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If Charlemagne shaved his unruly daughter’s head and sent her to live with monks, would she be considered the first Nun?

Helena Mcandrew




Women seeking cloistered religious lives are almost as old as Christianity itself, and date at least to the time of persecution in the third century. The first known cases of such women cutting their hair were recorded in Egypt and Syria at about that time.

I have found no reference to Charlemagne shaving a daughter’s head or sending her to live with monks. Of the little that is confirmed of two of his daughters—neither of whom married, but both of whom lived with prominent men in Charlemagne’s court—Rotrude (775-810), who cohabited with Rorgon, Count of Maine and had a son, Louis, became at nun at the abbey of Notre Dame-des-Chelles. That abbey, however, had been founded in 658 by Saint Balthild, the Anglo-Saxon wife of the Frankish king Clovis II, as a cloistered monastery for women that was later doubled to accommodate a parallel cloister for men. Charlemagne’s sister Gisela headed the abbey from 800 to 810. It is questionable that Rotrude’s joining the order was due to Charlemagne’s ire at her lifestyle, since he had at least six extramarital affairs of his own—it was rather common practice at that time.



Jon Guttman

Research Director

World History

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