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McKitterick was born Rosamond Pierce in Chesterfield, Derbyshire, England, on 31 May 1949. From 1951 to 1956 she lived in Cambridge, England, where her father had a position at Magdalene College. In 1956 she moved with her family to Western Australia where she completed primary and secondary school and completed an honours degree at the University of Western Australia. She holds the degrees of MA, PhD, and LittD from the University of Cambridge.
McKitterick's doctoral thesis was entitled The Carolingian Renaissance: A Study in the Education of a Society. It was submitted under McKitterick's maiden name of Pierce. The thesis was approved on 24 February 1976. McKitterick's supervisor was Walter Ullmann.
In 1971 she returned to Cambridge University to pursue her career. She was a Fellow of Newnham College, Cambridge and then became a professorial fellow of Sidney Sussex College. McKitterick has been described as a "doyenne in her field; her decades of tireless research and teaching have been poured into a steady stream of major publications on Carolingian subjects." Thomas F. X. Noble considers McKitterick to be "one of the most original and productive historians of Europe's early Middle Ages". She has supervised 42 PhD theses to completion, as of October 2015, with five more in progress. She currently sits on the Council for the British School in Rome.
McKitterick was a Balsdon Fellow at the British School in Rome, April-June 2002. Her research focus was "Charlemagne in Italy". From 2005 to 2006 she was a Fellow at the Netherlands Institute of Advanced Study.
On 15 October 2018 McKitterick delivered the James Lydon Lecture in Medieval History and Culture at Trinity College Dublin with "Rome and the Invention of the Papacy in the Early Middle Ages".
In 2018 McKitterick was honoured with a Festschrift, Writing the Early Medieval West, to mark her retirement in September 2016. The volume consists of contributions from fifteen of McKitterick's former students.
^ abcdScreen, Elina; West, Charles, eds. (3 May 2018). Writing the early Medieval West: studies in honour of Rosamond McKitterick. Cambridge, United Kingdom. ISBN9781107198395. OCLC1032289891.
^Goffart, Walter (2009). "Review of Charlemagne: The Formation of a European Identity by Rosamond McKitterick". The American Historical Review. 114 (4): 1130-1131. doi:10.1086/ahr.114.4.1130. JSTOR23883063.