Handbook for William
Dhouda, a Frankish mother, was separated from her son when he was still an adolescent. Her love and concern for the well-being of her son, William, led her to create a manual for him that described the proper ways in which a respected man would live his life. This manual, Handbook for William, is the only substantial text written by a woman that survived the Carolingian period. Although her writings are precious, offering a view of the intellectual and spiritual life during this period, her writing style has been censured, “Modern authorities have criticized its lack of organization and of a clear plan”(Marchand, 4). Although her work has been labeled has having no direction, I disagree with this claim. Contrary to these assertions, her education and style demonstrate an organized and deliberate approach to the construction of her handbook.
Dhouda is unique because she is an educated woman writer among the laity, she was not a cleric, rather a married woman which gave insight to that particular perspective. Dhouda was born in 804 CE into a prestigious Carolingian family. Her mother was the daughter of the Count of Aragon and her father was prince of Gasgony. In 824 she was married to Bernhard of Septimania and gave birth to her first son, William, two years later. In 841 her second son was born, Bernhard, named after his father. However, she was not aware of her second sons name until two years after his birth because before he was baptized, along with William, he was taken from her. Dhouda’s husband Bernard, Count of Septimania, had been hired by Louis the Pious to defend him against his greedy sons, Lothar, Louis the German, and Charles the Bald. When Louis the Pious died in 840 his three sons battled over their father’s territories and Bernard desperately tried to secure his position amongst the Carolingian heirs. He accepted the authority of Charles the Bald, but was required to call on his son William to accompany him, as a hostage, against Bernhards betrayal of Charles. Dhouda’s baby, Bernard, was stripped from her because Bernhard wanted one of his sons to be, safely, in his immediate presence.
It was the separation from her sons that inspired Dhouda to begin writing a handbook that would instruct her sons, particularly William, on ones relationship with God and appropriate moral behavior according to God. Dhouda began writing her handbook in 841 and sent it to William in 843.
Dhouda’s unique writing style used to relay her teachings has been used as evidence for a lack of clarity and of a clear plan, however, her various writing styles and techniques do not complicate the handbook, but rather complete it. Her writing style effectively serves her purpose; to communicate to her son her advice and its urgency. Dhouda refers to the different writing styles used and states that they were intended as part of her plan, “From the beginning of this book to the end, both in form and content, in the meter of rhythm of the poetry as well as in the prose passages here-know that everything, through it all, in it all, is intended entirely for you, for the health and soul of your body”(Dhouda, 2).
The first part of her text is a well- constructed introduction to the rest of the work. Firstly, she offers an etymology to the word manualis. Dhouda was very fond of etymologies, thus it was very fitting her knowledge on the subject would be included in the book. Dhouda used the etymology to provide further understanding of her objectives, “Manus , ‘hand’ as in manual means many things-sometimes the power of God, sometimes the might of the son, and sometimes even the son himself”(Dhouda,I). This etymology sets the tone for the manual, describing that by manus meaning the power of God, it is apparent that he should provide the path and guidance for William. Also, to have mention of etymologies, not only shows her intellect, but it also allows the reader to understand that...
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