Thursday, March 16, 2023

The Daughters of Charlemagne

Charlemagne believed strongly in education for all his children; his daughters learned to read and write as well as his sons. He was also close to his children, and kept them close to him, bringing the family with him on travels both military and diplomatic. None of them married, although he did try to arrange a marriage or two. Some did have children, however, after finding relationships of their own.

Some did not live long, however. His first daughter by Hildegarde was Adalhaid, born in 774 while the family was on campaign in Italy. She was sent back home, but died along the way. A final child, named for her mother, was born in 782 but lived only a few months.

Rotrude was born in 775. She was tutored by Alcuin, who called her Columba ("dove") in letters. Marriage to Byzantine Emperor Constantine VI was arranged when she was six and he was ten, but his mother Irene eventually ended the engagement when she decided the Empire should side with the Lombards, whom Charlemagne had conquered. Rotrude had an affair with Charlemagne's retainer Rorgo of Rennes, Count of Maine and of Rennes (who himself was married several times). She had a son by him, Louis (800 - 867) who became Abbot of Saint-Denis and archchancellor under his namesake and uncle, Louis the Pious, emperor after Charlemagne. Rotrude became a nun at Chelles, where she passed away in 810.

Another daughter of Hildegarde was Bertha (c.779 - 826). Offa of Mercia wanted to marry his son Ecgfrith to her, an offer which Charlemagne felt was an insult. As a result, he broke off diplomatic relations with Mercia and forbade English ships from his ports. Bertha had a long-term relationship with a secretary named Angilbert. They had three children, one of whom was Nithard.

The third daughter of Charlemagne and Hildegarde who survived to adulthood was Gisela (c.781 - c.808). We know she was baptized at the Basilica of Sant'Ambrogio by the Archbishop of Milan while the family was in Italy. Her tutor Alcuin, who in his writings remarked that she had an interest in astronomy, nicknamed her "Delia." She never married, and some sources say she died in 808, while others say she was sent to a convent when her brother Louis came to power. The latter may just be an assumption based on Louis sending away as many potential sources of claimants to the throne as possible.

Next we will look at the children from Charlemagne's other wives.

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