Killer Queen

Long is the list of crimes that bishop Gregory of Tours lays at the feet of the Merovingian queen Fredegund (d. 597) in his History of the Franks. According to the bishop, Fredegund was a vicious and ruthless woman who practiced sorcery and had many of her opponents murdered or tortured. Particularly infamous is the story how she tried to kill her daughter Rigunth. Fearing that the girl might usurp her position, she took her to the treasure chest and invited her to take out all the jewels she wanted. When Rigunth bent over, Fredegund pressed down the lid on her neck and would have choked her if onrushing servants had not interfered.

Although many of the stories told about this queen may be true, Gregory’s vehement assault on her character also betrays a deep uneasiness with women who operated on their own initiative and did not shun violence.


• Nira Gradowicz-Pancer, ‘De-gendering female violence: Merovingian female honour as an “exchange of violence”’, Early Medieval History 11 (2002) 1-18
• Anne Bernet, Frédégonde: Épouse de Chilpéric Ier (Paris 2012)

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