Dhuoda

(c. 803-c. 845)
   Carolingian noble and wife of the powerful Bernard of Septimania, Dhuoda is best known for the Liber manualis (Handbook), which she wrote for her son William. The text is the only known work by a female Carolingian author and is an example of the mirror for princes, a literary genre defining the proper duties of the nobility. The Liber calls on William to do his duty to God and his father and country. It also reveals much about the character and desires of Dhuoda, as well as her deep longing for her son, who had been separated from her by her husband. Long discounted for its unconventional Latin, Dhuoda's work is now generally recognized for its emotional and spiritual content and is a held to be a great contribution to medieval women's literature.
   Little is known of Dhuoda's life, other than what she reveals in the Liber, but other things can be discerned about her life from her husband's career. She was born, probably in 803, into the higher nobility, but the exact location is uncertain. It is generally assumed that she was born in the northern part of the Carolingian Empire, an area where her name is common. It is possible, however, that she was born in the south, where her husband later sent her to oversee his estates, something he would have been more likely to do if she was from the south and had relatives in the region, which would have increased her chances for success in administering her husband's possessions. She married Bernard, as she tells us, on June 29, 824, at the imperial palace at Aachen. Her husband was a high-ranking noble who was closely related to the Carolingian family and who was an important ally of the emperor Louis the Pious. Bernard was sent to oversee the Spanish March, a border region between Islamic Spain and Christian Europe. Dhuoda accompanied her husband on his travels until the birth of their first son, William, on November 29, 826. She was then sent to Uzès, where she remained apart from her husband and her son for most of the rest of their married life.
   Dhuoda's stay in Uzès was lonely and troubled. Bernard was generally away, and was the focus of the rumor that he was involved in an affair with the emperor's wife, Judith. Although the rumor remained unsubstantiated, Dhuoda surely heard of it and was surely bothered by it. She was surely also discomfited by the civil wars of the 830s between the emperor and his sons, which also involved her husband. He did, however, survive the contest and rumors of the 820s and 830s, and he visited her in Uzès shortly after the death of Louis the Pious in 840. The visit was long enough to bring about the birth of their second child, Bernard, on March 22, 841. Her husband's participation on the losing side in the Battle of Fontenoy on June 25, 841, brought further heartbreak for Dhuoda. Her son William was sent to Charles the Bald as a hostage to secure Bernard's loyalty after the battle. Shortly thereafter, her other son, not yet baptized, was sent to her husband's side in Aquitaine.
   In late 841, without either of her two beloved sons with her and abandoned by her husband yet again, Dhuoda began work on her Liber, which she completed on February 2, 843. She may have faced even more unhappiness after completion of the book. Her husband was executed by Charles the Bald for treason in 844, and her son William, joining with the rebels to avenge his father, was captured and executed in 849. It is likely that Dhuoda witnessed her husband's execution, but less likely that she lived to see her son's death, since she probably died within a year or so of the completion of the book for William. She mentions her illnesses throughout the book, and she left detailed information for her funeral, including the epitaph for her tomb.
   Dhuoda's surviving son, Bernard, may have been an influential figure in the history of later Aquitaine as well as the father of the founder of the great monastery of Cluny. Although she had a most illustrious descendant, Dhuoda's own claim to fame is her Liber manualis, translated as Handbook for William, a work of seventy-three chapters plus introduction, prologue, and epitaph (Thiébaux 1994, 161-162). The work was intended as a guidebook for William at the royal court of Charles the Bald; it was clearly influenced in style and content by the Bible, the works of the church fathers, various Christian writers and poets (e.g., Venantius Fortunatus and Isidore of Seville), Roman grammarians, and the Roman poet Ovid. It is a deeply personal work that reveals Dhuoda's loneliness and longing and love for her son; the love is shown in the poem in the prologue, "Dhuoda greets her beloved son William. Read." She hoped that her book would be one that William turned to often for advice and as a means to maintain a connection with his mother. Dhuoda outlined his duties as a prince, particularly his obligations to his lord. In a possible reference to the turmoil of the 830s, she tells her son not to show disloyalty to his lord. She also reminded him of his spiritual responsibilities and encouraged him to love God, pray, and accept the gifts of the Holy Spirit. For Dhuoda her son's worldly and spiritual duties were closely intertwined. Indeed, she saw a heavenly reward for her son if he fulfilled his duties as a virtuous prince in this world. She also stressed family obligations. William should honor and obey his father and look after his younger brother. Dhuoda also asks her son to pray for her and to honor the financial obligations she has incurred as a result of maintaining her husband's estates. With this most human and humble request, Dhuoda closes her book, and, despite the hardships of her life, seems at peace with the world and ready to find her heavenly reward.
   See also
   Bibliography
 ♦ Dhuoda. Handbook for William: A Carolingian Woman's Counsel for Her Son. Ed. and trans. Carol Neel. Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1999.
 ♦ Dronke, Peter. Women Writers of the Middle Ages: A Critical Study of Texts from Perpetua (d. 203) to Marguerite Porete (d. 1310). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984.
 ♦ Nelson, Janet. Charles the Bald. London: Longman, 1992.
 ♦ Riché, Pierre. The Carolingians: A Family Who Forged Europe. Trans. Michael Idomir Allen. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993.
 ♦ Scholz, Bernhard Walter, trans. Carolingian Chronicles: Royal Frankish Annals and Nithard's History. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1972.
 ♦ Thiébaux, Marcelle, ed. and trans. The Writings of Medieval Women: An Anthology. 2d ed. New York: Garland, 1994.
 ♦ Wemple, Suzanne. Women in Frankish Society: Marriage and the Cloister, 500 to 900. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1981.

Encyclopedia of Barbarian Europe. 2014.

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