Nuns on Parade: Memorializing Women in Karolus Magnus et Leo Papa

Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


Karolus Magnus et Leo Papa in its entirety (such as we have it) celebrates Charlemagne as father of the expanding Frankish realm, soon to be the new seat of the empire, and protector of both realm and Church. Among other things, it provides a literary record of Pope Leo’s famous visit to Paderborn in 799, recounting the unfortunate blinding and mutilation of the pontiff and Charlemagne’s swift and sure response to that incident. Although many scholars focus primarily on the poem’s presentation of that event, the modern title is inaccurate in its suggestive emphasis. As Dieter Schaller has demonstrated, the poem that survives is a fragment of a larger whole that recounted Charlemagne’s ascendency.1 The poet refers to two previous books or sections, which do not appear in this manuscript; the section of the poem that does remain trails off after 536 lines, clearly unfinished. It would seem that the first two sections offer background on Charlemagne’s rise and that the poem would reach its culmination in the coronation of Charlemagne. It is, therefore, a poem of interest to historians. Its use of classical sources, themes, and forms makes it interesting to literary historians as well. The poem, which I will call Karolus Magnus for simplicity’s sake, is even more attractive to the scholarly imagination because of its eccentricity: it is anomalous in genre and its mix of generic elements, its use of sources, and also its somewhat unusual selection of images.


Ninth Century Royal Family Female Authorship Male Author Medieval Literature 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Dieter Schaller, “Das Aachener Epos für Karl den Kaiser,” in Frühmittelalterliche Studien 10 (1976): 134–68.Google Scholar
  2. 6.
    Janet Nelson, “Charlemagne—Pater Optimus?” in Courts, Elites, and Gendered Power in the Early Middle Ages (Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2007), ch. XV, p. 279.Google Scholar
  3. 7.
    For a more detailed discussion of Theodulf’s treatment of Liutgard, see Helene Scheck, Reform and Resistance: Formations of Female Subjectivity in Early Medieval Ecclesiastical Culture (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2008), 35–36. Theodulf ’s poem appears as “On the Court” in Poetry of the Carolingian Renaissance, ed. and trans. Peter Godman (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1985); the relevant passage can be found on pages 154–55.Google Scholar
  4. 8.
    Einhard, Einhardi Vita Karoli Magni, ed. O. Holder-Egger, MGH. Scriptores rerum Germanicarum in usum scholarum (Hanover, Germany: Hahn, 1911), 22.Google Scholar
  5. The most recent translation is provided in Two Lives of Charlemagne, trans. and ed. David Ganz (New York: Penguin, 2008), 31.Google Scholar
  6. 9.
    Lines 182–84. This and all subsequent quotations are from Karolus Magnus et Leo Papa, ed. Ernst Dümmler, MGH Poetae Latini Aevi Carolini 1 (1881; repr., Zurich: Weidmann, 1964), 366–79.Google Scholar
  7. 11.
    The poem presents all children alive in 800 except Louis. See Karl Ferdinand Werner, “Die Nachkommen Karls des Grossen,” in Karl der Grosse: Lebenswerk und Nachleben, vol. 4, ed. Wolfgang Braunfels (Düsseldorf: Verlag Schwann, 1967), 403–79, at 442–43.Google Scholar
  8. 14.
    Angilbert, “To Charlemagne and His Entourage,” in Poetry of the Carolingian Renaissance, ed. and trans. Peter Godman (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1985), 114–15, lines 47– 49. For some discussion of the representation of women in this poem, see Scheck, Reform and Resistance, 39–40.Google Scholar
  9. 16.
    Peter Godman, “The Poetic Hunt,” in Charlemagne’s Heir: New Perspectives on the Reign of Louis the Pious (814–840), ed. Peter Godman and Roger Collins (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990), 578.Google Scholar
  10. 17.
    Nevertheless, in “Charlemagne’s Daughters,” Anton Scharer reads women in Carolingian poetry, including Karolus Magnus and the other poems mentioned here, to enrich our understanding of women at Charlemagne’s court and to further Janet Nelson’s view that Charlemagne’s daughters played a significant political role. His essay appears in Early Medieval Studies in Memory of Patrick Wormald, ed. Stephen Baxter, Catherine E. Karkov, Janet L. Nelson, and David Pelteret (Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2009), 269–82.Google Scholar
  11. 24.
    On the Aachen library, see Bernhard Bischoff, “The Court Library of Charlemagne,” in Manuscripts and Libraries in the Age of Charlemagne, trans. and ed. Michael Gorman (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 56–75. Originally published as “Die Hofbibliothek Karls des Großen,” in Karl der Große: Lebenswerk und Nachleben, II: Das geistige Leben (Düsseldorf: Schwann, 1965), 42–62. Most scholars assume, as Bischoff does, that Karolus Magnus was composed at court because of the wealth of source materials it draws on. Though an accurate reconstruction of Charlemagne’s library is impossible, the evidence we do have suggests a library surpassing all others in western Europe at the time.Google Scholar
  12. 26.
    John Contreni, “The Carolingian Renaissance: Education and Literary Culture,” in vol. 2 of The New Cambridge Medieval History, ed. Rosamond McKitterick (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 719 [709–57].Google Scholar
  13. 27.
    Bernhard Bischoff, “Die Kölner Nonnenhandschriften und das Skriptorium von Chelles,” in Mittelalterliche Studien: Ausgewählte Aufsätze zur Schriftkunde und Literaturgeschichte (Stuttgart: Anton Hiersemann, 1966), 1:16–34.Google Scholar
  14. 28.
    See especially Janet Nelson, “Gender and Genre in Women Historians of the Early Middle Ages,” in The Frankish World: 750–900 (London: Hambledon, 1996), 183–97;Google Scholar
  15. Rosamond McKitterick, “Women and Literacy in the Early Middle Ages,” in Books, Scribes and Learning in the Frankish Kingdoms, 6th–9th Centuries (Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 1994), XIII, and, more recently, History and Memory in the Carolingian World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), esp. 9–13 and 125.Google Scholar
  16. 30.
    Mary J. Carruthers, The Book of Memory: A Study of Memory in Medieval Culture, 2nd ed., Cambridge Studies in Medieval Literature 70 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 226 and 21. See also the section “Memory and Identity” in the introduction to this volume.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. 37.
    Hilda Graef, Mary: A History of Doctrine and Devotion, vol. 1, From the Beginnings to the Eve of the Reformation (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1963), esp. 101–81.Google Scholar
  18. 38.
    This is not to say that men did not read and value the poem. According to Michael Lapidge, Venantius’s entire corpus was available at the monastery at York from which Alcuin hailed. Moreover, De virginitate is the only one of Venantius’s poems certainly known to Bede, suggesting that it may have circulated separately in eighth-century Northumbria. Michael Lapidge, Anglo-Latin Literature, 600–899, 2 vols. (London: Hambledon Press, 1996), 1.404–407.Google Scholar
  19. 42.
    For nuanced readings of the status and role of Charlemagne’s daughters at court, see Janet Nelson, “Women at the Court of Charlemagne: A Case of Monstrous Regiment?” in Medieval Queenship, ed. John Carmi Parsons (London: St. Martin’s, 1993), 43–61; and Scharer, “Charlemagne’s Daughters.”Google Scholar
  20. 50.
    Janet Nelson, “Percept ions du Pouvoir chez les Historiennes du Haut Moyen Age,” in Les Femmes au Moyen Age, ed. M. Rouche (Maubeuge, France: Maulde et Renou-Sambre, 1990), 77–87, and “Gender and Genre.”Google Scholar
  21. 51.
    Jean-Pierre Laporte, Le trésor des saints de Chelles (Chelles, France: Société archéologique et historique de Chelles, 1988), esp. 49–160.Google Scholar
  22. 57.
    On the poet’s use of Corippus, see Christina Ratkowitsch’s impressive study, Karolus Magnus—alter Aeneas, alter Martinus, alter Iustinus: Zu Intention und Datierung des “Aachener Karlsepos” (Vienna: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1997).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Margaret Cotter-Lynch and Brad Herzog 2012

Authors and Affiliations

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations