A tidbit from E.P. Evans’s Criminal Prosecution and the Capital Punishment of Animals(18-19).

“It is said that Bartholomew Chassenee, a distinguished French jurist of the sixteenth century . . . made his reputation at the bar  as counsel for some rats, which had been put on trial before the ecclesiastical court of Autun on the charge of having feloniously eaten up and wantonly destroyed the barley-crop of the province.”

The case called up all Chassenee’s legal skill: “He urged . . . that inasmuch as the defendants were dispersed over a large tract of country and dwelt in numerous village, a single summons was insufficient to notify them all; he succeeded, therefore, in obtaining a second citation, to be published from the pulpits of all the parishes inhabited by the said rats.” 

When the rats still failed to show, “he excused the default or non-appearance of his clients on the ground of the length and difficulty of the journey and the serious perils which attended it, owing to the unwearied vigilance of their mortal enemies, the cats.” He argued at length that a person can appeal and refuse to obey a summons if he cannot appear in court in safety.

The case came into play later when the Parliament of Provence summoned Waldenses to court to answer charges of heresy. Chassenee argued that “even animals should not be adjudged and sentenced without having a proper person appointed to plead their cause.” 

He turned his experience to good account with the 1531 publication of a book De excommunicatione animalium insectorum.

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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