This is a story first told by Gregory of Tours, who lived from 30 November c. 538 – 17 November 594 AD. He was a Gallo-Roman historian, and the Bishop of Tours. His position and training made him very knowledgeable of the times, and he is the primary source for the history of the Merovingian kings.
Fredegund was a maid to Audovera, the first wife of Chilperic I, the Merovingian Frankish king of Soissons. Fredegund convinced the King to put Audovera in a Monestery and divorce her. Fredegund did not go with her and soon became the King’s favorite. This did not last long because the King put her aside in order to marry Galswintha, 561–584. Galswintha was the daughter of Athanagild, Visigothic King of the Iberian Penisula, and the sister of Brunnhilda, who was married to King Sigebert I of Austrasia. Yes, she is that famous Brunnhilda.
Fredegund did not take kindly to Chilperic marrying Galswintha, and responded by strangling her within a year’s time. Brunnhilda did not take kindly to her sister being murdered and this started a 40 year bitter feud between the two women. It is not recorded what Chilperic thought, but he married Fredegund soon after. Together they had four sons and at least one daughter.
There was an outbreak of dysentery in Gaul which affected the king and his two sons Chlodobert and Dagobert. The king survived, his sons did not. Perhaps Fredegund felt bad about her sons, but when her son Samson became ill soon after birth, she set him aside, fearful that she would become sick. He soon died.
Her daughter Rigunth was quite beautiful. Gregory of Tours relates a story that Fredegund was jealous of her daughter, and tricked her into looking at a chest of jewels. When Rigunth bent over to look more closely, Fredegund shut the lid down on her neck to choke her to death. Rigunth was saved by the sudden appearance of some servants. She was then sent to Spain to marry a Visigoth prince.
Gregory paints a very negative story of Fredegund, a vicious murderer, an evil treacherous queen. She is the archetype of every dark queen that we see in the movies or read in fairy stories. And she gets worse as she gets older. She uses her power and position to arrange the assignations of dozens of political enemies. There is even the suggestion that she arranged the assignation of her husband Chilperic.
Fredegund certainly ordered the assignation of King Sigebert and Queen Brunnhilda. Finally, in 573, she successfully had Sigebert murdered. Brunnhilda fled to Guntram, the King of Burgundy, who protected her for several years, but Fredegund still tried to have her killed.
Fredegund ruled the kingdom until her son Chlothar II became of age. The hatred she had for Brunnhilda was transferred to her son, and it became his mission to make war against her.
Fredegund died of natural causes on 8 December 597 in Paris. Death did not create peace. Her son Chlothar had captured Brunnhilda and had ordered that she be tied by the arms and hair to the tail of a young, untamed horse, and dragged through the entire army. As soon as the king gave this order, it was carried out. The first time the man who was on the horse dug his spurs in, the horse kicked up his heels with such force that Brunnhilda’s head flew off. Her body was dragged through the bushes and brambles, over hills and dales, so that it was torn to pieces, limb from limb. She was about 70 years old.
Fredegund was my 39th great grandmother, and every time I see or read about an evil queen, I think about her.