The Making of Men, not Masters: Right Order and Lay Masculinity According to Dhuoda and Nithard
Comitatus, 39 (2008)
Examining two texts composed by members of the western Frankish lay nobility over the period 841−843, this article addresses how contemporary conflicts within the Carolingian realm prompted the authors of these texts to reevaluate ideals of lay masculinity. A comparison of how Nithard and Dhuoda privileged certain obligations within a man’s life, articulated distinct models of knighthood, and referenced the type of relationship men ought to have with women, and with their bodies, elucidates the ways in which they sought to reform noblemen’s problematic conduct by putting forward their own models of manly behavior. The study ultimately suggests that Dhuoda and Nithard were reacting against a hegemonic masculinity that defined men in terms of their ability to dominate. In response, both authors formulated ideals of masculinity that positioned men within subservient and dependent relationships and that emphasized the need for men to establish harmonious relations with other men, with women and with their bodies.
The scarcity of extant early medieval texts written by members of the laity makes it difficult to access lay views without the distorting lens of ecclesiastical authorship. It is particularly rare to be able to compare the views of laypeople writing at the same time for similar audiences—a fact that highlights the rare opportunity afforded by two Carolingian texts composed by members of the western Frankish lay nobility over the period 841 to 843. The first of these texts is the Histories, a detailed chronological account of the civil war among Louis the Pious’s sons, written by Nithard, a nobleman in the service of Charles the Bald. The second text in question is Dhuoda’s Manual, the only surviving text written by a Carolingian laywoman.