Perhaps I was being unfair to Carolingian poet Theodulf who wrote the epitaph for Queen Fastrada. He says that she leaves behind King Charles (Charlemagne), whom he calls “the better part of her soul.”
I rolled my eyes, thinking he meant “superior.” What would I expect from a guy who wrote a poem warning husbands not to be manipulated by their wives? (People who are familiar with Theodulf will point out that he was a great poet of his age and he wrote a long poem praising Charles and his family. Both true, but he also did write “A Woman’s Wiles.”)
Then I came across a variation of “better half” while researching a post on Saint Lioba. In her final farewell to Frankish Queen Hildegard, Lioba kissed her and called her “most precious half of my soul.”
Perhaps the Franks attributed a different meaning to this common phrase. According to A Dictionary of Slang and Its Analogues, “better half” goes back to the Romans and originally meant more than half of one’s being, as in an intimate friend.
What Theodulf might have been getting at was that Fastrada and Charles had a close relationship, despite an age difference (probably about 20 years), a marriage made for political reasons, and a son from a previous marriage who tried to overthrow his dad.
Love was not a requirement for marriage in Carolingian Francia. Heck, husband and wife didn’t even have to like each other. So it makes Theodulf’s observation all the more poignant.
A History of Charles the Great (Charlemagne)
Poetry of the Carolingian Renaissance
A Dictionary of Slang and Its Analogues
Medieval Sourcebook: Rudolph of Fulda: Life of Leoba