Can Animals Commit Crimes?

Can Animals Commit Crimes?

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Nearly 500 years ago, in the town of Autun,
France, a young lawyer named Bartholomew Chassenée took on a case defending a group of young
troublemakers against erroneous criminal charges brought forward by the Catholic Church. Facing off against the Church was a really
big deal, especially for a young, ambitious lawyer, and after a series of clever legal
tricks he prevailed. Oh yeah, also, his clients were a bunch of
rats. Let me explain. Autun’s barley crop had been decimated by
a rat infestation. Affected farmers asked the Church to intervene,
and the Church in turn charged the rats with destruction of property in their ecclesiastical
court. Chassenée was looking to make a name for
himself, and decided that defending the rats would be a high profile way to kick-start
his career. On the first day of proceedings, when Chassenée
showed up to the courthouse, the rats were nowhere to be seen. This was to be expected of course, but the
judge’s first move was to take this as an indication of their guilt. Thinking quickly, Chassenée informed the
judge that the notice to appear in court had been posted exclusively inside the town of
Autun. The supposed crime had taken place outside
of town, so it was reasonable to assume that that’s where the defendants lived as well. Chassenée argued that the court had an obligation
to provide adequate notice to his clients, even though they were, you know, rats. The judge reluctantly agreed, and issued an
order instructing every rat in the diocese to appear in court. This time, notices would be posted everywhere. Several days later, Chassenée showed up to
court for a second time, and again, his clients were nowhere to be seen. The judge was prepared to call it quits right
there, but Chassenée came back with another argument. He said that whenever farmers appeared in
court, they were usually given several weeks to get their affairs in order. His clients were farmers of a different sort,
so why weren’t they being shown the same respect? Chassenée was being annoying, but he kinda
had a point. The judge delayed proceedings for several
weeks so that the rats could get their affairs in order. Whatever that means. Weeks later, they met for a third time. Surprise, no rats. Chassenée burst in there FULL OF BEANS. He informed the judge that OF COURSE his clients
had every intention of coming in today. However, he had only now discovered to his
dismay that the streets of Autun were ABSOLUTELY CRAWLING with cats! His clients, Chassenée said, were afraid
for their lives! The judge was allowing assassins to hang around
just outside the courthouse! This was Unacceptable! He told the judge that it would be impossible
for his clients to appear in court until every cat in Autun had been moved indoors. An extremely annoyed judge issued a notice
for people to pretty please with sugar on top move their cats indoors. Proceedings were adjourned until a future
date TBD. No date was ever set. People moved on with their lives, and the
matter was set aside. Chassenée had successfully badgered the Church
into dropping the case. So that’s a weird story, we could just leave
it there and move on with our lives, but it does raise an interesting question. Can animals commit crimes? Why did the people of Autun try to bring the
full weight of the law against something that was so clearly just an act of nature? Believe it or not, to answer this question
we have to go all the way back to the ancient Greeks. Murder trials in ancient Greece were held
out in the open air. Every flavour of murder trials. By that I mean human murder trials, inanimate
object murder trials, and yes, animal murder trials. The principle at work here is that the Greeks
believed that murder disrupted the moral equilibrium of a city, and that it created a sort of unseen
pollution that seeps into every aspect of society. That’s why they held their murder trials out
in the open air. You don’t want innocent people breathing in
those murder fumes. But why for inanimate objects and for animals? The pollution imagery is key to explaining
this. The Greeks made no distinction between an
accidental and a purposeful killing. It made very little difference to them whether
a death came from a person with a knife, a falling roof tile, or a kick from an animal. In each of these scenarios it would have been
classified as a murder, and each murder would have emitted unseen pollution into the community. If enough of this unseen pollution built up
over time, it might result in a plague, or a crop failure, or a natural disaster. The fate of the entire community depended
keeping this pollution to a minimum. So how could they do this? Simple. Murderous inanimate objects and animals were
put through a formal trial, and if found guilty, they were expelled beyond the borders of the
city. This act of expulsion was thought to cleanse
the city of its unseen pollution. This tradition persisted for a long time. It eventually spread to the Roman world where
it came into contact with the early Church. Flash forward to Medieval Europe. By this time the Church still believed that
animals could commit crimes, but the rationale had evolved. Like the Greeks, the Medieval Church believed
that the act of murder somehow infected the entire community. However, their version of this came not in
the form of an unseen pollution, but instead in the form of evil forces. Sometimes this evil was explicitly described
as demonic or Satanic, and sometimes it was a little more vague. To put it simply, the Medieval Church’s position
was that evil attracted evil. One murder brought evil forces into the community,
which made a second murder more likely. A second murder did the same, and made a third
murder more likely. It was a vicious cycle that had the potential
to destroy an entire community. So how did animals play into this? For theological reasons, the belief was that
animals were slightly more susceptible to evil than humans were. When an animal committed a violent act, it
was an early indication that worse things were in store for the community. Whereas animal trials in ancient Greece were
an act of cleansing, animal trials in Medieval Europe were an act of deterrence. Animal trials in Medieval and Early Modern
Europe were divided into two distinct categories. There were animal trials in the secular courts,
and animal trials in the ecclesiastical, or religious courts. The secular courts dealt exclusively with
domesticated animals. Cats, dogs, horses, pigs, whatever. The argument here was that domesticated animals
were servants to humanity, and could therefore be considered members of the household. Under this worldview, domesticated animals
were subject to human law, just as any other member of a household would be. The ecclesiastical courts on the other hand
dealt with creatures beyond human control. Rats, locusts, termites, snakes, stuff like
that. As we’ve seen, the belief was that animal
crimes had to be prosecuted so that evil forces were deterred from seeping into the community. When it came to domesticated animals, the
courts were perfectly capable of treating them just like any other defendant. However, that was not the case when it came
to rats or insects. How was one to properly evaluate which rat
destroyed which crop, or which specific termite caused a roof to cave in? It’s an impossible task. Fortunately, the Church had tools that the
secular courts lacked. Excommunication and exorcism. This was handy because it was a fairly simple
matter to excommunicate a swarm of locusts, for example, without having to physically
interact with them. Bartholomew Chassenée defended the rats of
Autun in ecclesiastical court, so just for kicks let’s take a look at the trial of a
domesticated animal that took place in secular court. In 1474, in the city of Basel, an egg was
discovered in the pen of a male rooster. Settle in, get out your detective hat, take
some puffs on your pipe, ’cause this one’s stone cold whodunit. The people of Basel figured it out pretty
quickly. The rooster laid the egg! A small minority of you might have another
solution in mind, but that’s just your dumb tiny brain being a stupid idiot. OB-VI-OUS-LY this is the work of the supernatural! But here’s the important bit. It was a crime for a rooster to lay an egg. Rooster eggs were believed to be ingredients
in a spell that could be used to create a basilisk. Wait a second… that’s uh… huh… This is all very silly, obviously, but think
back to the theoretical model that lay behind Medieval and Early Modern animal trials. Rooster eggs were all tied up with magic,
maybe witchcraft, maybe even Satanism, which meant that a rooster laying an egg was an
evil act. If they allowed something like this to go
unanswered, other evil forces would seep into their community. The unfortunate rooster was charged with the
crime of cavorting with Satan. The rooster’s lawyer argued that sure, his
client laid an egg, and sure, rooster eggs were used in magical spells, but the act itself,
the laying of the egg, was entirely involuntary. Since no spell had been cast, no evil act
had actually occurred. If no evil act occurred, deterrence was unnecessary. This was nothing more than a simple act of
nature. It’s a clever argument, but it didn’t take. The prosecution argued that it was irrelevant
whether or not the laying of the egg had been an involuntary act, because it was technically
possible that some kind of demon had physically entered the body of the rooster and laid the
egg for him. They argued that voluntary or not, a rooster
laying an egg was an evil act under any circumstance, and so long as this crime went unpunished,
the entire city was in danger. The prosecution’s argument won the day. The unfortunate rooster was condemned to death
and burned at the stake. But not everybody was cool with putting animals
on trial. Over this entire period, there was a tonne
of work going on behind the scenes to rationalize and reform this system. A lot of this work – especially early on – was
actually happening inside the Church. Thomas Aquinas spends a lot of time in his
13th century work Summa Theologica tackling the nature of evil, and more specifically,
the nature of evil in nature. He eventually arrives at the position that
the natural world is inclined towards perfection. But that isn’t to say that evil doesn’t exist
in the natural world. Clearly it does. Aquinas says that when an animal performs
an evil act, it is in a way malfunctioning or somehow deformed in their nature. He goes on to say that taking these creatures
out of nature is fine, but since nature is inclined towards perfection, this should be
extremely rare. In other words, he’s saying that animals should
only be charged with crimes when there’s something very clearly wrong with it. Nature is inclined towards perfection, so
in practice it should usually be fine to just leave animals alone. This is a pretty modern perspective, and it’s
remarkable that something like it was coming out of the Church in the 13th century. So the theoretical groundwork had been laid. According to Aquinas, animal trials should
be rare. But sadly, this argument did not catch on. In fact, in the centuries following Aquinas’s
death, animal trials actually became more common than ever. Here’s a typical example. In 1379, near the town of Saint-Marcel in
Burgundy, a herd of pigs became overexcited and trampled a young boy. He later died of his injuries. Think back to Thomas Aquinas. Were these pigs somehow deformed in their
nature? It’s hard to say without being there, but
probably not, right? It sounds like it was just a tragic accident. But the town did not follow Aquinas’s lead. The three pigs who did most of the trampling
were brought into secular court and sentenced to death. The town still was not satisfied. They returned to the secular court for a second
bite of the apple, and argued that actually, the rest of the pigs had demonstrated by their
squealing and aggressive behaviour that they approved of the young boy’s murder. They were accomplices. The judge bowed to public pressure and sentenced
the rest of the herd to death as well. A prior at the local monastery was bothered
by this. He didn’t think it was right for the town
to execute all of its pigs over a tragic accident. He wrote to Duke Philip the Bold of Burgundy
explaining the situation and asking him to pardon all but the three main pigs. The Duke agreed. The rest of the herd was pardoned, and the
matter was settled. What’s interesting about this incident is
that it shows how the Church and the nobility were working together and pushing for moderation,
and how normal people were pushing the courts toward maximalist punishments. Animals trials persisted for centuries. Many came to view it as a superstitious holdover
from the Medieval period, but nevertheless, it was a practice that would not die. In the 17th century, the philosopher René
Descartes spent a lot of time and effort making the argument that animals were wholly incapable
of committing any crimes whatsoever. His argument went a little something like
this. All animals are automatons, meaning that they
have no sense, no feeling, and no inner life. A phase that he likes to use over and over
again is that animals only follow the disposition of their organs. According to Descartes, a creature acting
purely on instinct is in perfect accordance with nature, and is therefore incapable of
evil. Descartes argued that putting animals on trial
was meaningless, no different than putting inanimate objects on trial, which is funny
because that’s exactly what the ancient Greeks used to do. Descartes’s successors picked up this argument
and ran with it. People continued to argue about the nature
of evil and stuff like that, but the basic worldview that said that it was meaningless
to charge animals with crimes actually caught on. By the 18th century, animal trials were becoming
less and less common. By the 19th century, they were a novelty. So Medieval Europeans saw humans and animals
as operating within the same moral Universe. Descartes and his Enlightenment successors
rejected this worldview, and argued instead that animals were incapable of moral agency,
operating entirely in reaction to the disposition of their organs. In the 19th century, the pendulum swung back
in the other direction. Charles Darwin and his successors made a series
of discoveries that turned the Enlightenment worldview when it came to animals on its head. In “The Descent of Man,” Darwin writes that
so long as animals hit a certain baseline of intelligence, “any animal whatever, endowed
with well-marked social instincts, would inevitably acquire a moral sense or conscience.” This was a straightforward rejection of the
Descartes and Enlightenment worldview. According to Darwin, animals are not automatons. So long as they possess some intelligence,
they are capable of full moral agency, no different from humans. Since the Darwinian Revolution went back to
arguing that humans and animals operated within the same moral Universe, you’d think that
this would re-ignite the Medieval and Early Modern practice of putting animals on trial. Thankfully, it did not. By the 19th century, the practice had been
in decline for at least 100 years. People were a lot less worried about an evil
act precipitating some kind of metaphysical threat to an entire community. Instead, they went the other way with it. Since animals were now believed to possess
full inner lives, Darwin and others pushed for preservation and compassion whenever possible. Before too long, most of Europe had outlawed
the public execution of animals. Legislation dealing with animal cruelty quickly
followed. By the 20th century, virtually in the blink
of an eye, the practice of putting animals on trial had vanished from Europe. Which is good!

100 thoughts on “Can Animals Commit Crimes?

  • treeshakertucker Post author

    This is gloriously stupid and I love it!

  • himagainstill Post author

    Disappointed that there was no mention of Hartlepool, where a monkey that had survived the wreck of a French ship was supposedly tried, convicted and hanged for espionage.

  • Ryan M Post author

    Of course animals can commit crimes. Your mother gave birth to ya

  • Big Belly Post author

    Facebook Moms Against Pitbulls don't agree with your "Which is… good" at the end

  • Jorge Cadme Post author

    This is what should be taught in history class.

  • mep meop Post author

    do black people count?

  • Redtinaxer Post author

    we should force animals to commit mass murder

  • WuzNab Post author

    When the mitochondria commit insurance fraud.

  • Gabriel Henderson Post author

    Cat crime OwO

  • Alex Cimochowski Post author

    Hey best history youtuber wondering if we might ever see a video or videos about the servil wars or battles

  • IceDeltaGaming Post author

    No, laws were made for humans. This would mean that laws are for humans, and only humans.

  • SheepFreak2 Post author

    11:15 nom nom

  • ExplosiveLimeJuice Post author

    That Rooster story made me burst in tears

  • Sorin Ruga Post author

    Never forget
    Dicks out, forever

  • Keş Orangutan Post author

    Hey man, I was watching your video which's titled "the roman legion" and you mentioned the slaves who help around the camp. I don't know if you take requests but an in-depth video about roman army followers(such as animals, slaves, sutlers, sex workers etc.) would be very interesting. What do we know about those people? When romans build their camps, does the slaves do all the construction work or slaves just prepare them food, erect tents etc.? What's the relation between auxillary/mercenary troops and legion followers/slaves? Do slaves help mercenaries too? Like, romans lacked cavalry. Let's say rome's gallic allies have sent them cavalry, who would take care of their horses? What will happen to slaves if their legions got destroyed in a battle? Do legions march side by side with slaves? Where would they fit animals while marching? I have lots of questions about this stuff. I can seriously go on and on without losing a speck of curiosity. I'm also very interested in civillian followers such as sutlers and sex workers. Were all sex workers enslaved? Was there ever an outbreak of STDs amongst the legionnaires? Hell, were troops allowed to have sex? Also did troops ever take a bath? Did they shave their beards and cut their hair? Do they have barber slaves in ancient times?

    I would be in your debt if you suggest me a book about roman logistics and/or lifestyle of military workers in classical era. Lastly, sorry for my bad english.

  • mundoloving Post author

    I heard that outro music fade in and honestly i was already jammin! Tight video once again HC! The "which is good" at the end really rounded it all out nicely

  • Bone Bird Post author

    did they eat the rooster after it was burned at the stake

  • Raycon Post author

    Next time on Hisroria
    -Can Animals be Communist?

  • Quinn Derp Post author


  • Nova The Madman Post author

    "Animal morals"
    Remembers the behaviour of crows and how they have court
    Yes crows have their own courts

  • hang da clown Post author

    I remember reading a story about an orangutan that was caught stealing fruit from a vendor whom, in retaliation, captured, shaved, and whored it out in an extremely misguided attempt to compensate for the losses

  • Scott Holt Post author

    I would like to press charges against moths for coming in through my window at night

  • Egg Boy Post author

    Well animals do get fined for crimes but instead of a trial they just get a death sentence in the spot. just like harambe

  • Will likes Dill Post author

    It's not my drugs, it's the cat's..

  • Angel Gonterman Post author

    The whole rat court trial I swear feels like something out of Ace Attorney with it's goofiness, loopholes, a ridiculous client, a kooky yet knowledgeable defense attorney, and a slightly gullible judge. But this was real! And I love every inch of this, how did I not know this was real until now!

  • starliit - Post author

    lock em up boys!

  • Popcorn Colonel Post author

    "I AM THE BEST BIRD LAWYER OF ALL TIME! BIRD LAW!" "What does that even mean?"

  • Popcorn Colonel Post author

    "I studies bird law…" "Ah ok… What school did you go to then?" "The school of hard knots!" "Ah I see! Well I went to harvard… So…"

  • Kiiltec Post author

    I sue mosquitos

  • cralix thegameking Post author

    How does anything survive if this is what was considered murder

  • DaveyB Post author

    Who are these lawyers defending rats and roosters? 😂😂😂😂

  • UserNamedEww Post author

    Well can a pig team up with a green owl to kidnap your entire family and then betray the owl, blackmailing both it and you for 50 hundred tons of the required oats?

  • LightOne Post author

    A funny story related to the topic! You wouldn't believe it. I wouldn't bloody believe it if it hasn't happened to myself. Literally the day after I watched this video I had the following absurd experience: I was walking on a street when all of sudden something hit me in the chest. I looked on the ground and it was a bloody long rusty nail. I got angry who bloody idiot was making stupid jokes to hit people with dangerous objects. I looked above and I went blank and stunned. There on the roof was no living person but a bloody pigeon. While I tried to assimilate what really is happening and if I am not insane, the pigeon threw away a new nail and it didn't give a damn about it. The nails are sharp and with a little worse luck it could do some damages. So the previous day I laughed at the video how people can be so silly but I was ready to change my mind on the next day. Even the bloody pigeons are dangerous nowdays. Put them, put them all on trial for their crimes!

  • Aden Cole Post author

    Roosters cant lay eggs thoe

  • Subscribe to me if you hate Fortnite [10k?] Post author

    Wolf kills me in minecraft

    Me: Can Animals Commit Crimes?

  • mike wade Post author

    They don't pay taxes, no protection under the law. Soooooo……. no they can't be charged in a society which they have no part of.

  • Timmering Post author

    Wtf xD

  • Spicy Potato Post author

    abn elephant got hung for killing people

  • 10 thousand subs without videos Post author

    Wasnt a pig put on trail for eating a child

  • MrCantStopTheRobot Post author

    Could people eat the meat of the condemned animals? I would assume no, as it would be like eating poison for your soul.

  • DogInDaGrass Post author

    Hey, Descartes, us too, baby! Nothin but automatons!

  • GreenrGuestYT Post author

    the poor rats XD

  • Ian [Archiver] Post author

    Me: 1 more video until bed

  • Iggy Cox Post author

    I dont need sleep, I need answers

  • Spuds Larsson Post author

    Pheonix Wrat, Ace Animalia

  • hello there Post author

    It's big brain time

  • Wes Hayes Post author


  • Vohasiiv Post author

    And yet a dog who bites a kid gets put down

  • Garry Ghastopulous Post author

    Have you ever seen a Goose?

  • Phoenix Blackblood Post author

    Everybody gangsta til a rooster lays an egg

  • PythonPlusPlus Post author

    Blend Tech: Today we will be blending Murderers. We have already put them inside the Blend Tech blender. Let’s use the Homocide setting.
    Blender Noises
    Blend Tech: phew Murderer fumes. Don’t breath them.

  • Zazon Zenzy Post author

    And we thought having parrots as witnesses in court is already weird enough.

  • Andrea Rosario Post author

    Death to normal people!

  • Pod Castro Post author

    Idk you should ask my neighbors dog who bit some kids arm and is gonna be put down tomorrow

  • oiseaudubonheur Post author

    "By the 19th Century they were a NOVELTY"? Surely you mean an ANOMALY? (Novel = new)

  • C3R3A1 Post author

    Patiently waiting for Caesar's death and Octavian's rise 🙁

  • orangeproduction Post author

    help my cat is commiting war crimes

  • Dakota Jones Post author

    That was one hell of a lawyer.

  • Sleepy Vibes Post author

    He really named Bartholomew

  • Chase Simon Post author

    There was a story of a mouse getting into an atm and ate all the money and died

  • Adynburd Post author

    Haha no harm no fowl

  • Fallout Didi Post author

    Yeah that pretty much sums up Medieval Europe
    ”Burn it”

  • Teresa Turner TT Post author

    Bro we gotta worry about that one squirrel destroying them ice caps

  • Yoshi the Plush Post author

    This is hilariously stupid

  • Yoshi the Plush Post author

    (1:33) I died

  • Bilal Keskin Post author

    Post more videos!And post MORE CONSISTENTLY PLEASEEEE!

  • Neurotic Sos Post author

    I love the polka dot and star backgrounds

  • Neurotic Sos Post author

    the pauses to listen to the background music at full volume are a little too long and a little too loud

  • SSneaky And Friends Post author

    the rooster was tasty

  • Droid On The Internet Post author

    If we make eating illegal, then yes.

  • Алексей Волков Post author

    "Normal People" are overrated.

  • Jonathan Jessee Post author

    This brings to question what separates humans from animals?

  • ExtremeSp00ks Post author

    Yes animals can commit crimes, humans are animals

  • Manuel Nicolás Aceituno Post author

    What a rollercoaster of emotions I just went through…

  • IMGvillaSRC Post author

    What if the court places John Wick's dog for trial?

  • Kenelt Post author

    cassaneus was a total madlad.

  • NebulaMagePlays Post author

    Fried chicken anyone?

  • Helaman Gile Post author

    You are sentenced to Murder By cats

  • ShaeBreakfastFace Post author

    This made me think of Mary the Elephant who was hanged for murder of a circus worker

  • NyanBudder Post author

    Macavity can

  • BreadDisposal / Post author

    How come no one told me back in the day I could take chickens to court

  • FANCY G-P Post author

    But like animals can't be bad cuz they don't understand and do everything by instinct

    Animals can't be bad because if they do something bad they don't understand it is bad because they did it by instinct which means they are the most innocent creatures alive because they only think about survival and them self's never about anyone else (except their species)

  • The Enchantment Post author

    Roosters burned at stakes? sounds tasty!

  • Olgoj Chorchoj Post author

    I simply love your videos 🙂

    Also, I would like to ask, is there any truth to Boii tribe migrating and settling as far as to Ireland ? And if so, how influential would they be in shaping Irish cultural heritage ?

  • Fellow Jack Nation Post author

    Everybody gansta until the owl murders your family after you forget to practice your Spanish.

  • Olivia Lemaire Post author

    Animals can be evil, but they can't commit crimes because they're incapable of understand human laws.

  • deepfried13 Post author

    This reminds me of South Park citizen declaring Shenanigans

  • Flvffy Card Post author

    I mean, if you think about it, all animals commit tax evasion.

  • Brad From Scene Twenty Four Post author

    I accuse you coffee mug of murdering Plebius Maximus. How do you plea! Angry Cup Noises

  • Brising Conan Post author

    That lawyer is mad as fuck xD

  • THE GUY Post author

    That lawyer is basically Reigen during a legal battle

  • Braeden Young Post author

    Sadly, we still have a long ways to go in the development and understasnding of animal rights.

  • Rex Royulada Post author

    I wanna hire that lawyer that defended the rats

  • J Soth Post author

    Nah, they did it for the lolz.

  • Yangster Supreme Post author

    Jesus fucking Christ people were stupid back then. To think that the distant ancestors of these ppl invented the wheel smh

  • Águila701 Post author

    Love this guy's outro.

  • quelorepario Post author

    Yeah lawsuits were silly, we now go straight to execution.
    Like one bite, and your dog is put down without question.

  • Delilah Chacon Post author

    is that why basilisk aren't real

    'cause they need rooster eggs?

  • Delilah Chacon Post author

    WAIT!! So when an animal is killed by a person, it's okay but when a human is killed by an animal it's not okay?!

  • KingSlimjeezy Post author

    as a St. Louisian

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