cover image The Dark Queens: The Bloody Rivalry That Forged the Medieval World

The Dark Queens: The Bloody Rivalry That Forged the Medieval World

Shelley Puhak. Bloomsbury, $30 (384p) ISBN 978-1-63557-491-3

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.)