca, in quibus nullisnocerepossitis,accedatis
. ."): Chassenee,Concilium, fo. 17v;"I conjureyou,horribleand abominablespirits
who unceasinglyoccupy and disturbthis creatureof God, N., in the name of the
Father,the Son, and the Holy Ghost,to departimmediately and fleethisbody and
divinematter"("Coniuro vos superscriptos neffandissimos et abominabilesspiritus
qui hanccreaturamDei N. occupareet molestare. .. noncessatis,perpatrem,filium,
et spiritumsanctum. . . ut statimexeatiset fugiatisde vase isto et plasmateDei
. ."): HyeronimusMengus, Flagellumdaemonum, in Thesaurusexorcismorum atque
coniurationum terribilium (Cologne, 1626), p. 299.
76 "Talia loca . . ubi nullis Dei servisnocerepoteritis","nisi ad gloriamDei et
ad usum et salutemhumanumconducibiles","in detrimentum . . quarumcumque
rerumhumaniutilitatia Deo indultarum":Maximiliand'Eynatten,Manualeexorcism-
orum,in Thesaurus,pp. 1201, 1190.

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Exorcismmanualsbelongto a spheredifferent fromjudicialtre-
atises.Theirauthorswereusuallypriestsormonksin needofpractical
information. By thesecondhalfofthesixteenth centuryanimaltrials,
animalpossessionand demonologicallorehad becomefirmly enough
entrenched in Europeanperceptions toallowlessthaneruditesources
theexpressionofan independentattitude.In thiscase theexpression
camefromMartinofArles,a modestarchdeaconfromPamplona,no
legal luminarybut a mostdeterminedfighter againstsuperstitionin
all forms.In a scathingcondemnationof most popular pseudo-
medical and magic practicesknown to him, Martin ratherunex-
based his argumentupon the legitimacyof animalexorcism,which
he wronglyattributed to SaintThomas. Accordingto Martin'sread-
ing,theSummatheologiae had arguedthat,as thedeviluses animals
to cause people harm,it is permissibleto use exorcismin orderto
exclude demonicinfluencesfromthe animaldomain.77
Martinof Arleswas a contemporary of Chassenee,but thediffer-
ence betweentheirattitudesis indicativeofthegap separatinglearned
and popularconceptionsof animaljustice.Significantly, the source
in thiscase is neitherfolkloristic
nor elitist,but intermediate.
Navarresearchdeaconwas familiarwithcontemporary practices,but
like otherapologistsin his positionhe feltcompelledto justifyhis
opinionbyquotingan eminentauthority. Whetherdeliberateor not,
themisquotationof SaintThomas indicatestheintermediary's need
to legitimizepracticeby meansoftheory.Martin'slegalbackground
was sketchy,to saytheleast,buthisLatinwas goodenoughforbook-
writing.He was therefore theideal spokesmanforattitudesthateven
a centuryearlierwould have foundexpressionnot in writing,only
in practice.
Indeed, practiceprovidesthe strongestargumentforconnecting
thetwophenomena,fortheyexhibita correlation oftimeand space.
Both animal and witch trials seem to have become increasingly
commonin Switzerlandand the adjoiningFrenchand Italianareas
duringthe fifteenth century,and the coincidenceis all the more
striking because ofthe almosttotalabsenceofanyearliertradition of
secularanimaltrialsin Switzerland.78 Not surprisingly,
also witnessedtheemergenceofa hybridtypeofprocess:thetrialof
an individualanimal by a secularcourton chargesof supernatural
Martinde Ariesy Andosilla,Tractatus
de superstitionibus
contra seu
sortilegia inorbeterrarum
quaehodievigent (Rome,1559),fos.28r-29r.
78 Cohn,Europe'sInnerDemons,pp. 225-6.

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behaviour.As mightbe expected,thereis no recordof such trials
beforethe late fifteenthcentury,by whichtimethe demonological
potential of animals was a well-establishedidea. In form,they
conformedto the secular animal trialtradition;the culpritswere
invariablyindividualdomesticanimalsratherthandrovesof insects
or shoalsoffish,thetrialsalwaysendingwiththeexpectedexecution.
In content,however,theyrepresenta divergencefromthe typeof
virtueof the non-homicidalcharges and the use of the hitherto
uncommonwitches'pyreforexecution.They weredefinitely infor-
med by theecclesiasticaltraditionofwitchtrials,as well as thelong
traditionof fabulousanimals.
The mostremarkableof thesetrialswas theearliestknowncase.
The executionofa cockin Basle (1474) is clearevidenceoftheextent
to which the theriomorphic perceptionof devils had servedto re-
introduceanimalsinto the realmof the supernatural, whencethirt-
eenth-century rationalistshad triedto expel them. The cock was
actuallyexecutedforlayingan egg; ifallowedto hatch,such an egg
would produce a basilisk.79The beliefthatbasiliskswere hatched
fromroosters'eggsgoes back overa millennium in learnedtradition.
It was broughtup firstby Plinyand Solinus. Subsequently,Isidore
of Seville repeatedit in the seventhcentury,Pierreof Beauvais,
Pseudo-HugoofSaint-Victor and HildegardofBingenin thetwelfth,
and VincentofBeauvaisin thethirteenth century.80 Indeed,thelast
sourcewas familiarto the Basle chroniclerwho recordedthe case,
thoughapparentlyby thenthe beliefhad permeatedpopularstrata
as well. Most authoritiesagreedroughlythatthebasilisk,a fabulous
beast,halfcock and halfserpent,came out ofan egg laid by an aged
roosterand hatchedbya toad.The conviction thatthebasiliskexuded
poison and killed by look, smell and contactexplainsthe alarmof
the Basle authorities.One can see the previouslyrejectedfabulous
79 JohanGross,KruzerBasslerChronik(Basle, 1624), p. 120, recountedthe facts
accordingto Hans Knebel,chaplainoftheBasle church,whohad witnessedtheevent:
Diarium,ed. W. Vischerand E. Boos (Leipzig, 1880).
80 Pliny,Naturalishistoria,
ed. C. Mayhoff(Leipzig, 1892-1909),8.21.33, 29.4.19;
Solinus, Collectanearerummemorabilium, ed. T. Mommsen (Berlin, 1864), 27.51;
Isidore of Seville,Etymologiae sive originumlibriXX, ed. W. M. Lindsay(Oxford,
1911), 12.4.6-9; Pierreof Beauvais, "Bestiaireen prose de Pierrele picard", ed. C.
Cahierand A. Martin,Melangesd'archeologie, d'histoireetde littrature,
ii (1851), pp.
213-14; Hugo of Saint-Victor, De bestiiset aliis rebus(Patrologiaecursuscompletus,
ed. J.-P. Migne, Series latina, 221 vols., Paris, 1844-55,clxxvii),3.41, col. 100;
Hildegardof Bingen,Physica,seu subtilitatum diversarum naturarum creaturarum libri
novem(ibid., cxcvii),9.12, col. 1343; VincentofBeauvais,Speculumnaturale(Douai,
1624),bk. 1, 20.22-4,pp. 1472-4;McCulloch,Bestiaries, pp. 93, 199-200;L. Tolmer,
Folk-loreet biologie:Les oeufsde coq et basilic(Bayeux, 1928), pp. 16-24.

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traditionre-emerging withintheframework oflegalculture.Though
the beliefin the basiliskwas age-old,it occurredto no one actually
to executea livingcock beforethe fifteenth century,and the case
indicatesthedegreeofintegration betweenlegalpracticeand cultural
traditions.81The existenceof an analogoussynthesisin therealmof
witchtrialsservesto strengthen the similarity
betweenthe two.
There is a clear correlationbetweenthe variousopinionsvoiced
and actionstakenabout animaltrialsand the author'sstatusin the
socio-culturalscale. While theologiansand juristsdid theirbest to
keepdemonologyoutofthetrials,relyingon theirphilosophicalview
ofjusticeand theuniverseforjustification, thefartherone progresses
on theroadfromtheorytopractice,thecloserbecomestheconnection
betweennoxiousanimalsand noxiousdevils. Exorcistsapplied the
same meansto both,implyingthatharmto mankindmustoriginate
withitseternalenemy.Judgesfinallysaw someanimalsnotas agents,
butas activeincarnations ofthedevil.This progressivedemonization
oftheanimalkingdomwas contemporary withthegenerallyincreas-
ing internalizationby popular elementsof learned demonology.
Whethertheriomorphic devilsfirstappearedin a witchcraft
or in an
animaltrialmatterslittle.By the sixteenthcenturytheywere there
as partof one judicial-theologicaltradition,and theyremainedpart
of the European legal scene as long as thewitchesburned.


Perceptionsand uses of justiceare excellentmirrorsofthementality

of an age. In a purelypositivesystemof law theydelineateman's
conceptof necessaryand desirablesocietalrelationships.In an all-
inclusivesystemencompassingalso the extra-humanworld, they
revealman's view of his place withintheuniversalschemeas well.
Animal trialsbelong squarelyin the lattertypeof judicial system.
They expresseda perceptionof law thatheld swayover the entire
universe.The idea thatthewholeworldis subjectto God's law runs
throughoutChristian theology. Thomas Aquinas clearly dist-
inguishedthemechanicaluniversallaw thatgovernednaturalpheno-
menaand had no moralimplications fromhuman,positivelaw. Even

81 The motifofthecock's eggsis an interesting illustration

betweenthe realmsof popularand eliteculture.Born as partof a learnedtradition,
it was transposedvia the judicial channelintothe level of Europeanpeasantbeliefs,
whereitcould stillbe foundin thenineteenth century.See E. Rolland,Faunepopulaire
de la France, 12 vols. (Paris, 1877-1915),vi, pp. 84-90.

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Thomas, though,admittedtheexistenceof an independentconcept

of equityside by side withlaw.
His less systematicsuccessors,especiallythoseversedmorein law
thanin philosophyand theology,no longerdistinguished universal
fromhumanlaw, or equityfromthemboth. They viewedjusticeas
a universalattribute,applicableto all nature.The pre-eminent status
ofman in creation,whichthescholasticsused to distancehimas far
as possiblefromthe restof nature,became centurieslaterthebasis
of the argumentforuniversaljustice.If man was to rule nature,he
must do so according to the same principlesthat governedhis
relationshipswithfellowhumans. This did not mean thatanimals
deservedthe same rightsas people. They too were subjectto the
universallaw thathad placed thembelow man, and musttherefore
refrainfromharminghim. The principleofgranting justice"to each
his own" operatedalso beyondthe boundariesof humanity.While
theseideas wereexpresslymentionedonlyin ecclesiasticalcases,they
werelatentalso in theseculartrials.The strictobservanceofjudicial
(not necessarilyhuman)procedureaccordingto theletterofthelaw
carefullyexoneratedthese trialsfromany appearanceof lynching.
The animalsgot theirjust due.
This perceptionof law is closely tied with the view of man's
relationshipwithGod. While man mayhave possessedtherightto
judge animals,he did not have it by virtueof his own nature.The
regulationof the universefellsquarelywithinthedomainof divine
legislation,and anyhumansentencepassed upon animalsdepended
entirelyforitsvalidityand forceupon divinejustice.It gave man an
extraordinary power over nature,so thathe could even pronounce
exorcismsin God's name notonlyupon animals,but also upon the
fourphysicalelements.82As a rule, thisforcewas grantedman for
his struggleagainst supernaturalevil, but could also be used to
upon one object.
This view was reinforcedby popularperceptionsof animalsthat
had long attributedto them both anthropomorphic and symbolic
characteristics.In therealmofliterature fabulousanimalspossessing
supernaturalpowers forgood or forevil interactedwithhumans,
assumed human formand gave birthto human children.Others
provideda satireof humanbehaviour,notablyof humanjustice.In
any case animalswere neitherinsensatenor lackingin intent,and

82 pp. 331-5.
Mengus, Flagellumdaemonum,

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while judges may have based theirverdictson customarylaw and
conceptsofuniversaljustice,people witnessing theexecutionsprob-
ably saw them as retribution.While this approach was severely
criticizedin thethirteenthcentury,itprevailedoverpowerfulattacks
mainlybecauseitsnetresult- animaltrials- fitted intothescheme
of universaljusticeas earlymodernintellectuals perceivedit.
The survivalofanimaltrials,then,was theresultoftheirsimultane-
ous dependenceupontwototallydifferent traditions. Popularanthro-
pomorphismand learned ideas of justice met at this juncture.
Furthermore, theycontinuedto existbecause theyfulfilled certain
necessaryfunctions.While they settledno disputesand kept no
peace, they were importantin other ways. They definedman's
relationship withtheanimalkingdomby virtueofhis judicialrights
over it. They reaffirmed society'sself-imageas universallyjust.
Finally,theecclesiasticaltrialsprovidedthe settingfora communal
ritualof selfand environment purification frominimicalforces.
The interaction betweeneliteand popularperceptionsof animals
and justicecan be seen outsidethecourt-houseas well as in it. The
transitionof fabulouselementsfromclassical elite cultureto early
medievalpopular beliefs,back to the learnedbestiariesand once
morevia thecourt-houseand thecock's executionintotherealmof
peasantideas, showstheimpossibility of classingany long-standing
traditionas eitherlearnedor popular.Once in court,thosetraditions
were bound to interact,influenceeach otherand producea hybrid
tradition,suchas theanimaltrials.In fact,in so faras all legalpractice
is a culturalphenomenon,it is necessarilyan intermediate one. It
findsexpressionin the court-house,where abstractand concrete
problems,juristsand litigantsconverge.The courtwas a meeting-
groundof scholarsand simplefolk,wherelearnedideas came into
contactand occasionalconflictwithpopularperceptionsand tradi-
tions.One of the resultsof thisencounterwas theanimaltrials.
Ben GurionUniversity oftheNegev EstherCohen
Beer Sheva

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