Medieval Animal Trials. Justice for All

Author: Phillips, Patrick J.J.
In Europe as early as the thirteenth century and as late as the sixteenth century, non-human animals including rats, pigs, horses, and dogs were tried for criminal activities. Such trials were not sacrificial in nature; neither were they mock trials for entertainment. Rather, such trials were undertaken with great seriousness with appointed legal counsel for prosecution and defense, at some times before a judge and at other times before a judge and jury.
This phenomenon would strike modern sensibilities are being somewhere between eccentric and completely mad, and no one today believes that animals are capable of forming criminal intentions. This book answers the question of how this rather arcane practice is to be understood because it is true that today no animals are formally prosecuted for crimes in courts of law.


“This presentation of many of the elements of the judicial proceedings is extremely engaging and will be attractive to an academically leaning audience.”

Prof. James Brown,
University of New Brunswick

“At a time when we are reevaluating our relationships with the natural world, this book makes an important contribution, by revisiting and bringing together, in a clear, coherent logical fashion, the scholarship surrounding the treatment of animals in the medieval period.”

-Normand Perreault,
Quest University

Table of Contents

1. Introduction: The Great Cat Massacre
2. Chapter One: a. Trial One: Wild Animals – The Rat
b. Trial Two: Domestic Animals – The Pig
c. Trial Three: Guilty Beasts
d. Argument One: “Merely Cruelty”
e. Argument Two: Primitive Mistakes
f. Argument Three: The Elimination of Social Danger
g. Argument Four: Punishment as Deterrence
h. Argument Five: Punishment as Education
3. Chapter Two
a. The Great Chain of Being
b. The Moral Order
c. The Platonic Inheritance
4. Chapter Three
5. Chapter Four
6. Conclusion
7. Bibliography
8. Index