Dhuoda was a Frankish noblewoman who had two sons from whom she was separated. The first son William was being held by Charles the Bald as surety for his father’s, the count of Septimania, loyalty, as he was under suspicion for disloyalty at the time that she was writing the book. She started writing the book in 841 and sent it to her son William two years; later, the book was to be shared with his younger brother when he came of age.
She uses the book to explain to her son William how he as a man can prosper in the eyes of God and in the eyes of fellow men. She expresses the role of religion in the life of man, the society order, and the role of religious and military responsibility as well as explains why Christian devotion was supposed to be central in the life of a nobleman.
Men and Sons’ Roles in Carolingian Society
Reverence for God: Men were expected to love God and be faithful to Him, constantly remembering that it is He who created a man and deserves the reference that should be accorded to Him. They were to seek God as he is the author of all good in the past, present and future, and it is for Him to have mercy upon the man who seeks Him. God is sublime and great; being as such, men were expected to humble themselves before him so that He can lift them up.
Respect for fathers: Sons were expected to love and be faithful to their fathers, whether present or afar as this is the will of God regarding sons, according the Solomonic wisdom. Obedience to the paternal figure is of paramount importance to a son as it is their guarding of the same interests. She goes ahead and gives him the example of Absalom, the first born son of king David who was heir to the throne but due to the rebellion could lift against his father, who met a gruesome death on being lanced while hanging from an oak tree.
Respect for ones master: Men were expected to be faithful to their lords and to serve them with diligence and devotion. Dhuoda puts forward the example of David, who loved Jonathan and mourned him and his father deeply after their deaths. She highlights his integrity in taking care of Jonathan’s son after his death, having been driven by love for his father. Dhuoda advises her son to pay attention to the counsel of the magnets who came to his lords’ court. This was because through these conversations, he could learn virtuous values such as humility, modesty, gentleness, sobriety, and patience.
Taking and giving good counsel: Sons were expected to listen to the counsel of the wise and take it. Dhuoda says that no riches abound where stupidity is to be found. Sons are to give the same counsel with wisdom and should not be like Aman, who gave counsel that helped neither him nor the hearers but simply led to the path of destruction. They are also to revere God, understanding that all wisdom and consequent counsels come from him, as it did in the time of Daniel before King Nebuchadnezzar.
Unbiased regard for great and low men in society: Sons are to listen to the men greater than them and to model themselves after them, as this is how they could improve themselves: to consider their equals better than them and to be willing to interact with those of a lower level than them. They are urged to bear the yoke of those who are lesser than them, as put forward by the apostle Paul, and, thus, earn their love. Dhuoda highlights that Christ took on the form of man, though He is the creator of all great and small things bearing the inequities of all and he should strive to be as Him.
Respect for priests: Sons are to have respect for the priests, as they have been ordained to do the work of God and intercede for the sins of the believers. More so, they are to have respect for all the religious leaders, beginning from the priests, who guide the Lord’s flock, to the bishops, who admonish the believers to be alert in their spirits.
Seeking moral betterment: Men are counseled to flee from the company of the immoral and the wicked as their thoughts are thoughts that lead to destruction and scandal setting traps for all who come their way. The traps that they had set for others, they themselves end up falling into them.
Fraternal compassion for one’s neighbor: Men are to be compassionate with their neighbors, hospitable to them, and must offer the afflicted their assistance as this would help them get the spirit of piety. They are further counseled to be loyal to their fathers and lords, to love the magnates and their peers, and to avoid participating in insulting them or having ill motivated contentions against them.
Maintaining morality: Sons are expected to flee from thoughts of fornication and/or adultery and to stay away from prostitutes. They are reminded that the path of such moral decadence leads only to destruction of both the body and the soul. This path is only for a brief moment and leads to the destruction of life, but chastity preserves life. In effect, he is advised to love purity as this is the path that leads to being in the presence of Christ.
William, as a son, is encouraged to flee from anger and put it into subjection of his person; he should treat other people with gentleness and justice, and he should be hospitable to pilgrims, widows, and orphans. He is expected to help the less privileged not only with his actions but also with kind words. She reminds him to treat the poor people with pity.
Sons are expected to love the poor with a spirit of gentleness and mildness in order to ensure that they do not forget fraternal compassion for those who are beneath them. By doing so, they would be able to commune with those who have been proclaimed in the scriptures as heirs of the kingdom of heaven.
Men are further encouraged to love justice, so they can gain recognition in legal matters and to remember that the justice they use on others shall be measured out on them. They are to be fair in their judgments and avoid iniquity, remembering that they have an effect on others. They are to correct one whom they see going down the wrong path, but to do it in a way that does not offend.
In the Carolingian society, men are expected to frequently participate in charitable acts, but to do them in secret, and even as they do so, to do it with mercy upon others. Men are, thus, expected to be generous in their giving of gifts and to strive to be agreeable with all with a winning manner and a greatly joyful countenance, but to do all that with prudence.
A man is expected to turn from his wrong doing once he realizes that he is going down the wrong path. He should also bear the hardship that come with patience and the illnesses, remembering that it is only for some time, and he should give thanks when deprived as all God things come from God Almighty.
In his religious responsibilities, William was expected to pray for the clergy, bishops, the present and the future, the kings, his lords, and his father. In doing so, he would be praying for others and not just for himself, even in times when people where against him or insulted him and made things difficult for him. Apart from this group of people also to be remembered in prayers were those who had been truly good and those who had truly not been good, and the Lord’s spirit would also counsel him on what to pray about with regard to those who were not worthy.
When they come of age, men are expected to leave their parents and to join their wives, to keep their household in proper order and to perform their duties to the society with loyalty and a proper fashion of doing things. The men are also expected to take over the affairs of their parents after they pass on in order to pay off their debtors in whatever way seems best but right.
The affairs of the society, religiously and otherwise, were squarely placed upon the shoulders of the men and or their sons, as it is seen when William is taken as surety of his father’s loyalty by Charles ‘The Bald Lord’. It is expected of men to love their superiors and to be faithful to them, learning whatever is good while in their service, and at the same time to be merciful to the less privileged in the society, to be helpful to them, and to be just in their dealings.
Of central importance is their duty to God, which involves constantly praying and striving to live in accordance with the words of the scriptures and under the counsel of the words written by the apostles. It is believed by the author that by doing so, they will be closer to God and will be able to accomplish the purpose set before them by God.