The Insulted Princess: Charlemagne’s Second Wife

Kim Rendfeld

All we can say with certainty about King Charles’s (Charlemagne’s) second wife is that she was a Lombard princess, the daughter of King Desiderius and Queen Ansa, and that she was married to the Frankish king for about a year (770-71).

We don’t even know for certain what her name was. Because of a misreading of a medieval book, she has been called Desiderata, but scholarship from historian Janet L. Nelson indicates her name might have been Gerperga.

Yet what little we know of her illustrates what was expected of an aristocratic woman, particularly a royal one, in eighth century Europe.

Desiderius and Ansa apparently had one son and four daughters. They expected their son, Adalgis, to succeed his father as king. Before Desiderius seized power in a coup in 756, his eldest daughter, Anselperga, became an abbess. Not a bad gig for a medieval woman, who could treat the…

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