Anyone interested in mediaeval heroic lays knows queen Brünhild, the legendary queen from Das Nibelungenlied and the Valkyrie Brynhildr from Old Norse Eddic poems. She is also known to opera lovers as one of the main roles in Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen. In both traditions there is an antagonist: Kriemhild in the West Germanic sources and Gudrun in the North. Many scholars think that these figures are based on the Merovingian queen Brunichild (c. 543–613) and Fredegund († 597), stepmother of her second husband Merovech. I can’t go in all the details of their animosity and the complicated intrigues of the various competing factions – for which see the links – but it lasted for some decades. Brunichld’s end was tragic: having made herself unpopular amongst the Franks and Burgundians, she was captured and torn apart by horses, limb by limb.
In this extract from Gregory of Tours’ History of the Franks, Brunichild has managed to gain the upper hand, to the dismay of Fredegund. She sends a clergyman to Brunichild, who after having won her confidence, had to kill her. The plot was discovered and after returning to Frededgunde, his feet and hands were cut off as punishment for not succeeding. Who says women are incapable of harsh measures?
Gregory of Tours, Historiarum Libri Decem, 7,20. Quod idem emisit qui Brunechildem lederet.
Postquam autem Fredegundis regina ad supradictam villam abiit, cum esset valde maesta, quod ei potestas ex parte fuisset ablata, meliorem a se existimans Brunichildem, misit occulte clericum sibi familiarem, qui eam circumventam dolis interemere possit, videlicet ut, cum se subtiliter in eius subderet famulatum, ab ea credi possit, et sic clam percoliretur. Veniens igitur clericus, cum diversis ingeniis se eidem commendavit, dicens: 'A facie Fredegundis reginae fugio, deposcens auxilium tuum'. Coepit se etiam omnibus reddere humilem, carum, oboedientem ac reginae privatum. Sed non longo tempore interposito, intellexerunt eum dolosae transmissum; vinctusque ac caesus, cum rem patifecisset occultam, redire permissus est ad patronam. Reseransque quae acta fuerant, effatus, quod iussa patrari non potuissit, manuum ac pedum abscisione multatur.
There is no translation of this chapter on internet. Keep in mind that this is not classical Latin, but a stage between Late Latin and Vulgar Latin: syntax is sloppy and word order is becoming more important than cases.
quod idem: that the same (in the heading of the previous chapter Fredegundis is mentioned. Note the carelessness in gender: idem = eadem)
lederet = laederet (laedo laesi laesum: to hurt, kill)
supradictam villam: her estate mentioned above (at Reuil)
valde: very much
ei…ablata: taken away from her
ex parte: partly
meliorem: more powerful
sibi familiarem: belonging to her inner circle
circumvenio -veni -ventum: to cheat
dolus: trickery, fraud
interemo -emi -emptum: to kill
videlicet ut: namely in such a way
se in eius subderet famulatum: would impose himself in her servitude
et sic clam percoliretur: and so would be done away with secretly (lit: `to be swallowed’)
commendo: to recommend
deposco depoposci: to require
Coepit se etiam omnibus reddere: he even started to show himself to all
ac reginae privatum: and in private to the queen (to show himself humble etc.)
non longo tempore interposito: `being not a long time set in between (abl. abs.)’ = after not a long time
eum dolosae transmissum: that he had been sent for a deceitful thing (dolosae rei)
vincio vinxi vinctum: to bind, fetter
caedo cecidi caesus: to cut bet, torture
patifacio (= patefacio) –feci –factum: to disclose
resero: to tell
effor: to say
patro: to accomplish
multo: to punish