Kōgyoku 皇極天皇– 594 – 661 – Kyoto, Japan

Ancient Japan, Japan

Kogyoku

Kōgyoku was not only the second woman to ascend to Japan‘s chrysanthemum throne, but also the third.

Born Princess Takara, she was the great-great granddaughter of Emperor Bidatsu, and great-great grandniece to Empress Suiko – the first woman to rule Japan. She married her uncle, Emperor Jomei, and became his consort, bearing him three children.

When Jomei died in his late forties, it was Takara who succeeded him, rather than their teenaged son, Naka no Ōe. She took the name Kōgyoku and the title Sumeramikoto or Amenoshita Shiroshimesu Ōkimi (治天下大王), meaning “the great queen who rules all under heaven”. The throne was not stable, however, and Kōgyoku’s reign was beset by challenges from the powerful Soga clan.

To prevent them from seizing total power, Naka no Ōe and his friends staged a coup intended to destroy the most powerful branch of the Soga family, which was led by statesman Soga no Iruka . In July of 645, during a ceremony in the throne room, Naka no Ōe assassinated Soga no Iruka, right in front of his mother.

Kōgyoku was deeply shocked by the violence she had witnessed (later known as the Isshi Incident), and more than that, at the time it was believed that being present at a murder polluted the soul. No longer considering herself fit to rule, Kōgyoku wished to abdicate immediately in favour of her son. She was instead convinced to pass her title to her brother, who became Emperor Kōtoku.

Kōtoku ruled from 645 – 654 and died without a living heir. In 655, Kōgyoku re-ascended to the throne under the new name of Empress Saimei. As Saimei she ruled for seven more years, before dying on a military expedition to Korea.


References:

Women’s Studies Encyclopedia, Volume 2 – Helen Tierney

Japan Encyclopedia – Louis-Frédéric, Käthe Roth

On Wikipedia:

Theodelinda – c.570 – 628 – Monza, Italy

Germany, Italy

20160530_194457-1

Theodelinda was a Baviarian princess who married Authuri, king of Lombardy (northwest Italy). Authuri died while Theodelinda was still young, and she selected Agilulf as her second husband and successor to the crown.

335px-Theodelinda_attends_to_the_construction_of_the_Cathedral_of_Monza_(detail)

Fresco despicting Theodelinda attending to the construction of the Cathedral of Monza (source)

As queen of the Lomboards, Theodelinda exerted a wide influence, particularly over religious matters. She was a follower of the Nicene creed – the doctrinal statement of belief in the divinity of god the father, son and holy spirt which is today followed by most mainstream Christian denominations. Theodelinda converted Agiluf, who was a pagan prior to their marriage, and as a result spread Christianity throughout Lombardy.

The queen was also responsible for the construction of a number of churches across Lombardy and Tuscany, including the Cathedral of Monza and the first Baptistery of Florence.

Theodelinda is also closely associated with the legend of the iron crown of Lombardy. The story went that the mother of the Roman emperor Constantine I, Helena, had found the ‘true cross’ – the cross which Jesus of Nazareth had been crucified upon. She took from it a number of nails, considered holy relics, and gave them to her son. Helena used one of the nails to calm the sea during a storm. Another was mounted on Constantine’s helmet, and a third made into a bit for his horse.

800px-Iron_Crown

The Iron Crown of Lombardy (source)

The remaining nails were used as diplomatic gifts, and one was sent to queen Theodelina. She had the iron relique set into a golden, jewelled diadem, which became known as ‘the iron crown’. The crown is still on display today in the Cathedral of Monza, alongside 15th century frescoes which narrate the story of Theodelinda.


References:

Catholic Encyclopedia (1913), Volume 9L Lombardy – Paolo Silva

History of the Langobards – Paul, the Deacon

On Wikipedia:

Bertha of Kent – c.565 – c.601 – Canterbury, England

Britain, England, France

20160511_230058-1

Bertha (sometimes Aldeberge) was a Frankish princess who became queen of Kent. Her influence contributed to the adoption of Christianity in Anglo-Saxon England.

Born and raised in Tours, France, Bertha was raised a Christian. Her marriage to King Æthelberht of Kent, an English pagan, was conditional on her being permitted to continue to practice her faith.

Following her move to Canterbury, Kent, Bertha began work to restore a Christian church in the city. There had been a church in Canterbury during the Roman occupation of Britain, but it had been destroyed during the Saxon invasions and was in a state of ruin by the time Bertha arrived.

StBerthaStatue-stMartinChurchCanterbury2

Wooden statue of Bertha inside St Martin’s Church (source)

Bertha used the restored church as her private chapel and dedicated it to Saint Martin of Tours. St Martins is still standing today, and is the oldest church in the English-speaking world.

In 596 Canterbury was visited by Augustine, Gregorian monk sent by Pope Gregory I to convert the English. Bertha received Augustine warmly and encouraged him to settle in Canterbury, where he went on to found a monastery and became the first Archbishop of Canterbury in 567.

Thanks to Bertha’s early influence, Canterbury remains the seat of the Church of England.

King Æthelberht eventually converted to Christianity himself, and the couple had two children, Eabald and Æthelburg.

Bertha was canonised as a saint; her feast day is on 1st May.


References:

Ecclesiastical History of the English People: Book 1 – Bede

Queen Bertha: Canterbury Historical and Archaeological Society

On Wikipedia:

 

Suiko 推古天皇 – 554 – 628 – Kyoto, Japan

Ancient Japan, Japan

Suiko

In the history of Japan, there were eight women to rule as empress in their own right – Suiko was the first.

The third daughter of Emperor Kinmei, Suiko’s personal name was Mikekashiya-hime-no-mikoto.

She first took the role of royal consort (Ōkisaki) to her brother Emperor Bidatsu following the death of his wife. After Bidatsu himself died, he was followed by Suiko’s second brother, Yōmei, who only lived two more years.

Empress_Suiko

Suiko (source)

After this there was a power struggle between two clans – the Soga and the Mononobe. Prince Hatsusebe, supported by the Sogas was the victor and ruled as Emperor Sushun from 587 to 592 – when he was assassinated by the head of the Soga clan.

To prevent another struggle, the imperial throne was then offered to Suiko, who accepted and became the 33rd monarch of Japan from 593 to 628. Her title was Amenoshita Shiroshimesu Ōkimi (治天下大王) – ‘the great queen who rules all under heaven’.

Prince Shōtoku, Yōmei’s son, was appointed regent over Suiko in 594, but he did not stop her from exercising considerable power. She was one of the first Buddhist monarchs of Japan, and under her reign Buddhism was officially recognised.


References:

The Future and the Past: A Translation and Study of the GukanshōThe Future and the Past: A Translation and Study of the Gukanshō –  Jien, Delmer Myers Brown, Ichirō Ishida

Japan Encyclopedia – Nussbaum, Louis-Frédéric and Käthe Roth

On Wikipedia:

Brunhilda – c.543 – 613 – Merovingian Austrasia

France, Germany, Spain

CW: Torture, extreme violence

Brunhilda

 

Brunhilda is a fascinating figure in European history – a Spanish princess who became a Frankish queen and ruled as regent no less than three times.

She was a vengeful woman who would not be crossed; Brunhilda’s forceful and unforgiving personality re-shaped the northern European political landscapes, leading to her being blamed for the deaths of ten (yes, TEN) Frankish kings.

Born in Toledo, the Visigothic capital (south of Madrid in modern day Spain), Brunhilda was a well-educated Christian princess from a noble house.

In 567 she was married to King Sigebert I of Austrasia – an area which was then comprised of parts of modern day France, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.

Austrasia was one of four Frankish kingdoms which had been united by Sigebert’s father. Sigebert and his three brothers had divided the kingdom into four parts – Paris and western Gaul, Burgundy, Austrasia, and Neustria.

Sigebert’s youngest brother, Chilperic, had inherited Neustria (Soissons). Chilperic was impressed with his brother’s educated high-born wife and – not to be outdone – sent to Toledo for Brunhilda’s younger sister, Galswintha.

Galswintha’s marriage to Chilperic was deeply unhappy. The young woman arrived in the foreign court to find that her husband already had a number of mistresses – mostly low born Franks. Insulted, Galswintha refused to put up with Chilperic’s courtesans and demanded that he banish every one of them from his court.

Galswinthe_&_Chilperic00

Chilperic strangling Galswintha (source)

These demands made Galswintha a very unstable enemy in Fredegund, a servant girl who had become the king’s mistress. When Galswintha was found strangled in her bed, Brunhilda blamed Fredegund and Chilperic – who were married only three days later.

Brunhilda was furious. For the next forty or so years, she dedicated her life to destroying Fredegund and Chilperic for what they did to her sister.

Fredegund was more than a match for her, and soon the family was at war.

Though several external parties attempted to broker peace between the warring in-laws, including Siegbert and Chilperic’s brother, Guntram of Burgundy, and the Bishop of Paris, the opposing sides were single-minded in their hatred for each other.

Matters came to a head when Sigebert defeated Chilperic in battle, taking Poitiers and Touraine and forcing the younger brother to flee to Tournai. Sigebert pursued his brother and attempted to conquer Tournai as well – but his winning streak was cut short when he was assassinated in 573.

The assassins had been sent by Fredegund.

With her sister and husband now murdered at the hands of the same woman, Brunhilda refused to back down. Her next move was to marry Merovech, Chilperic’s own son and Fredegund’s stepson. This was a powerful alliance. Panicking, Chilperic hurriedly made peace with Brunhilda and Merovech, before sending his son to a monastery to become a priest, attempting to annul the marriage.

Merovech escaped a number of times before killing himself in 578.

588px-thumbnail

Chilperic strangling Galswintha (source)

Down two husbands and still nowhere, Brunhilda now took matters into her own hands and consolidated her power. She claimed regency over her eldest son, Childebert II, and ruled Austrasia as queen. Though she was disliked and generally opposed by the noblemen of Austrasia, Brunhilda did manage to push through a number of administrative reforms; repairing roads and infrastructure, building churches, monasteries and abbeys, and restructuring the royal finances.

In 584, Chilperic was killed. Fredegund had taken his money and sought refuge in Notre Dame Cathedral.

By this time, young Childebert had turned thirteen – the age of majority – and taken the throne under the watchful eyes of his mother. Brunhilda was still so prominent at court that there were several plots to assassinate both mother and son.

Still, the queen proved herself indomitable. When Guntram of Burgundy died, Childebert inherited his kingdom too – and immediately went to war with his cousin Clotaire II of Neustria – Fredegund’s son.

Childebert himself died at only twenty-six years old – leaving Brunhilda to take the reins once more, this time claiming regency of Austrasia and Burgundy in the name of her two young grandsons, splitting the kingdoms between them.

In 597, Brunhilda’s greatest nemesis, Fredegund died – but the feud between them did not.

Apparently unable to stop making enemies, in 599 Brunhilda’s elder grandson Theudebert tired of her scheming and exiled her from his court. She headed straight for the court of her other grandson, Theuderic, and quickly persuaded him to declare war on his brother.  In 612, Theudebert was defeated and placed in a monastery, where he died (possibly assassinated).

Theuderic died shortly thereafter from an illness – leaving yet another power vacuum in the Frankish kingdoms. He had left only a small illegitimate son, Sigebert – so for the third time in her life Brunhilda claimed regency of the kingdom, this time for her great-grandson.

But the ghost of Fredegund would not rest. Her son, Clotaire II of Neustria raised an army against Brunhilda, forcing her to flee with Sigebert into Orbe (French Switzerland), where they were captured.

Sigebert was put to death at once, along with his young brother’s Corbo and Childebert – immediately ending the feud between Austrasia and Neustria.

Brunhilda was brutally tortured by Clotaire, who accused her of causing the deaths of ten Frankish kings:

  1. Sigebert I – Brunhilda’s first husband, assassinated by Fredegund due to the feud
  2. Chilperic I – Fredegund’s husband, assassinated (possibly by Fredegund)
  3. Theudebert II – Brunhilda’s grandson, defeated by his brother on Brunhilda’s orders
  4. Theuderic II – Brunhilda’s grandson, died from dysentery after war with his brother
  5. Sigebert II – Theuderic’s illegitimate son, Brunhilda’s great-grandson
  6. Merovech – Chilperic’s son, Brunhilda’s second husband, committed suicide
  7. Merovech – Theuderic’s son
  8. Corbo – Theuderic’s son, Brunhilda’s great-grandson, killed along with young Sigebert
  9. Childebert – Theuderic’s son, Brunhilda’s great-grandson
  10.  The sons of Theudebert II – Brunhilda’s great-grandsons

For these crimes, Clotaire put Brunhilda to death in the most unpleasant way he could think of – following her torture on the rack, the queen (now in her seventies) was tied to four horses, who were set to bolt in different directions, tearing her body apart.

She was then burned until nothing was left. Another story has the elderly woman being dragged by a wild horse until she died – either way, Brunhilda’s controversial life came to an extremely bloody end.

Brunhilda was buried in the Abbay de St Martin at Autun, which she had founded.


References:

The History of the Medieval World – Susan Wise Bauer

History of the Franks: Books I-X Gregory of Tours

On Wikipedia: