Eloise was born around 1100 and was known for her intelligence and scholarly accomplishments in Greek and Hebrew. She lived in the home of her uncle Fulbert, canon of Notre Dame Cathedral.
Abelard agreed to tutor Eloise in return for being granted residence in the Fulbert household. It wasn’t long before the two scholars connected on more than an intellectual level. The affair led to pregnancy. Fulbert was livid when he discovered the situation and Abelard slipped Eloise away to live with his sister awaiting the birth of the child. The baby boy was named Astralobe. Abelard wanted to marry Eloise but she held back, believing her lower birth status would shame him. Eventually they married secretly, but Fulbert was still raging at what he felt was Abelard’s perfidy.
Abelard then placed Eloise in a convent, apparently for her safety. Abelard wrote, “Oh how great was the uncle’s grief when he learned the truth, and how bitter was the sorrow of the lovers when we were forced to part.”
Fulbert took this as desertion on Abelard’s part. It was now Abelard who needed the protection. He was attacked by a group of friends of Fulbert, beaten, and castrated.
He became a monk at The Abbey of St. Denis. Eloise, feeling abandoned at no further contact from Abelard, took her vows at the convent where she had sought sanctuary, eventually becoming Abbess at an Abbey that Abelard had founded.
They met by accident after a passage of years and this prompted a reconnection by correspondence. The letters which were recovered were in some cases passionate and in others philosophical.
Eloise wrote, “You know beloved and the whole world knows how much I have lost in you, how at one wretched stroke of fortune that supreme act of flagrant treachery robbed me of my very self in robbing me of you.”
Abelard died in 1142, Eloise in 1163.
Alexander Pope chronicled their love in the poem Eloise to Abelard, written in 1717. ‘May one kind grave unite each hapless name, and graft my love immortal on thy frame…if ever chance two wandering lovers brings…O’er the pale marble shall they join their heads and drink the falling tears each other sheds, then sadly say with mutual pity moved, ”Oh may we never love as these have loved.”’
Josephine Bonaparte was said to be so moved in reading the Eloise and Abelard love letters that she ordered their bones to be entombed together in Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris. Lovers from all over the world still visit their tomb.