Galbert chronicled horrific violence against men in medieval Flanders

medieval battle between Flemish and Fench

Betrayers brutally murdered Count Charles the Good with a surprise attack on him while he was praying in the Church of Saint Donatian in Bruges in 1127. Galbert then was a bureaucratic functionary in the Count’s administration in Bruges. On his own initiative, Galbert chronicled the murder of Charles the Good and much ensuing violence against men. Galbert was an unlikely person to do such important work:

No one asked him to write the Description {the first part of his chronicle}, and he was not one of the people in his society who was supposed to write literature or history. Had he not written his chronicle, he would have been nothing more for us than a name in the witness lists of a couple of charters of the counts of Flanders. Nothing he wrote would ever have come down to us, and nothing other than the chronicle has. [1]

Unlike institutionalized intellectuals, Galbert wasn’t focused on career-building practices of buttressing dominant ideology, currying favor with high-status figures, and superficially fashioning oneself as learned. Galbert sought to document “the truth of things”:

When I set out to write the death of such a leader, I did not spend time on eloquent ornaments nor did I seek for just the right rhetorical effects, but only the truth of things  … I do not much care, therefore, if anyone wants to criticize this study of the mind … or prattle against it in any way. I rest secure in the knowledge that I speak a truth known to all those who endured the same danger with me, and I entrust it to our posterity to be remembered.

{ Tanti quidem principis mortem discripturus, non elaboravi eloquentiae ornatum seu diversorum colorum distinguere modos sed rerum veritatem solummodo … Super hoc igitur mentis studio, … si quis quidquam obgarrire et detrahere contendat, non multum curo. Securum enim me facit quod veritatem omnibus apertam qui mecum eodem percellebantur periculo loquor, et eam posteris nostris memorandam commendo. } [2]

Men throughout history have endured horrific violence against men, including sexual violence against men. Galbert documented in detail such violence. Many readers have failed to appreciate adequately a profound insight in Galbert’s chronicle: all the persons killed are men.

Violence against men in Galbert’s chronicle is far more extensive than just the murder of Count Charles the Good. Immediately after the betrayers murdered the Count, they attacked his men-supporters who were also present in the Church of Saint Donatian. One such man was the castle-based administrator for the Count in Bourbourg (the castellan of Bourbourg):

They also killed the Castellan of Bourbourg, whom they first wounded mortally and then dragged vilely by his feet from the {church} gallery, into which he and the Count had mounted, to the doors of the church, where they dismembered him outside with swords.

{ Occiderunt quoque castellanum ex Brudburg, prius ad mortem vulneratum, postea per pedes a solario, in quod conscenderat comes et ipse, viliter detractum in januis ecclesiae, foras gladiis dismembrabant. } [3]

The betrayers also murdered the Castellan of Bourbourg’s two sons who were fleeing for their lives:

A nefarious knight by the name of Eric, one of those who had betrayed the Count, knocked one of the brothers off the horse on which he was fleeing, and he and those who were chasing him killed him before he could get up. They intercepted the other brother as he was rushing in flight to the door of his lodgings and stabbed him through with their swords. As he fell, one of our citizens, named Lambert Berakin, chopped at him with his ax as if he were a piece of wood.

{ Quorum alterum fratrem, Eric nomine nefarius miles, unus quidem illorum qui comitem tradiderant, ab equo quo insidens fugeret dejecit et dejectum simul cum persecutoribus interfecit. Alterum quoque fratrem in ostio hospitii sui in fugam prosilientem, ex opposito ei occursitantes gladiis trajecerunt. Quem unus civium nostrorum nomine Lambertus Berakin cadentem securi suo quasi lignum aliquod detruncavit. }

Underscoring men’s relative vulnerability to violence, the Castellan of Bourbourg as he was dying turned to a privileged woman for help:

The Abbess of Origny had accepted from him the ring which he had given her in the gallery, while he was still breathing, so that she could take it to his wife as proof of his death and as proof to his wife and sons, of whose death he knew nothing unless it was after his own death {in life after death}, of the authenticity of all the requests he made of them through the Abbess.

{ cujus annulum abbatissa ex Auriniaco ab eo in solario, dum spiraret, eo dante, susceperat, quatenus deferret uxori suae in signum suae mortis et in signum omnium eorum quae per abbatissam demandasset uxori et liberis, quorum mortem ipse nisi post mortem suam ignorabat. } [4]

The Abbess surely was a close friend of the Castellan of Bourbourg. She apparently also supported the Count. The betrayers attacked men who led religious institutions, but they didn’t attack the Abbess as she served a man whom they had just killed. Men commit much less violence against women than they do violence against men.

Fighting among various factions killed many men after the Count’s murder. The fighting was horrifically brutal. Consider Galbert’s description of just one day in the siege of the castle that the betrayers took:

March 12, Saturday, an edict went out from the leaders that all {men} who were gathered for the siege should attack the castle at every place to which they had access. …When they had brought up a pile of dry hay and kindling to attack the castle’s main gate and had summoned the knight who was to set fire to the kindling, those {men} who were attacking were so overwhelmed by stones, pikes, lances, and arrows from within the castle that countless were wounded and helmets and shields shattered by stones as big as millstones that were thrown down from the ramparts, and they were barely able to escape with their lives from beneath the arch of the gate under which they had been hiding in order to set the fire. When a stone thrown from above managed to hit anyone, regardless of his strength and valor, he suffered a most shattering blow that knocked him to the ground, broken, dying, and gasping. A squire from among those outside the castle died in this assault with an arrow through his heart.

{ Quarto idus Martii, sabbato, edictum exiit a principibus ut castrum ex omni parte qua accessum haberent invaderent omnes qui in obsidione consedissent. … Ceterum cum majores portas castri invaderent, subducta feni et stipularum arida congerie et accito milite qui ignem stipulis ingereret, abintus castrum lapidibus, sudibus, lanceis, sagittis obruti sunt hi qui aggrediebantur, ita ut quasi molaribus petris a propugnaculis dejectis innumeri laesi et conquassati galeas et scuta, vix a portarum testudine sub qua latitabant ut incendia administrarent cum salute vitae aufugerent. Quemcumque igitur persequebatur lapis ab alto dejectus, quantaecumque fuisset virtutis et virium, passus est sui ruinam gravissimam ita ut totus prostratus et confractus, moribundus et exanimis caderet. Qua infestatione armiger unus a foris sagitta trajectus cordi exspiravit. }

In this and other fighting, men were effectively required to participate.[5] Galbert noticed the bodies of ordinary men, ordered into mortally dangerous circumstances, then on the ground, “broken, dying, and gasping.” He added a telling personal characterization in recording the execution by precipitation of one of the betrayers:

the finely formed young man was pushed off and, falling to the ground, embraced the peril of his death

{ projectus est juvenis elegantioris formae et in terram decidens, suae mortis periculum insumpsit et statim exspiravit. } [6]

Galbert appreciated men’s intrinsic virtue. Recognizing, as many today do not, that men’s lives matter, Galbert lamented the deaths of so many men: “the number of free men wounded and killed couldn’t be counted,” “numberless men fell.”[7]

While today sexual violence against men is trivialized and the actual prevalence of men being raped is largely ignored, Galbert forthrightly documented sexual violence against men. He recorded the execution of one of the betrayer’s serfs:

When he had fled, he had disguised himself by putting on a woman’s coat and hidden between two mattresses. Pulled from his hiding place, he was led into the middle of the market and, with everyone looking on, was hung from a stick stuck through his lower legs and shins, his head hanging down, so that his shameful parts, that is, his anus and buttocks, were turned toward the castle to the shame and disgrace of the betrayers, who, besieged in the castle, were standing on the Count’s balcony and the ramparts and observing this being done to taunt them.

{ {quo} qui fugiens latuerat inter duas culcitras, indutus superpellicium mulieris quo se dissimularet. At inde retractus, ductus est in medium fori et, inspectantibus universis, suspensus est, fuste transfixo per suffragines et crura, capite dejecto deorsum, ita ut verecundiora, scilicet culus et nates, adverterentur versus castrum ad dedecus et ignominiam illorum traditorum qui obsessi stabant ad lobium comitis et ad propugnacula, inspectantes hoc fieri sibi ipsis in opprobrium. } [8]

The executioners apparently intended to humiliate sexually the man in killing him and to taunt the besieged for lacking masculine heterosexual desire.

Another alleged betrayer, Guy of Steenvorde, suffered a physical attack to his genitals. To assert his innocence, he was compelled to engage in man-to-man combat with another strong knight. Guy managed to get on top of the other knight and was “pounding the knight’s mouth and eyes with his iron gauntlets {maniculis ferreis ora et oculos contundens militis}.” But the other knight counter-attacked:

having raised his hand very smoothly to the lower edges of the mail coat, where Guy was unprotected, and grabbed him by the testicles, he collected his strength for a single effort and threw him from him, breaking open all the lower parts of his body by this grabbing throw so that the prostrate Guy grew weak and cried out that he was defeated and was going to die.

{ Interim manum suavius subducens usque ad inferiores loricae oras, in qua parte non fuerat Wido praemunitus, per testiculos raptum, collectis viribus ad puncti unius momentum a se propulit, in quo rapticio pulsu tota de subtus natura corporis rupta, it prostratus defecit Wido ut victum et mortuum se fore exclamaret. }

Guy was thus found guilty of betrayal and hung on gallows. Three days later, his dead body was joined with the dead body of a leader of the betrayal:

Later, placed on a cart wheel attached to a very tall pole, the bodies of both men were put on display for all those who passed by, and their arms were bent around one another’s necks as if in a mutual embrace

{ Post haec vero utrorumque corpora virorum rotae plaustri superposita in malo altissimo fixae, videnda universis transeuntibus proposuerunt, brachiaque mutuis quasi amplexibus ad colla flectentes } [9]

Guy’s only established link to the betrayal was that he had been married to the niece of that leader of the betrayal. No evidence exists that the niece herself was executed. As continues to be the case today, punishment is highly gender-biased toward punishing men, including sexual violence used as punishment.

Violence against men is rooted in part in social devaluation of men’s lives. In her introduction to her translation of Galbert’s chronicle, an eminent medievalist writing in 1960 declared:

Because of the very nature of his subject, Galbert pays little attention to those civilizing currents in Flemish society which were gradually creating “islands of peace” in this turbulent area and deflecting the energies of at least some men into peaceful channels. … There is no evidence yet of the chivalric ideal or of the courtly way of life, with its cult of women and its softening effect upon the manners and customs of the knightly class. [10]

The underlying idea, as absurd and offensive to the ideal of equal human dignity as it is influential, imagines that women make men more civilized. Women are no more inherently a civilizing current than men are. Women commonly play a central role in inciting men to violence against other men. Galbert himself recognized that reality in this account of Dedda suborning the murder of her husband Boldran. Rather than lamenting that in Galbert’s chronicle, “women hardly appear, and when they do they are nameless creatures,” or counting that Galbert’s chronicle records five women’s names, scholars might ponder how many men die.[11]

Gender protrusion in mortality represents vitally significant gender inequality. Elite men’s life expectancy in medieval England was about nine years less than that of women. Galbert’s chronicle suggests that a large gender protrusion in mortality also existed in twelfth-century Flanders. Authorities working for leading international institutions today make astonishingly mendacious claims about “gender gaps” in life expectancy. Galbert had greater commitment to recording truth. To become more enlightened, you need only read Galbert of Bruges’s chronicle and actually recognize that all the persons killed are men.

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[1] Rider (2013) p. xxxiii. Galbert was a notary who had worked in the comital administration for at least thirteen years before he wrote his chronicle. He apparently kept a fiscal register and may have also taken official notes for comital proceedings. Rider (2009) pp. 13-4.

In medieval Flanders, Bruges was a major commercial center as well as the seat of the ruler’s administration. Bruges today is a large city in the Flemish region of Belgium.

[2] Galbert of Bruges, De multro, traditione et occisione gloriosi Karoli comitis Flandriarum {The murder, betrayal, and slaughter of the glorious Charles, Count of Flanders} Prologue, Latin from Rider (1994) p. 3, ll. 14-6, 29-35, English trans. from Rider (2013) pp. 2-3. In this and subsequent quotations, for ease of reading I have made without noting a few, minor, non-substantial changes in punctuation in Rider’s translation

Rider translated mentis studio as “mental study.” That’s a rather awkward construction in ordinary English. On the meaning of mentis studio, with focus on studio, Rider (2009) pp. 29-30. I’ve substituted above “study of the mind.” De multro seems to me to encompass Galbert’s wondering about the reasons that men are committing such brutal violence against men, e.g. What are they thinking? How can I understand such horrific treatment of men?

[3] Galbert, De multro 16, Latin from Rider (1994) p. 37, ll. 31-4, English trans. from Rider (2013) p. 30. To aid the general reader, I have capitalized the names of positions, e.g. castellan, in Rider’s translation when they refer to a specific person. Subsequent quotes from De multro are sourced likewise. Cited by section and by page in Rider’s translation, they are: 16, p. 31 (A nefarious knight…); 17, p. 34 (The Abbess of Origny…); 32, pp. 60-1 (March 12, Saturday, …); 81, p. 134 (the finely formed young man…); 29, p. 56 (When he had fled, he had disguised…); 58, p. 103 (pounding the knight…; having raised his hand…; placed on a cart wheel…)

[4] The Abbess ruled the abbey of Origny-Sainte-Benoîte in northern France near Saint-Quentin. Origny-Sainte-Benoîte was a rich abbey founded in the late seventh century. Rider (2013) p. 34, n. 103, and BnF data. The Abbess had squires who served her. For evidence of the Abbess’s support for the Count, De multro 39, p. 70.

Partner notes that the Abbess lacks a proper name in Galbert’s chronicle. She also describes the mortally wounded castellan giving her his ring. But she doesn’t recognized the Abbess’s privileged position amid the killing of men. Partner (2009) pp. 111, 117.

[5] Being accused of “being a betrayer” could and did cause men to be executed with little actual evidence of them supporting the betrayal of the Count. See the story of Guy of Steenvorde subsequently above. In such circumstances, declining to participate in the brutal fighting against the betrayers would be risky for men. When a new count was selected, civic leaders of Aardenburg declared:

We have established for ourselves a law that if a military expedition on behalf of our count is announced, anyone {any man} who does not have a legitimate excuse for not participating will pay a fine of twenty shillings to the count.

{ Nobis ipsis quidem legem statuimus ut si expeditio ex parte comitis nostri fuerit indicta, ille qui excusationem non habuerit legitimam, emendabit comiti viginti solidos. }

De multro 55, p. 96. Twenty shillings was “a heavy fine” equivalent to about 240 loaves of bread. Ross (1960) p. 205, n. 19, Rider (2013) p. 96. n. 270. Starvation was a significant risk in early twelfth-century Flanders. De multro 2-3, pp. 7-9. The conscription provision was a rare instance of penal law included in a charter. Ross (1960) p. 205, n. 19. Similar laws probably were in effect elsewhere under the prior Count Charles, but weren’t in charters. Men throughout history and around the world have faced the burden of impressment into military service. In stark contrast to professed ideals of gender equality, men continued to face gender-discriminatory obligations for national military service.

[6] The young man was the knight Walter, son of Lambert of Aardenburg. Rider noted, “Galbert’s bothering to comment that Walter was handsome is surprising here.” Rider (2013) p. 134, n. 396. Galbert’s comment isn’t surprising in the context of his appreciation for intrinsic virtue in men and his horror at the loss of men’s lives. Galbert described the murdered sons of the castellan of Bourbourg as “worthy to be loved by all who knew them on account of the nobility of their uncommonly good looks.” De multro 16, p. 31. Demyttenaere declares that Galbert’s “heart and mind were captivated by men.” Demyttenaere (2009) p. 151. Just as medieval women writers had loving concern for men, medieval men living amid horrific slaughter of men focused on men. The prevalent modern scholarly blindness to men as specifically but not defectively gendered human beings shouldn’t be projected back onto more humane medieval persons.

[7] De multro 108, p. 165; 114, p. 174. Although focusing on gender, Häcker (2009) and Partner (2009) take no notice of the fact that all the persons killed in De multro are men. That’s a typical approach to gender in news reporting about violent deaths: only if the persons killed are female is their gender reported.

[8] The man who hid in women’s clothing was Fromold, one of Bosiard’s serfs. Like Fromold, the provost Bertulf was sexually abused in being executed:

They pulled down his breeches so that the shameful parts of his body were visible. There was nothing foul or ignominious that they did not include in his punishment.

{ braccas detraxerunt ei ut illa verecundiora corporis apparerent. Nihil turpe vel ignominiosum erat quod in ejus supplicium non inferrent. }

De multro 57, p. 101.

[9] The other dead man was the provost Bertulf. The provost had earlier undergone brutally abusive punishment:

a crowd of men from Ypres, raging for the death of the provost, twisted the bowels of a dog around his neck and put the dog’s mouth next to his mouth as he was exhaling the breath of life, comparing him and his deeds to a dog.

{ Iprensium igitur turba, furens in mortem praepositi, canis viscera contorserat circa collum ejus et os canis ad os ejus jam vitalem spiritum expirantis opposuerunt aequiparantes cani ipsum et facta ipsius. }

De multro 57, p. 102.

[10] Ross (1960), p. 47 (from author’s introduction). James Bruce Ross was a woman medievalist born in 1902. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 1934. Berman (2005) p. 575. By 1934, the men-oppressing ideology of courtly love had prominent supporters among medieval scholars. It regrettably still does.

[11] Ross (1960), p. 47, Partner (2009) p. 111.


Berman, Constance Hoffman. 2005. “James Bruce Ross (1902-1995) and the Sources for Medieval and Renaissance History.” Ch. 40 (575-84) in Jane Chance, ed. Women Medievalists and the Academy. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press.

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 & 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 & Murray (2009).

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

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. 2009. “‘Wonder with Fresh Wonder’: Galbert the Writer and the Genesis of the De multro.”  Ch. 1 (pp. 13-35) in Rider & Murray (2009).

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.

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