"His thirst for blood was so unprecedented in recent times that those who are themselves thought cruel seem milder when slaughtering animals than he did when killing people. For he did not establish his victims' guilt of a crime and then dispatch them cleanly with the sword, which is a routine occurrence. Rather he butchered them and inflicted ghastly tortures. When he forced his prisoners, whoever they were, to pay ransoms, he had them strung up by their testicles--sometimes he did this with his own hands--and often the weight was too much to bear, so that their bodies ruptured and the viscera spilled out. Others were suspended by their thumbs or private parts, and a stone was attached to their shoulders. He would pace underneath them and, when he could not extort from them what was not in fact theirs to give, he used to cudgel their bodies over and over again until they promised what he wanted or died from the punishment. No one knows the number of those who perished in his gaols from starvation, disease, and physical abuse as they languished in his chains.
This vivid description was written in 1115 by Guibert of Nogent, the abbot of a small monastery near Laon in northeastern France. It concerned a prominent local lord named Thomas of Marle. The passage quoted does not exhaust Guibert's thoughts on Thomas: there is more in the same vein, a mixture of righteous indignation and wide-eyed fascination, which veers between the grimly realistic and the anatomically preposterous. From the point of view of the First Crusade, the description is of considerable interest because of the careers of the two men involved. Guibert was the author of a long chronicle of the crusade. The small number of surviving manuscripts suggests that it was less popular than some of the other histories produced by contemporaries, but it is nevertheless Middle Ages. Violence was everywhere, impinging on many aspects of daily life. Legal disputes, for... Continue Reading