On this day in 1361 in Paris, a man called Robert Macaire was sentenced to trial by combat. His opponent was a dog. The dog had belonged to Aubry de Montdidier and the two had been out hunting in the Bondy Forest when Montdidier was attacked, murdered and buried at the foot of a tree. His dog, who had witnessed the scene, remained by his masters grave for several days until hunger drove him to the house of a friend. He howled most dreadfully, even after being fed. He seized the friend by the coat and tried to drag him outside. Eventually the dog was able to lead him to the place where his master was buried.
No one knew who the murderer was, but then the dog met the Chavalier Macaire in the street and attacked him. After that the dog went for Macaire on every subsequent occasion that they met and people really noticed. The dog was usually a very even tempered animal. They also remembered that Macaire had really, really hated Montdidier. They put two and two together. They took their suspicions to the king, who ordered the dog to be brought before him. He saw that the dog was perfectly still and quiet until it spotted Macaire. It went straight for him. The king then questioned Macaire, but he denied knowing anything about the murder.
During this period in history it was quite usual, in cases that could not quite be proved, to resort to allowing the two sides to fight it out. They supposed that God would save the one who was innocent. It was also sometimes the case that an animal could be put on trial in the same way that people were. The trial took place on the île de la Cité near Notre Dame. Macaire was armed with a stick, the dog was given a barrel in case it needed to hide. The dog managed to dodge Macaire’s blows until the man became tired, then he leapt and went straight for his throat. Macaire screamed for mercy and admitted his crime. He and Montdidier had been hunting together in the forest and when the dog had chased after a deer, he had stabbed his enemy in the back. The dog had returned just as he was riding away.
The name of Robert Macaire became synonymous with villainy in French Society. The story was retold in the nineteenth century both in a book and a very popular play.