[T]he trials demonstrate unexpected ways of thinking about who or what the law acts upon. Without losing their status as property, animals were imbued with sufficient legal personhood to permit the law to act upon them as it would upon similarly-situated humans.


[T]rials in which collectivities of wild animals- rats, birds, snakes, insects-were called to ecclesiastical courts to answer for crop depredation and other anti-social behaviour. In 1545, the winegrowers of St. Julien in the Savoie region complained to the local ecclesiastical court about some weevils that had ravaged their vineyards (Evans 38). Presumably, the plaintiffs had to pay for their own counsel, but the weevils had both an agent and an advocate appointed for them. The court issued a proclamation recommending public prayers, repentance, contrition, three consecutive high masses, and “above all to pay tithes” (39). Scrupulous adherence to the programme solved the problem nicely, but several decades later, the weevils returned. This time, the wine-growers’ representative beseeched the court to appoint a new agent and advocate for the weevils (the first two having died), to observe the damage done by the weevils, and to proceed to an excommunication (42).

Various defence arguments and adjournments ensued, such that the court case had not moved ahead appreciably over the summer. The plaintiffs held a public meeting, during which they agreed to set aside a tract of land for the weevils, while reserving for themselves a right of passage and rights to subsurface minerals. The entire town voted to permanently alienate the land and drew up a conveyance accordingly. This, however, did not settle the matter, as the weevils’ advocate declared the land unsuitable for his clients, and the case was adjourned yet again while the court referred the matter to experts (Evans 46-49). As Evans notes sardonically, the final outcome of the case is unknown, since “the last page of the records has been destroyed by rats or bugs of some sort” (49).

— Anila Srivastava (2007): ‘“Mean, dangerous, and uncontrollable beasts”: Mediaeval Animal Trials’, Mosaic, Winnipeg: Mar 2007. Vol. 40, Iss. 1; pg. 127, 17 pgs