Hearts Through History Romance Writers

The Trial of the Pig

by | May 20, 2013 | 9 comments

By Anna Kathryn Lanier

For today’s blog, I’m turning back to Michael Powell’s book CURIOUS EVENTS IN HISTORY. It’s a small book, but it’s chockful of interesting historical events. “The Trial of the Pig,” page 40, is about more than just one event. It’s about several that took place during The Middle Ages, the prosecution of animals for, well, acting like animals. Powell explains that “Humans were trying to work out their place in God’s scheme and were uncertain about the roles of animal”. They would put the animals on trial to help “exert control over the uncertainties of life and symbolically restore order to their chaotic world”.

Animals and insects were often brought before ecclesiastical and secular courts, with their lawyers, on charges ranging from criminal damage to murder.

Examples of such trials are:

* In 1494 a pig was charged with attacking a child and killing it. Jehan Levoisier, the judge, found the pig guilty and sentenced it to be “hanged and strangled on a gibbet of wood.”

* In 1750 a she-ass was charged with coition with her human owner. She was acquitted because of her previous good conduct. (I’m not sure what happened to her human owner.)

* In the 1500’s “some rats” were charged with “feloniously and wantonly” eating and destroying a barley crop.

Powell says that Edward Paysons Evans’s 1906 book THE CRIMINAL PROSECUTION AND CAPITAL PUNISHMENT OF ANIMALS is the “definitive book about this phenomenon.” In it, Evans gives accounts of cases brought against dolphins, cows and goats.

When found guilty, the animals were often dressed as humans and then executed.

Have you come across an unusual trial during your research or in a book?

Anna Kathryn Lanier


Never let your memories be greater than your dreams. ~Doug Ivester
This post first appeared on Chatting with Anna Kathryn blog on October 9, 2009.


  1. Anna Kathryn Lanier

    Okay, I have edited the title of the blog post, from “The Trail of the Pig” to its correct title “The Trial of the Pig.” Geez! I hate typos.

  2. Angelyn

    Punishing the animal is another way of punishing the owner. Thanks for posting this.

  3. Barb Bettis

    That’s really incredible.

  4. Anna Kathryn Lanier

    I know, Ella. It boggles the mind. I need to look up the book THE CRIMINAL PROSECUTION AND CAPITAL PUNISHMENT OF ANIMALS and see if it’s still available. It looks like an interesting read. Thanks for stopping by.

  5. Sarah McNeal

    As if we don’t make animals’ lives miserable on a daily basis anyway, we actually put them on trial for obeying their natural instincts. Lordy. I really feel sorry for the “she-ass” (is that the same as a mule?). Basically raped by a human jack-ass and she’s the one that goes to trial. Figures.
    Great blog, Anna.

  6. Paty Jager

    It sounds to me like they were bored. But I guess back then they believed everything they didn’t understand to be bad.

  7. Caroline Clemmons

    This is the weirdest thing, Anna Kathryn. I had never heard of trying animals for crimes. Honestly, people never cease to amaze me.

  8. Anna Kathryn Lanier

    I found it very odd, too. Just go to show how really strange the people of the Middle Ages where. I know, they didn’t have the knowledge we have today, but some of their practices (including how they treated women) were really weird.



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