Brunehaut, or Brunhilde, is a figure whose story merges between legendary and fact. She lived from 534 CE to circa 613, and was a Visigoth princess who became queen of Austrasia—a Frankish kingdom—after her marriage to Sigibert I.
Her sister Galswintha married Sigibert’s brother, Chilperic I, the Merovingian king of Nesutria (a Frankish kingdom of the west). Chilperic’s mistress Fredegund opposed the match and had Galswintha murdered. Chilperic married Fredegund and she had her agents assassinate Sigibert, in order to heighten her husband’s status.
This, as one can imagine, did not sit well with Brunehaut, as both her sister and her husband had been assassinated. Thus began a bloody feud that would last for four decades. Brunehaut wished to secure power for her descendants.
As a queen, Brunehaut was a monarchist, and believed in the absolute power of the monarchy and the rulership. She fought for tax reform, and the maintenance of old Roman roads and buildings. Her fight for Merovingian autocracy angered the local aristocrats who sided with Fredegund’s son Chlotar II.
Fredegund and Brunehaut battled it out till the bitter end. They both were fierce rivals, each striving for ultimate hegemony. Fredegund was considered the better strategist, although she is also thought of as being cruel, with a penchant for assassinating her rivals. She was actively involved in the military of Neustria, and was quite a good tactician. Fredegund’s approach was efficient, and she caught many of her enemies unawares. She led her country to victory over the combined forces of the Austrasians and the Burgundians. Brunehaut lived longer than Fredegund, but the military conflict continued after Fredegund’s demise, and Brunehaut and a few of her descendants were captured and brutally executed.
Pennington, Reina. Amazons to Fighter Pilots: A Biographical Dictionary of Military Women. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 2003. Print.