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Chapter 3 - Friendships with Merovingian Women

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  06 April 2023

Hope Williard
Affiliation:
University of Lincoln
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Summary

THIS CHAPTER EXAMINES Merovingian women’s relationships of patronage and friendship. It focuses particularly on the poet’s writings to Radegund, former queen and founder of the convent of the Holy Cross, and Agnes, her adopted daughter and the first abbess of the community. Fortunatus’ poems for these two women evoke an intimacy and closeness indicative of ties of patronage and friendship. The poet’s fiftyfive surviving poems to Radegund and Agnes form one centre of gravity in the collection; the twenty-six to Gregory of Tours are another. Even though twenty-one of the poems for Radegund and Agnes are found in the so-called Appendix which saw limited circulation and preservation compared to the rest of the collection, the women are a substantial presence in the eleven books of poetry. Furthermore, they are mentioned as send-ing or receiving greetings alongside the poet in thirteen additional poems and letters. Radegund and Agnes’ incorporation of Fortunatus into their own networks, and the poet’s longstanding personal and professional ties to them and their interests evokes Barbara Rosenwein’s definition of an emotional community, “a group in which people have a common stake, interests, values, and goals.”

First, we must set the stage for the context in which this emotional community formed and endured by examining Fortunatus’ inheritance of classical and late antique thought about friendship with women. His poems for aristocratic women, Placidina, the wife of bishop Leontius of Bordeaux, and Palatina, show that Fortunatus kept within this tradition. The next sections of the chapter focus on the ways in which Fortunatus developed the Christian tradition of friendship. An analysis of the Rule of Caesarius, under which Radegund and Agnes lived, demonstrates that their liberal interpretation of the rule allowed them to seize chances for patronage and friendship. One of these chances came through Radegund’s passion for relic collecting, which required the commissioning of three major poems, De excidio Thuringiae (App.1), Ad Iustinum iuniorem imperatorem et Sophiam augustos (App.2), and Ad Artachin (App.3) in an effort to obtain a piece of the True Cross. Although the poems have been attributed to Radegund, analysis of their manuscript transmission demonstrates that they are in fact by Fortunatus and I argue that they are evidence of Radegund’s standing as a literary patron.

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Friendship in the Merovingian Kingdoms
Venantius Fortunatus and His Contemporaries
, pp. 105 - 152
Publisher: Amsterdam University Press
Print publication year: 2022

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