Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Trials and Tribulations

At the moment I'm reading a really interesting book on the history of trials. There's a chapter dedicated to the trials of non-humans (animals, objects and corpses), which is a practice that didn't really fade out until the Enlightenment. Lots of theory about the evolution about the modern judicial system, but even more good stories.

So for your delectation, a couple of anecdotes from this chapter. The first concerns a certain Jacques Ferron and an unnamed female donkey both of whom were convicted for improper relations back in Vanvres, 1750. Man and donkey were sentenced to death, but prior to the execution Jacques' neighbours and parish priest came rushing hot-foot with a petition for mercy. Mercy for the communally-owned donkey, that is. They stated that they had known the poor maligned creature for four years and that she was "in word and deed and in all her habits of life a most honest creature." Donkey was back in the grazing ground by tea-time, nibbling while Jacques burned (alive). (p.156)

Back in 1535 Nottinghamshire a jury was convened to establish culpability in the death of one farmer Anthony Whylde, who had been suffocated when a large haystack fell on him. In a Perry Masonesque feat of deduction, the jurors managed to identify with astonishing precision the exact small bale responsible for Anthony's death. The ultimate fate of the bale is not noted. Insert bad pun of your choice here. (p.179)

Tomorrow - corpses in the dock. Wa-hay!


fiveandfour said...

Huh - you really can write a book on just about anything. It does sound intriguing, though, and on a subject like this one re: virginity that I'd never think to be interested in until I came across it.

EvilAuntiePeril said...

Oooohhh... That does look interesting. Might just have to pre-order, thanks for the rec.

Suisan said...

I think the man plus donkey plus petition for pardon was used in the opening scenes of The Advocate, a Colin Firth movie about a medieval attorney who is called to defend a pig against murder charges in rural France.

Kind of a good movie.

Suisan said...

Forgot to add that at one point in the movie he calls all the town's rats as witnesses, and when they don't show he declares that they must be called in contempt of court, and he further asks that the case be dismissed due to their refusal to testify.

EvilAuntiePeril said...

Wow - thanks for that, Suisan. The book does mention a French lawyer who specialised in animal trials and mentions the rat case as well. Sounds as if the film used some of these trials as inspiration. I'll have to look out for it.