12 Fierce Quotes From Medieval Rulers That Got Our Attention

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Vote up the quotes from medieval figures that make you say, 'Dang!'

Rulers throughout history are known for making some pretty savage claims and comments. Sometimes the words attributed to them have been adapted or inflated over time, the result of (realized or unrealized) bias by the person documenting their deeds. As a result, the quotes become part of their enduring legacy.

The medieval period is full of historical figures who are legendary in actions and words alike, many of whom were kings, queens, and conquerors. We rounded up some sayings from medieval rulers that offer insight into the past. They're full of information about the historical figures in question but also reveal much about the individuals involved, the events at the time, and even the people who wrote the famous words down for posterity.

Some of the quotes are witty, others are fierce, and a few even made us chuckle. Across the board, they all made us take notice. Vote up the ones that get your attention, too.

  • Genghis Khan Proclaimed Himself To Be A 'Punishment Of God'
    Photo: Clara-Agathe NARGEOT / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Genghis Khan extended his dominance through Asia during the late 12th and early 13th centuries, laying the foundation for the largest contiguous empire in world history. As leader of the Mongols, he used cavalry forces to evoke terror, while simultaneously establishing a cohesive network of states under one rule. 

    Mongol raids brought with them massive destruction and widespread death. They were often seen as some sort of punishment from God and, according to sources, Khan was willing to make this very point himself. After taking control of Bukhara in 1220 CE, he entered a mosque and told those hiding inside:

    I am the flail of God. If you had not committed great sins, God would not have sent a punishment like me upon you. 

  • Clovis Uttered A Chilling Phrase As He Settled A Score 
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
    127 VOTES

    Clovis Uttered A Chilling Phrase As He Settled A Score 

    After the battle at Soissons in 486 CE, the victorious King of the Franks, Clovis, received a request from a local cleric to have one holy vessel spared from pillaging and destruction. Clovis, willing to give the churchman his vase, went to retrieve the vessel when one of his "impetuous, envious, and vain" men destroyed it. 

    Clovis, according to Gregory of Tours, was calm and patient in the face of insubordination but did not forget the offense. One year later, when he came upon that defiant soldier, Clovis took the man's ax and threw it on the ground. When the vase-breaker "bent a little to pick it up the king raised his hands and crushed his head with his own ax." As he killed the man, Clovis said:

    Thus, didst thou to the vase at Soissons.

  • Alfonso X Of Castile Had Some Choice Words For The Creator Of The Universe
    Photo: Matias Moreno / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
    136 VOTES

    Alfonso X Of Castile Had Some Choice Words For The Creator Of The Universe

    As king of Castile and León during the 13th century, Alfonso X later came to be known as Alfonso "The Wise" and "The Learned." The monarch was a patron of scholarship, supporting Christians, Muslims, and Jews alike. He was also a poet, interested in science, and implemented the first vernacular law code in Spain. 

    Through all of his leadership and learning, Alfonso came to realize one fundamental thing: the universe was flawed. As a result, he's been quoted as asserting:

    Had I been present at the creation, I would have given some useful hints for the better ordering of the universe.

    • Age: Dec. at 62 (1221-1284)
    • Birthplace: Toledo, Spain
  • Olga Of Kyiv Was A Master Of Deceptive Dialogue
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
    113 VOTES

    Olga Of Kyiv Was A Master Of Deceptive Dialogue

    The Drevlians (also spelled Derevlians) were a neighboring tribe to the kingdom of the Kyivan Rus. When they killed King Igor I of Kyiv in 945 CE, his wife Olga of Kyiv became the regent for their son, Sviatoslav.

    Olga wanted revenge against the Drevlians and, when they sent messengers to woo her into marrying their prince, she received them with graciousness. After telling them to wait one night for her reply, they returned the next day. Her loyal subjects promptly seized them and buried them alive.

    Next, Olga sent her own emissaries to the Drevlians with a message that they should send "their distinguished men" to negotiate with her - and they did. Those individuals were lead into a bathhouse and burned alive. In another round of messaging, Olga reportedly told the Drevlians

    I am now coming to you, so prepare great quantities of mead in the city where you killed my husband, that I may weep over his grave and hold a funeral feast for him.

    The Drevlians did as Olga instructed and, after the feast, she had her men massacre as many as 5,000 drunk Drevlians. After she returned to Kyiv, she prepared an army to completely wipe out the tribe. She besieged the city for a year, at which point she asked them

    Why do you persist in holding out? All your cities have surrendered to me and submitted tribute... but you had rather die of hunger, without submitting to leave.

    When the Drevlians responded and agreed to make peace, Olga demanded each house give her three pigeons and three sparrows as a form of tribute. She took the birds back to Kyiv, attached "a piece of sulfur bound with small pieces of cloth," and sent them back to the Drevlians with their flammable cargo. When the birds landed, they set the entire settlement on fire. As the Drevlians fled, Olga's men caught or killed everyone they encountered. 

    • Age: Dec. at 79 (890-969)
    • Birthplace: Pskov, Russia
  • Louis IX Of France Offered Back-Handed Advice To His Son
    Photo: Gabriel François Doyen / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Praised by Jean de Joinville (1225-1317) in The Life of St. Louis, King Louis IX of France was as savvy and cutthroat as he was devout. When he took ill and counseled his son about how to rule France, he offered advice. The guidance was admirable, with words of encouragement to "make yourself loved by the people."

    From the perspective of his oldest son, the comments that followed were perhaps less saint-like:

    For I would rather have a Scot come from Scotland to govern the people of this kingdom well and justly than that you should govern them ill in the sight of all the world.

    • Age: Dec. at 56 (1214-1270)
    • Birthplace: Poissy, France
  • When William of Normandy arrived on the shores of England in 1066 CE, it was after months of preparation and waiting. He and his men, some 7,000 strong, landed at Pevensey and, soon after, stood face-to-face against King Harold of England's forces at Hastings.

    In the moments before the battle began, William was said to have offered a rousing speech of encouragement to his men. He praised their courage, reminded them of their cause, and called them to action:

    May the lightning of your glory be seen and the thunders of your onset heard from east to west, and be ye the avengers of noble blood.

    According to chronicler Henry of Huntington, writing during the early 12th century, that wasn't the end of William's speech. It didn't matter, however. William's men were "boiling with unbelievable anger" and "charged forward in their lines with indescribable force against the enemy, and left the duke alone, speaking to himself."

    • Age: Dec. at 59 (1028-1087)
    • Birthplace: Château de Falaise, Falaise, France