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Page from the Liber Manualis (end of Book 10, beginning of Book 11)

Dhuoda (fl. AD 824–844) was a Frankish writer, as well as Duchess consort of Septimania and Countess consort of Barcelona. She was the author of the Liber Manualis, a handbook written for her son.[1]



Dhuoda, author of the Liber Manualis, was a significant Carolingian woman and writer from a powerful Austrasian family in Aachen.[2] It has been speculated that her unusual name is an attempt to render the Basque name Toda, and that she may have been daughter of Sancho I, Duke of Gascony. She married Bernard, Duke of Septimania, at the Carolingian capital of Aachen in 824.[3] The specific date of the wedding is contested. Some believe that it fell on the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, which was the 24th of June, while others believe the date to be the 29th of June.[2] Her husband Bernard was the son of William of Gellone, Duke of Toulouse and Charlemagne's cousin,[2] who was later named the patron saint of knights.[4] Bernard was a Count of Barcelona and during their marriage he was advisor to Emperor Louis and protector of the Empress Judith as well as being appointed to the office of chamberlain.[2] There were reports of Judith and Bernard being guilty of adultery, sorcery, and attempted assassination.[2] When Bernard broke his alliance with Charles the Bald, he took control of Toulouse but was later captured and decapitated.[2]

Their first son, William of Septimania, was born on 29 November 826, and the second, Bernard Plantapilosa, on 22 March 841.[5] William was taken from his parents and put under the care of Charles the Bald when he was fourteen years old.[6] While he was away, Dhouda began to write her handbook for him.[3] Her youngest son was also taken from her, although he was taken by his father Bernard and the Bishop of Uzes in order to keep him safe. [3] During this time, Bernard sent Dhuoda to live in Uzes while he was at court in Aachen.[2] Dhuoda herself mentions very little of him during this time. According to Dhuoda, she spent this time struggling to maintain her husband's authority in their land and on the border of Francia. She fulfilled the administrative and military responsibilities of Frankish Septimania on Louis the Pious' behalf.[3] One scholar has suggested that a daughter was born in 844, as one chronicler reports the marriage of William's sister.[7]

Although Dhuoda was married to the most prominent Frankish magistrate at the time, she is not mentioned in any contemporary works from that period except her own.[3] What little we know of her life comes from her book, the Liber Manualis, or Manual, which Dhuoda wrote for her elder son, William, between 841 and 843.[3] It is known to have been sent to William in 843.[3] It was a work written when Dhuoda had been separated from both her husband and her two sons, the victim of the conflicting ambitions of Charlemagne's descendants. William had been sent as a hostage to the court of Charles the Bald in order to secure the loyalty of his father; Bernard was taken from her before his baptism and was sent to Aquitaine in order to keep him safe.[5]

The context of France at the time


The context of the time was a long period of warfare among the Frankish nobility.

Emperor Louis the Pious, son of Charlemagne, died in 840. His three sons (Lothair, Louis the German, and Charles the Bald) fought over the partition of the empire. Eventually they divided Europe at the Treaty of Verdun. Louis would hold onto authority over the eastern Franks, Charles established himself in the west, and Lothar received territory that cut north to south from the Low Countries to Italy.[3]

Dhuoda wrote that the Carolingian house's enmity had started over ten years before when the emperor's sons started to rebel against their father's authority. The struggle for power embroiled the nobility with the heirs, including her husband, who held a great amount of power as the ruler of Septimania. Because of this power, Bernard's son, William, was held hostage at the court of Charles the Bald, while their other son Bernard lived with his father in Aquitaine.[3]

Eventually politics caught up with her family. Her husband, Bernard, was condemned for rebellion and executed in 844. Of her sons, William was killed in 850, Bernard in 885.[5]

Liber Manualis


The Liber Manualis is arguably what Dhuoda is most well known for. This hand book consists of seventy-three chapters as well as an introduction, invocation, and prologue.[5] The book is full of practical moral directives aimed to help guide her sons through life. It is an invaluable document both for the general history of the Frankish era, but also for the history of education and the standards of education which could be attained by women even within the prescriptive bounds of early medieval society. It contains numerous quotations from and allusions to the Bible, and some references to secular writers, though some of the references are incorrect and the Latin is not overly polished.[citation needed]

Dhuoda wrote the Liber Manualis while she was fearing for the lives of herself and her children.[3] Christian devotion was an important part in the lives of Frankish nobility and was the main theme throughout the handbook.[3] Although the book's title doesn’t contain the name of her son, William, it is made clear in the introduction and conclusion of the book that the intended audience was that of her oldest son.[3] Some historians also believe that in addition to her son Dhuoda intended to have the extended audience of his peers at court including Charles the Bald.[8] In addition to this she also encouraged William to share what he learned from the handbook with his younger brother when he is older.[3]

The Liber Manualis is divided by the 1975 editor into the following books

  • Prologue – the author and her reasons for writing
  • Book 1 – loving God
  • Book 2 – the mystery of Trinity
  • Book 3 – social order and secular success
  • Book 4 – moral life
  • Book 5 – God's chastisement of those he loves
  • Book 6 – the usefulness of the beatitudes
  • Book 7 – the deaths of the body and of the spirit
  • Book 8 – how to pray and for whom
  • Book 9 – interpreting numbers
  • Book 10 – summary of the work's major points, more on the author
  • Book 11 – the usefulness of reciting the Psalms[3]

The work is known from a manuscript of the seventeenth century in the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, and from fragments of a manuscript of the Carolingian epoch, found in the library of Nîmes.[5]


Street in Barcelona named in her honour

Dhuoda's book is the only one known to be written by a woman to survive from the Carolingian period.[9] Her work is important in that it offers insight into the education of women, the raising of children, the order of society, the importance of fathers, and how Christianity impacted the lives of the Frankish nobility.[citation needed]

Having the Liber Manualis provides one of our only looks into what an educated woman from this time would know. Dhuodas handbook showed that she was not only literate but also understood numerical learning.[10] In addition to being a guide for William Dhuoda gave examples of her knowledge on Christian texts like the bible as well as her knowledge of the Latin language.[10]

Pierre Riché, the 1975 French translator of Dhuoda's work, said that Dhuoda's intellectual background was representative of the education that was offered to women during the reign of Charlemagne and Louis the Pious.[3]

Dhuoda stresses often the importance of obeying fathers, even above kings. The Frankish society was extremely patriarchal. She says: "Now I must do my best to guide you in how you should fear, love, and be faithful to your lord and father, Bernard, in all things, both when you are with him and when you are apart from him." (Book 3)[3]

Dhuoda often references works by thinkers including Alcuin of York, Gregory of Tours, and Augustine of Hippo, among many others.[3]

Dhuoda's work was not widely studied until 1975 when Pierre Riché translated the text in French in 1975 and it was available for wider distribution.[citation needed]

Duoda is the name given to the Duoda Women’s Research Centre or Centre for Research on Women at the University of Barcelona, Spain[11]


  • You will find in it [the handbook] a mirror in which you can without hesitation contemplate the health of your soul, so that you may be pleasing not only in this world, but to him who formed you out of dust. (Prologue)[3]
  • Among the human race, to attain perfection requires the application of great and constant effort. We must apply to various evils the remedies that are their antidotes. (Book 4)[3]
  • We know that poverty and want are found not only among the least of men but also frequently, for many reasons, among the great, So it is that a rich man too may be in need. Why? Because his soul is wretchedly needy. And then there is the poor man who gathers riches with great ease. Or the rich man who envies the poor man, or the poor man who wishes to become rich, just as an unlettered man wishing to become learned may desire this completely but never accomplish it. (Book 4)[3]
  • Pray for the past, if you have been neglectful, that you may finally forget this; for present evils, that you may always escape them; for the future, that you may beware those evils and that they not continue to pursue you there. (Book 8)[3]
  • Because the recitation of the Psalms has such and so many powers, my son William, I urge and direct that you recite them constantly, for yourself, for your father, for all the living, for those persons who have stood lovingly by you, for all the faithful who are dead, and for those whose commemoration is written down here or who you command be added. And do not hesitate to recite the Psalms that you choose for the remedy of my soul, so that when my last day and the end of my life come for me, I may be found worthy to be raised up to heaven on the right with those good folk whose actions have been worthy, not on the left with the impious. Return frequently to this little book. Farewell, noble boy, and always be strong in Christ. (Book 11)[3]


  1. ^ Cherewatuk, Karen. "Speculum Matris: Duoda’s Manual." Florilegium 10 (1988–91): 49–64. http://gilles.maillet.free.fr/histoire/pdf/dhuoda.pdf
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Riche, Pierre. The Carolingians A Family Who Forged Europe. University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v Dhuoda. Handbook for William: A Carolingian Woman's Counsel for Her Son. Translated by Carol Neel. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1991.
  4. ^ McKitterick, Rosamond. 1989. The Carolingians and the Written Word. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  5. ^ a b c d e Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Dhuoda" . Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  6. ^ Garver, Valerie L. Old Age and Women in the Carolingian World. Old Age in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance : Interdisciplinary Approaches to a Neglected Topic /. Vol. 2. Berlin ; New York : Walter de Gruyter, 2007.
  7. ^ Gies, Frances and Joseph. Marriage and the Family in the Middle Ages, p. 80 (Harper & Row, 1987) ISBN 0-06-015791-7
  8. ^ Stone, Rachel. “Political Culture and the Changing Role of Countesses 750-1050”
  9. ^ Claussen, M. A. “Fathers of Power and Mothers of Authority: Dhuoda and the Liber Manualis.” French Historical Studies19, no. 3 (1996)
  10. ^ a b Contreni, John J. Learning and Culture in Carolingian Europe. Variorum Collected Studies 974.  Farnham Surrey: Ashgate Publishing, 2011.
  11. ^ It is explained in the welcome page on their site <"Duoda - Centre de Recerca de Dones. Universitat de Barcelona - Parc Científic de Barcelona". Archived from the original on 29 September 2010. Retrieved 29 September 2010.>



The Liber manualis (full title: Liber manualis Dhuodane quem ad filium suum transmisit Wilhelmum) has been edited and translated:

  • Thiebaux, Marcelle (ed. and tr.). Dhuoda. Handbook for her warrior son. Cambridge Medieval Classics 8. Cambridge, 1998. (English translation)
  • Riché, Pierre (ed.), Bernard de Vregille and Claude Mondésert (trs.), Dhuoda: Manuel pour mon Fils. Sources Chrétiennes 225. Paris, 1975.(French translation)
  • Bondurand, Édouard (ed. and tr.). Le Manuel de Dhuoda. Paris: Picard, 1887. French translation. PDF of reprint available from Gallica
  • Mabillon, Jacques (ed.). PL 106.109–118. Partial edition, available from Documenta Catholica Omnia
  • Neel, Carol (tr.). Handbook for William. A Carolingian woman’s counsel for her son. Regents Studies in Medieval Culture. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1991.
  • Thiebaux, Marcelle (tr.). The Writings of Medieval Women. New York, 1987. 65–79. Selective translation into English.

A selection of secondary literature in English and French:

  • Cherewatuk, Karen. "Speculum Matris: Duoda’s Manual." Florilegium 10 (1988–91): 49–64. <http://gilles.maillet.free.fr/histoire/pdf/dhuoda.pdf>
  • Claussen, Martin A. "God and Man in Dhuoda’s Liber Manualis." SCH 27 (1990): 43–52.
  • Claussen, Martin A. "Fathers of Power and Mothers of Authority: Dhuoda and the Liber Manualis". French Historical Studies 19 (1996): 785–809.
  • Dronke, Peter. Women Writers of the Middle Ages. Cambridge, 1984.
  • Durrens, Janine. Dhuoda, duchesse de Septimanie. Clairsud, 2003.
  • Godard, Jocelyne. Dhuoda. La Carolingienne. Le Sémaphore, 1997.
  • Marchand, James. "The Frankish Mother: Dhuoda." In Medieval Woman Writers, ed. Katharina M. Wilson. Athens, 1984. 1–29. Includes selective translation of the Liber Manualis.
  • Mayeski, Marie Anne. "A Troublesome Puppy: Dhuoda of Septimania." In Women: Models of Liberation. Sheed & Ward, 1988.
  • Mayeski, Marie Anne. "Mother's Psalter: Psalms in the Moral Instruction of Dhuoda of Septimania." In The Place of the Psalms in the Intellectual Culture of the Middle Ages. ed. Nancy van Deusen. State University of New York Press, 1999.
  • Mayeski, Marie Anne. Dhuoda: Ninth Century Mother and Theologian. University of Scranton Press, 1995.
  • Nelson, Janet L. "Dhuoda." In Lay Intellectuals in the Carolingian World, ed. Patrick Wormald and Janet L. Nelson. Cambridge, 2007. 106–120.
  • Stofferahn, Steven A. "The many faces in Dhuoda's mirror: The Liber Manualis and a century of scholarship." Magistra. A journal of women's spirituality in history 4.2 (Winter 1998): 89–134.