Poet Puhak (Guinevere in Baltimore) delivers a lyrical and astute assessment of the political maneuvers, battlefield strategies, and resilience of medieval queens and rivals Fredegund and Brunhild. Members of the Merovingian dynasty, noble-born Brunhild and her sister-in-law Fredegund, a former slave, fought vigorously as active queen consorts and then regents to enlarge their respective shares of Francia (modern-day Belgium, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and parts of Germany and Switzerland) in the sixth century. Brunhild sought to improve her realm with infrastructure projects and political alliances and exhibited her negotiating skills in the Treaty of Andelot, which allowed her, her daughter, and daughter-in-law to avoid being forced into a convent and stripped of their extensive lands in the event of widowhood. Meanwhile, Fredegund chillingly orchestrated at least a dozen assassinations, including murdering a bishop during Easter Mass and sending two enslaved boys with poisoned daggers to murder Brunhild’s husband. Puhak skillfully draws on contemporaneous sources, including letters, poems, and a vividly told yet obviously biased account by Brunhild’s devoted ally, Bishop Gregory of Tours, to create her thrilling history. The resulting is deeply fascinating portrait of the early Middle Ages that vigorously reclaims two powerhouse women from obscurity. (Feb.)
A well-researched and well-told epic history. The Dark Queens brings these courageous, flawed, and ruthless rulers and their distant times back to life.” —Margot Lee Shetterly, New York Times-bestselling author of HIDDEN FIGURES
““History owes more to Brunhild and Fredegund, two queens whose bitter rivalry left a trail of bodies in their wake, than the lies perpetuated by their enemies. So bravo to Shelley Puhak for a remarkable piece of detective work, by turns enlightening and shocking. Anyone who thought that medieval queens spent their time sewing and sighing is in for a surprise.”” —Amanda Foreman, New York Times-bestselling author of GEORGIANA: DUCHESS OF DEVONSHIRE and THE WORLD MADE BY WOMEN
“Bright, smart, and playful, The Dark Queens is a marvelous trip into the murky early Middle Ages. Shelley Puhak presents a believable and vividly drawn portrait of the Frankish world, and in doing so restores two half-forgotten and much-mythologized queens, Brunhild and Fredegund, to their proper place in medieval history.” —Dan Jones, New York Times-bestselling author of THE TEMPLARS and POWERS AND THRONES
“On the one hand, a story of scheming and savagery to make Game of Thrones look tame-on the other, a genuinely important exploration of the relationship between two powerful women, written with zest and verve.” —Sarah Gristwood, internationally bestselling author of ARBELLA and THE TUDORS IN LOVE
“This is the story-told with a sharp eye, at heart-pounding pace-of two extraordinary women who held power in a brutal world that believed their sex couldn't rule. Many scholars 'still don't know what to do' with Brunhild and Fredegund. Shelley Puhak does.” —Helen Castor, author of SHE-WOLVES and JOAN OF ARC
“A blood-soaked journey through sixth-century Europe, casting new light on the so-called Dark Ages … Surprising and thoroughly riveting.” —Emily Midorikawa, author of OUT OF THE SHADOWS
“These dark queens were undaunted survivors who still whisper powerful advice … Shelley Puhak has recovered forgotten biographies we must no longer neglect.” —Kara Cooney, PhD, author of WHEN WOMEN RULED THE WORLD
“This gripping saga features everything from gory murders to scandalous nuns. Brunhild and Fredegund are often flattened into early medieval Europe's great villains, but in Shelley Puhak's brilliant telling, they come to rich and nuanced life.” —Emily Southon, PhD, author of AGRIPPINA
“Stirring and passionate … A brilliant reconstruction of our long-suppressed past, with all its murder and intrigue, loyalty and courage, The Dark Queens is unforgettable.” —Nancy Marie Brown, author of THE REAL VALKYRIE
“An eye-opening medieval delight! Shelley Puhak rescues two fascinating, real-life women from the misogynistic dustbin of history, and sheds light on the origins of such strong fictional grandes dames as Lady Macbeth, Cersei, and every Wagnerian heroine who ever sported a Viking helmet. Impeccably researched. A delicious read.” —Denise Kiernan, New York Times bestselling author of THE GIRLS OF ATOMIC CITY and WE GATHER TOGETHER
“A compelling read for those with an interest in early medieval European history, Merovingian history, and women in power.” —Library Journal
“A lyrical and astute assessment of the political maneuvers, battlefield strategies, and resilience of medieval queens and rivals Fredegund and Brunhild … Puhak skillfully draws on contemporaneous sources, including letters, poems, and a vividly told yet obviously biased account by Brunhild's devoted ally, Bishop Gregory of Tours, to create her thrilling history. The resulting is a deeply fascinating portrait of the early Middle Ages that vigorously reclaims two powerhouse women from obscurity.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Engaging … fast-paced and intriguing.” —Booklist
Between the fall of the Roman Empire and the rise of the Carolingians, there was a lesser-known Frankish empire led by the fierce Merovingians. The fiercest among them were two queens: Brunhild and Fredegund. In a time when much of Europe was navigating the challenge of reassessing its lost Roman identity and trying to take its first steps into an uncertain future, the Merovingian queens stood up to the challenge as politicians and army commanders. Both queens were rebellious and violently unforgiving to treason, but each was also quick to outmaneuver assassination attempts and plot their own rebellions around their other responsibilities (negotiating political marriages, building international relationships with allies, and navigating domestic crises). Poet Puhak (Guinevere in Baltimore) takes the audience deep into the lives of these ruling women and shows how they were both capable and skilled as they climbed to the height of their power. They reigned during an era of which there is limited historical record; Puhak contends that this made it easy for the queens' adversaries to reduce their memory to crude misogynistic stereotypes that encouraged the populace to fear women with power. VERDICT A compelling read for those with an interest in early medieval European history, Merovingian history, and women in power.—Monique Martinez
The lives of forgotten queens.
Poet and essayist Puhak makes her nonfiction debut with a dual biography of two fierce, indomitable sixth-century women: Brunhild and Fredegund, rival sisters-in-law who inspired the fictional story of the Valkyrie, immortalized in Wagner’s Ring opera cycle. Brunhild, the daughter of a Visigoth king, married King Sigibert, a son of Merovingian King Clothar; Fredegund, a slave, became the third wife of Chilperic, Sigibert’s vengeful half brother. Drawing heavily on primary sources, Puhak creates a richly detailed tapestry depicting a volatile, turbulent age. Fratricide, torture, betrayal, and execution—as well as deadly illnesses—were common: “Among the Merovingians,” writes the author, “intrafamilial violence was accepted as a hazard of the job,” and the two queens did not shrink from bloody conflict as they sought to consolidate power for themselves and their heirs and to wrest land from enemies. By the end of the sixth century, the dual queens had reigned for decades over an empire that “encompassed modern-day France, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg, western and southern Germany, and swaths of Switzerland. Only Charlemagne would, briefly, control more territory than these two women.” Moreover, Puhak writes, they “did much more than simply hang on to their thrones. They collaborated with foreign rulers, engaged in public works programs, and expanded their kingdoms’ territories.” They knew their worth as women who, through marriage or motherhood, could consolidate realms. After Sigibert died, Brunhild married his nephew, a strategic move: “Her new husband was to depose his father and rule Neustria; her son would remain king of Austrasia.” Fredegund’s alleged “talent for assassination” led foreign kings to solicit her services. Puhak takes a sympathetic view of their plights: widowhood that might relegate them to life in a convent; the death of children from illness or foul play; and their physical vulnerability as women. Her brisk narrative rescues two significant figures from misogynist historians who, in perpetuating rumors and scandals, have diminished their significance.
Lively, well-researched history focused on powerful women.