Closing the Book
Brunhilda is dead, and it feels like my world is crumbling.
Okay, okay, Brunhilda has been dead for – checks watch – 1,407 years now, so it’s not like this just happened. But still, I just spent a significant portion of the past six months researching her and her nemesis, Fredegunda. For the story to now be finished… well, it feels like a loss.
For what it’s worth, Brunhilda and Fredegunda were two of the biggest reasons I started looking into French history. The idea of two medieval queens leading armies against one another and killing those who get in their way sounded like a fictional plot, something custom-tailored for a two to three season Netflix run (if you’re with Netflix, feel free to call me. Let’s talk.). And the ending, this horrible and spectacular death involving horses, a king revenging his mother by inflicting one of the most painful experiences one could think of, and the literal destruction of the protagonist… it’s just a lot to take in. It’s a story that needed to be told, and I’m honestly surprised that more is not known about it in the mainstream.
Brunhilda and Fredegunda embody two completely different incarnations of womanhood: the former was a foreign princess, a Visigoth, and was expected throughout her youth to make a royal match on behalf of her family and kingdom. The latter was a servant girl, working for the royal family and slowly, slyly putting herself into a position to usurp a queen’s role for herself. Brunhilda was raised to rule, brought up to be prim and proper. Fredegunda relied on her wiles, her intelligence, and her ability to infatuate a queen. One has the world laid out for her; the other has to take what she wants.
What proceeds from this starting point is a back-and-forth between these two queens that would shape both of their lives and change an empire. Fredegunda murdered Brunhilda’s sister and husband, laying the Gothic queen low and imprisoning her in the process. It was at this point that Brunhilda learned how to use the schemes familiar to Fredegunda, schemes she had never had to use before… yet somehow mastered quickly. She seduced a young enemy prince, made a break for it out of prison and ran back to her homeland, taking charge of the kingdom for her young son, the new King. Again, these plots are almost too good to be true.
Anyway, the back and forth continued for years and years. Fredegunda led armies, Brunhilda led kingdoms, and together, these women wrote the story of their lives using the blood they spilt fighting one another as the ink for their pens. And that story eventually made it to me, and I had the pleasure of putting it into a podcast, and now it’s all over. The fighting, the researching, the storytelling… they’re all things of the past, and the feeling I have is that of having finished a particularly long book with no sequel. It’s satisfying, but at the same time you only ever seem to realize how much the routine of reading that book had become a part of your life once it’s over. You wish that the characters were real and that there were more pages to read, more to discover.
But just as with the example of the book, the story is over and new ones must be discovered. The loss abates at the same moment you lay your eyes on the first paragraph of the next book, and you move on.
Hopefully the next set of characters break my heart in the same way...
To start the series over, or to listen to all nine of the episodes in the saga of Brunhilda and Fredegunda for the first time, head over to:
We hope you enjoy!