On Shrove Tuesday in 1739, the children of the Middle English city of Stratford-upon-Avon gather in the streets. It’s time for their annual ritual again.
They tied a rooster to a pole in the schoolyard. Then they collect stones and sticks. Now the game can start.
Children aim at the frightened animal and throw stones and sticks at the rooster. Every time they hit him they cheer.
This horrific game continues until the rooster remains on the floor – dead in a pool of blood.
This ritual is hundreds of years old and children love it. However, teacher Joseph Green’s stomach turns:
He wrote indignantly to a friend: “How can intelligent beings consider it sport to tie up a helpless, weak, innocent animal, and then break its bones with a stick.”
Green was not alone in criticizing Britain’s systematic mistreatment of animals in the eighteenth century. Apart from Holland, the country had the highest number of livestock per capita, and the animals lived in hell.
According to the British, they were primitive creatures and God had placed their lives – and their death – in human hands. And so they were allowed to be mistreated in every way.
But the big question was: Do animals have souls? And if so, can human misconduct be justified?
God gave animals to man
200 years ago, in the 15th century, everyone agreed that animals had no souls. Only man has a soul and consciousness. So the British could use the animals as food or as work if desired.
According to the religious scholars of the time, the animals’ suffering was a result of the Fall. In the Garden of Eden, according to the Old Testament, man and beast lived together in peace. Man did not eat meat, and the animals were tamed.
But that changed when Adam, the first human being on Earth, ignored God’s prohibition and ate the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. As punishment, God made the animals wild and untamed, so man had to suppress them by force.
And your fear and dread shall be upon all the beasts of the earth, and upon all the birds of the air, and upon all the fish of the sea. Genesis says.
No matter how cruelly an animal is beaten or abused, there is no need for pity. In fact, the suffering of animals was particularly bad for people.
so be it (after the fall, so.) Bishop William Cowper said in the second half of the sixteenth century: “It was not worse than their punishment, but part of our punishment.”
So animals can be abused freely. And it happened.
Animals lived and died in pain
This position was convenient for the British. They ate more meat than other Europeans. Their favorite was lamb. And when horses replaced oxen as draft animals in the 16th century, oxen ended up on the dinner table.
Poet Henry Beecham wrote that “Londoners eat more ox and meat each month than all of Spain, Italy, and part of France eat in six months.”
The massacre was very brutal. To get the blood out of the meat, calves and lambs were stabbed in the throat until the blood flowed out. The wound was then sutured so that the animal could live another day and the process could be repeated.
Pigs were not allowed to be slaughtered too quickly.
Physician Thomas Moffett wrote around 1600: “Put a knife in his side and let him walk with it till he drops dead.”
The non-missionary males in particular had a hard time. Bull meat was inedible unless the huge beast was first caught and attacked by dogs – Catching the bull Call. The idea was that this would thin the blood, which was good for the body.
The opposite was true for pork—the less the animals moved, the tastier the meat was. As early as the 17th century, pigs were kept in pens so cramped that they could not turn around and could only lie down.
Someone wrote at the time: “They eat from pain, lie from pain and sleep from pain.”
Poultry was handled even worse. Geese that had to be fattened were nailed to the ground with their feet so that they could not get rid of the fat.
For this reason, peasant women also cut chicken legs.
But at the end of the seventeenth century, the worldview began to change.
Do animals have a soul?
Philosophers have long believed that animals do not feel pain and are unconscious. Even the 17th-century philosopher Kenelm Digby thought birds were like machines: they build nests, lay eggs, and raise their young, just like a clock moves its hands and strikes a clock.
But the whole worldview was tilted. It was discovered that humans were not the center of the world.
In Italy, the astronomer Galileo Galilei discovered new planets with his telescope in the first half of the 17th century. And in 1676, the Dutchman Anthony van Leeuwenhoek was the first to see bacteria under his microscope.
The discovery of unknown creatures and celestial phenomena that existed completely independently of man led progressive philosophers and theologians to question the traditional worldview.
They point out, for example, that humans are not morally better than animals — quite the opposite.
Bishop Arthur Lake wrote in 1629: “No beast, no matter how cruel, approaches man.”
He later received support from the philosopher John Locke:
“The human mind can show cruelty worse than that of beasts.”
Others began to quietly wonder if there was a difference between humans and animals. They both died after death, so why did one of them obtain eternal life while the other disappeared?
There were two possible answers: neither had a soul…or both. When the political activist Richard Overton argued in 1644 that humans and animals alike were mortal, he dispelled man’s supposed right to control animals.
One opponent wrote: “This dangerous traitor seeks to take away human supremacy.”
But even theologians doubted. Some even claimed that animals also had souls, and thus went to heaven. After all, the apostle Paul wrote the word “creation” and not “man” when he spoke of the resurrection from the dead.
However, all discussions remained without tangible consequences. British animals continued to be killed and tortured – often just for fun.
Kill animals for fun
While brilliant minds contemplated the status of animals in the world, the British – and the rest of Europe – enjoyed mass animal cruelty. Animal fights were especially popular. Bulls and bears were tied to a stake, after which the dogs were released.
The dogs mainly attacked the muzzle and ears, while the audience happily watched the dogs being pelted by wild animals.
This was, as John Hutton wrote in 1694, “a sport much enjoyed by the English. Not only the lower class, but also the finest of the ladies.”
The aristocracy was also fond of hunting birds of prey. For example, in the 17th century, writer William Hind saw a gentleman feeding his hawk a live dove.
At first he plucked both wings and pulled them from the body with a good jerk. Then he grabbed his legs and pulled them out too, while the poor animal’s body was trembling in his hand.
During the fox hunt, the hunters were equally indifferent. if (fox, so.), I like to watch dogs eat it,” one participant wrote.
Even young British children passed the time cruelly to animals.
In 1664, the physician Thomas Willis says: “One of the common experiments done by children was to stick a needle into the head of a chicken to see how long it could live.”
Or goug out a bird’s eyes to watch it flutter blindly. Cats were also thrown from tall buildings to see if they actually landed on their feet.
Cats were lovable victims anyway. During protests against the Pope in the 17th century, large effigies were burned in Britain. Cats were stuffed into the dolls so that their dying cries would enhance their dramatic effect.
In 1713, the poet Alexander Pope dryly remarked:
“The myth that cats have nine lives has killed at least nine out of ten cats.”
Even working animals had a hard time with this. The horses in particular were pushed to their limits.
“How often have I seen horses collapse under their burden,” a clergyman wrote in 1669.
The animals were beaten until they could no longer. Then they were thrown into a ditch or fed to dogs.
A loyal four-legged friend
But some animals got a new status. Exotic pets like monkeys and canaries found their way into British homes in the 16th century. But dogs especially are becoming popular.
It was not so long ago that pets became widespread. As cities grew in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, so did the number of domestic animals increase even more, as did human insight. People have noticed through their pets that animals also have personalities and feelings.
Reverend Richard Dean, for example, wrote that he knew of pets who “would rather be hanged than robbed, though the temptation is great.”
Others thought of a backbone in Portsmouth that always stopped working when it struck 12.
“Does it not appear from these daily observations that they (animals, so.) befriend each other and with humanity? asked the physician Erasmus Darwin.
Everything indicates that animals have minds and feelings. And the philosophers of that time, inspired by the Enlightenment, were now sure that animals also need care.
“Pain is pain,” Humphrey Primate wrote in 1776, whether inflicted on man or beast.
This belief has grown so strong that now the British, after a visit abroad, speak with shock of the barbaric manner in which the locals treated the animals – though they were no better off.
The massacre became invisible
Despite all the new ideas, the British continued to eat huge amounts of meat. Efforts were made to reduce animal suffering from slaughter. Better animal welfare leads to better meat, the idea was.
Physician George Schein writes that “the only way to eat healthy animal foods is to allow them to live outdoors, with plenty of food and shelter from the elements.”
At the same time, the first animal welfare brochures appeared. The animal rights movement became part of a broader reform movement that emerged in the aftermath of the French Revolution.
Animal rights activist John Oswald wrote in 1791: “As the barbarous governments of Europe must give way to better systems, the day is also approaching when the desire for peace will extend to the lower forms of life.”
The movement grew into the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals – the world’s first animal welfare organization. More and more laws have been introduced to protect animals.
Industrialization was in full swing and slaughterhouses, like factories, were moved to large industrial complexes. This is where the mass slaughter took place – out of sight of critical citizens.