Biography of Eloísa (1101-1164)

Wise French born to 1100, probably in Paris, and died in 1164. Belongs to a lineage of the high nobility, Eloisa was educated at the monastery of Argenteuil, outside Paris, where the daughters of the aristocracy received his first instruction. From there it went to 1115 and went to live in the House of his uncle, Canon Fulbert, man of great influence in Paris.

The meeting with Pedro Abelardo

Eloisa highlighted by a love of learning that was considered exceptional in a woman and soon spread the fame of his wisdom. Fulbert, wishing that her niece would receive a good education, for this purpose called Pedro Abelardo (1079-1142), the most famous master of the Parisian University at that time. Abelardo dealt with Eloisa instruction in philosophy and the liberal arts. During their stay in the House of Fulbert was a loving relationship between teacher and student. Both lovers were known in Paris for his outstanding wisdom and, despite its notoriety, not kept the necessary discretion that a relationship like theirs, unlawful according to the moral religious at the time, required. To learn about the situation, Fulbert expelled Abelardo home and kept separated lovers. But Eloisa was already pregnant. To avoid one scandal of which had produced the news of his affairs, Abelardo, who apparently did not want to get married, were abducted Eloisa, leading her to her sister's House in Britain. There Eloisa gave birth a child which he/she called Pedro Astrolabio. Aware Fulbert, seems that it wanted to kill Abelardo, but this got to accept the forgiveness that begged him and his offer to marry by Eloisa, but demanded that the wedding will be held in secret. Eloisa, however, vigorously refused the marriage, demonstrating an unusual independence. He/She finished accessing by undisturbed over her lover, in his own words, and wedding took place illegally, according to the desire of Abelardo, who did not want to see truncated his brilliant career as a university teacher. Eloisa family, however, spread the news of the marriage by Paris in order to repair the honor of the young. Abelardo then drove his wife to the monastery of Argenteuil. The same Eloisa denied her marriage and wanted to stay in the Abbey passed unnoticed. This was interpreted by the family of the young man as a disgraceful repudiation and Fulbert plotted his revenge: a group of Hitmen castrated to Abelardo brutally by order of the Canon. While this punishment was legitimated by the customary law, the action of Fulbert was rejected by the Parisian society, both by the Church and by the members of the University, due to social status and fame of Abelardo. He/She sought refuge in the Parisian Abbey of Saint-Denis, where took the habits and Eloisa forced to follow his lead against his will.

Life in the Abbey of Argenteuil

Eloisa was prioress of the monastery of Argenteuil, when it passed to the jurisdiction of Suger, Abbot of Saint-Denis, in 1129. Suger, alleging the relaxation of customs that prevailed in the monastery and the sinful behavior of its nuns, decided to expel them from the institution. At the imminent prospect of seeing the female community scattered, Eloisa resorted to Abelardo, who then was in the Champagne region, in a small Monastery founded by himself under the patronage of the Holy Spirit known as the Paraclete. Eloisa and her sisters settled in the monastery, which adopted the rule of Arbrissel Roberto, thus becoming a double monastery that was home to monks and nuns under the Supreme authority of an Abbess, dignity Eloisa occupied since his arrival until his death. Eloisa succeeded as Abbess great fame for his piety and wisdom. St. Bernard of Clairvaux, who visited the monastery in those years, had words of admiration for so wise and religious woman, at the time, throwing a series of violent invective against Abelardo, which became the fiercest enemy. However, the coexistence of old lovers in the Paraclete raised suspicions and slander. Roscelino, rival and former master of Abelardo in Touraine, accused of shameful relations with the Abbess. It was partly as a defence to these attacks by what Abelardo wrote his most famous work, the story of my misfortunes (Historia calamitatum), by which we know the events of the life of Eloisa Abelardo next. Despite insults poured about Abelardo by their numerous enemies, it seems that his relationship with Eloisa remained purely intellectual and pious during those years at the Paraclete, field while Eloisa said in his letters, reunion with him after ten years of forced separation had been a huge comfort for her.

Literary Eloisa

Abelardo eventually retired to remote Abbey of Saint-Gildas-in-Rhys (Britain), which meant his definitive separation of Eloisa, who stayed in the Paraclete. After his farewell, the early 1130, time date from the three famous letters Eloisa Abelardo wrote. The first two are masterpieces of the epistolary literature, and in them Eloisa showed his wide literary knowledge and his mastery in the use of formal resources epistolary rhetoric putting at its disposal to express his experience in harrowing form. Eloisa showed them his resentment towards the events which had tragically truncated his loving experience, which is remembered as the only area of freedom which had had access. Its intimate rebellion was also expressed in the obstinacy that stated in its correspondence that his dedication to religious life had not been an election but an imposition of the own Abelardo. While the female monasteries were places where the freedom and independence of women could express themselves in original terms, Eloisa was irreverently attached, until the end of his life, to the memory of the body pleasures that had been torn off him. Lighted letters of Eloisa Abelardo responses were evasive, recommending it to forget the past to commend to God. The third letter of Eloisa was last obedience to the wishes of Abelardo. In it, Eloisa was transfigured in Abbess to ask Abelardo about the origin and purpose of female monasticism and ask for the drafting of a rule intended for their community, since it included the unsuitability of existing ones to the lives of the women who entered religion.

Eloisa is also kept their Problemata, a series of questions about writing addressed to Abelardo headed by a letter of introduction. The authorship of Eloisa on this text has never been questioned, but instead has often doubted that he/she came to write his letters. As the 12th century woman, Eloisa was subject to rigid encodings of femininity, so many authors has surprised its independence of judgment and the strength with which expressed an experience that rebelled against these encodings. The expressive power of these letters was later appreciated by many authors such as Jean de Meung or Petrarca, and Eloisa became the modern centuries in the romantic heroine of a love tragedy. Apart from this stereotyped vision, the correspondence of Eloisa can be seen as the vigorous expression of the strangeness of her womanhood to the patriarchal codifications of the feminine feel. Eloisa Abelardo survived twenty years, and died as Abbess of the Paraclete in 1164.


Letters of Abelard and Heloisa. Translated by Cristina Peri Rossi. Palma de Mallorca, 1989.

ANDERSON, B.S. and ZINSSER, J.P. history of women: a history of its own. Barcelona, 1992.

BERTINI, f. (editor). Medieval women. Madrid, 1991.

DRONKE, Peter. Women writers of the middle ages. Barcelona, 1994