Homicidal Pigs and the Antisemitic Imagination
By Jody Enders
Exemplaria,Vol. 14.1 (2002)
The defendant had carried out the homicide with “cruelty and ferocity.” That was the sentence pronounced by the magistrate of Senlis sometime before the malefactor who stood before him was hanged in 1567. It was a gruesome murder that had outraged the small community just north of Paris. The baby girl had been found in her cradle, severely wounded “about the head, left hand, and above the right breast.” A child’s blood spilled, and for what? The victim might even have grown up to be a fine wife one day to one of the town’s young men had her short life not been so brutally and prematurely extinguished. Witnesses had seen the defendant fleeing the scene. Particularly distinguishable she was because of that unusual blackness of the face-a blackness that must have foretold an even greater blackness of the soul. Only death could satisfy the distraught parents and fulfill the town’s cry for justice. Only the extermination of the assassin could restore a sense of order. That was what their hanging tree was for. That was where the felon endured the ultimate penalty: she was hanged until she was dead.
The defendant was a pig, that is, a sow; medieval and early modern legal documents are interested in distinguishing sows among swine.
This is not parody. It is not carnival. It is not a bestiary. The case of the black-snouted sow of Senlis is an actual legal document – one of upwards of thirty-five such cases known-in which various beasts were tried, convicted, and punished for criminal acts of brutality. Her record was later reproduced in 1906 by Edward Payson Evans in an obscure little book called The Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals: The Lost History of Europe’s Animal Trials. Although the book was reprinted in 1987 with a helpful Foreword by Nicholas Humphrey, and although such scholars as Claudine Fabre-Vassas, Esther Cohen, and Jean Vartier have revisited these trials, the wealth of archival evidence attesting to the prosecution of animals has not yet become part of our apparatus for thinking about medieval society. Even so, the case of the black-snouted sow of Senlis demands attention, just as she herself did in 1567.
See also Medieval Animal Trials