Dhuoda of Septimania (fl. 820–843)

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Dhuoda of Septimania (fl. 820–843)

Frankish noblewoman and writer. Name variations: Dodane; Dhouda; Dhoudha. Flourished between 820 and 841; married Bernard, count of Septimania, around 824; children: two sons, including William (b. 826).

A Frankish noblewoman, Dhuoda is one of the very earliest medieval women writers known. She married Count Bernard of Septimania (in southern France) in 824 and gave birth to a son William in 826. Soon after William's birth, Bernard sent Dhuoda and her child to a castle in a remote part of his province; his reasons for this separation are unknown. When William was a small boy, his father sent him to the court of King Charles I the Bald as a pledge of Bernard's loyalty to the monarch. Around 840, Bernard returned to Dhuoda briefly, and she gave birth to another son in 841. Again, this child was taken from her by Bernard for political purposes, and it is doubtful Dhuoda ever saw either son again. Despite her husband's callous treatment, Dhuoda remained a faithful wife and dedicated herself to preserving Bernard's estates for him, perhaps more for the future benefit of her sons than for Bernard. Apparently her husband had no administrative skills and spent money freely, and it was to her credit that he retained such a large province to bequeath to William.

Dhuoda's life, as she recorded, was one of loneliness and grief. To help ease her mind after her sons were taken from her, she composed a manual of instruction for her eldest son, now about 15, living at the king's court. She understood the temptations William would face at the splendid royal court, but believed she could aid him in making the right life choices, even if she could not see him. Written between 841 and 843, the work, called the Manual of Dhuoda, is the only source of information available on her life. It detailed two behavior codes she wanted him to follow. First and most important, she wanted her son to always be a good Christian and serve God constantly in word and deed. Secondly, she wanted him to know proper behavior for a noble; to this end, she urged him to respect and show gentleness to others, even if they were below his rank, and to give generously to charitable causes.

Dhuoda justified her authority for such a work from her position as a mother, writing that, even though she was a sinful and unworthy woman, she was still his only mother and he needed to heed her admonitions. The work also clearly shows an affectionate mother who was genuinely concerned about her son's welfare, and it is these moments that make the manual a touching document. At the end, Dhuoda included a short poem she had composed and wished to have engraved on her tomb.

As a book by a lay woman, the Manual of Dhuoda stands alone in the literature of 9th-century Europe; it gives the impression of a sad, lonely woman who refuses to be embittered by the trials she has faced and who trusts in God to reward her for her suffering. Unfortunately, her manual could not serve William for long; he joined a rebellion against the king in 849, five years after his father's execution for treason, and was executed.


Amt, Emilie. Women's Lives in Medieval Europe. NY: Routledge, 1993.

LaBarge, Margaret W. Women in Medieval Life. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1986.

Laura York , Riverside, California