Episode 17: Fredegunda
Updated: Apr 28
Hey everyone! I just wanted to start off this episode by first offering happy Easter to everyone out there who celebrates the holiday; Clovis would be proud of you. If you’re not in that group, well, that’s fine too. Instead let’s say… happy sinking of the Titanic! Just think, at this time 108 years ago, John Jacob Astor, the “unsinkable” Margaret “Molly” Brown, Benjamin Guggenheim, and 2,205 other people were all onboard and settled in for a week-long journey; Jack had just won the worst poker jackpot of all time; and Rose was learning how to dance in steerage, along with some other acts of… disobedience. In more upbeat and less risqué news, happy birthday to both my wife, Jayme, and my son, Tyler, both of whom were born on April 15; I’m sure their birthday parties, just like all the rest of the birthday parties in this last month, are going to leave a little something to be desired. But for what it’s worth, happy birthday and know I love you both. Your gift will probably be wrapped by Amazon.
Finally, as we all know, it has been 21 days now since the UK lockdown began and, true to my word, we have managed to move up the production schedule to get out an additional episode of T+M while we all muddle through quarantine. On a positive note, I think we can keep up the 10-day production schedule for a little while at least, so that’s good. On a negative note, however, it looks like we’re going to continue the lockdown for another 3-6 weeks, so… meh. What I propose to try to do, while we’re quarantined, is to keep on with the 10-day schedule until the lockdown is finally lifted and we can do fun stuff again, like go to libraries and museums and historical sites like Canterbury and Stonehenge. We’ll keep doing our best to bring you the history you’re here for, and we’ll focus on taking a break after we’re all safe on the other side. Until then, we hope this effort on our part serves as a diversion for you and helps keep you sane as we all survive our new lifestyle of Real World: COVID-19. Anyway, know that we are here for you and we’ll see you every 10 days from now until…
Being a stepmother is never easy, but for Fredegunda it was a particularly difficult job.
I mean, her five new stepchildren would just not let it slide, the fact that Fredegunda had had their mother, Audovera, tricked, dethroned, and sent to a convent against her will. To Fredegunda, this was way more Audovera’s fault than hers. After all, Audovera had had every advantage going for her when Fredegunda arrived on the scene. She was the legitimate Queen of Chilperic’s kingdom in Soissons. She had access to money, which in turn gave her access to influence. And she had provided Chilperic with a nursery full of children, two girls and three boys. If she wasn’t able to shore up her position in the kingdom with all of that going to her advantage, well, in Fredegunda’s mind she had no right to keep any of it anyway.
Fredegunda would, however, hand one thing to Audovera: keeping Chilperic’s attention could be tricky. He was surrounded, as all kings and powerful people are, by a group of “advisors” who were all too happy to suggest the king say and do things that just so happened to coincide with the interests of the person giving him counsel. Fredegunda had been able to keep the king’s attention by playing to his lust and his desire to feel masculine, strong, and in control; she was a pretty young woman and had easily managed to keep the King hooked on her. Still, some of the smarter advisors around Chilperic figured that Fredegunda was simply holding the king through concubine’s tricks, and soon developed a plan to push this low-born commoner out of their way.
Galswintha was the sister of Brunhilda, the queen in the neighboring kingdom of Austrasia. These sisters hailed from the Visigothic kingdom to the south, and both were heralded wide and far for their beauty, intelligence, virtue, and generally good breeding. Chilperic’s brother Sigibert had been making much of his amazing new wife and getting rave reviews across the land for his choice; now Chilperic’s advisors started suggesting to their king that he could easily do the same. He was a better king than Sigibert, no doubt, and if he contacted the Visigothic king Athanagild there would be no doubt of him sending his daughter post-haste to secure a dynastic alliance. Chilperic was almost convinced, but at the same time, he knew he didn’t want to give up Fredegunda. It was no problem, the advisors said. Fredegunda didn’t need to get out of the King’s life entirely; she just needed to be relegated to the shadows for a while and removed from the queenship. Chilperic could still use her as a concubine, and he’d get someone new to join his bed as well. Had he seen Galswintha’s portraits?
At any rate, Chilperic had been convinced and Fredegunda was demoted. This didn’t sit well with the once- and would-be-queen at all, and sure enough she and Galswintha were mortal enemies from the time the two came near one another. Galswintha, rightfully, realized that her marriage could not survive while Fredegunda was on the scene, and she began to implore the King more and more to send his mistress away from the court. Her imploring soon became demanding, and it wasn’t too long before the king was looking at his new queen as impertinent and out of line. It didn’t hurt that Fredegunda was whispering rumors and more in the King’s ear when she visited him behind closed doors. Finally, one night after an especially vicious argument with Galswintha wherein the girl asked to have the marriage annulled and to be allowed to go home to the south, Fredegunda and Chilperic made a decision: Galswintha had to die. There was no way she was going to be allowed to take her dowry and morgengabe and go home, not when strangling her in her bed was so much cheaper and easier.
With the act accomplished, Chilperic couldn’t wait to put things back to the way they were before he had been convinced to bring the Visigothic princess north. He “mourned” Galswintha’s death in public for several whole days, but when that time was up, he immediately re-married Fredegunda. He had now thrown over two queens for this woman and was willing to see his decision through to the end. A civil war had been ongoing from the earliest days of his reign, but Galswintha would add a new element to the fighting and make things more personal between Sigibert and Chilperic. The murder ensured that, one way or another, the fight was going to push through until either he or his brother was dead.
By 575, Chilperic found it increasingly likely that he would be the brother to lose the war and his life. He and Fredegunda were holed up in the city of Tournai, under siege and waiting for Sigibert to finally break through to deliver the death blow. Chilperic was beside himself and unable to develop a plan; even when he wasn’t beside himself, Fredegunda had long ago realized that her husband was not the most able military commander. She, however, was able to see through all of the clutter and all of the confusion. Just as her position was directly tied to maintaining the love and interest of the king, she saw that so too was her enemy, Brunhilda, tied to Sigibert. He was the piece that mattered: if she could find a way to kill the enemy king, the whole tide of the war would instantly turn. Austrasia would be leaderless, and the five-year-old Crown Prince would be years from being a threat. And that was assuming that Fredegunda couldn’t catch him as well; there were rumors that he and Brunhilda had followed the king on campaign.
Fredegunda found two of her best soldiers and tasked them to do the impossible for her: find and kill Sigibert behind enemy lines. If they struck the king and survived, they would forever be heroes; if they struck him and died, they would be martyrs to the cause and their families would be taken care of accordingly. Either way, they would have the eternal love of their Queen; could they do this for her? Both men unflinchingly said yes, and as they left her presence Fredegunda had both of them armed with poisoned short swords known as scramasaxi. She had made her move; now she waited.
Fredegunda remained calm and unemotional throughout the next day, even as she watched her husband pace back and forth. He was debating with himself whether or not he should find a way to escape Tournai and run, or die in a last stand. He was in the middle of this interminable internal debate when a messenger burst into the room: King Sigibert was dead! He had been assassinated while in the midst of a victory march, and as soon as his army realized that their leader was dead, they lost all sense of command and control. In the midst of the chaotic scene following their sovereign’s assassination, the army was so confused as to be completely ineffective. Things were not helped by the fact that Sigibert’s chamberlain, Charigysel, had been slain along with his king, and one of his key military commanders, Sigila, had been wounded and caught.
Chilperic was dumbfounded by this immense and unexpected turn of events. Unable to speak, Fredegunda quickly took charge of the situation. “Where is the Sigibert’s boy, the Crown Prince?” she asked. She flew into a rage when the soldiers in front of her said they didn’t know; capturing the boy would have been a major step toward conquering most of Gaul. “What about his mother?” she asked next. To this she received a much more pleasing answer: Brunhilda had been caught and was under Neustrian control. This was music to Fredegunda’s ears. Childebert would have been a better prize, but having her personal nemesis under her control was sweet, nonetheless. She thought for a few moments and then delivered her orders.
“Have Sigila, Sigibert’s commander, brought before everyone tomorrow. I want his body burned with white-hot irons and his limbs torn from one another. I want you to make sure Brunhilda knows how we treated her husband’s commandant, and I want her to imagine how we will treat his wife.”
With that, Fredegunda receded to her chambers and let her husband take over as ruler. She had done what she needed to do, and was content to let Chilperic feel as if he were in charge. After all was said and done, she knew that she had things under control and could step up whenever she needed to put things right again. Her husband ruled the kingdom, but she ruled him; that was good enough… for now.
This is Thugs and Miracles. Episode Seventeen: Fredegunda.
Alright, welcome back! As always, I’m Benjamin Bernier. Today, as the episode’s title indicates, we’re going to look at the history from Fredegunda’s point-of-view. And it’s a pretty intense ride, to the point where, instead of trying to come up with some sort of catchy phrase to sum up the events of history in three or four words in the title, I chose to just go with the Queen’s name. Fredegunda, as we’ll see, is summation enough.
Fredegunda appears to have been a self-made woman. Gregory implies that she had been a servant, and according to the historian François Guizot, she “was the daughter of poor peasants in the neighborhood of Montdidier in Picardy, and at an early age joined the train of Queen Audovera, the first wife of King Chilperic. She was beautiful, dexterous, ambitious, and bold.” While she may have had all of those attributes in spades, she was not well-born or moneyed, making Chilperic’s choice to take her as Queen a confounding and compelling question. With so little to gain, why would he set aside Audovera? Unfortunately, this seems to be a question that will go down in history as a mystery. What we do know, however, is that no matter how or why Fredegunda eventually ascended to the throne, she seemed to maintain control of Chilperic during the king’s marriage to Galswintha and during the fallout that proceeded from her death.
Galswintha died in 567 and the entrapment of the royal couple in Tournai and the death of Sigibert didn’t happen until 575, so while the history often reads as if “A happened, which led to B, which led to C…” and so on, realistically there was an ample amount of time for Fredegunda to solidify her reign while her husband fought his wars. In this sense, Fredegunda was clearly a much better administrator than Audovera. As we noted in the last episode, Merovingian wives had access to their wedding dowry and the traditional morgengabe, the gift given to them on the morning after the wedding. We can assume then that Audovera had access to a reasonable amount of money from which to purchase influence and favors, yet she still managed to get deposed. Again, there’s no record that allows us to know exactly how she conducted herself as queen, but one has to assume that she would have been able to oppose Fredegunda and rally allies to her cause if she had been a more able administrator. As for myself, I’m willing to give Galswintha a pass in this department since she arrived late to the scene and its messed-up love triangle, putting her in a bad position to resist and with little time to do so, even if she had been an able queen. Audovera, on the other hand, had had years with Chilperic, not to mention five children. For her to have fallen from power over a silly trick and a lack of awareness over Church etiquette leads me to believe that she was at best underwhelming as a person of influence at court, and at worst she had burnt bridges that had made Fredegunda, at the time anyway, seem like a better choice to go with.
So how did Fredegunda go about the job of influencing the king and those around him? Well, let’s just say that you’re not likely to find many tips or tricks from the good Queen in a copy of How to Win Friends and Influence People. The first thing she appears to have done was to get Audovera and her newborn sent off to a convent, thereby removing the possibility of a nearby rival. She wasn’t immediately able to get rid of her stepchildren, of whom she had four others to compete with, but they were clearly on her mind, as later events will show. She also began to give the King new children; by the time the new royal couple had finished they had had a daughter, Rigunth; four boys, Chlodebert, Samson, Dagobert, and Theuderic, all of whom died young; and a final child, a boy named in honor of his grandfather, Chlothar. Out of these six, only Rigunth and Chlothar would live to adulthood.
King Chilperic had become so completely involved in various battles and fights with his brothers by the early 570s that little is heard of from Fredegunda until the assassination of Sigibert in 575. Chilperic was continually taking and ceding cities all across Francia at this point; all of the brothers competed for, won, lost, and traded territory at this time, with very little being done to expand the overall Frankish territory. If anything, this infighting made the Franks more susceptible to being raided by outside forces, and during this time we see groups such as the Avars and Lombards making incursions into the territory. We can see in all of this infighting a distaste by Frankish subjects to fight against one another. This isn’t to say that they didn’t take part in civil wars, but more and more it appears that the kings had to find forces from outside of Francia who were willing to come and fight for them. Local levies and garrisons were able to fight well in defense of their territories, but their desire to fight appeared to have left them once they were away from their territory. Historian Bernard Bachrach writes:
“Sigibert’s main military support seems to have come from pagan Germans living beyond the Rhine. His Austrasian subjects had demonstrated during the reigns of his uncle Theuderic and his father, Chlothar, their unwillingness to obey their king and their dislike for fighting outside their own territory. Early in his own reign, they had further proven their ineffectiveness against the Avars. Sigibert found the Austrasians of little help in his wars with Chilperic, and this perhaps accounts for his inability to react to Chilperic’s attacks before he had arranged for the support of trans-Rhenish troops in 574. It should be recalled that between 568 and 573 Chilperic attacked Sigibert’s lands at least twice, but that the latter on his own made no counterattack before 574. In 570, however, Guntram had sent an army to recover for Sigibert what Chilperic had taken from him.”
So, long story short – and with no small amount of irony – the Merovingian kings of this time fought a lot, but they were not particularly good at fighting. The 574 counterattack by Sigibert managed to erase any gains Chilperic had made up until that point, and in 575, according to Brandon Taylor Craft, “Sigibert recalled his Germanic allies and sent messengers to Tours and Châteaudun where an army was raised to attack Chilperic’s son Theudebert. Theudebert’s army was defeated and he was killed during the battle, but Gregory also recounts that his body was mutilated.”
Now, we know how 575 ultimately turned out for Sigibert, thanks to Fredegunda and her assassins. But we must also look at how things are turning out at this time for the other people who Fredegunda would have viewed as enemies: her husband’s sons by Audovera – Theudebert, Clovis, and Merovech. Theudebert took care of himself, at least insofar as Fredegunda would have been concerned, but what of the other two? Well, this is where family dynamics start to get really interesting, and also where Brunhilda finally re-enters our story.
Following his breakout from Tournai, Chilperic, rather than putting an end to the fighting that nearly backfired on him and cost him his life, began yet another series of campaigns. He was down to only one remaining brother with whom to compete, and his other rival for power was a five-year-old boy-king whose father had just fallen to him. Chilperic placed his soon Merovech in charge of one of his armies; Gregory tells us what happened next:
“Chilperic sent his son Merovech to Poitiers with an army. But he disobeyed his father's orders and came to Tours and spent there the holy days of Easter. His army did great damage to that district. Merovech himself in pretense that he wanted to go to see his mother went to Rouen and there met queen Brunhilda and married her. Upon news of this Chilperic became very bitter because Merovech had married his uncle's widow contrary to divine law and the canons, and quicker than speech he hastened to the above-mentioned city. But when they learned that he was determined to separate them they took refuge in the church of St. Martin that is built of boards upon the wall of the city. But when the king on his arrival strove to entice them thence by many artifices and they refused to trust him, thinking that he was acting treacherously, he took oath to them, saying: "If it was the will of God, he himself would not attempt to separate them." They accepted this oath and came out of the church and Chilperic kissed them and gave them a fitting welcome and feasted with them. But after a few days he returned to Soissons, taking Merovech with him.”
So, knowing how well Fredegunda handled challenges to her authority, we can only imagine how she would have acted upon finding out that Audovera’s son had chosen to take up with the Visigothic queen whose sister she had had murdered. In a way, I have to hand it to Merovech: there’s almost no way in which he could have offended his stepmother more. For Brunhilda, marrying Merovech would have made sense on multiple levels. First, the marriage would give her a male benefactor to work on her behalf. While it’s nice to think that she could have simply stepped out on her own and taken on the world like some sort of early Disney princess, the fact is that at this time power and legal authority rested with men. Therefore, Brunhilda’s ability to wield power would always rely on her ability to handle the men in her life; for a pretty, stately and worldly queen such as her, who would be easier to manipulate and control than a teenaged prince with step-mommy issues? Second, marrying Merovech made Brunhilda the daughter-in-law of Chilperic. Killing and imprisoning his brother’s wife, his sister-in-law, would have been one thing, but a daughter-in-law would fall more directly within his household. Whether or not he agreed with the marriage, killing Brunhilda once she was “family” would have been bad PR. Finally, marrying Merovech could have come off as looking impulsive and desperate; these two traits are not typically positives for a person, but at this time Brunhilda would have been trying to stay alive and survive, not lead. Looking weak and unimportant could certainly have played into Chilperic’s ultimate decision to release her and allow her to return back to Austrasia and her son.
As for Merovech, well… unfortunately for him, the best word I can think of to describe him is “pawn.” Once she was clear of Chilperic and Fredegunda, Brunhilda never again did much to help out her new husband. The prince, never again trusted by his father, was accused of being involved in an attack against Chilperic’s territory; whether Chilperic was right or wrong, he ordered Merovech to have his hair cut off into the tonsure of a monk and sent to live in a monastery. Merovech tried to run, getting back to Tours and the Church of Saint Martin, but he ended up being shut in the church for two months as he sought sanctuary. He was never received by the Austrasians, and worse yet was betrayed by them. Again from Gregory:
“When Merovech was kurking in Champagne near Rheims and did not trust himself to the Austrasians openly, he was entrapped by the people of Therouanne, who said that they would abandon his father Chilperic and serve him if he came to them. And he took his bravest men and went to them swiftly. Then they revealed the stratagem they had prepared and shut him up at a certain village and surrounded him with armed men and sent messengers to his father. And he listened to them and purposed to hasten thither. But while Merovech was detained in a certain inn he began to fear that he would pay many penalties to satisfy the vengeance of his enemies, and called to him Galen his slave and said: "Up to the present we have had one mind and purpose. I ask you not to allow me to fall into the hands of my enemies, but to take your sword and rush upon me." And Galen did not hesitate but stabbed him with his dagger. The king came and found him dead. There were some at the time who said that Merovech's words, which we have just reported, were an invention of the queen, and that Merovech had been secretly killed at her command. Galen was seized and his hands, feet, ears, and the end of his nose were cut off, and he was subjected to many other tortures and met a cruel death... Moreover, they cruelly butchered by various forms of death many others who had come with Merovech. Men said at that time that bishop Egidius and Gunthram Boso were the leaders in the betrayal, because Gunthram enjoyed the secret friendship of Fredegunda for the killing of Theodobert, and Egidius had been her friend for a long time.”
Thomas Wyatt tells us that Fredegunda went so far as to get revenge against the bishop who married Merovech and Brunhilda, a man named Praetextatus. From Wyatt:
“This queen carried her revenge still farther; she had not forgotten the affection that formerly subsisted between Praetextatus and Merovech and she was determined to procure the deposition of that prelate… The bishop…was condemned on his own confession, committed to prison, and afterwards banished. On the death of Chilperic, he was recalled by the King of Burgundy, and reinstated in his diocese in spite of Fredegunda, who, in revenge, had him stabbed in the midst of divine service.”
Yeah, that’s right: she had a bishop stabbed to death in a church while conducting Easter Mass. I mean, we thought Michael Corleone was brutal when he made his power move at the end of the first Godfather movie by ordering hits to take place while he was in a church celebrating the baptism off his godchild. Here’s Fredegunda, ordering a hit to take place in a church, and on Easter no less. If this is true, all I can say is that it’s an incredibly strong power play on her part to destroy a man who actively conspired to damage her reign through the marriage of her stepson to her enemy, and who then accepted the charity of a rival monarch.
With all of this said, there’s a few loose ends left remaining for Fredegunda in the form of one remaining stepson and his mother. Again from Wyatt:
“Chilperic had one son by his first wife still living, Clovis, whom this cruel stepmother was resolved to sacrifice to the elevation of her own children. The means she employed were, that he should be accused with Gregory of Tours, of forming a conspiracy to assassinate his father Chilperic, make away with the children he had by Fredegunda, and place himself, Clovis, on the throne. Fredegunda, having lately lost three children by the dysentery, she bribed some persons to swear that Clovis had caused them to be poisoned. Under these accusations he was arrested, and imprisoned in the castle of Noisy, where he was soon murdered; his mother Audovera experienced a similar fate, the sacredness of her retreat being insufficient to preserve her from the rage of this female monster.”
Now is as good a time as any to get into a discussion about just how much of a “monster” Fredegunda was. Now don’t misunderstand me: she was murderous, dangerous, ruthless, and probably a hundred other similar adjectives, but to call her a monster seems to be imposing modern views of morality onto her, as well as overlooking just how brutal and violent the time she was living in was. The fact is, Gregory ascribes a litany of horrible crimes to almost every single major character described in his Histories. Clovis I killed soldiers for minor offenses on church land; his wife, Clotilde, actively urged her sons into a war of retribution that resulted in one of them being killed. Chlothar I is described as stabbing his own nephews to death while they screamed and begged for mercy, and just inside of this story, Chilperic okayed the strangling of his second wife simply because she had the audacity to complain about him keeping his mistress around. Still, these individuals are generally viewed in a positive light and largely forgiven their transgressions – Clotilde was even named a saint! – but in the case of Fredegunda, historians have seemed to want to tread on the side of being “evil” simply because she was a female who actively took part in the violence she ordered. Historian Nira Gradowicz-Pancer argues that instead of being evil for evil’s sake, Fredegunda was more likely than not doing what she felt had to be done, in the time in which she was living, to shore up her position as Queen and protect the position of her last remaining male child. From her paper:
"Female violence, far from being as irrational and exceptional as the authors would sometimes want us to believe, obeyed an implicit code of honour which was not yet the product of obedience to Christian values but rather the result of a quest for accumulation of power, wealth and social precedence. Related to a certain tolerance towards female sexuality, which was not yet anchored in the notion of sexual purity, one realizes that the strict coding of abilities, dispositions and schemes as specifically male or female remains somewhat vague. It seems that in order to understand women's violent behaviour, one must cease to use the notion of gender as a central concept. It is in terms of power, and more especially in terms of strategies of honour, that one can better evaluate the rationale of female violence."
And that’s how I choose to view Fredegunda’s actions. They were not those of a witch or of a tyrant, but rather, of a woman looking to secure her power base. There is one last incident to review then before we go for this week, and this one, if true, is perplexing simply because Fredegunda would not have been secure enough in her power base, vis-à-vis the age of her child, to make the power move that’s about to be credited to her. From the book A Popular History of France, Volume 1 by François Guizot:
“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 Fredegunda 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 Chlothar, of whom his mother Fredegunda became the sovereign guardian.”
Guizot is claiming here that Fredegunda killed her own husband, the man who, by being his consort, gave her access to all the power of the monarchy. She very likely could have expected, in the death of the King, that she would be named as Queen Regent to her infant child, but it still seems a dangerous move for a number of reasons. First off, what if she had made an attempt on Chilperic’s life and he had lived? Would the assassins have dimed her out? We’ve already seen the Merovingians use white-hot pokers and dismemberment as a form of torture and execution; how long would Fredegunda expect someone to hold out under these conditions before giving up her name? Personally, you’d only have to show me the tongs, fresh from the fire, and I’d tell you everything you’ve ever wanted to know, but then again, torture is really not my thing. Next, what guarantee did she have that she would be Queen Regent? Considering that all of her other boys had died young due to disease, what guarantee did she have that Chlothar II would even live long enough for her to be properly named as regent? Third, why give up the guarantee of what you know – that you’re the queen and no one can directly challenge your position – for the uncertainty associated with a regency?
From our vantage point, it doesn’t seem to make much logical sense for Fredegunda to have made this move, and despite all of the dramatics that historians like to level at her, it would be uncharacteristic for Fredegunda to be so short-sighted as to murder her meal ticket. It was possible she had murdered Chilperic as a first-strike of sorts, taking the risk of killing her sovereign after he had discovered that she had been unfaithful, rather than risking his wrath. And it was also possible she had ordered the assassination so as to allow her to carry on with another lover, but this is extremely unlikely. In writings from Gregory – a man that hated her – Fredegunda is noted later in life as quarrelling incessantly with her daughter “above all because of the adulteries Rigunda was guilty of.” While it’s perfectly possible that Fredegunda was a hypocrite, it’s seems more likely that she was mad at her daughter for not making smarter choices. In all likelihood, Fredegunda was not cheating on the king, but was being slut-shamed by men who were anxious to build a case against her. But if it wasn’t Fredegunda, I hear you asking, who was it? Who killed Chilperic? Well, the list of suspects in that case is long. From Gregory:
“He often punished men unjustly because of their wealth. Very few clerics in his time reached the office of bishop… He hated the causes of the poor. He was always blaspheming the bishops of the Lord, and… he hated nothing more than churches… he would always break wills that were made in favor of churches and he trampled underfoot the last directions of his own father, thinking that there was no one left to require the execution of his will. As to lust and wantonness nothing can be found in thought that he did not realize in deed. And he was always looking for new devices to injure the people and of late years if he found anyone guilty he would order his eyes torn out… He never loved anyone sincerely and was loved by no one, and therefore when he died all his people deserted him.”
So, there you have it: the list has been whittled down to the rich, the poor, the bishops, people mistreated by the king in his application of estate law, and anyone injured by his lust or unfairly maimed. While Gregory was certainly engaging in a bit of hyperbole to say that no one loved Chilperic, it’s safe to say that there would have been an amply long list of people who wanted the king dead and who had the means and methods to attempt the attack. And Gregory completely forgot to mention Brunhilda as a possible conspirator, the woman whose sister and both husbands had been taken away from her by Chilperic’s actions. Suddenly, Fredegunda – the woman who derived her position from the king and who had no guaranteed spot in the succession if he were to die – looks a little less like a possible murderer – of Chilperic, at least.
CONCLUSION: Alright, we’ve seen 23 years now elapse from the time Chlothar died until the time that three of his sons – Charibert, Sigibert, and Chilperic – were all dead. Both of the husbands that had initially made Fredegunda and Brunhilda into queens are gone, and now their power has to start to wane, right? Well, not so much. Both women have learned to appreciate being in charge, and neither would let go without being dragged by wild horses. We’ll speak more about how they exerted their power and authority through the next generation of Merovingian kings in our next episode, and we’ll also go full Kardashian by introducing you to a new person who has, up to this point, remained relatively quiet. You see, along with the four sons who King Chlothar passed his kingdom on to in 561, he had also had a son who he kinda sorta forgot to mention in his will. This child, now a full-grown man in the year 584, will look to take advantage of the passing of his half-brothers to proclaim himself as the King of Francia; join us next episode as we explore the Gundovald Affair and the continuing bloody soap opera that was Fredegunda and Brunhilda.
OUTRO: As always, the music used for the show comes from Josh Woodward and includes his songs “Bully” and “Lafayette.” For a free download of these songs or hundreds of other great tracks, check out his site at joshwoodward.com. Notes on this episode, a list of sources, a monarchy/family tree, and much more is available online at thugsandmiracles.com; check it out and be sure to sign up for the e-mail list. Speaking of email, you can write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, you can hit me on Twitter at @thugsandmiracle (with no “s” on the end), or you can leave a comment on Facebook or Instagram at @ThugsAndMiracles. Finally, I’d ask that if you have found yourself with a bit of downtime due to current events, consider taking the time to rate and review the podcast on whichever platform you use to listen; we always love to see five stars.
Okay, once again, my name is Benjamin Bernier, and I look forward to seeing you in just ten days, again, as we continue down the road of the lives and times of these two great Queens in our next episode of Thugs and Miracles.