Queen Consort of Neustria (western Francia)

Born ? - Died 597 CE

Claim to Fame: A brutal and formidable queen, best know for her forty year feud with her sister-in-law, Queen Brunhild of Austrasia.

Background: High-ranking women in Merovingian Gaul could hold substantial wealth and status in the fifth and sixth centuries which enabled them to exercise significant social, political and religious influence.

Born into a low-ranking family, Fredegund was a servant to the first wife of King Chilperic I of Neustria, Audovera. She seduced Chilperic and convinced him to divorce and expel Audovera. Chilperic then married a wealthy second wife, Galsuenda, but she soon died and was swiftly replaced as queen by Fredegund. Stories of Galsuenda’s death vary but it is believed that she spoke out against the immorality of Chilperic’s court so the King and his favourite mistress, Fredegund, had her strangled in bed. The powerful Queen Brunhild of Austrasia was both the sister-in-law of Chilperic (she was married to his brother) and the sister of Galsuenda. Brunhild’s fury at her sister’s death sparked a feud between the once unified houses of Austrasia and Neustria that spanned over forty years. The rivalry between Brunhild and Fredegund was particularly bitter and lead their families through generations of conflict.

Fredegund is represented in primary sources as a particularly violent woman who used her desirability to manipulate and corrupt those around her. She frequently contracted assassins as well as torturing, maiming and killing opponents. Among her many alleged misdeeds, Fredegund was suspected of ordering the assassination of Brunhild’s husband, Sigebert I, and attempting to assassinate Brunhild’s son Childebert II, her brother-in-law Guntram of Burgundy, and even Brunhild herself. In a jealous rage, she even attempted to murder her own daughter, Rigunth, by slamming the lid of a chest down on her neck as she reached for the jewelry inside. However, her violence was not limited to royal family members, and included a number of officials, clergymen and locals. In a classic example, Fredegund attempted to quell a dispute between kinsmen but ‘when she failed to reconcile them with gentle words she tamed them on both sides with the ax’ by inviting them to a feast and having them all murdered. Her formidable reputation served her well and she manipulated all levels of society through the fear of her fury.

When a dysentery epidemic struck her husband and two of her sons in 580 CE, Fredegund was plunged into remorse. Believing the epidemic was punishment for her sins, she burned unfair tax records and donated to the church and the poor after her sons succumbed to the disease.

In 584 CE, her husband, Chilperic, was mysteriously assassinated and Fredegund sought refuge in the Notre Dame de Paris cathedral. She died of natural causes 8 December 597 in Paris and is entombed in Saint Denis Basilica.

Several years after Fredegund’s death, her son Clothar II defeated Brunhild in battle and, despite the Queen being in her late sixties, he had her stretched on the rack for three days and then torn apart by four horses. Such was the bitterness of their familial enmity.

Note: The main source for Fredegund’s life is Gregory of Tours’ History of the Franks. Gregory was patronised by Queen Brunhild so his depictions of her qualities and the evils of her rival, Fredegund, are likely biased. Other sources recognise Fredegund’s brutality but treat her and Brunhild more equitably.

~ Much of this mini-bio is based on an essay of mine, so please PM me for sources.


November 17th 594: Gregory of Tours died

On this day in 594, French bishop and writer Gregory of Tours died. Born into a prominent family which boasted many bishops, Gregory soon also joined the clergy. He was appointed bishop of Tours by King Sigebert and Queen Brunhild in 573. Gregory lived during an unstable time in the Merovingian realm, with the murder of Sigebert leading to Tours coming under the rule of his brother Chilperic who ruled the western Frankish kingdom. After Chilperic’s own murder, control of Tours shifted several more times. Gregory was forced to adapt and mute his criticism as leaders came and went while still protecting his people from the wars that ravaged their land. As part of his role as bishop, Gregory undertook tasks such as restoration of churches, promotion of cults, and working with church legislation. Gregory’s greatest legacy, however, is his ten volume Historia Francorum, which tells the history of the Frankish people, and provides modern historians with invaluable insights into his era. After his death in 594, the popular Gregory was readily embraced as a saint by the people of Tours, with November 17th as his feast day.


anonymous asked: Top 10 historical pairings 
Yes, I know, Ulysse and Penelope aren’t really historical, but I’ve so much feelings for them *^*

Clotilde (475–545)

Art by Kyra Liggett (tumblr)

In the third century, the Roman Empire stretched from Great Britain to Egypt.  By the end of the fourth century, the Roman Empire had fallen to the barbarians.

The Franks were one of the most important tribes of this era.  A confederation of Germanic peoples, the Franks first appear in Roman sources in 257.  A tribe of powerful pagan warriors, the Franks quickly accumulated land and power.  The turning point of their transition from pagan raiders to Western European rulers can be seen in the life of Clotilde.

Clotilde was the daughter of Chilperic II, KIng of Burgundy.  Around the time of Clotilde’s birth, Chilperic II submitted to Roman authority.  When Clotilde was a teenager, her uncle seized power and killed Chilperic II.  

Fratricide was not unheard of among the Franks.  Around this time, Clovis rose to power.  Like Clotilde, he was the teenage child of a Frankish king.  And like Clotilde’s uncle, Clovis killed family members to consolidate his power.  Clovis eventually married Clotilde, further strengthening his position among the Franks.

When Clotilde and Clovis married, she was a Christian and he was a pagan.  Although Clovis was initially hostile to Christianity, he converted following the Battle of Tolbiac on Christmas Day 508.  Clovis’s conversion helped spread Christianity throughout Gaul.  After her death, Clotilde was canonized.  She is a patron saint of queens, brides, people in exile, and adopted children.

Clotilde and Clovis had five children together.  Their descendants would be known as the Merovingians and include Charlemagne who would eventually united much of Western Europe.