1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Brunhilda

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BRUNHILDA (Brunechildis), queen of Austrasia (d. 613), was a daughter of Athanagild, king of the Visigoths. In 567 she was asked in marriage by Sigebert, who was reigning at Metz. She now abjured Arianism and was converted to the orthodox faith, and the union was celebrated at Metz; on which occasion Fortunatus, an Italian poet, who was then at the Frankish court, composed the epithalamium. Chilperic, brother of Sigebert, and king of the west Frankish kingdom, jealous of the renown which this marriage brought to his elder brother, hastened to ask the hand of Galswintha, sister of Brunhilda; but at the instigation of his mistress Fredegond, he assassinated his wife. Sigebert was anxious to avenge his sister-in-law, but on the intervention of Guntram, he accepted the compensation offered by Chilperic, namely the cities of Bordeaux, Cahors and Limoges, with Béarn and Bigorre.

This treaty did not prevent war soon again breaking out between Sigebert and Chilperic. So long as her husband lived, Brunhilda played a secondary part, but having been made captive by Chilperic after her husband’s assassination (575), she succeeded in escaping from her prison at Rouen, after a series of extraordinary adventures, by means of a marriage with Merovech, the son of her conqueror. From this time on, she took the lead; in Austrasia she engaged in a desperate struggle against the nobles, who wished to govern in the name of her son Childebert II.; but she was worsted in the conflict and for some time had to seek refuge in Burgundy. After the death of Childebert II. (597) she aspired to govern Austrasia and Burgundy in the name of her grandsons Theudebert and Theuderich II. She was expelled from Austrasia, and then stirred up Theuderich II. against his brother, whom he defeated at Toul and Tolbiac, and put to death. Theuderich II. died shortly after this victory, and Brunhilda caused one of her great-grandchildren to be proclaimed king. The nobles of Austrasia and Burgundy, however, now summoned Clotaire II., son of Fredegond, and king of Neustria, to help them against the queen. Brunhilda was given up to him, and died a terrible death, being dragged at the heels of a wild horse (613).

Brunhilda seems to have had political ideas, and to have wished to attain to the royal power. She was a protectress of the Church, and Pope Gregory I. (590–604) addressed a series of letters to her, in which he showered praises upon her. She took it upon herself, however, to supervise the bishoprics and monasteries, and came into conflict with Columban (Columbanus), abbot of Luxeuil. As Brunhilda was a great queen, tradition ascribes to her the construction of many old castles, and a number of old Roman roads are also known by the name of Chaussées de Brunehaut.

Authorities.—Gregory of Tours, Historia Francorum, bks. iv.-x.; the so-called Chronicle of Fredegarius; Aug. Thierry, Récits des temps mérovingiens (2 vols., Paris, 8th ed., 1864); G. Kurth, “La Reine Brunehaut,” in the Revue des questions historiques, vol. xxvi. (1891).  (C. Pf.)