Dedda suborned murder of her husband Boldran in medieval Flanders

ladies dueling

Around the world in 2010, about fifteen times more men than women were prisoners. That’s a much greater gender imbalance than among tech-industry CEO’s, political leaders, tenured professors, and other categories of elite persons. Part of the explanation for the lack of gender parity in prisoners is that women’s criminal acts tend to be less salient than men’s. When women induce men to commit criminal acts, criminal justice typically recognizes only men’s culpability. The great medieval historian Galbert of Bruges, in contrast, forthrightly recognized that Dedda suborned the murder of her husband Boldran in eleventh-century Flanders.

Dedda sought to have her husband murdered because she wanted to marry Erembald. Dedda’s husband Boldran was castellan of Bruges. Erembald was a vassal and knight under Boldran. Galbert recounted:

Erembald had often debauched himself in adultery with the wife of his lord the castellan. And that adulteress, so they say, had promised her adulterer the viscountship {her husband’s title} if her husband were, by chance, to die soon. For this reason the adulterer was always plotting the death of his lord.

{ Erembaldus adulterio abutebatur saepe uxore domini sui castellani. Illa quoque adultera, sicut aiunt, promiserat adultero suo vicecomitatum si forte vir ejus cito moreretur. Unde adulter domino suo semper machinabatur mortem. } [1]

In describing Erembald as debauching Boldran’s wife, Galbert echoed the long, oppressive history of contempt for men’s sexuality. Erembald no more debauched Boldran’s wife than she debauched him. An Old French account of the murder described Dedda as “an evil and dishonest ribald … who encouraged him in this lechery.”[2] Not surprisingly, Dedda consented enthusiastically to having sex with Erembald and sought to marry him.

With keen social insight, Galbert sarcastically muted Dedda’s criminal culpability. He described her criminal act of suborning murder through an abstract hypothetical: “if her husband were, by chance, to die soon.” Erembald knew what Dedda was actually saying. Readers similarly should recognize the actual significance of her words. Typical gynocentric behavior of providing excuses for women exacerbates gender inequality among prisoners. Justice demands fair recognition of culpability: Dedda suborned the murder of her husband Boldran.

The murder of Boldran highlights additional patterns of gender oppression. According to Galbert:

The men of Flanders were ordered to go on a certain expedition, and they traveled by horses and ships all the way to the place of danger where the land was being invaded in order to defend the fatherland. Night came while the ships were gliding along the River Scheldt, and the castellan Boldran and his knight Erembald, in whom he trusted more than anyone else, and many others, dressed in full mail coats and prepared for battle, dropped anchor in the middle of the river in order to wait for daylight. … When the silence of the night had come, while the castellan was standing urinating at the edge of the ship, Erembald ran up from behind and cast down his lord, flung far from the ship, into the depths of the watery torrent. This was done while the others were sleeping, and no one other than the adulterer knew what had become of the castellan, who had been drowned without children.

{ Imperata fuit quaedam expeditio Flandrensibus, et itum est equis et navibus pro defensione patriae usque ad locum periculi et insultus terrae. Cum vero navibus prolaberent Scaldim fluvium, Boldrannus castellanus et Erembaldus miles suus, cui prae ceteris confidebat, ceterique plures omnes loricas induti et ad pugnam praeparati, venit nox et fixerant anchoram in medio amne ut diem expectarent. … Facto quoque noctis silentio, dum castellanus ad mingendum in ora stetisset navis, ille Erembaldus retro accurrens, longe a navi projectum dominum in profundum torrentis aquosi praecipitavit. Hoc vero dormientibus ceteris factum est et nemo praeter adulterum illum sciebat quo devinisset castellanus ille, qui absque liberis submersus erat. }

Societies throughout history have used men as instruments for fighting enemies. Galbert ironically described the men “ordered” to engage in violent action as defending the “fatherland.” The “fatherland” is a gendered term used to obscure reality. Gynocentric society orders men to fight and die to protect women. They live in what is more appropriately called the motherland.[3]

Galbert apparently was sensitive to the disposable status of men. Boldran committed his life and considerable expense (a full mail coat) to defending the motherland. Yet Boldran and the men with him didn’t even have the benefit of chamber pots for conveniently urinating. As Boldran urinating sent his watery torrent into the watery torrent of the river, the man’s personal, human being is reduced to the anonymous, inhuman natural world. Another account of murdering Boldran describes Erembald stabbing Baldran with a sword and throwing him off a bridge into a river.[4] Galbert may have invented the detail of Boldran being pushed off the ship from behind while urinating into the river. Galbert’s version makes more shameful Erembald’s killing of Boldran at the behest of Dedda. It also more subtly underscores the disposability of men.[5]

Men gain social status through their subservience to women. Concerning Erembald’s subservience to Dedda, Galbert reported:

When Erembald returned {after killing Boldran}, therefore, he married his adulteress and bought the viscountship with the means provided by his lord’s {Boldran’s} labors.

{ Reversus ergo Erembaldus, adulteram suam duxit uxorem et facultatibus opum domini sui emit vicecomitatum. }

A different source recorded:

the wife of this Holdran {Boldran} married her adulterous lover, the betrayer of her husband, from which fact it became obvious that Erembald committed such a great sin on the unfaithful wife’s advice.

{ Uxor vero Holdranni adulterum suum, mariti proditorem, accepit in maritum, unde innotuit, quod consilio perfidae coniugis Eremboldus tam grande piaculum subiit. } [6]

Erembald, who had been Boldran’s vassal, married Boldran’s wife Dedda after Boldran died. That would have been publicly known and documented. As Boldran’s former vassal, Erembald would have been socially subordinate to Dedda. He almost surely would not have killed her husband without her advice and encouragement. To impress her lady friends with her rule over her new husband, Dedda may well have told them that she suborned her former husband’s murder. She plausibly also told them how Erembald carried out that murder, as she heard from him. The lesson of this sensational story would have resonated with men’s life experiences: do whatever women desire, no matter how despicable, and you will advance in the gynocentric world.

The vastly disproportionate imprisonment of men shows the reality of gender power and the fundamental injustice of gynocentrism. Women’s criminal behavior is commonly overlooked or excused, while men as a gender are criminalized. In his account of the murder of Boldran in eleventh-century Flanders, Galbert of Bruges courageously identified Boldran’s wife Dedda as having suborned her husband’s murder. Women commonly and highly effectively incite men to violence. Recognizing women’s culpability, as Galbert did, would be an important step toward less gender disparity in criminal punishment. Criminal justice should serve justice, not gynocentric interests.

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] Galbert of Bruges, De multro, traditione et occisione gloriosi Karoli comitis Flandriarum {The murder, betrayal, and slaughter of the glorious Charles, Count of Flanders} 71, Latin from Rider (1994) p. 125, ll. 11-15, English trans. from Rider (2013) p. 124. Subsequent quotes from De multro are similarly from sec. 71, Latin from Rider (1994) p. 125, and English from Rider (2013) pp. 124-5.

Earlier editions of the Latin text of De multro are freely available online. See Pirenne (1891) and Köpke (1856a).

[2] The Old French: “meschante et deshoneste rybaulde … laquelle l’entretenoit en ces luxures.” From the Register of Roland and Antoine de Baenst (commonly called the de Baenst manuscript) 37r, preserved in Bruges, Stedelijke Openbare Bibiliotheek, 442, s. 15. It  The relevant Old French text is printed in Rider (1994) p. 173. The quoted text is from Rider’s English translation given in Cooper & Edsall (2009) p.  227, n. 46.

The de Baenst manuscript is the earliest surviving evidence of the existence of Galbert’s De multro. The de Baenst family was one of the leading families in Flanders. The de Baenst manuscript, a de Baenst family register, dates from the end of the fifteenth century. It summarizes “Galbert’s account of the servile and adulterous origins and ultimate fate of the Erembalds.” Rider (2013) p. xix. The de Baenst manuscript indicates the public importance of knowing that Dedda suborned the murder of her husband Boldran.

De multro 71 gives the name of Boldran’s wife as “Dedda or Duva.” Demyttenaere referred to Dedda as Dove:

Was it not natural for a Christian writer to interpret the machinations of Dove, whose name, moreover, was homophonous with Eve’s (Duva, Eva), within the context of original sin and the fall of mankind, and to see in Dove a new Eve?

Demyttenaere (2009) p. 149. That’s straining for an inapt allegory. Most women aren’t like Dedda. Galbert presented Dedda’s criminal culpability with historically specificity and realism.

[3] In the spirit of her praise of the action of Walter of Vladslo’s wife in cuckolding him, Partner observed of the “countess of Holland, a major player in the high-stakes game of replacing the dead count of Flanders”:

We should note that the countess’s aggressive maneuvering for power, using males as placeholders and pawns, deploying the seduction of promises, favors, gifts, is quite similar to Dedda’s strategy.

Partner (2009) pp. 124, 125. Animalizing men as “males” and using men as placeholders and pawns is prevalent in gynocentric society.

[4] “Passio Karoli comitis auctore anonymo,” printed in Köpke (1856b). Häcker (2009) p. 127, n. 2, describes this account as a “contemporary source.” Ross dated it to “the late thirteenth century or early fourteenth century.” Ross (1960) p. 73, n. 47. The murder of Boldran can be convincingly dated to about 1055. Rider (2001) p. 82.

[5] Rider didn’t recognize Galbert’s literary seriousness in his representation of this incident. Rider instead offered a trivializing conjecture:

this part of the story, at least, was made up and seems to have been shaped at the rumor mill to titillate a popular palate.

Rider (2001) pp. 25-1, n. 61. Cooper & Edsall similarly perceived the murder of Boldran as recalling “the comic plots of fabliaux.” Cooper & Edsall (2009) p. 227. The devaluation of men’s lives isn’t comic. Academics today are indoctrinated in misandristic ideology. Galbert’s concern for men, like medieval women writers’ concern for men, is difficult for academics today to comprehend. Cf. Häcker (2009) p. 141.

Murray argued that Galbert’s account of the murder of Boldran “has all the hallmarks of a calumny repeated to discredit the descendants of Erembald after their treachery toward Charles.” It’s part of Galbert’s depiction of Bertulf’s kin “as agents of the Devil: deceivers, betrayers, and destroyers of God’s creation.”  Murray (2009) pp. 194, 199. Galbert’s account of Boldran’s murder, however, is more complex than that. Why did Galbert even bring Dedda into the story of Boldran’s murder? Why not claim that Erembald threatened and forced Dedda into marrying him in accordance with the typical pattern of blaming women’s bad acts on men? Galbert apparently wanted to document Dedda’s culpability in the murder of Boldran.

[6] “Passio Karoli comitis auctore anonymo,” Latin from (1856b) p. 620, English trans. Häcker (2009) p. 137.

[image] Ladies dueling. Painting (oil on canvas) by Jusepe de Ribera, 1636. Held in Museo del Prado (Madrid), accession # P001124. Thanks to the Yorck Project and Wikimedia Commons.


Cooper, Lisa H. and Mary Agnes Edsall. 2009. “History as Fabliau and Fabliau as History: The Murder of Charles the Good and Du provost a l’aumuche.” Ch. 10 (pp. 215-239) in Rider and Murray (2009).

Demyttenaere, Bert. 2009. “The Tears of Fromold: The Murder of Charles the Good, Homoeroticism, and the Ruin of the Erembalds.” Ch. 7 (pp. 145-79) in Rider and Murray (2009).

Häcker, Martina. 2009. “The Language of Misogyny in Galbert of Bruges’s Account of the Murder of Charles the Good.” Ch. 6 (pp. 126-144) in Rider and Murray (2009).

Köpke, Rudolf, ed. 1856a. “Passio Karoli comitis auctore Galberto.” Pp. 561-619 in Monumenta Germaniae Historica 12. Stuttgart: Hiersemann.

Köpke, Rudolf, ed. 1856b. “Passio Karoli comitis auctore anonymo.” Pp. 619-23 in Monumenta Germaniae Historica 12. Stuttgart: Hiersemann.

Murray, Alan V. 2009. “The Devil in Flanders: Galbert of Bruges and the Eschatology of Political Crisis.” Ch. 8 (pp. 183-199) in Rider and Murray (2009).

Partner, Nancy. 2009, “Galbert’s Hidden Women: Social Presence and Narrative Concealment.” Ch. 5 (pp. 109-125) in Rider and Murray (2009).

Pirenne, Henri, ed. 1891. Galbert of Bruges. Histoire de meurtre de Charles le Bon Comte de Flandre (1127 – 1128); suivie de poésies latines contemporaines = Passio Karoli comitis Flandriae. Paris: Picard.

Rider, Jeff, ed. 1994. Galbert of Bruges. De multro, traditione, et occisione gloriosi Karoli comitis Flandriarum. Corpus Christianorum, Continuatio Mediaevalis (CC CM) 131. Turnhout: Brepols.

Rider, Jeff. 2001. God’s scribe: the historiographical art of Galbert of Bruges. Washington: Catholic University of America Press.

Rider, Jeff, and Alan V. Murray, eds. 2009. Galbert of Bruges and the Historiography of Medieval Flanders. Washington: Catholic University of America Press.

Rider, Jeff, trans. 2013. Galbert of Bruges. The murder, betrayal, and slaughter of the glorious Charles, Count of Flanders {De multro, traditione et occisione gloriosi Karoli comitis Flandriarum}. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Ross, James Bruce, trans. 1960. Galbert of Bruges. The murder of Charles the Good, count of Flanders, by Galbert of Bruges. Translated with introduction and notes. New York: Columbia University Press.

One thought on “Dedda suborned murder of her husband Boldran in medieval Flanders”

  1. A black male is 60 times more likely than a white female to spend a portion of his life behind bars in America.

    To paraphrase the Nazarene:

    “Verily, I tell you, it is far easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a white girl to see the inside of a prison cell.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Current month ye@r day *