Tuesday, November 29, 2016
Pigs and their Criminal Trials 1877
Pigs and their Criminal Trials - article in All the Year Round 1877
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Is a pig a responsible being? Has he a moral sense? If he commit a crime, does he know it to be a crime? If he be tried as a criminal, found guilty, and sentenced, would he know what it is all about, and form an opinion on the justice or injustice of the proceedings? And whatever be the answers to these questions, do they equally apply to other four-footed creatures, and to the lower animals generally? We leave this as a "widdle" to be solved by Dundreary and other moral philosophers. It is, meanwhile, a fact that animals have really passed through some such ordeal in bygone ages; and the reader may not be unwilling to know a little of the evidence in support of this statement. But, first, it may be well to notice a curious narrative relating to a judicial combat between a man and a dog, and a controversy to which it has led touching the possibility of such a thing taking place, without an undue degradation of man as a responsible being, or an equally undue elevation of a dog as presumably irresponsible.
Many of us remember the time when a sensational melodrama was performed at some of the London theatres, under the title of The Forest of Bondy; or, The Dog of Montargis. It has been revived occasionally, when a particular exhibitor or performer had a dog which he had trained to fill a part or routine of action. The story runs thus: Aubry de Montdidier, a gentleman of the royal court, had, in Chevalier Macaire, an archer of the guard, a deadly enemy, who envied him the favour of the king. One day Montdidier was walking in the forest of Bondy, attended only by a favourite hunting-dog. Macaire came upon him stealthily and suddenly, stabbed him to the heart, dug a hole in the ground, and buried the body. The poor dog, bewildered and distressed, remained at the spot all day and all night, and so long afterwards that he became nearly famished. Hurrying home, he whined for food, devoured it ravenously, and returned to the spot where his murdered master lay. This he did again and again, quitting the fatal heap of earth only when hunger compelled him to seek for food. The singularity could not fail to attract notice. The mysterious absence of Aubry de Montdidier had become a source of anxiety to his friends; the visits of the dog, his whines and howls, and the gestures denoting a wish that someone would accompany and aid him, led to a determination to ferret out the truth. Messengers were sent, who were led by the dog to the spot, where the lately-disturbed earth was dug up, and the murdered body found. It was properly interred with Christian rites; and the dog, quiet but saddened, became attached to the friends of his poor master. One day, in a public place, he suddenly espied Chevalier Macaire, rushed upon him, seized him by the throat, and was with difficulty dragged away. This occurred more than once, and suggested to some of the courtiers the recollection that Macaire was known to have been on ill terms with Montdidier. The king, hearing of these things, ordered Macaire to attend with the other archers of the guard, and caused the dog to be brought to him. No sooner did the dog see Macaire, than he sprang on him just as before. The king thereupon questioned the suspected man closely, but could not obtain from him any confession that he was privy to the murder of Montdidier. Upon this—and herein lies the pith of the story—the king resolved upon a trial by battle. It was one of the usages of that age to cause two men to fight, when doubt existed concerning the truth of an accusation brought by one of them against the other, in reliance on the belief that God would defend the right. An arena was prepared, seats were arranged for the king and his courtiers, Macaire was provided with a heavy bludgeon, and the dog with an empty cask into which he might retire to breathe awhile. The combat began; the dog rushed round and round Macaire, avoiding the blows as well as he could, watched his opportunity, and at last, with a spring and a gripe, brought him to the ground. The king accepted this as conclusive proof, and condemned Macaire to the death of a murderer.
Some French writers believe the story; others regard it as a legend resting on no trustworthy foundation. The story appeared in La Colombiere's Theatre d'Honneur et de Chevalerie, from whence it was copied by Bernard de Montfaucon. The event is said to have occurred in the year 1371; the king was Charles Quint, or Charles le Sage. The place of combat was the Ile St. Louis, or Ile Notre Dame, a small island in the Seine, the real nucleus of the city of Paris. Over the mantelpiece of a saloon at the chateau of Montargis, a favourite country residence of the king, is, or was, an old picture representing the combat. The king, the princes and princesses, and the courtiers, are seated around the arena, in the middle of which the dog is represented as seizing Macaire by the throat, despite the formidable bludgeon. The dog is called the Dog of Montargis, so far as is known, only because of this picture in the chateau of that name. Research has, however, brought to light a Latin poem, older than the time of Charles le Sage, in which such a trial by combat is described as having taken place in the days of Charlemagne, more than a thousand years ago. Hence, in the opinion of many critics, the story was probably an invention of some troubadour in the eleventh or twelfth century.
Besides this, the story has been gravely attacked because it compromises the dignity of man, ignores the relative importance of reasoning and unreasoning beings, confounds those who are responsible for their actions with lower animals, unconscious of responsibility in a moral point of view. It is right, say these censors, to respect animals as works of the Creator, but wrong to exaggerate the sentiment. If we raise beasts in estimation we must raise human beings also; if we cannot do this latter, then we must allow every beast to retain his inferior position, to keep his distance, as it were, from that superior being man. (Query: A man sometimes beats his wife, does Mr. Hog ever beat or bite Mrs. Sow?) Unreasoning and irresponsible animals fill all grades down to the very lowest forms of organisation, little better than plants or minerals; while man is capable of rising from his present level almost up (we are fain to hope) to equality with the angels. It is not compatible with Christian doctrine for a man to fight with a dog; not consistent with moral responsibility to test a question of guilt or innocence by such an ordeal. If (they are Frenchmen who discourse thus) King Charles le Sage had ordered one of his attendants—whether the Chevalier Macaire or any other — to submit to such a degradation, would his honour as a Frenchman have permitted him to do so? A murderer he may have been, but could he consent to make himself a beast, or the equal of a beast? No; he would have preferred death, with or without a trial. No man in his own rank of life would have associated with him after he had fought a combat with a dog, whether he had been victorious or not; the dog-fight would damn him. When a lady, in the days of chivalry, selected a champion to fight for her, she chose a man of knightly honour, or at any rate one equal in rank to his antagonist, in order that it might be no degradation to either to combat with the other. It is also urged, in refutation of the Bondy narrative, that no animals below the rank of man have any clear idea of death; they do not discriminate between it and a prolonged sleep; the passing away of a spirit from the silent body would be beyond their powers of conception. Even children can with difficulty bring themselves to understand what death means. The dog of Montargis did not know that his master was dead, whatever else he may have known; and he could not deem it a moral retribution to spring upon the throat of Macaire. Thus argue the critics who dispute the story on moral grounds.
And now we come to our pigs. The story or legend just treated of depends, if true at all, on a belief in something—be it what it may—above mere brute nature in brutes, above mere bestiality in beasts. And it will be interesting to show, by evidence of quite a different kind, that the French did at one time really adopt a course towards the lower animals, which we in the present day should consider absurdly beneath the dignity of man, absurdly above the comprehension or responsibility of the brute creation.
A learned jurisconsult, M. Berriat St. Prix, examining the archives of the old French criminal courts, found more than sixty accounts of trials in which swine or other animals were placed at the bar— as we should call it—as criminals, or offenders accused of crime. These occurred at various dates, from the twelfth century down far into the seventeenth— the later centuries of the Middle Ages and the earlier of the modern. The Church had been accustomed to pronounce anathemas, on some occasions, against certain noxious vermin, such as field-mice, May bugs, caterpillars, snails, and others hurtful to the farms and gardens. But the criminal trial of animals was a different thing altogether. The instances ferreted out by M. Berriat St. Prix related mostly to offenders of the porcine genus, but some applied to bulls or cows and other animals.
One of the trials took place in the year 1266. The officer of justice of the Monastery of Sainte Genevieve brought to trial a hog that had killed and partly devoured a poor little infant, at Fontenay aux Roses, near Paris. The culprit, found guilty, was sentenced to the punishment of being roasted to death—an example of roast pork which will probably be rather new to most English readers.
Again, in the year 1386, a magistrate of Falaise, in Normandy, after a formal examination into the facts, condemned a sow to be mutilated in the leg and the head, and then to be hanged, for having killed and partly devoured an infant. Of course the prisoner at the bar was neither asked nor expected to give evidence in her own defence. The executioner was furnished with new gloves on the occasion.
Again, the judicial officer of the Abbey of Beaupre, near Beauvais, instituted a formal enquiry into a charge brought against a bull, of having viciously killed a maiden thirteen years of age, in the Seigneurie of Cantry, a dependency of the Abbey. The facts were investigated, the animal found guilty, sentence passed, and the bull put to death by hanging. So far as appears, the four-footed beasts condemned after these curious trials were not put out of the world in the usual way; they suffered the more ignominious death of felons.
Just before the close of the fifteenth century, in the time of our Henry the Seventh, a zoological trial—if the term may be used—was held, concerning which M. Berriat St. Prix gives us some of the technical records of procedure. It was held before the bailli or judicial officer of the Abbey of Josaphat, near Chartres: "Monday, April 18, 1499, an enquiry was held before us, at the request of the procureur of Messieurs the Monks of the Abbey of Josaphat, against Jehan Delalande and his wife, prisoners in the jail of this abbey, by reason of the untimely death of a child named Gilon, about a year-and-a-half old, which child had been duly nursed and nourished by its mother. The child was murdered by a pig, about the age of three months, belonging to the said Delalande and his wife. Considering the charge brought, and the evidence taken, we have condemned and do hereby condemn the said pig, for the reason and facts established, to be hanged and executed by our executioner, in the jurisdiction of Messieurs our Superiors, and by virtue of our definitive and lawful power. Given under the countersign of the said bailliage, the year and day above named. Signed, O. Briseg." There is no statement that Delalande and his wife bore any part of the punishment inflicted on their porcine property.
One instance, noted by the authority above named, is additionally curious, in so far as it lets us into the knowledge of a few facts, connected with the technical details of bringing the four-footed culprit to justice. It is an attestation made by the bailli of Mantes, dated March 14th, 1413, concerning the execution of a sow for having killed and partly devoured a little child. The approximate English of the old French forms of expression may be presented thus: "To all whom it may concern: Simon de Baudemont, lieutenant at Meullent of the noble Sieur John, Seigneur de Maintenon, Chevalier-chamberlain of the King our Sire, and his bailli at Mantes and the said Meullent, greeting. We hereby make known that in bringing to justice a sow that had killed and partly devoured a little child, we have become chargeable for the following expenditure, namely: Expenses incurred for the said sow in jail, six Paris sols [An old French coin worth 12 deniers]. To the maitre des hautes-oeuvres, who came from Paris to Meullent to perform the said execution, by command and ordonnance of our said master the bailli and procureur of the king, fifty-four Paris sols. For the cart which brought the said sow to justice, six Paris sols. For cords to tie and secure her, two sols eight deniers. For gloves, two deniers. The which items make; a sum total of sixty-nine sols eight deniers Parisian. All the which we hereby certify to be true by these presents. Sealed with our seal. Signed, De Baudemont."
There seems some reason to believe that the executioner wore gloves on the occasion, as if to save his hands from the contamination of touching the condemned brute. If so, they were perhaps hired for each occasion; they could not, even making allowance for the great difference in the value of money in those days and the present, have been purchased for so trifling a sum as two deniers.
Does it follow that the Middle Ages, as typified by these strange judicial proceedings, lowered human nature to the level of brute nature, by subjecting both alike to the same ordeal and punishments? Not necessarily. It was only when human life was sacrificed by animals that they were thus tried, sentenced, and punished. The principle of legislation which seems to have been accepted and adopted was that all violence to human life and human nature are punishable, by whomsoever and whatsoever committed. A state of society which sanctioned this maxim is not unlikely to have sanctioned also the style of judicial combat indicated by the story of the Dog of Montargis, whether that particular story is true or legendary—provided there was strong presumptive evidence that the accused person had really committed murder.
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