August, 2013

Vermin Trials

  • Peter Leeson

    Senior Fellow, F. A. Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics
Contact us
To speak with a scholar or learn more on this topic, visit our contact page.

For 250 years insects and rodents accused of committing property crimes were tried as legal persons in French, Italian, and Swiss ecclesiastic courts under the same laws and according to the same procedures used to try actual persons. I argue that the Catholic Church used vermin trials to increase tithe revenues where tithe evasion threatened to erode them. Vermin trials achieved this by bolstering citizens’ belief in the validity of Church punishments for tithe evasion: estrangement from God through sin, excommunication, and anathema. Vermin trials permitted ecclesiastics to evidence their supernatural sanctions’ legitimacy by producing outcomes that supported those sanctions’ validity. These outcomes strengthened citizens’ belief that the Church’s imprecations were real, which allowed ecclesiastics to reclaim jeopardized tithe revenue.

Read the full paper at JSTOR or at Professor Leeson's website