Alright hello and welcome to A Murderess Affair. My name is Gabrielle and today we’re talking about Fredegund the Assassin Queen-probably one of the most hysterically evil people I’ve had the fortune of reading about. In a nutshell, Fredegund was the epitome of every evil mistress or wife. A consort who gained the affection of a king, she either killed or hired someone to kill any who may get in the way of her and later, her son's reign.
Let’s get started.
Fredegund was originally born into a low ranking family. She worked as a servant during the reign of King Chilperic, who ruled over Neustria-or modern day northern France. Not much is known about her early life, she only really became known to history when she worked for Chilperic’s first wife Queen Audovera. She quickly interested the King, and soon became one of his concubines. This is actually pretty impressive because queens at that time had a decent amount of political authority. According to Suzanne Wemple, who writes in Women in Frankish Society : "They could participate in assemblies and issue donations and privileges—[T]hey received secular and ecclesiastical officials; they could also influence episcopal elections and draw upon the treasury to build a network of political loyalties."
Basically, Audovera had the time, power, and influence to organize her followers and use them all to shove Fredegund away from the King, but either didn’t see her as a threat enough to do so or tried to but failed because the King was so interested in Fredegund. Essentially, she just drops out of history, only really recorded to be one of Fredegund’s initial “victims” so to speak. Chilperic divorced her, but instead of marrying Fredegund undoubtedly like she thought he would, he married Galswinth, the older sister of his brother’s wife Brunhild. Fun fact, Brunhild and Fredegund would grow to have a rivalry that literally lasted through the rise and fall of various kingdoms and rulers. Partially because of what happened next.
Shortly after the wedding, like within 24-48 hours it’s estimated, Galswinth was found murdered in her bed. She was strangled to death, and while it was never found out who, there is a very obvious person who people blame for it. Basically, there are three theories people have about who killed her. 1: Fredegund herself, as she wanted to be the one Chilperic married, snuck into Galswinth’s room and strangled her herself. 2: Fredegund hired another servant to strangle Galswinth, or 3: Because Galswinth was reportedly very jealous of Fredegund, it annoyed Chilperic and he himself either strangled her or had her strangled. No matter the theory, although many people lean towards Fredegund hiring someone or convincing Chilperic to, Fredegund is associated with Galswinth’s death as being somehow responsible in some way.
Either way, one account was found saying "King Chilperic wept for the death of Galswinth, but within a few days he asked Fredegund to sleep with him again."
And as if the murder of his new wife wasn’t enough family drama, Chilperic wanted to conquer territory that his brother Sigibert, you know, the one who was married to Brunhild and who’s older sister had just been murdered. They declared war on each other, which makes me wonder again on the timing of the whole new wife being murdered thing, and began to fight over this territory.
Chilperic looked like he would lose too, his territories were under seige, one of his son’s with his first wife had been killed, and his palace was under attack when Fredegund saved the day. Since her arrival, and subsequent favor by Chilperic, she’d been building allies. She used some of these allies now, and had them sneak in through to Sigibert and his army-just as they were celebrating, reportedly raising him above their heads and subsequently giving these spies a great look at where he was, and they hacked him to death, along with his chamberlain, with poisoned axes. It was written that, "Her willingness to make arrangements through her own servants for assassinations, and for handling bribes, made her a political asset to the king."
So Fredegund continues plotting, attempting to kill enemies of Chilperic with her spy network while trying to cement her place by the king’s side. The best way to do this was to get pregnant, to have her own children be in line for inheriting the throne. Chilperic still had sons from his first wife Audovera, and while he did Fredegund lacked power that having a line of succession would give her. Eventually, sometime during the battle between Chilperic and his brother, she became pregnant and gave birth to a son, Samson. Unfortunately, that son died before he turned 5 years old. On the bright side, Fredegund gave birth to 2 more sons, Chlodobert and Dagobert.
Tragedy struck again when a dysentery epidemic swept through the nation, nearly killing Chilperic and succeeding in killing the two sons Fredegund had. Apparently, her solution to this was to burn the tax records, as she said "We still lay up treasures, we who have no one to whom we can leave them. Now we are losing the most beautiful of our possessions! Come, then, I beg you! Let us set light to all these iniquitous tax-demands!"
So I guess the dysentery was seen to be a result of the sins of taxation, and by burning the records it signified how they would be committing to donate money to the church and absolve themselves and etc., etc. However, this whole repentance thing didn’t extend to murder, as while the dysentery was rampaging through their territory, she had Chilperic’s last son go to one of the most heavily affected areas for “morale” purposes.
But he stayed healthy, and then was able to join Fredegund and Chilperic back at their country home where they were spending a month in mourning. For some reason while he was there, he thought it’d be a good idea to gloat about all the things he would do when he took over the throne, all the ways he would make his enemies suffer. This, obviously, terrified Fredegund and the cherry on top of this whole madness was that one of her spies had reported that Clovis had been sleeping with one of Fredegund’s servant’s daughters and had asked the servant to do some black magic to kill off Fredegund’s sons.
She had the mother and her daughter arrested, tortured, and then killed-and then convinced Chilperic to have Clovis arrested. Unsurprisingly, he died in custody and I guess nobody questioned her story of him stabbing himself? Also, at this time, she somehow managed to get Audovera officially out of the picture by somehow implying she was included in this plot and she was burned at the stake. The informant, also had to go of course, because they were in on all her plans so she had them killed as well.
After all this, Fredegund was pregnant with another son, Theuderic, but history started to repeat itself here. She was told another old enemy, Mummolus the Perfect (which wow what a name), cursed him and he died while he was still a baby. Quick fact, I was intrigued by who exactly Mummolus was, and it turns out he was a political advisor for her true enemy, Brunhild.
So she then had a bunch of Parisian wives tortured until they admitted they were witches who’d worked with Mummolus, before then either beheading, burning them alive, or torturing them to death. Then, somehow, she was able to get Mummolus captured and tortured as well.
While all this was happening, she was still in close with Chilperic, aiding him in many of his plans, finances, and pursuits. Rumors began spreading that she wasn’t only helping Chilperic, but in fact helping many other men on the side, having an affair with one named Betram, the bishop of Bordeaux. The man who spread this rumor was, you guessed it, tortured and beaten on the throat with a block of wood.
Not long after, she became pregnant with another son-Chlothar. Chilperic sent Chlothar to be hidden away because of how their enemies had cursed their previous children. But, in the year 548 only a few months after her son being born, Chilperic was assasinated. Now, there are a few theories as to the who and why. One is that Chilperic caught Fredegund actually having an affair wtih another man, the mayor of the palace Landeric. Another theory is that Brunhild, Fredegund’s evil archnemises, was the one behind the assassination. Either way, this assassination took Fredegund’s greatest protection, the king, away and threatened her and her child’s safety.
She was able to find sanctuary for herself, Chlothar, and her personal treasury in Paris, where Chilperic’s brother King Guntram placed her under his protection. But Brunhild, having either known of Chilperic’s assasination or hearing about it decided that it would be a good idea to storm Paris along iwth her brother in law Childebert. Guntram was able to intercept their forces with his, but they had a simple request. "Hand over the murderess, the woman who garrotted my aunt, the woman who killed first my father, and then my uncle, and who put my two cousins to the sword."
Guntram's reply to that was;"She has a king as her son, and she therefore cannot be surrendered."
Of course, Fredegund couldn’t exist without causing some kind of drama. She was in hiding at the cathedral when she began starting things with others, accusing them of stealing and worse. Of course, this then got her sent off to a manor further to the outskirts where Bishop Melanius was to take care of her and Chlothar, beginning to work on building a government for the baby to eventually rule. Not satisfied with a quiet life in retirement, much to the frustration of literally everyone around her, Fredegund managed to convince one of the household clerics to try to assassinate Brunhild. For some reason, this was apparently thought to be a good idea, but of course the cleric was caught and sent back to Fredegund, which was unfortunate for him, because when he was Fredegund had his hands and feet cut off.
Next, she decided that obviously the problem was that there was a lack of manpower involved, so she sent two clerics, armed with swords designed specifically to hold poison. This time, she told them to go for Brunhild and her son, King Childebert. They were caught, and tortured before being killed.
One of the bishops in town, having heard of these attempts and the general chaos that she caused, when having run into her decided to say "In exile and out of exile I have always been a bishop. But when you give up your role as Queen you will be plunged into the abyss. It would be better for you to abandon your stupid malicious behavior."
Of course, this pissed her off. So, she had him stabbed while he said the Easter Mass, then had him carried to his bed and said that she would offer all of her assistance to him with one of her doctors. Of course, that didn’t happen, and he died. After his death, a local leader came by to express how he thought she’d gone too far and in return, she poisoned him with a drink that killed him in less than an hour.
Another bishop, Leudovald of Bayeux, tried to bring her to justice since even King Guntram was against her on this.
But this was put in the wayside when Fredegund’s daughter was rescued. See, she had never actually made it to her supposed husband’s side. Instead, due to her father’s death, she’d been stranded in Toulouse and in hiding due to everybody wanting Fredegund and her kids dead. She was finally rescued-but Fredegund soon had her hands full of fighting with her daughter, which took her attention off of everybody else. They would get into heated arguments where Rigunth would constantly remind Fredegund of how her mother was from low class and she wasn’t royalty and never would be. They would physically fight as well and have to be dragged apart.
One day, Fredegund told Rigunth that she could pick out whatever she wanted from her personal treasury as a way to make amends, and when Rigunth leaned into the chest, Fredegund slammed the lid down on her neck. Servants had to pull them apart as Fredegund attempted to break her neck or strangle her with the lid. Luckily, Rigunth survived, and went on to continue antagonizing her mother.
While this was happening, Fredegund continued to send assassins after Brunhild and King Childebert. Some were caught, and some killed themselves in prison rather than be sent back to face whatever punishment was waiting for them at Fredegund’s hand.
Fredegund also managed to solve a blood feud between 2 warring families in Tournai. She warned them to stop due to the public safety hazard it was causing, but when they didn’t she instead invited the families to dinner, and when they were seated beheaded the 3 survivors of the original blood feud to begin with. Problem solved, apparently.
After Guntram’s death in 593, he left his lands to King Childebert due to not having any children, which caused another war between the two families, Fredegund and her allies on one side and Brunhild and Childebert on another. Fredegund actually took to the battlefield herself after a commander fell in battle, and led her army to victories. She and her son Chlothar were described as “Fredegundis and her son King Chlotar took possession of Paris and other cities after the barbarian fashion." in 596. Not long after, Childebert died of natural causes, leaving Brunhild vulnerable.
In one of the strangest twists of irony, right when Fredegund had everything where she could possibly want it to be, victory in battle and a weakness in her enemy, she ended up dying of natural causes as well on December 8, 597. She was built a massive marble and copper tomb which is currently in the Saint Denis Basilica, which is in northern Paris.
However, her story doesn’t end there, as her son Chlothar ended up reuniting the land of France and ruling it all together, as well as killing her sworn enemy.
See, after Childebert’s death, Brunhild sat as queen regent and refused to hand off power and separate the lands to his sons-her grandsons-control. This, in turn, led to a massive uprising with plenty of dukes and those in power rebelling against her and turning to Chlothar to dethrone her. Which he did, extremely successfully. Brunhild was eventually captured, having run out of allies, and killed in an extremely gruesome way. On Chlothar’s order, she had her hair and arms tied to the hoofs of a young horse and her body dragged through the army. But, once the king gave this order, the young horse apparently kicked off so hard that her head actually flew off her body, which was in fact then dragged through the city and surrounding woodland area until it was literally torn to pieces.
Ugh, I always forget how brutal and disgusting ancient France was. Yuck.
Anyway, he did this partly as a way to ensure his rule and partly to honor his mother, who probably wanted nothing more than Brunhild’s death for most of her life.
And that, is the wild and bloody history of Fredegund the Assassin Queen.