Women and Aristocratic Culture in the Carolingian World

Women and Aristocratic Culture in the Carolingian World

Valerie L. Garver
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 336
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Women and Aristocratic Culture in the Carolingian World
    Book Description:

    Despite the wealth of scholarship in recent decades on medieval women, we still know much less about the experiences of women in the early Middle Ages than we do about those in later centuries. In Women and Aristocratic Culture in the Carolingian World, Valerie L. Garver offers a fresh appraisal of the cultural and social history of eighth- and ninth-century women. Examining changes in women's lives and in the ways others perceived women during the early Middle Ages, she shows that lay and religious women, despite their legal and social constrictions, played integral roles in Carolingian society.

    Garver's innovative book employs an especially wide range of sources, both textual and material, which she uses to construct a more complex and nuanced impression of aristocratic women than we've seen before. She looks at the importance of female beauty and adornment; the family and the construction of identities and collective memory; education and moral exemplarity; wealth, hospitality and domestic management; textile work, and the lifecycle of elite Carolingian women.

    Her interdisciplinary approach makes deft use of canons of church councils, chronicles, charters, polyptychs, capitularies, letters, poetry, exegesis, liturgy, inventories, hagiography, memorial books, artworks, archaeological remains, and textiles. Ultimately, Women and Aristocratic Culture in the Carolingian World underlines the centrality of the Carolingian era to the reshaping of antique ideas and the development of lasting social norms.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6017-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. xv-xxii)
    (pp. 1-20)

    “For there are four reasons why men desire women: family, prudence, wealth, and beauty.”¹ Thus wrote the Carolingian cleric Jonas of Orléans in his De institutione laicali, composed in the 820s to explain to laymen how they could lead a virtuous life. On the surface Jonas’s list seems self-explanatory, a list of attributes that men doubtless have long desired in women. In fact, his choices mirror an earlier list of wifely characteristics in Isidore of Seville’s Etymologies (c. 560–636),² who in turn drew upon ancient prescriptions concerning women’s traditional roles. Since the early Christian era, prudence in women, for...

  7. Chapter One BEAUTY: Appearance and Adornment
    (pp. 21-67)

    When men and women at the Carolingian court heard or read the description of Charlemagne’s sister from the epic panegyric poem Karolus Magnus et Leo papa, composed after either Pope Leo’s visit to Paderborn in 799 or the imperial coronation in 800, they doubtless appreciated its interlocking meanings concerning female beauty.¹

    Gisela followed them in shimmering white,

    Accompanied by the band of virgins she gleams along with the golden offspring. Covered in a mallow colored cloak she shines,

    Her supple veil of purple thread has a reddish glow,

    Voice, face, hair shimmer with radiating light.

    Her white neck shines, lit...

  8. Chapter Two FAMILY: Bonds and Memory
    (pp. 68-121)

    The case of Gisela, daughter of Eberhard of Friuli and his wife Gisela, demonstrates the convergence of family bonds, land, and memory in the expectations and actions of female members of aristocratic families in the ninth century. Her name recalled both her mother and her mother’s aunt, Gisela, the abbess of Chelles and sister of Charlemagne, for the youngest Gisela was the granddaughter of Louis the Pious and his second wife, Judith. Thus, through her name, Gisela bore the memory of her mother’s illustrious family, but she also preserved the memory of her father and his family. Gisela entered the...

  9. Chapter Three PRUDENCE: Instruction and Moral Exemplarity
    (pp. 122-169)

    Dhuoda’s handbook for her son William, the Liber manualis, reveals to modern readers a learned and practical mother who imparted pragmatic wisdom as well as religious teachings to her son in written form:

    I have perceived that most women rejoice that they are with their children in this world, but I, Dhuoda, observe that I am far away from you, my son William. For this reason I am troubled and full of longing to be useful to you. So I am happy to send you this little book written down in my name, that you may read it as a...

  10. Chapter Four WEALTH: Hospitality and Domestic Management
    (pp. 170-223)

    Walter, hero of the ninth-century poem Waltharius, had been a hostage of the Huns since his childhood. He grew up to become one of their great and trusted warriors. After returning one day victorious from battle, he went to Hildegund, the daughter of a Frankish king and a fellow hostage to whom he had been betrothed before being given to the Huns.

    For [Walter] was weary, and sought out the royal chamber.

    And he found Hildegund there sitting by herself.

    He first embraced and kissed her sweetly, then he said,

    “Bring drink here quickly; I am gasping with exhaustion.”


  11. Chapter Five TEXTILE WORK
    (pp. 224-268)

    A passage from the Vita Herlinde et Renulae suggests the kinds of textile skills that early medieval women of high social status learned. When the future abbesses of Aldeneik received childhood instruction at Valenciennes, they learned both basic tasks such as spinning and weaving and highly specialized ones such as sewing with gold.

    In a similar manner, [Herlindis and Renula] were instructed very properly in every kind of work, which was customarily made by the hands of women with various methods and diverse in composition, namely in spinning and weaving, designing and sewing, in gold and in silk with added...

  12. CONCLUSION: The Lifecycle of Aristocratic Women
    (pp. 269-282)

    In his De universo of 842–46, Raban Maur discussed women throughout his explanation of the ages of man, and as the following passage indicates, his beliefs accord with the language of distrust surrounding women, and bear little relationship to the female social practices discussed in the chapters of this book.

    Man and wife, soul and flesh, the work of begetting a son done by both, as in Exodus: Let him serve you with his wife and sons. Likewise man and wife, devil and the city of Babylon, that is, the meeting of all evils. For woman is hindered from...

    (pp. 283-300)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 301-310)