Theodelinda – c.570 – 628 – Monza, Italy

Germany, Italy

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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:

Radegund – c.520 – 587 – Poitiers, France

France, Germany

Radegund

Radegund (also Rhadegund, Radegonde or Radigund) was a German princess and a Frankish queen who founded the Abbey of the Holy Cross at Poitiers. She was also the granddaughter of Basina through her father.

At the time Radegund was born, the kingdom of Thuringia was ruled by three men; her father Bertachar and his brothers, Baderic and Hermanfrid.

In 529, Hermanfrid killed Bertachar in battle, leaving nine-year-old Radegund an orphan. She was taken into Hermanfrid’s household while he continued his campaign for sole kingship, killing Baderic shortly afterwards.

Hermanfrid’s victory had come at a cost – he had sought the help of Theuderic, king of the Franks, agreeing that they would share sovereignty of Thuringia. However, you can’t trust a man who will kills his own brothers in the pursuit of power, and Hermanfrid did not make good on his promise.

Furious at the betrayal, Theuderic and his own brother, Clotaire I marched into Thuringia in 531, defeating Hermanfrid and claiming his kingdom. When the victorious brothers returned to Gaul (France), they took twelve-year-old Radegund with them.

She was raised in Clotaire’s villa in Picardy, and in 540 Radegund became one of his six wives. Little is known about her life as Clotaire’s concubine, other than that they had no children.

In 550, Radegund’s family was in peril again when Clotaire had her brother, the last surviving male, murdered. With her own life potentially in danger, Radegund left the Frankish court and sought shelter within the church. She pleaded her case to the Bishop of Noyon, who agreed to make her a deaconess.

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Radegund retiring to the monastery (source)

While living in the Frankish court Radegund had been noted for her charitable giving, but once she joined the church she really came into her own, founding the monastery of Cainte-Croix in Poitiers.

As a deaconess, Radegund’s life was governed by a very strict set of instructions, known as the Rule for Virgins. This required nuns to live cloistered lives, away from the public. They were expected to devote much of their time to reading the Bible and copying out manuscripts, and had a restrictive vegetarian diet of legumes and green vegetables.

As well as founding the monastery, Radegund personally tended to the sick, gaining a reputation as a gifted healer. In addition, Radegund wrote poetry (likely with a religious theme) which has sadly been lost.

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Radegund retiring to the monastery (source)

Through her writing, Radegund corresponded with a number of very learned men of her generation, including Gregory of Tours, who attended her funeral, and the hermit Junian of Mairé, who was said to have died on the same day as Radegund.

Radegund died in 587 in her late seventies, and was buried in Poitiers in a church which later became the Church of St Radegonde. Due to the strict Rule for Virgins the nuns of Radegund’s abbey were not permitted to attend the funeral.

Radegund is venerated as a saint in the catholic church, her feast day is celebrated on 13th August each year. She is also the patron saint of Cambridge University’s Jesus College. A number of churches and building across Britain and France are named in Radegund’s honour.


References:

Information on St Radegund – Jesus College Cambridge

St. Radegund from Sainted Women of the Dark Ages.-  Jo Ann McNamara, John E. Halborg, with E. Gordon Whatley

On Wikipedia:

Basina – c. 438 – 477 – Thuringia, Germany

France, Germany

Basina

Basina of Thuringia was a woman who knew what she wanted. A Saxon princess, she became queen of Thuringia (in Germany) when she married King Bisinus.

She first met Childeric I, king of the Franks while he was in exile. Bisinus gave Childeric shelter and protection for eight years before the Frankish king was able to return to Roman Gaul (modern day France).

Clearly Basina had enjoyed Childeric’s company, as shortly after he had left she packed her bags and headed to Gaul. When she arrived at the royal court Childeric asked why she had come. She responded:

“I know your worth. I will have the most powerful man in the world, even if I must cross an ocean for him.”

Childeric and Basina were married and their son Chlodovech (better known as Clovis I) went on to unite all of the Frankish tribes and became the first king of the Franks.

It is worth noting that Basina herself named her son, which in itself is very unusual in a time when sons were typically named after a male ancestor. These two scant facts we have about Basina describe a remarkable woman who clearly took charge of her own life and decisions.


References:

History of the FranksGregory of Tours

Biography of BasineKoren Whipp for Project Continua

Veleda – 1st Century – Lippe River, Germany

Germany

Veleda

Veleda (also known as Velleda and Weleda) was a Celtic woman who lived during the first century and achieved some notoriety for her psychic abilities during the Batavian rebellion of 69-70.

VelledaVeleda practiced as a Völva (shamanic priestess) for her tribe, the Bructeri, in northeast Germany (modern day North Rhine-Westphali).

The name Veleda may actually be her title (from the Celtic welet meaning ‘seer’) rather than her personal name, and we know that she must have been highly revered by her tribe. In ancient Germany (and among other Nordic peoples) it was believed that priestesses were capable of seeing the future and tribes treated women like Veleda as living goddesses.

Veleda in particular was widely known for her powers and worshipped by many tribes. The term Völva literally means ‘wand carrier’ or ‘wand bearer’, and many of our modern notions about witchcraft and wizardry stem from the practices of women like Veleda.

In true fairy tale style, she lived in a tower by the Lippe River, where tribespeople would visit her for consultations. No one was allowed inside, instead she was passed messages by a relative, who acted as an intermediary. (This is similar to the lifestyle of the Pythia or Oracle of Delphi).

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The River Lippe

During Veleda’s lifetime large parts of Germany were occupied by the Roman Empire – which by the year 69 was in the grips of a power struggle. Following the death of Emperor Nero, who had left no heirs, Rome broke into a civil war known as ‘The year of Four Emperors’. This turmoil weakened Rome’s military presence in Germany, which did not go unnoticed by the local chiefs.

Civilis, the leader of the Batavian’s came out in open revolt against the Roman presence – and it is said that he did this following a prophecy from Veleda which promised him victory.800px-Velleda,_Laurent-Honoré_Marqueste

The revolt was indeed successful, at least initially. Civilius’ forces were soon joined by the Treviri tribe and together they quickly toppled the Roman garrisons at Novaesium (Neuss) and Castra Vetera (in modern day Neiderrhein).

The Batavians attributed their victories to Veleda’s power, and as a thank you gift they rowed a praetorian trireme (galley ship) up the Lippe to her tower.

Unfortunately the rebellion was short lived. It took nine Roman legions, but Civilis and his cohorts were defeated and dispersed. As Roman dominance in Germany was so reliant on co-operation with the Celtic tribes, the rebels were not harshly punished, and Veleda was allowed to continue in her capacity as Völva for some time.

Veleda is next heard of in 77, when she is either captured or rescued by the Roman army – for what reason, we do not know.


 

In fiction:

  • Velleda, ein Zauberroman (Velleda, a Magic Novel) by Benedikte Naubert fictionalises the lives of both Veleda and Boudica. (1795)
  • Die Symbole (The Symbols) by Amalie von Helwig in which she was called Welleda. (1814)
  • Welleda und Gemma by Friedrich de la Motte-Fouqué (1818)
  • The opera Velleda by Eduard Sobolewski  (1835)
  • Star of the Sea by Poul Anderson (1991)
  • The Iron Hand of Mars (1992) and Saturnalia (2007).by Lindsey Davis 
  • She is also a character in The Dragon Lord (1979), by David Drake.

In Science:

On November 5, 1872, Paul Henry of Paris discovered an asteroid that was named 126 Velleda in honor of Veleda.


References:

On Wikipedia:


Image credits:

Lippe in Luenen 1” by Wolfgang Hunscher.

Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

Ed0048” by Original illustration by Creator:Carl Larsson (1853-1919), engraving by Gunnar Forssell (1859-1903). – Project Runeberg: http://runeberg.org/eddan/ed0048.jpg Originally from Fredrik Sander’s 1893 edition of the poetic Edda.

Licensed under Public Domain via Commons

Velleda” by Charles Voillemot – fineartamerica.com.

Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Velleda, Laurent-Honoré Marqueste” by Léna – Own work.

Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons