Sep 25, 2019 in Research


While women’s social identity in medieval society was based on the marriage ritual, the identity of men depended on group belongingness. Monks, knights, guildsmen, and apprentices underwent a certain process of initiation into distinctive subcultures. According to William of Malmesbury’s accounts of the first crusade and Godfrey of Lorraine, the socialization process itself reveals many facts about medieval mentalities of masculinity. Men are also depicted as symbols of authority, violence, and dominance as it is evident in the case of Pope Urban. In addition to their obvious dominance over women, who were considered as mere sex objects, men could also exercise authority over other masculine representatives depending on their subcultures and social class. For the purpose of the course requirements, this paper seeks to examine medieval mentalities about masculinities.

In his account of the first crusade, William depicts masculinity as symbols of authority who dominated over women and over other men depending on their subculture. In the account of the first crusade, pope Urban is portrayed as a man with authority to an extent that he could excommunicate King Philip of France and all his followers. This is despite the fact that the pope was just a newcomer to France whose aim was to exercise control over the church at that side being ousted by his brother in Italy. In this regard, the pope’s subculture was higher than that of the people and the king himself, which made it possible for him to establish new rules with little resistance. He also offered those who were considered adultery a form of forgiveness but on the condition that they would help in the war against the Turks. The fact that he would even consider offering conditional forgiveness illustrates the level of authority that the papal position conferred to him. While arguing with his followers regarding the rescue of other oppressed Christian, the pope was asking them to prove themselves through violence and style.

In addition to the above-mentioned arguments, medieval mentality of masculinity is well illustrated in the clerics who, according to William, figured themselves as saviors of their oppressed brothers. In essence, warfare and violence were justified under the medieval Christian rules as illustrated in the arguments presented to the clerics by the pope. Warfare was a punishment for the committed crimes and evils, and this also affected everybody who was then considered to be the enemy of the church. According to William’s account of Pope Urban speech, it was the will of God that the clerics were continuing to attack the Turks and other enemies of the church. Their success would be an indication of divine help, which could only befall the righteous. In this context, defending Christendom was a way of pleasing God even if such defense was assumed as the form of violence. It followed that the success of the cleric or the crusaders would be a sign of divine approval. Consequently, it is evident that violence for the sake of defending Christendom was justified and that any person who participated in such actions would be repaid by God.

The above stated argument is also true in the account about Godfrey of Lorraine as reported by William. Once Lorraine was infected and suffered from continual fever. However, according to William, Lorraine vowed to God that if he regained his health, he would continue crusading for Christendom. William reports that after Lorraine made that vow, he immediately regained his health and started to fight as a young man. This reinforces the belief that violence for the purpose of protecting Christendom was justified and that crusaders could receive divine reward. At the same, it depicts masculinity in terms of violence, suggesting that men should engage in violent acts in order to protect their church or faith.

William of Malmesbury’s account of the first crusade and Godfrey Lorraine depicts men as symbol of violence who were justified for attacking their enemies. At one point, he states that Lorraine helped save the people of Soliman from a planned attack of the Turks by secretly entering into the camp of the enemy and killing them. Thereby, he delivered the will of God, which was the military code word, according to William. It is worth noting that there is a high esteem with which the crusaders viewed knights such as Godfrey Lorraine. During that time, a knight distinguished himself through successful application of violence. Such men as Lorraine were trained and destined to annihilate the enemy for the greater good of those who were considered to be right. In reprimanding the lay men, Lorraine is presented as a real man or as a symbol of authority and power.


The justness of violence for the cause of Christianity is a repeating theme in William’s account. In his report about the battle of hasting, this justness has also some implications on the definition of gender. He reports that while preparing to invade England William the Conqueror first sought the divine intervention of pope, an action that was considered rash in the sense that it questioned the just will of God. According to the report, every morning the Conqueror encouraged the men telling them that God was on their side given the justness of their cause.

Through violence, William depicts men as heroic persons, and this is a presumption that is arguably based on the ideals of pre-Christian rulers and warriors. Consequently, men were expected to be physically and mentally strong, intelligent, ready and willing to conquer others. Other aspects of heroic masculinity, according to William’s account, include skill and prowess, loyalty and courage. A man was required to behave loyally with his leader as well as his comrades. This is evident in the case of Lorraine who upon hearing that Romania planned an attack returned to help his comrades and save them from the wrath of the enemy – the Turks. Heroic masculinity also depicts men who are encouraged to win battles and control others through force and status. For example, Pope Urban is able to control the clerics through his status in the church and his intellect. This is depicted in the way that he is able to control easily their souls, which is an act that eventually led to the first crusade.

William also depicts women as property, which is only worthy in the eyes of men for their immediate needs. In numerous occasions, he provides reports about women who were married and later divorced by their husbands for various reasons. Whereas there is no credible evidence to support his assertions or the reasons that the these husbands provided for divorcing their wives, William’s account portrays women as inferior and as objects to be used by men. In addition, he gives an account of a woman who was hovering from one husband to another. After divorcing Raymond, a man, who is described as a person of ability and enterprise, the Almodis continued to marry various people. This depicts women as people who are never satisfied with their sexual life or who are promiscuous or who inferior to men. For this reason, men were excited by misusing women as objects and as measure of their success as opposed to love.

At some point, William raises allegations about St Benignus (according to secular teachings). It was considered that he appeared in people’s dream, who had doubts in God, and inflicted them with suffering in addition to boxing their ears. This form of violence (saintly violence) and anger were accepted among the people since they had been committed by a saint who represented God by extension. Despite the fact that William informs his audience that the church doubted these allegations, the inclusion of this information represents the extent to which the society at that time believed in violence. Another account is given to a female cleric who reportedly wished to identify the purity of a saint by the name Aethelthryth through revealing her body. It is reported that she tugged back her cloths in such violence that she knocked down a priest, the latter of whom became a cripple henceforth.

In conclusion, it is clear from William Malmesbury account of the first crusade and Godfrey Lorraine that medieval mentality of masculinity was influenced by violence, authority, power, and dominance over women and other men. The ideal about the use of violence in the name of Christendom and the fact that men used women as a symbol of their success reinforces further this assertion. However, violent behavior and actions were accepted by men proving their authority through their prowess, might, and ability to win in battles as well as other forms of competitions. This principle is also followed by men, such as Pope Urban, who were able to use their intellect in order to influence clerics and crusaders of the just cause, in which he encouraged them to attack the Turks calling them the enemy of the church.


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