Bathild – c.626 – 680 – Burgundy and Neustria

Britain, England, France

Bathild

Of uncertain origins, Bathild’s curious life appears to have begun in East Anglia, Britain, where she possibly born into a noble family. Whatever the circumstances of her upbringing, she was at some point uprooted and sold into slavery – possibly as a result of the war for the throne of East Anglia.

Still a little girl, Bathild now found herself a very long way from home, in Neustria (part of modern day France), where she entered service in the household of Erchinoald, a powerful Frankish nobleman.

The story goes that Bathild grew up into the ideal medieval woman – beautiful, modest, subservient and pious. When Erchinoald’s wife died, he was keen to make Bathild his wife. Unfortunately for him, Bathild was uninterested in the man who had bought her as a child, and hid herself away until he found someone else to marry.

Eventually (though the details are murky) Bathild got a much better offer of marriage – Clovis II, king of Burgundy and Neustria. This time, she said yes.

Like all good medieval Christian queens, Bathild engaged in public acts of charity. She donated enough money to the church to found two Abbeys, Corbie and Chelles – and possibly three others. She also had three sons, Clotaire, Childeric and Theuderic.

Their eldest son was only five years old when Clovis died, leaving little Clotaire on the throne, but Bathild in charge. As queen regent she really came into her own. She was an intelligent and capable politician, even handling an attempted coup.

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Bathild’s seal matrix (sourcesource)

Her greatest triumph was the abolition of Christian slavery – something which must have been very dear to her heart. Historical sources also write that she worked to free children who had been sold into slavery by paying for them herself and giving them their freedom.

All three of Bathild’s sons became kings – Clotaire of Neustria, Childeric of Austrasia and Theuderic of Burgundy. Satisfied that she had done her job, Bathild retired to the Abbey she had founded in Chelles, where she lived peacefully until the end of her life.

 

 

 


References:

Bathild Seal Matrix – Norfolk Museum

On Wikipedia:

Eanswith – c.614 – c.640 – Kent, England

Britain, England

Eanswith

Eanswith (sometimes Eanswythe or Eanswide) was an Anglo Saxon princess who founded the first nunnery in England.

She was the granddaughter of Bertha of Kent, and her family were the first Anglo-Saxon royals to convert to Christianity – at the time a very new religion. Kent was a powerful kingdom and Eanswith would have been one of the most highborn women in England.

Eanswith was clearly beloved by her father, King Eabald, who helped finance her plans to build the nunnery. He also listened to his daughter when she refused a proposal of marriage from a neighbouring prince.

The Benedictine Folkestone priory was completed in about 630, and Eanswith quickly moved in and adopted a monastic lifestyle, along with a number of other women. It was the first religious settlement for women in the British Isles.

After her death in 640, Eanswith was canonised as a saint by the Catholic Church. Her feast day is celebrated on 12th September.

Unfortunately the site founded by Eanswith eventually eroded into the sea, though a second building, Folkestone Priory, was constructed further inland in 1137. This site included a church dedicated to St Mary and St Eanswith, and contains Eanswith’s remains.


References:

Woman under Monasticism Lina Eckenstein

A Companion to British Literature, Volume 1: Medieval Literature, 700 – 1450Heesok Chang, Robert DeMaria, Jr., Samantha Zacher

On Wikipedia:

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

Britain, England, France

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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.

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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:

 

Cartimandua – 43 – 69 – Britain

Britain, England

Cartimandua

Cartimandua lived around the same time as the more famous Celtic queen Boudica, during the second Roman conquest of Britain. While Boudica’s circumstances forced her to fight back against Roman occupation, Cartimandua enjoyed a generally friendly and profitable relationship with Rome.

Map_of_the_Territory_of_the_Brigantes.svg

The territory of the Brigantes

Ruler of the Brigantes tribe in northern England, Cartimandua was queen in her own right (not through her husband or son). She came to power at a very turbulent time for Iron Age Britain, as the Emperor Claudius had invaded in 43. The less developed native Celts had never faced anything like the Roman army and were quickly subdued.

Either Cartimandua’s father or the queen herself chose to co-operate with the Romans rather than revolt. As a result, the Brigantes enjoyed wealth and protection. Among the Britons who did revolt was Caractacus, king of the Catuvellauni tribe. After his resistance was defeated in Wales, Caractacus fled to seek sanctuary from Cartimandua – who promptly handed him over to the Roman’s in chains.

This even further cemented her loyalty to Rome, as Caractacus was bought back to Rome for Claudius’ triumphal parade and Cartimandua was richly rewarded.

Cartimandua (1)

Cartimandua presents Caractacus to the Romans

The queen was married to a man named Venutius, who became a figurehead of the British resistance after the capture of Caractacus. Whether for political or personal reasons, Cartimandua divorced him and quickly remarried his armour-bearer Vollocatus instead. She and Venutius became sworn emenies.

In 57, Cartimandua seized Venutius’ family and held them hostage – but this would not stop him. He built up a resistance army to make war against Cartimandua and the Roman invaders. The Roman army had anticipated this and sent units to assist the queen, enabling her to retain her throne.

However, Venutius simply bided his time. In 69 the Roman empire was in turmoil due to civil war. Taking advantage of this instability, Venutius launched abother attack. This time, there weren’t enough troops to protect Cartimandua, and her only choice was to flee, leaving Venutius to usurp her.

After this episode, Cartimandua disappears from historical record.

The bulk of what we know about Cartimandua comes from the Roman historian Tacitus, who describes her as ‘treacherous’ for handing Caractactus to the Romans, and sexually wanton for divorcing her royal husband in favour of a common soldier.


In fiction:

Daughters of Fire by Barbara Erskine features Cartimandua as a main character.


References:

On Wikipedia:


Image credits:

Map of the Territory of the Brigantes” by England_Celtic_tribes_-_North_and_Midlands.png: self-createdderivative work: Jpb1301 (talk) – England_Celtic_tribes_-_North_and_Midlands.png.

Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

Cartimandua” by Francesco Bartolozzi (publisher/printer; printmaker; Italian; British; Male; 1728 – 1815)