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  • Writer's picturePaul


“The law is a ass.” Or so says Mr Bumble in Dickens’ Oliver Twist. But when it comes to a case that was brought before one mid eighteenth century French courtroom, he kind of had a point.

You see, in 1750 a sorry gentleman named Jacques Ferron was hauled before a court in Vanvres in southwest Paris and charged with bestiality. Ferron, it soon transpired, had been found in flagrante delicto with a female donkey. The evidence was watertight, and Ferron was promptly sentenced to death by hanging.

So far, so tawdry. But just when things in this bizarre tale couldn’t get more off-putting, next to enter the courtroom was Ferron’s co-accused: the donkey.

“He did WHAT?” (Pixabay)

Jenny, as we’ll presume her name was, faced the same charge as Ferron.

Now. Putting animals on trial sounds ridiculous today, but there’s actually a lengthy history of it. (After all, who can forget the people of Hartlepool putting a monkey they thought was a French spy on trial during the Napoleonic Wars?) Typically in cases like this, the animal in question would be unceremoniously subjected to the same sentence as their human accomplice. But in Jenny’s case, things were different.

A document submitted to the court on 19 September 1750 explained that the people of Vanvres were happy to testify that Ferron’s donkey was an entirely virtuous creature, who far from being his unwitting accomplice was actually the innocent victim in this entire sorry affair. The document—signed by the local parish priest, among others—explained that the townspeople, “were willing to bear witness that she is in word and deed, and in all her habits of life, a most honest creature”.

The verdict? Jenny the donkey was acquitted.

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