Animals on Trial

‘If an ox gore a man or woman, that they die:

then the ox shall surely be stoned.’

Exodus: xxi.28

In the Middle Ages, the biblical quote above became the basis for surely one of the most bizarre of human practises – the trial and conviction of animals.

All suspected domesticated animals were tried in the criminal court.

All suspected non-domestic animals were tried in the ecclesiastical courts.

The accused animal would be put into the prison of the building where the trial was to take place and a defence lawyer engaged.

Witnesses would be called during the trial and the defendant was sentenced according to the verdict. Guilt almost always meant death.

In 1386 a sow, dressed in men’s clothes, was executed in the public square at Falaise in France and, in 1587, a case was heard against a large number of beetles who had been ravaging a local vineyard in St Julien. Some of the accused were brought into court to listen to the reading of a document instructing them to leave the district within three days, or else….!

Trial of Pig

Golden Lilies of France

In French Fleur de Lis means literally ‘lily flower.’

Whilst the lily flower is most often thought of in relation to France , the shape appeared long ago on a cylinder seal of the Pharaoh Rameses III.

It is possible that the emblem came to France through contact with the Saracens of the Middle East and, since its first introduction into Europe, is has been used as a potent symbol of royalty.


The entry of the fleur de lis on the arms of France is miraculous. Legend says that the lily was the emblem of the Virgin who sent her flower by an angel to Clovis, the Frankish king, at his conversion in 493.


The golden lilies on an azure ground came to symbolise all the Christian Frankish Kings, most famously Charlemagne.

In the 12th century, Louis VII (1137-1180) used the lily as an heraldic device on royal seals. He divorced his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, who then married Henry II of England and so began the long wars between the two countries for the throne of France.

Louis VIII (1187-1226) formally adopted the device as the arms of France on a shield – azure, semé de lis or – a blue field strewn with golden lilies and the beauty of it tempted Edward III of England so much that he put them in the first quarter of his royal arms.

Arms of Edward III

Arms of Edward III

Edward was entitled, through his mother Isabella of France, to place the fleur de lis with his three lions in the second and third quarters of his shield but instead he placed them in his first and fourth quarters, giving them precedence over the lions of England.

Henry IV

Henry IV

Around 1365, Charles V of France reduced the number of lilies in the French arms to three – to symbolise the Trinity – or maybe to differentiate them from those carried by the English. In this he did not succeed for in 1405 Henry IV of England also reduced the lilies to three in each of the French quarters of the English arms.

It was only on the accession of James VI of Scotland to James I of England that the fleur de lis was diminished as the Royal Arms of Scotland and England merged.

James I

James I

Outside of heraldry, the lily is most often associated with the Madonna and as the attribute of a messenger.

Botticelli - Madonna and Child with Eight Angels

Botticelli - Madonna and Child with Eight Angels

In a Dark Wood Wandering

Post Taken from my other blog The Mysteries of Jehanne d’Arc

The novel In a Dark Wood Wandering by Hella S Haasse is a tour de force and recommended to any one interested in 15th century France generally and Charles d’Orléans specifically.

In a Dark Wood Wandering
In a Dark Wood Wandering

‘Set in France and England during the Middle Ages…It opens in Paris in 1394. Valentine, Duchess of Orléans, has just given birth to a son, Charles…As the course of Charles’ dramatic life unfolds we absorb the atmosphere and excitement of a whole society and meet an extraordinary range of characters, from the mad King Charles V and his icy Bavarian Queen to the bastard Dunois, a born soldier and the right arm of Joan of Arc…’

There is much more to this novel though.

Hella Haase first started researching during the late 1930’s as her homeland, Holland, became embroiled in the Second World War.

Het woud der verwachting – literally The Forest of Long Awaiting – was first published in 1947 to great success in Holland.

Then, in the 1953, a postal clerk and part-time translator called Lewis C Kaplan, found a publication in his office in Chicago with a review of Haase’s novel and immediately decided to translate the book into English.

He contacted the author and gained her permission. It took 5 years to complete the first draft, none of which was to Kaplan’s satisfaction. Then he suddenly fell ill and died.

Kaplan’s widow packed and stored the unnamed manuscript that her husband had spent so many years translating.

Meanwhile, Hella Haase, wondering occasionally about the English translation of her work, hesitated to contact Kaplan and ask how far he had progressed.

The manuscript lay hidden for twenty years.

Then, in the 1970’s, fire broke out in the Kaplan apartment in Chicago and during the clear up, Het woud der verwachting, sodden but not burned, was found.

Neither Mrs Kaplan nor her son could remember the name of the original author but both were intrigued and spent many months investigating. Kalman Kaplan even set about finishing his father’s translation from Dutch to English and eventually tied the book to Hella Haasse and gained her permission to market it in 1982.

In 1989 , after 40 years of misadventure, Het woud der verwachting was published under the new title In a Dark Wood Wandering: A Novel of the Middle Ages.

A fitting history to a fascinating book.