An Introduction to Women's Letters in the Dark Ages: Caesaria to Radegund

Dr. Hope Williard, University of Lincoln

This video introduces two women, Caesaria of Arles and Radegund of Poitiers, and a letter exchanged between them.



Discussion Prompts

  • What were the possibilities and limitations of monastic life for early medieval women?
  • What might this letter tell us about Merovingian women’s literacy?
  • What is asceticism? How is it depicted in this letter?

Readings and Resources

  • Joan M. Ferrante, ‘Caesaria, abbess of Arles’, Epistolae: Medieval Women’s Latin Letters. New York: Columbia University, 2014. 
  • Professor Ferrante’s translation of the letter is also available. 
  • Poitiers, Bibl. Mun., MS 250, with beautiful illustrations of Radegund’s life, has been fully digitized and is available online.
  • Erin T. Dailey, ‘Misremembering St. Radegund’s Foundation of Sainte-Croix in Poitiers’, in Erfahren, Erzählen, Erinnern: Narrativ Konstruktionen von Gedächtnis und Generation in Antike und Mittelalter, ed. Benjamin Pohl et al. (Bamberg: University of Bamberg Press, 2012), pp. 117–40. 


(available as e-books through library subscriptions)

  • Angelo Di Berardino, ed. Encyclopedia of Ancient Christianity (Downers’ Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1994-2013), pp. 1:407 (biography of Caesaria) and 3:374 (biography of Radegund).
  • Jo Ann McNarama and John E. Halborg, with E. Gordon Whately, Sainted Women of the Dark Ages (Durham: Duke University Press, 1992), pp. 112-8.

Additional Reading

(available online through library subscriptions)

  • Magdalena Elizabeth Carrasco, “Spirituality in Context: The Romanesque Illustrated Life of St. Radegund of Poitiers (Poitiers, Bibl. Mun., MS 250).” The Art Bulletin 72: 3 (1990), pp. 414–435.
  • Jennifer C. Edwards, Superior Women: Medieval Female Authority in Poiters’ Abbey of Sainte-Croix (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019), pp. 25-59.


Williard, Hope. “An Introduction to Women's Letters in the Dark Ages: Caesaria to Radegund,” Middle Ages for Educators, April 17, 2020. Accessed [date].