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Drinking from Your Father’s Skull: A Lombard Prehistory of Renaissance Marriage

In the eighth century, Paul the Deacon told the story of Rosemund, the ill-fated Queen of the Lombards who murdered her husband when he forced her to drink from a cup made from her father’s skull. This story haunted the European imagination for centuries and became the subject of later plays, operas, and paintings. This paper examines it as a chapter in the history of interdynastic marriage, a crucial feature of diplomatic alliances forged in the pre-modern period. Rosemund’s story acquires particular poignancy when we read it as a possible complaint against the Carolingian annexation of Lombardy, an event later recalled as symptomatic of a long-standing northern domination of Italy.

John Watkins is a professor of English at the University of Minnesota.

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