Queen of the Austrasia Franks
534 – 613 A.D.
Brunehaut, or Brunehild, was the daughter of Athanagilde, king of the Visigoths of Spain, and married, in 565 A.D., Sigebert, king of the Franks of Austrasia. Although contrary to the custom, Sigebert had resolved to have but one wife, and to choose her from a royal family; his choice fell on Brunehaut, who fully justified in her conduct, and conversed not only agreeably, but with a great deal of wisdom. Her husband soon became very much attached to her.
Chilperic, king of Neustria, brother of Chidebert, 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 confided him to a servant of the Austrasian duke Gondebald, who carried him on horseback to Metz, where he was proclaimed king on Christmas day, 575. When Chilperic and Fredegonda arrived in Paris, they found only Brunehaut, with her two daughters and the royal treasure. 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, Chimperic’s second son, with a violent passion, so that soon after she reached Rouen, he abandoned the troops his father had placed him 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. Chilporic, 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, Moreveus and Brunehaut left their asylum and gave themselves up to Chilperic. At first he treated them kindly, but in a few days returned to Soissons, taking his son with him as a prisoner, and leaving Brunehaut under a strong guard at Rouen. Meroveus, after having dragged out a miserable existence a prisoner for thirteen months and having in vain attempted to escape to join Brunehaut, was killed by one of his servants; some say by his own request and others by order of Fredegonda.
Meanwhile, Childebert had demanded and obtained from the king of Normandy his mother’s release, and Brunehaut had returned to her son’s court, wher she commenced that struggle, which afterward proved fatal to her, against the nobles of Austrasia. At one time,her own party and that of the nobles were drawn up in battle array against each other, and she, seeing that the combat would be a bloody one, and that her own side was weaker, boldly rushed between them and demanded that they desist. “Woman, retire,” exclaimed one of the dukes; “you have reigned long enough under the name of your husband; let that suffice you. Your son is now our king; Austrasia is under our guardianship, and not yours. Retire, directly, or our horses’ feet shall trample you to the earth.”
But the intrepid Brunehaut, unmoved by this savage address, persisted, and at last succeeded in preventing combat. Although obliged to yield to her turbulent subjects for a short time, Brunehaut soon regained her authority, which she used with great cruelty. In her anger she spared no one, but put to death or exiled all persons of rank f=who fell from her grace.
She also raised an army which she sent to against Clotaire, the young son of Fredegonda; but she was defeated, and Fredegonda took advantage of the intestine commotion in Austrasia to regain all that her husband had lost.
After the death of Childebert in 596, the nobles prevented her from ruling in the name of her grandson, Theodebert II; but another of her grandsons, Thierry II. of Burgundy, made her mistress of his affairs. She quickly kindled war between the two brothers. Theodebert was vanquished at Toul and at Tolbiac, and slain with his family in 612. Thierry suddenly died soon after, and Brunehaut seemed about to ascend the throne again, when she was opposed by Clotaire II., son of Fredegonda, at the head of an army of Burgundians and Austrasians. She encountered the enemy on the banks of the Aisne, but her troops refused to fight, and Brunehaut fell into the hands of the son of Fredegonda, who reproached her with having caused the death of ten kings or sons of kings, exposed her for three days to torture and to the insults of the soldiers, and then bound her by a foot and an arm to the tail of a wild horse. Her remains were then burned, and the ashes scattered to the winds.
Brunehaut has been diversely judged by historians, being by some accused of monstrous crimes, and extravagantly raised by others.
Reference: Woman: Her Position, Influence and Achievement Throughout the Civilized World. Designed and Arranged by William C. King. Published in 1900 by The King-Richardson Co. Copyright 1903 The King-Richardson Co.