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  • תמונת הסופר/תYoav Levin

Defending Female Honor and The Roots of Chivalry in the Merovingian Era

עודכן: 8 בדצמ׳ 2021

The Truth of Female Violence against Men and the Myth of Patriarchy!

Though extensively studied (not counting the last five decade's extensive research on female violence), the current scientific approach to the historical research on female violence and especially the medieval one still suffers from anti male gender bias and an attempt to down play it if not to eradicate any historical evidence for it. Whereas mechanisms of male violence are fully examined and explained, past female violence has not yet received adequate focus and proper examination, even in the early Middle Ages, when women’s violence was for the most part well recorded by the annals. Moreover, some Barbarian codes of laws, such as the Frankish "Pactus Legis Salicae", do not even reference to its possible existence. However, this silence is by no means an evidence of the absence of violence perpetrated by women. As we will see at the end of our discussion, the fact of the matter is that Burgundian and Lombard codes and later on the Lex Salica Karolina, severely criticizing women’s violence, are validating and confirming the fact of its prevalence and pervasiveness well before the 9th century. {1} Here I want to emphasize that this in itself is a crucial and a vital piece of information as it shows that female violence is not only a modern phenomenon, allegedly and inevitably going hand in hand with women's emancipation and their rise to formal power, but that it always was an intrinsic part of women's world of informal power and reality and thus refuting the legend of patriarchy and the myth of male domination. Being also inseparably intertwined, male and female violence coexisting one next to the other disproves the possibility both of matriarchal and patriarchal society but indicates the existence of a totally different type of society namely Gynocentrism with its matrilineal, matrilocal, matrifocal as well as patrilineal, patrilocal and patrifocal power dynamics including male and female dominated spheres. {2}

Either way, the number of studies dedicated to the systemic demonstration, exploration, and historical registration of female violence is almost negligible. {3} There were a few such significant attempts in modern research at exploring structural and systemic female violence as recorded in two genocides, the one perpetrated by the Nazis (see Wendy Lower, "Hitler's Furies") and the second one in Rwanda (See Nicole Hogg, "Women's Participation in Rwandan Genocide"). This is most surprising since both violence and the history of women are central themes in modern historiography. Yet, even in medieval society, female violence is not as rare as one might think. Thus far, as standing opposed to the mainstream feminist narrative, such female violence is well documented in medieval chronicles and legal sources. Its manifestation, remains persistent throughout the Middle Ages as well established cultural and social phenomenon! Among the many historical episodes of the middle ages, when female violence was well recorded, the early Merovingian era stands out above all the others. The fact that female violence is particularly observable during the Merovingian era does not necessarily mean that this period displayed some form of an intrinsically one-time outburst of female violence but it possibly reflects the more equal awareness to both male and female violence of the medieval authors and chronicles to the phenomenon of human violence regardless of gender. {4)

As a matter of fact, we want to turn now to reflect and explore in more depths and details the female violence during the first half of the Merovingian time. This concerns not just any spontaneous domestic burst of brutality between mothers and children, husbands and wives, or female rivals in the Aula Regis. Though violence is not an attribute of a specific status in society, I will be not concentrating in this discourse on the everyday woman but what I would like to depict here in this thesis is the retaliation of aristocratic and royal women against male opponents mainly because it refutes the notion of the medieval oppressed woman as well as the male privilege, domination and power at its root level. It appears that, just like their male counterparts, such women realized their right to get revenge whenever they perceived their honor to be injured. As to the historical frame, the Merovingian dynasty was the ruling family of the Franks from the middle of the 5th century until 751. They first appear as "Kings of the Franks" in the Roman army of northern Gaul. By 509 they had united all the Franks and northern Gaulish Romans under their rule. They conquered most of Gaul, defeating the Visigoths (507) and the Burgundians (534), and also extended their rule into Raetia (537). In Germania, the Alemanni, Bavarii and Saxons accepted their lordship. The Merovingian realm was the largest and most powerful of the states of western Europe following the fall of the Western Roman Empire. The term "Merovingian" comes from medieval Latin Merovingi or Merohingi ("sons of Merovech"), an alteration of an unattested Frankish form, akin to their dynasty's Old English name Merewīowing, with the final –ing being a typical Germanic patronymic suffix. The name derives from the possibly legendary King Merovech. Unlike the Anglo-Saxon royal genealogies, the Merovingians never claimed descent from a god, nor is there evidence that they were regarded as sacred. {5}

In the first illustration, taken from Gregory of Tours's Historiae, Chlothild, King Charibert's daughter, expected to be chosen as the new mother superior of the convent of Poitiers. When an abbess of low ranking origins was elected, she was humiliated by this choice. As the daughter of a king, she could not bear the insult. In her struggle for the preservation of her social precedence within the convent, she did not waver to use extreme measures:


"They (Chlothild and Basina) had disdained the bishop's exhortation not to forsake the monastery, but had trampled him underfoot, and left him behind within the walls, treated with the utmost indignity. They had broken locks and gates, and recklessly gone forth, by their influence drawing others into their own transgression. [_]. And when the bishops went in person to find them at the church of the blessed Hilary, _ they raised an uproar, attacked both the bishops and their attendants with clubs, and shed the blood of deacons within the church. Again, when, by command of the Kings, the venerable priest Theuthar had been sent to intervene _, they riotously attacked the monastery, making a fire with casks in the court; they broke down the door-posts with crowbars and axes and set these also alight; they beat and wounded nuns within the precincts, even in the oratories, and sacked the whole monastery. They stripped the abbess, taking her off with the hair all torn, dragged her as a laughing-stock through the streets, and thrust her into a place where, even though unbound, she was yet a prisoner. _ On the contrary, they themselves entered and took possession of the monastery, refusing obedience to the royal command, _ they were more determined than before in armed resistance to the king's order, and set themselves up improperly to resist the count and the citizens with arrows and spears" {6}

End of citation

So, no different than a man's reaction in the same situation, Chlothild led her rampage with supreme viciousness and extreme violence, completely unafraid of retaliations or punishment. She used various expression of volatile anger including physical violence, shaming and degradation of men and women as well as the use of vandalism. The next two examples of female violence against men and related to family honor feature Queen Fredegund. The first is about the treatment of her daughter, Princess Rigunth:


"While Queen Fredegund was still in the great church at Paris, the exdomestic Leudast came to her on his return from Toulouse, and began to tell her of the contumely and the wrongs endured by her daughter. `According to your orders', he said, `I accompanied the Princess Rigunth; I was witness of her humiliation and of the manner in which she was despoiled of her treasure and all her possessions; but I made my escape, and I come to announce these deeds to my sovereign lady'. Maddened at his account, the queen commanded him to be despoiled in the very church where they were; and when he had been stripped of his garments [nudatum vestimentis] and of a baldric which Chilperic had given him, she ordered him forth from her presence. The cooks and bakers, too, and any of the princess's retinue, of whose return from that journey she was informed, she caused to be beaten, stripped and put in handcuffs [or `mutilated']. {7}

End of citation

The second story implicates the honor of Fredegund herself as well as her family. Leudast, former Count of Tours, spread the indecent gossip that Fredegund, King Chilperic's wife, was having an illicit affair with Bertrand, the bishop of Bordeaux. So, King Chilperic ordered his detention and had him thrown in jail. But, after some time, under the weight of several important people, the king agreed to release him. This was done, of course, against Fredegund's will, for she had not yet calmed down from the accusations aimed at her. Stupidly and not happy with simply being free, the former Count of Tours tried to ignorantly get back into favor with the King and the Queen. Again with the support of powerful people, Leudast finally managed to arrange an audience with the king, who advised him to behave carefully towards the queen. He was not to approach her under any circumstances until her wrath had abated. Encouraged by his conversation with Chilperic, Leudast ignored the King's advice. One Sunday, at church, he took the freedom of asking the queen for forgiveness. Fredegund, outraged by his impudence, burst into laments. Complaining about the fact that she had no son left to protect her female dignity and honor, she called on God to bear witness with her humiliation, leaving to him the judgement of her case. Although Leudast was thrown out of the church, he did not pay much attention to the queen's vengeful state of mind. Reckless and irresponsible as always, he headed directly to the market, where he bragged about the forthcoming restoration of his fortune. But the queen's vengeance was not long in coming. Secretly, she commanded her armed servants to seize him. While resisting his arrest, Leudast was badly wounded. Realizing that he was about to die, Queen Fredegund ordered her servants to throw him on the ground. As he lay on his back, a huge iron bar was placed on his face, while with a second he was struck upon the throat. {8}

From those accounts it is extremely important to understand that the mere motivation is definitely not linked to just to sexual purity of the queen and especially the princess. In both cases and exactly as it is with men, living in an atmosphere of endless rivalry, royal and aristocratic women, just like their male counterparts, were extremely concerned with their worth and status and very touchy about issues of honor. It is not necessarily a gender but a status issue. By rebelling against the election of the mother superior, Chlothild expressed her indignation towards a degradation she found unbearable: first of all, there was the humiliation of being treated as a servant by a new abbess who was her social inferior; and second, there was the humiliation of being deprived of a position that was, at least in her mind, hers by right. In fighting, she was actually seeking recognition of her social superiority and her right to precedence. And that is where the feminist gendered idea of violence is thoroughly refuted. For, as we can see from the accounts here, the right and duty to violently react to the slightly perceived insult against the dignity of a person is not exclusive to men, neither is it an exclusive male feature, nor can it be considered to be a predominant parameter of honor in societies based on a gender system but as I said rather a societal one linked to status. It is here where her reaction is so remarkable. And, yet, in her rebellion, Chlothild behaved exactly as a man would have, if he had felt that his honor was at stake. She evidently thought that by remaining passive in face of the insult aimed at her, she would have compromised both her personal and her family's prestige. She also believed that this was a question of honor that could only be resolved in a successful fight. Her fight, therefore, was aimed at restoring publicly and proclaim her superiority. Undoubtedly paradoxical for a nun who was supposed to practice the contemptus mundi, this case, though atypical, is nevertheless illuminating for the understanding of the aristocratic Merovingian mentality in general and especially in the context of female honor in particular. The actions of Fredegund in the second and third anecdotes are interesting because they encapsulate the notion of revenge, which more than any other exchange of violence are told by feminist to be exclusive male attributes.

When considering the intrinsic female violence here another leading characteristic emerges from these texts. Whereas under those circumstances in two of the three instances, and this is very typical of the set of cases, the violent women were widows or single, it therefore appears that by using violence themselves in the absence men, the male protector role seems in fact less of an inherent male but female characteristic while also the idea of men defending female honor is more of a gynocentric indoctrination rather the patriarchal one. Moreover, the queen clearly laments over the fact that she has no son to protect her dignity which indicates that if having such sons this would be their male duty to protect their mother's honor. Furthermore, the Salic law as well as the Lex Salica Karolina seems to institutionalize, both the concept of defending female honor by penalizing what feminists call today slut shaming which go with punishment of slandering men as being coward. Those are the two sides of the same coin. To encourage men to protect women and female honor one should give them a higher status by punishing their slanderers.

Here is the Title XXX. in the Law Concerning Insults

3. If anyone, man or woman, shall have called a woman harlot, and shall not have been able to prove it, he shall be sentenced to 1800 denars, which make 45 shillings.

4.If any person shall have called another "fox," he shall be sentenced to 3 shillings.

5. If any man shall have called another "hare," he shall be sentenced to 3 shillings.

6. If any man shall have brought it up against another that he have thrown away his shield, and shall not have been able to prove it, he shall be sentenced to 120 denars, which make 3 shillings.

7. If any man shall have called another "spy" or "perjurer," and shall not have been able to prove it, he shall be sentenced to 600 denars, which make 15 shillings {9}

The "Lex Salica Karolina" expands a little bit more but keeps the same principle and dynamics:



i. If anyone calls another a pederast (cenitum), he shall be liable to pay six

hundred denarii (i.e., fifteen solidi).

2. If anyone calls another conchagatun (covered in dung), he shall be liable

to pay one hundred twenty denarii (i.e., three solidi).

3. If anyone calls another a little fox (vulpiculam), he shall be liable to pay

one hundred twenty denarii (i.e., three solidi).

4. If anyone calls another a rabbit (leporem), he shall be liable to pay two

hundred forty denarii (i.e., six solidi).

5. If anyone charges another with throwing down his shield while in the

army or with fleeing because of fear, he shall be liable to pay one hundred

twenty denarii (i.e., three solidi).

6. If anyone calls another an informer (delatorem) and cannot prove it, he

shall be liable to pay six hundred denarii (i.e., fifteen solidi).

7. If anyone calls another a liar (falsatorem) and cannot prove it, he shall be

liable to pay six hundred denarii (i.e., fifteen solidi).


(herinburgiuni) [Foetus LXIV]

1. If anyone calls another a sorcerer (herinburgium) or a strioportium, one

who is said to carry a bronze cauldron where witches (striae) brew, and he

cannot prove it, he shall be judged liable to pay twenty-five hundred denarii

(i.e., sixty-two and one-half solidi).

2. If anyone calls a free woman a witch (stritmi) or a harlot (meretricem)

and cannot prove it, he shall be liable to pay seven thousand denarii (i.e.,

eighty-two and one-half solidi).

On the side note, it is interesting to note that the "Lex Salica Karolina" not only penalizes what the feminists call "slut shaming" (accusation of being a harlot) but also the accusation of women as being witches. It is important because it is an evidence that the later medieval practice of burning women as used by the church has nothing to do with gender and misogyny bur rather has a political reason thus those women were very often herbal and natural healers often possessing alternative corpuses of knowledge that could endanger the political and societal power of the church. Those women were persecuted exactly the same way as were other men posing a threat to the political power of the church just by other means. But let's now return to our discussion.

So, those attitudes are quite apparent in clause XXX of the Salic Law, the sixth-century Frankish law-code, ‘concerning insults’ and the "Lex Salica Karolina". As Aquitaine and the Merovingian Dynasty are linked through the various historical connections over the Carolingian and other dynasties, one can say that metaphysically those laws gave the conceptual frame for the Chivalric duties of a man to protect women, being their defenders and stand up to those who slander the female honor and sexual purity; a conceptual and mental mindset later inherited by Eleanor of Aquitaine and subsequently by the troubadours with their courtly love ideals and as part of the cultural heritage of the entire region. The remainder of the law is mostly concerned with insults of cowardice or treachery while being a fox can be also seen as a metaphor for male sexual unfaithfulness (cunning). Besides protecting female honor and encouraging men to do so, these were also terrible insults in a society, like sixth-century Frankish, which was largely centered around ideas of warfare. As we can see women from the actual accounts, additional to the law itself, were culturally and socially entitled, in fact compelled, to defend their honor and to take on responsibilities which they were traditionally indoctrinating and leaving to their husbands, fathers, sons or brothers, or any other male relative, and to react violently in the face of a perceived transgression that put in jeopardy the integrity of the domus, the family or persona

The second story is even more substantial, for it gives us the ability to draw a comparison between Chilperic's and Fredegund's responses. In theory, Chilperic, whose male honor had been violated – the king was, after all, in the position of a becoming or be seen as potential cuckold - should have responded according to feminist theories by the use of violence. But in fact, he embraced a relatively moderate attitude and seemed ready to forgive. At this stage, the desire and the initiative for the vicious and violent crusade fell entirely on Fredegund. It was the queen who, with or without the help of her husband organized her own revenge. It is, however, important to explain the two dimensions of revenge. If one accepts that the idea of revenge could have provoked Fredegund's response, it remains vital to define its nature. While at its basis the human potential for such reactions, whether male or female, is clear and known, it is interesting to consider the social element with the context of higher statuses in society and especially aristocratic women. At this point, the use of anthropological models can shed some light on different kinds of violent reactions. If following the traditional models on violence in early medieval society, such as Halsall's various classifications of types of conflict, then we can gain some insight into the nature of those accounts. From the concept of `realistic and nonrealistic conflicts' elaborated by Coser, to terms of `rational and irrational violence', or the idea of strategic versus tactical violence adopted by Halsall himself, it seems that the most common hallmark of this classification is dichotomy. Following the models of Verdier and Courtois's point of view, we can add two others terms as is described by Nira Gradowicz-Pancer: le systeme vindicatif (vindictiveness) and le systeme vindicatoire (system of vindication). On a social level, Fredegund's revenge was driven by a vindictive desire, defined as `the passionate energy of anger which is externalized more or less violently' admittedly a feminine reaction. The second option in my opinion is that based upon this basic female reaction, it is driven by a system of vindication governed by a set of standards and duties of revenge aimed at protecting female honor as a social code of behavior that has become one of the Chivalric tenets of defending women and their honor: a kind of debt to pay to society which is also part of a systemic gynocentric indoctrination! {10}

As far as female violence being chronicled by law we can find the documentation. Unfortunately, the sixth-century Pactus does not refer to female violence. Whereas the Burgundian, Bavarian and Lombard codes bear witness to female violence, the Merovingian Frankish code remains silent. It is only much later, in article 26.7 si vero ipsa femina aliquem occiderit of the Lex Salica Karolina (late eighth century), that we find a confirmation of female violence. Still, those ancient codes of law seem much more advanced to the modern ones denying female violence through gynocentric influence and feminist indoctrination. The late appearance, in the Carolingian version, of a clause punishing female violence, seems to confirm on the one hand its existence well before the ninth century and on the other hand a change in attitude towards it The excessive wergeld (600 hundred solidi for a murder committed by women as compared with 200 hundred for men) suggests that at least in this period of time the murder of men by women was much higher than it was vice versa and thus a strong wish to curb female aggression if not to eradicate it completely. It is also possible that in harmony with ancient laws the higher amount was also the result of financial loss that was compensated in this way. If this interpretation of mine is correct, it supports the idea presented in my wider research that the denial of female violence as well as their idealization in parallel with the opposite process of the demonization as well as the oppression and violence against men, was an inheritance of the classic Gynocentrism started in the courts of Eleanor of Aquitaine and as inherited through the preceding Merovingian and other laws and as a cultural legacy and tradition of the entire region.

From a few examples chosen from many possible others, I have tried to show that female violence, far from being an exception, irrational, insignificant or inherently not compatible with female nature as feminists would want us to believe, not only are part of women's life and reality as it is by the simple virtue of us all being humans and mortals and exactly as it is with men but in fact this female violence followed a specific pattern and obeyed an implicit code of honor which continued gynocentric values even after the introduction of Christianity rooted in the quest for accumulation of power, wealth and social precedence. Even more so, it is the basis of male indoctrination as being the defenders of female honor and being responsible for their protection which culminated under the gynocentric gender roles as an inheritance of the troubadours, courtly love and Eleanor of Aquitaine's Gynocentrism. Despite the myths, related to a strong tolerance towards female sexuality, which was later anchored in the Gynocentric notion of sexual and moral purity of women, one realizes that the whole concept of patriarchy as well as an inherent male violence is nothing but a form of Gynocentric and especially feminist misandry. It seems that in order to understand women's violent behavior, one must cease to use the notion of gender as a central concept which was falsely introduced by social and political feminist ideologues. In general terms, it is in terms of both the familial background, the personal disposition as well as power and more specifically in terms of strategies of gynocentric female honor, that one can better evaluate the rationale behind female violence against both men and women.

Sources and References:

{1} Women and Gender in Medieval Europe, Page 813-814.

{2} Feminism, Gynocentrism and the Future Matriarchal Gynocracy, Voice for Men

{3} Nira Gradowicz-Pancer, De – Gendering Female Violence, Page 2

{4} Nira Gradowicz-Pancer, De – Gendering Female Violence, Page 2

{5} The Merovingian Dynasty, Wikipedia

{6} De-gendering female violence: Merovingian female honor, Page 9

{7} De-gendering female violence: Merovingian female honor, Page 10

{8} De-gendering female violence: Merovingian female honor, Page 11

{9} Yale Law Project

{10} De-gendering female violence: Merovingian female honor, Page 13

Further information, references and resources:

Balzaretti, Ross. ‘‘‘These Are the Things That Men Do, Not Women’: The Social Regulation of Female Violence in Langobard Italy.’’ In Violence and Society in the Early Medieval West, edited by Guy Halsall. Woodbridge, Suffolk, England: Boydell, 1998, pp. 175–192.

Blythe, James M. ‘‘Women in the Military: Scholastic Arguments and Medieval Images of Female Warriors.’’ History of Political Thought 22(2) (2001): 242–269.

Clover, Carol J. ‘‘Maiden Warriors and Other Sons.’’ Journal of English and Germanic Philology 85 (1986): 35–49.

De Pizan, Christine. Treasure of the City of Ladies, or The Book of Three Virtues, translated by

Sarah Lawson. New York: Penguin, 1985.

Evans, Michael R. ‘‘‘Unfit to Bear Arms’: The Gendering of Arms and Armour in Accounts of Women on Crusade.’’ In Gendering the Crusades, edited by Susan B.

Edgington and Sarah Lambert. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002, pp. 45–58.

Hadley, D. M., and J. M. Moore. ‘‘‘Death Makes the Man’? Burial Rite and the Construction of Masculinities in the Early Middle Ages.’’ In Masculinity in Medieval Europe, edited by D. M. Hadley. London: Longman, 1999, pp. 21–38.

Karras, Ruth Mazo. From Boys to Men: Formations of Masculinity in Late Medieval Europe. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylania Press, 2003.

Nicholson, Helen, ‘‘Women on the Third Crusade,’’ Journal of Medieval History 23(4) (1997): 335–349.

Orderic Vitalis, Ecclesiastical History, ed. and trans. Marjorie Chibnall, 6 vols. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1969–1978.

Pulega, Andrea, ed. Ludi e spettacoli nel Medioevo: I Tornei di Dame. Cattedra di Filologia Romanza dell’Universita’ degli Studi di Milano. Milan: Cisalpino Goliardica, 1975.

Solterer, H. ‘‘Figures of Female Militancy in Medieval France.’’ Signs 16(3) (1991): 522–549.

Stock, L. K. ‘‘‘Arms and the Woman’ in Medieval Romance: The Gendered Arming of Female Warriors in the Roman d’Eneas and Heldris’s Roman de Silence.’’ Arthuriana 5 (1995): 56–83.

Von der Hagen, Friedrich Heinrich, ed. ‘‘Der vrouwen turnei.’’ In Gesamtabenteuer: Hundert altdeutsche Erza¨hlungen, 3 vols. 1850. Reprint, Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1961, vol. 1, pp. 371–382.

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