Offences alleged against animals ranged from murder to criminal damage and their trials took place in church and secular courts. Animals were provided with lawyers, human witnesses were often brought, those who had witnessed the crime and others who spoke of the good character of the animal. These trials took place in Europe between the thirteenth and eighteenth centuries. In 1906, over a hundred accounts of animal trials were collected by historian Edward Evans for his book, The Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals, the cover of the book is seen here. This barbaric scene shows a pig, dressed in jacket and trousers, being strung up on the gallows while the fourteenth century inhabitants of a Normandy village watch. In Evan's book, its states that the pig had been sentenced to be “mangled and maimed in the head and forelegs then dressed and hung" for its crime of having torn the face and arms of a baby in its cradle.
An eye for an eye it seems!
On the whole it was the domestic animal, as we have seen with the pig, that commonly found themselves facing trial, cows and horses and even insects were tried too! Rats and cats were often brought to trial as familiars as they lived in the homes of women who were suspected as being witches.
The pig execution mentioned previously, was the earliest recorded animal trial and execution, centuries later, in 1457, a female pig and her piglets were said to have been tried for the murder of a child, the end result of which was the piglets being acquitted but the mother being found guilty. No doubt the sow was put to death as was the norm for a guilty verdict, or if the judges were lenient, there was the option of exile.
A more extreme 'animal' the werewolf, were often tried, but in recorded cases the werewolf itself was never present only its alter ego, the human.
A trial in the town of Basel in Switzerland in 1474, a rooster was put on trial for "the heinous and unnatural crime of laying an egg." The townspeople thought that the rooster was the creation of the devil and that an egg he had laid contained a two-legged dragon with a rooster's head known as a Cockatrice. Other eggs laid by the rooster all lacked yolks which also was considered unnatural and this added more weight to the prosecuting councils case. The defense suggested that it was not the the roosters fault that it happened to lay eggs, but the judge found the bird guilty of witchcraft and it was immediately burned at the stake "with as great solemnity as would have been observed in consigning a heretic to the flames" and like the pig years earlier the execution was witnessed by a large crowd.