Gisela, Abbess of Chelles

Gisela (757, Aachen, Cologne, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany[1] – 810–11, Chelles, Seine-et-Marne, Ile-de-France, France) was a Frankish princess and abbess. She was the daughter of Pepin the Short and his wife Bertrada of Laon. She was the sister of Charlemagne and Carloman.[2]


Gisela is often said to be the only sister to Charlemagne and Carloman, but this was not the case. Pepin the Short in fact had seven legitimate children; Gisela had three older brothers, Rothaid III, born 740, Charlemagne, born 742, and Carloman, born 751. She had two older sisters, Adelheid, born 740, and Bertbelle, born 745. She also had a single younger brother, Charles, who was born 759. Most of her older siblings died before their father, although the years are unknown. Her little brother died in infancy, aged 2. She was one of three surviving children.[3]

Early in life she was betrothed to Leo, the son of Byzantine Emperor Constantine V (the future Emperor Leo IV) but the contract was broken. There is also a brief mention of Gisela being betrothed to Adalgis, son of the Lombard king Desiderius in 770, but this also fell through, and it is likely that by this point she had been allowed to choose a life of religion for herself.

Charlemagne's biographer Einhard states that Gisela had been dedicated to religion since her childhood. She became a nun at Chelles Abbey, where she was eventually made abbess. As the abbess at Chelles Abbey, Gisela oversaw one of the most prolific nuns' scriptoria active in the 8th and 9th centuries. While little is known about her education, there is suggestion she was well learned, for her correspondence with Alcuin was written and received in Latin. According to Einhard she had good relations with her brother Charlemagne, who "treated her with the same respect which he showed his mother."

Alcuin was a close friend. Where he wrote personal poems for each of the king's [Charlemagne's] children, he also wrote one for Gisela, in which "Alcuin hailed her as a noble sister in the bond of sweet love, assuring her of her prayers of the brethren at Tours."[4] Other correspondence which hints at a friendly relationship is a letter written to Gisela between 793 and 796, where he thanked her warmly for the gift of a hat. In September 798, he writes to her from his monastery at St. Loup de Troyes, where he laments that an acute fever has stopped him from travelling to see her. In this same letter, he thanks her for the gift of a cross, apparently made at her monastery, and he bade her farewell as a most beloved sister.[5] Along with this, he dedicated the last two books of his commentary on John's gospel to her and her niece, Rotrudis.[6]

Considering the active scriptoria in Gisela's abbey, it can be argued that she held an involved role in the Carolingian renaissance. Other work she was involved in was the rebuilding of the church of St. Mary at Chelles, as well as building up the library, according to a letter from Alcuin. In it, he encourages her leadership in the project and states his intention to send a pupil and friend, Fredegisus, to assist her.[7]

The specific year of her death is unknown, but she died between 810 and 811 AD in Chelles, Seine-et-Marne, Ile-de-France, France, in the convent she had served for most of her life, aged between 53 and 54.[8]

Charlemagne and his wife Hildegard also named a daughter Gisela after the abbess. Gisela the Younger lived from about 781 to after at least 808, but little else is known of her life.


  1. ^ "Birth of Gisele, Abbess of Chelles". Geni. Retrieved 17 October 2019.
  2. ^ Sanctity and Power: The Dual Pursuit of Early Medieval Women, Suzanne F. Wemple, Becoming Visible: Women in European History, ed. Renate Bridenthal, Claudia Koonz and Susan Stuard, (Houghton Mifflin Company, 1987), 139.
  3. ^ "King Pippin III *the Short* of the Franks". Geneanet. Retrieved 9 November 2019.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  4. ^ Dales, Douglas (29 November 2012). Alcuin: His Life and Legacy. James Clarke & Co. p. 90. ISBN 9780227173466. Retrieved 17 October 2019.
  5. ^ Dales, Douglas (29 November 2012). Alcuin: His Life and Legacy. James Clarke & Co. p. 91. ISBN 9780227173466. Retrieved 17 October 2019.
  6. ^ Dales, Douglas. Alcuin: His Life and Legacy, James Clarke & Co, 2012, ISBN 9780227173466, p. 91
  7. ^ Dales, Douglas (29 November 2012). Alcuin: His Life and Legacy. James Clarke & Co. p. 91. ISBN 9780227173466. Retrieved 17 October 2019.
  8. ^ "Death of Gisele, Abbess of Chelles at Chelles, Seine-et-Marne, Ile-de-France, France". Geni. Retrieved 17 October 2019.