Brunhilde: Queen of Austrasia

Powerful Frankish Queen

Brunhilde (Brunehaut), engraving by Gaitte

Culture Club/Getty Images

Not to be confused with the figure in Germanic and Icelandic mythology, also called Brunhilda, a warrior and valkyrie deceived by her lover, though that figure may borrow from the story of the Visigothic princess Brunhilde.

As was typical for a woman's role in a ruling family, Brunhilde's fame and power came primarily because of her connections to male relatives. That doesn't mean she didn't serve an active role, including likely being behind murder.

The Merovingians ruled Gaul or France -- including some areas now outside France — from the 5th century into the 8th century. The Merovingians replaced the declining Roman powers in the area.

Sources for the story of Brunhilde include "History of the Franks" by Gregory of Tours and Bede's "Ecclesiastic History of the English People."

Also known as: Brunhilda, Brunhild, Brunehilde, Brunechild, Brunehaut.

Family Connections

  • Father: Athanagild, Visigoth king
  • Mother: Goiswintha
  • Husband: King Sigebert, Frankish king of Austrasia*
  • Sister: Galswintha, who married Brunhilde's husband's half-brother, Chilperic of Neustria*
  • Son: Childebert II - Brunhilde served as his regent
  • Daughter: Ingund
  • Second husband: Merovech, son of Chilperic of Neustria and of Audovera (marriage nullified)
  • Grandsons: Theodoric II, Theodebert II
  • Greatgrandson: Sigebert II


Brunhilde was likely born in Toledo, the main city of the Visigoths, in 545. She was raised as an Arian Christian.

Brunhilde married King Sigebert of Austrasia in 567, after which her sister Galswintha married Sigebert's half-brother, Chilperic, king of the neighboring kingdom of Neustria. Brunhilde converted to Roman Christianity upon her marriage. Sigebert, Chilperic, and their two brothers had divided the four kingdoms of France among them — the same kingdoms their father, Chlothar I, son of Clovis I, had united.

Brunhilde's First Murder Scheme

When Chilperic's mistress, Fredegunde, engineered Galswintha's murder, and then married Chilperic, forty years of war began, reputedly at the urging of Brunhilde, anxious for revenge. Another of the brothers, Guntram, mediated at the beginning of the dispute, awarding Galswintha's dower lands to Brunhilde.

The Bishop of Paris presided over the negotiations of a peace treaty, but it didn't last long. Chilperic invaded Sigebert's territory, but Sigebert repelled this effort and instead took over Chilperic's lands.

Spreading Reach and Asserting Power

In 575, Fredegunde had Sigebert assassinated and Chilperic claimed Sigebert's kingdom. Brunhilde was put into prison. Then Chilperic's son Merovech by his first wife, Audovera, married Brunhilde. But their relationship was too close for church law, and Chilperic acted, capturing Merovich and forcing him to become a priest. Merovech later had himself killed by a servant.

Brunhilde asserted the claim of her son, Childebert II, and her own claim as regent. The nobles refused to support her as regent, instead supporting Sigebert's brother, Guntram, king of Burgundy and Orleans. Brunhilde left for Burgundy while her son Childebert stayed in Austrasia.

In 592, Childebert inherited Burgundy when Guntram died. But Childebert then died in 595, and Brunhilde supported her grandsons Theodoric II and Theodebert II who inherited both Austrasia and Burgundy.

Brunhilde continued the war with Fredegund, ruling as regent for her son, Chlotar II, after the death of Chilperic under mysterious circumstances. In 597, Fredegund died, shortly after Chlotar was able to win a victory and regain Austrasia.

Scheming and Execution

In 612, Brunhilde arranged for her grandson Theodoric to murder his brother Theodebert, and the next year Theodoric died, too. Brunhilde then took up the cause of her great-grandson, Sigebert II, but the nobility refused to recognize him and instead threw their support to Chlotar II.

In 613, Chlotar executed Brunhilde and her great-grandson Sigebert. Brunhilde, almost 80 years old, was dragged to death by a wild horse.

*Austrasia: today's northeastern France and western Germany
**Neustria: today's northern France


Bede. "Ecclesiastical History of the English People." Penguin Classics, Revised edition, Penguin Classics, May 1, 1991.

Of Tours, Gregory. "History of the Franks." First edition, Penguin Books, 1974.

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Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Brunhilde: Queen of Austrasia." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Lewis, Jone Johnson. (2020, August 26). Brunhilde: Queen of Austrasia. Retrieved from Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Brunhilde: Queen of Austrasia." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 24, 2023).