Brunhilde: Queen of Austrasia

Powerful Frankish Queen

Brunhilde (Brunehaut), engraving by Gaitte
Brunhilde (Brunehaut), engraving by Gaitte. Culture Club / Getty Images

About Brunhilde

Known for: Queen of the Franks; Visigothic princess, Queen of Austrasia; regent

Dates: about 545 - 613
Also known as: Brunhilda, Brunhild, Brunehilde, Brunechild, Brunehaut

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 the History of the Franks by Gregory of Tours and Bede's Ecclesiastic History of the English People.

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

Biography

Brunhilde was likely born in Toledo, main city of the Visigoths.  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.

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.

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.

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.

About Brunhilde

  • Categories: Queen of the Franks, Visigoth princess
  • Places: Burgundy, Francia, Austrasia, France, Germany
  • Period: 6th century, 7th century

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

Format
mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Brunhilde: Queen of Austrasia." ThoughtCo, Mar. 11, 2017, thoughtco.com/brunhilde-queen-of-austrasia-3529715. Lewis, Jone Johnson. (2017, March 11). Brunhilde: Queen of Austrasia. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/brunhilde-queen-of-austrasia-3529715 Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Brunhilde: Queen of Austrasia." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/brunhilde-queen-of-austrasia-3529715 (accessed November 24, 2017).