Brunehaut, or Brunehild, was the daughter of Athanagilde, king of the Visigoths of Spain. In A. D. 565, she wed Sigebert, king of the Franks of Austrasia. Contrary to the custom of the times, Sigebert had resolved to have but one wife, and to choose her from a royal family; his choice fell on Brunehaut--beautiful, of regal bearing, modest, dignified, agreeably conversant and wise. Sigebert quickly became very much attached to his new bride and eventually loved her so much that he was willing to go to war against his own brother to please her.
Why to war? Now that is a soap-opera of historic proportions!
Fredegonde was the daughter of poor peasants in the neighborhood of Montdidier in Picardy, and at an early age joined the train of Queen Audovere, the first wife of King Chilperic. She was beautiful, dexterous, ambitious, and bold; and she attracted the attention, and before long awakened the passion of the king. She pursued with ardor and without scruple her unexpected good fortune. Queen Audovere was her first obstacle and her first victim. On the pretext of a spiritual relationship which rendered her marriage with Chilperic illegal, Queen Audovere was repudiated and banished to a convent. But Fredegonde's hour had not yet come; for Chilperic married instead Galsuinthe, daughter of the Visigothic king, Athanagild, whose youngest daughter, Brunehaut, had just married Chilperic's brother, Sigebert, king of Austrasia. Chilperic, king of Neustria, brother of Sigebert, had married Galsuinda, daughter of Athanagilde, sister of Brunehaut; but before long Galsuinthe was found strangled in her bed, and that Chilperic wed Fredegonde making her his queen. An undying hatred arose between Fredegonde and Brunehaut, who, to avenge her sister's death, persuaded Sigebert to make war upon his brother.
A war, incessantly renewed, between the kings of Austrasia and Neustria followed. Sigebert succeeded in beating Chilperic, but, in 575, but, while besieging Tournayin, the midst of his victory, he was assassinated in his tent by two emissaries of Fredegonde. As soon as Brunehaut heard of this tragedy, she hastened to save her little son Childebert, heir to the kingdom of Austrasia. She hid him in a basket, which was let down from a window of the palace she occupied in Paris, and gave him to a servant of the Austrasian duke Gondebald, who carried him on horseback to Meaux, where he was proclaimed king on Christmas day, 575.
When Chilperic and Fredegonda arrived at Paris, they found only Brunehaut, with her two daughters and the royal treasure. The right of asylum belonging to the cathedral of Paris saved her life, but she was sent away to Rouen. Her property was taken from her, her daughters were exiled to Meaux, and she was sent to Rouen. During the few days that Brunehaut had remained in Paris, she had inspired Meroveus, Chilperic' s second son, with a violent passion, so that soon after she reached Rouen, he abandoned the troops his father had placed under his charge, and hastened to join her. They were married by the Bishop of Rouen, although it was contrary to the canons of the church to unite a nephew and aunt.
Chilperic, furious at this step, came with great haste to separate them; but they took refuge in a little church, and the king, not daring to violate this asylum, was at last obliged to promise with an oath that he would leave them together.
Reassured by this solemn promise, Meroveus and Brunehaut left their asylum and surrendered to Chilperic. Fredegonde was determined to persecute her rival and destroy her step-son, heir to the throne of Chilperic but the Austrasians, who had preserved the child Childebert, son of their murdered king, demanded with threats the return of Queen Brunehaut. She was surrendered to them; but Fredegonde was still determined to have her revenge and refused to release Merovice. First imprisoned, then shorn and shut up in a monastery, afterwards a fugitive and secretly urged on to attempt a rising against his father, he was so tormented by his perils, that he some say he had a faithful servant to strike him dead, that he might not fall into the hands of his hostile step-mother. Others, of course believe that Fredegonde herself had him murdered.
Fredegonde's depredations did not stop there however. Chilperic had remaining another son, Clovis, issue, as Merovee was, of Queen Audovere. He was accused of having caused by his sorceries the death of the three children lost about this time by Fredegonde; and was, in his turn, imprisoned and before long poniarded. His mother Audovere was strangled in her convent. Fredegonde sought in these deaths, advantageous for her own children, some sort of horrible consolation for her sorrows as a mother. But the sum of her crimes was not yet complete. In 584 King Chilperic, on returning from the chase and in the act of dismounting, was struck two mortal blows by a man who took to rapid flight, and a cry was raised all around of "Treason! 'tis the hand of the Austrasian Childebert against our lord the king!"
The care taken to have the cry raised was proof of its falsity; it was the hand of Fredegonde herself, anxious lest Chilperic should discover the guilty connection existing between her and an officer of her household, Landry, who became subsequently mayor of the palace of Neustria. Chilperic left a son, a few months old, named. Clotaire, of whom his mother Fredegonde became the sovereign guardian. She employed, at one time in defending him against his enemies, at another in endangering him by her plots, her hatreds and her assaults, the last thirteen years of her life. She was a true type of the strong-willed, artful, and perverse woman in barbarous times; she started low down in the scale and rose very high without a corresponding elevation of soul; she was audacious and perfidious, as perfect in deception as in effrontery, proceeding to atrocities either from cool calculation or a spirit of revenge, abandoned to all kinds of passion, and, for gratification of them, shrinking from no sort of crime. However, she died quietly at Paris, in 597 or 598, powerful and dreaded, and leaving on the throne of Neustria her son Clotaire II., who, fifteen years later, was to become sole king of all the Frankish dominions.
Brunehaut had no occasion for crimes to become a queen, and, in spite of those she committed, and in spite of her out-bursts and the moral irregularities of her long life, she bore, amidst her passion and her power, a stamp of courageous frankness and intellectual greatness which places her far above the savage who was her rival.
Brunehaut was a princess of that race of Gothic kings who, in Southern Gaul and in Spain, had understood and admired the Roman civilization, and had striven to transfer the remains of it to the newly-formed fabric of their own dominions. She, transplanted to a home amongst the Franks of Austrasia, the least Roman of all the barbarians, preserved there the ideas and tastes of the Visigoths of Spain, who had become almost Gallo-Romans; she clung stoutly to the efficacious exercise of the royal authority; she took a practical interest in the public works, highways, bridges, monuments, and the progress of material civilization; the Roman roads in a short time received and for a long while kept in Anstrasia the name of Brunehaut's causeways; there used to he shown, in a forest near Bourges, Brunehaut's castle, Brunehaut's tower at Etampes, Brunehaut's stone near Tournay, and Brunehaut's fort near Cahors.
In the royal domains and wheresoever she went she showed abundant charity to the poor, and many ages after her death the people of those districts still spoke of Brunehaut's alms. She liked and protected men of letters, rare and mediocre indeed at that time, but the only beings, such as they were, with a notion of seeking and giving any kind of intellectual enjoyment; and they in turn took pleasure in celebrating her name and her deserts. Unfortunately, Brunehaut was detested by the majority of the Austrasian chiefs, those Lords, landowners and warriors, whose independence she was continually fighting against.
Brunehaut's safely returned to her son's court, commenced her struggle against the nobles of Austrasia. Once, when her own sympathizers and those of the opposing faction were drawn up in battle array, she, seeing that the combat would be a bloody one, and that her own side was the weaker, boldly rushed between them and demanded that they desist. "'Stay, warriors; refrain from this wicked deed; persecute not the innocent; engage not, for a single man's sake, in a battle which will desolate the country!' 'Back, woman,' said Ursion to her; 'let it suffice thee to have ruled under thy husband's sway; now 'tis thy son who reigns, and his kingdom is under our protection, not thine. Back! if thou wouldest not that the hoofs of our horses trample thee under as the dust of the ground!' After the dispute had lasted some time in this strain, the queen, by her address, at last prevented the battle from taking place." But the fearless Brunehaut, unmoved by this savage address, persisted and at last succeeded in preventing the combat. It was but a momentary success for Brunehaut; and the last words of Ursion contained a sad presage of the death awaiting her.
Although obliged to yield to her subjects for a short time, Brunehaut soon regained her authority, which she used with great cruelty. Intoxicated with power, pride, hate, and revenge, she entered more violently every day into strife not only with the Austrasian laic chieftains, but with some of the principal bishops of Austrasia and Burgundy, among the rest with St. Didier, bishop of Vienne, who, at her instigation, was brutally murdered, and with the Irish missionary St. Columba, who would not sanction by his blessing the fruits of the royal irregularities. In 614, after thirty-nine years of wars, plots, murders, and political and personal vicissitudes, from the death of her husband Sigebert I., and under the reigns of her son Theodebert, and her grandsons Theodebert II. and Thierry II., Queen Brunehaut, at the age of eighty years, fell into the hands of her mortal enemy, Clotaire II., son of Fredegonde, now sole king of the Franks. After having grossly insulted her, he had her paraded, seated on a camel, in front of his whole army, and then ordered her to be tied by the hair, one foot, and one arm to the tail of an unbroken horse, that carried her away, and dashed her in pieces as he galloped and kicked, beneath the eyes of the ferocious spectators.
After the execution of Brunehaut and the death of Clotaire II., the history of the Franks becomes a little less dark and less bloody.
Compiled From Sources In The Public Domain.
Smiles & Good Fortune,
It is not wealth one asks for, but just enough to preserve one’s dignity, to work unhampered, to be generous, frank and independent. W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) Of Human Bondage, 1915