Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
The Writer Christine de Pizan at Her Desk

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Richilde of Provence and the Dangers of Secular Power

Richilde of Provence (died 2 June 910)


Richilde of Provence was second wife of Charles the Bald, the Holy Roman emperor, whom she married in 870. 

A fourteenth-century
ms. illustration of
Richilde of Provence
 In addition to bearing him five children (although only one, a daughter, would survive to adulthood), Richilde also managed her husband's Carolingian territories as regent while he was away at war, fighting with various relatives over bits and pieces of the dismantled empire of Charlemagne--in addition to his title of emperor, which he assumed in 875, Charles was king of the West Franks (843-977) and king of Italy (875-77). 

After Charles's death in 877, he was succeeded by his son, Louis (child of Charles's first wife), but Louis "the Stammerer" was a weak and politically ineffectual figure, and Richilde seems to have had some influence in governing affairs in the realm, even supporting the opposition of her brother, Boso, to Louis' succession.

Richilde's persistent involvement in secular affairs after the death of Louis in 879, during the reigns of his two sons, Louis III (r. 879-882) and Carloman II (r. 882-884) seems to have earned her what historian Simon MacLean calls a "harshly worded letter of admonition" from the archbishop of Rheims, Fulk "the Venerable." Fulk was chastising Richilde for her continued involvement in secular affairs; as MacLean notes, the archbishop had other ideas about what constituted appropriate behavior for a widowed empress:
She had taken the "veil of Christ" on her husband's death and ought to behave, said the archbishop, "like a true queen, adorned with the virtues of her widowhood, holding before her eyes the day of death and resurrection." According to the logic of Carolingian reform legislation, this meant that she should have retired to a nunnery.
Fulk wrote to warn Richilde that she was endangering her hope of salvation--"as far as the archbishop of Rheims was concerned, simply remaining uncloistered and continuing to participate in worldly affairs" was reason enough warn Richilde about the state of her soul.

Richilde was eventually forced to withdraw from the empire. She returned to Provence and died at the court of her nephew, another Louis, this one referred to as Louis "the Blind" (her brother Boso's son).

There is not much about Richilde of Provence available. What details I've included here can be gleaned from James C. Prichard's nineteenth-century biography of Hincmar, the archbishop of Rheims who preceded Fulk, and a great advisor of Charles the Bald, and from Janet Nelson's much more recent biography of Charles the Bald. Simon MacLean's Past & Present essay, "Queenship, Nunneries, and Royal Widowhood in Carolingian Europe," which opens with Fulk's letter to Richilde, is available here.