… or …
… is not a life of pleasure in the Dark Ages.
This post will discuss what would be your destiny if your father was lucky enough to stay… king and alive!
Let say that your mother has had at one point the bright idea to give a son, a living son to her lord and master. (Feminism in those days was likely to be designating the way women lived. Do not entertain the notion of being equal). Your father or failing him if he is dead, your guardians have the right of Life or Death over your head; so you better behave yourself.
Your father is alive and the King. Your mother is either a consort of similar rank. Maternal grandfather is a king. More excatly was a king as the death rate implies he is likely to be dead. If your mother is not royal, she may be a concubine. If she has given birth to a son, her level gets higher at court. Sons are seldom bastards in the early days of recently converted Barbarian Kings. She may not be of royal rank, but your besotted father has wedded her following the guidance of his bishops. Regardless of the method, your mother is Queen. If Gramps was king himself, the higher the chances of yourself marrying a King or the King-to-be.
Father is king; brother (brothers?) is the Crown Prince. Where does it lead you? Bearing in mind you survived infancy and all the infectious conditions which are prone to shorten drastically your life in a time where hygienic medicine is roughly drinking small beer rather than water as alcohol is healthier for you (it kills the germs swimming in the water pulled from the Royal Wells)?
You survive. You have so much survived you are now nubile. Which means that regardless of the age you had when you started have periods, you can have children. Yes, the word paedophilia could come to mind. But these are the days where society sees no wrong in the bedding of the twelve-years old to a thirty-something man because he is king and marries her. With the Church’s blessings. As long as every party is satisfied, all is fine. He is willing; her parents are willing. She would not dream opposing her parents.
If she does and has understanding parents: she will end up in a convent. God’s calling is accepted by the Church. Only God. No other human love. Or the wish not to be married. It is marriage or nunnery.
Tn the Dark Ages/Barbarian Times/Migrations Era, people marry young. That is for the lucky low classes. The higher your family is in the hierarchy, the more complicated thus the longer planned is your marriage. hich means you could have been betrothed while sleeping in your cradle and none the wiser. If your father is an artisan or a simple noble, you may marry quite old about 15. If you are the sole heir of your father (thus giving a would-be groom means to claim your father’s kingdom) it mat take longer. Especially if your guardian is the uncle who killed in one go your parents. Chlothildis (we shall meet her in part 2) got married despite being an Old Maid at 20. Which was a very old age for a woman to marry.
A few women got married for the first time in their 20s. Generally, it was due to family difficulties. On par with the unpleasant guardian-uncle. Or aunt.
Why end up in a convent?
God calls you. Many women will feel called. A good few many hear a call as to avoid a fate worse. The groom from Hell: you are his fifth wife! He has an unsavoury reputation! Yes, even for those days, some men however kingly were held in disrepute.
God has not called you but your father, brothers, uncles thinnk He should and will once He is formally introduced to you. Within the safe walls of a nunnery. Because they think that God will overlook their own numerous and slightly bloody peccadilloes. They barter you with Him. Like they would with the neighbouring kingdom.
Or because your father has committed a few acts the Church does not approve of – at all -(like killing a few people) or because he wants God to grant him victory on his ennemies. God being nice has obliged and willy-nilly you end up in a church-house, regardless you being a one year-old. Oswiu of Bernicia famously did that.
Or because it is the ‘in’ thing to do. All the royal dynasties of the time count at least one royal abbess, one founding figure of a major monastery. In Frankia, 550 AD, there are no schools, no collegues, no establishments where your daughters can go safely aside their paternal home. A royal nunnery will give the girls a touch of learning : the Gospels , a smattering of comput(calculus) and the possibility to make friends (if said friends have brothers who are not yet betrothed yet wealthy and not squinting, limping etc, the better). A royal nunnery run by the King’s paternal aunt or step-mother will make sure you know your letters, can write, read etc. Some princesses are highly educated for the times. Your husband (some couples will be happy) may not be able to write; he will rely on you to make sure his will is properly expressed and no lies are told to him from the scrolls sent to him from your native land (that is if he trusts you. Not a given…)
If you have a physical defect which may be short eye-sight, a squint, a port-wine stain, a limp or you happen to be an uncommonly ugly baby… convent life is for you.
Like it was for Saint Odile/Odilia/Ottilia who upon been born blind, ended up behind closed doors. I suggest the read of the Legenda Aurea, the Golden Legend of (shall we dare to say) strongly edited, verging toward the miraculous, biographies of Saints. As Wikipedia says, it is most interesting of the student of medieval values. And bias.
Odile, born to a Duke and who, Holy Miracle, recovered her sight after her baptism lived in a convent and ended ,as up today, as Alsace Saint Patron.
Alsace was part of the Austrasian Frankish Realm. Her male relatives seem to have been good as playing loyal, not so loyal allies.
Here is her story without the hagiography:
Born in 660 AD reputedly blind, she is baptized. Whether she is blind or not, she ends up in a convent. Her father later reconciles with her and will endow repeatedly her monastery. Like her brother(s). She dies around 720 AD, a respected church woman and a model to the Rhenan female aristocracy.
Ottilia’s father answers to Ethicon-Adalric. He is the mythological founding father of the Hasburg dynasty, giving it the stamp of the oldest ruling Royal family. Etichon numbers, it seems, Chlothar the Great or the Cruel depending on which side you see him, as his great-grandfather. Chlothar being Chlodowec’s youngest son, you understand the importance of Etichon. In a time where bloodlines were essential, where bastards like Charles the Hammer were eager to prove that, somewhere in their blood, some genes were truly dynastic-sensitive; to claim (to be able to claim) that your family was related to the first Barbarian family who immediately converted to the Roman reading of the Scriptures was a step closer to Kingship.
Was Ottilia blind? Nobody knows. Beside, she recovered sight upon baptism curiously by an Irish Bishop?/monk? Erhard (the detail is interesting as when Ottilia is born, Whitby Synod has not yet happened). Regardless of Irish monachism, Ottilia lived the quiet life of a noble abbess, and died after so many virtuous years at what seems for the average life span of the times, the ripe old age of sixty!
Remove the fanciful theatrics; here, you have the basic storyline: a child born with a physical defect ending up in a convent (was the defect making her un-appetizing for prospective husbands?) and because she is spared the life-threatening dangers of birth-giving, lives a rather long life.
Radegundis, one of the fearsome Chlothar’s consorts was sadly for her, probably beautiful. Sole survivor with her younger brother of Chlothar’s wrath against her Thuringian royal rebel of a father, she was raised as an hostage in the palace. No expense was apparently spared for her education. When she became nubile (aged 12? 14?), Chlothar married her. Shall we mention that nobody asked her opinion about said marriage?
Chlothar offered an amazing MorgenGabe after their wedding night. Yes, if you were (and you’d better be) a virgin, the custom of the time was having your groom handing to you a gift: ‘the morning gift’. Chlothar was satisfied. Nobody asked poor beautiful Radegundis if she was satisfied. Her woes were not to be completed without Chlothar having her last sibling killed soon after her wedding!
Radegundis whose life started as a trampled on, bullied woman ends up most honorably. At one point, she stood up to Chlothar and entered, willingly as a grown woman, a convent. He tried again and again to get her back. With no avail.
Interestingly for our understanding of her personality, she would later after his death play the role of a much respected peace weaver for her rough step-sons who carried on bringing rich gifts to her convent. She may not have been their father’s obedient wife. She must have been a good step-mother. And yes, she led a virtuous life and died about aged 67. Childless.
Convent may have been boring. Being cut from the outside world. But enforced abstinence saved your life from yearly pregnancies. That is if you were lucky to have more than one. Being a Queen implied you had to give your impatient partner at least a son and hopefully more! If you died and most died… well he had no choice but to do it all over again. No contraception but plenty of unsafe midwifery. Convent life suddenly gets an appeal. Being mourned by the most loving husband has been a staple of the lives of many Dark Ages women.
Radegundis gave no children to her sinister husband. Do not feel sorry for him. We have good reasons to believe he had more wives than Henry VIII Tudor and many more sons!
People were so taken by Queen Radegundis that she was very quickly made into a saint… before Church and Rome had a say. Shall we add that Rome confirmed said sanctification; possibly having devoted yet royal and rough-riding in-laws may have helped?
This Germanic princess’s life was no fairy tale. Unlike Ottilia cursed by a ailing body, this woman was cursed by beauty … and intelligence. We still have some of her melancholic poems. Born to the highest position, confirmed as a Queen, her life was a King’s Daughter was the most unhappy one. Ottilia was rejected by her father; yet later on reconciled with him. Radegundis was family-less about all her life. But like Ottilia, she fought for her freedom. To end up in a monastery. But what was her other option?
Convent if you wanted to be/stay/had no choice but be… single.
Or be married.