It's a sad truth about medieval history that many of the most hardcore, face-crushing women from this time period get a seriously bad rap. You see, like it or not history during this age was, for the most part, written by men, and in most cases by men who were priests or monks or other holy-type people that as a rule didn't really have a particularly-overdeveloped appreciation for women who apparently didn't realize that their place was in the home making pies and popping out babies every fifteen minutes – not ruling over men and curbstomping their enemies' teeth out of their skulls with mailed boots until everyone around them was deceased or soon-to-be deceased. As a result, some of the toughest, most ball-crushing heroines of the Dark Ages are either overlooked, under-represented, or, still worse, portrayed simply as sluts or dumbasses or bloodthirsty vengeful bitches or whatever the fuck other terrible slanderous thing the history-writers felt like portraying them as during that period of time.
The Frankish Queen Fredegund is a rare exception to this rule – and, oddly enough, it's not because historians portray her in a positive light. No, with this chick it's because she truly was an utterly-bloodthirsty vengeance machine who rested at nothing short of the completely over-the-top torture deaths of all who stood in her path, obliterating dumbasses across the continent of Europe until every single human being – from King to Bishop to Peasant – who stupidly wound up on her bad side immediately found themselves face-down in a pool of their own blood surrounded by knife-wielding assassins, poisonous beverages, and/or well-sharpened instruments of painful torture and horrible mutilation.
She is one of history's most violent and bloodthirsty queens, and her entire life was centered around the one primary tenet of unquestionable badassitude – Live for Revenge.
We don't know much about where one of the world's most epic vengeance-mongers actually came from. We're pretty sure Fredegund (also known as Fredegond, Fredegunda, or simply Freddie) was Frankish, meaning that she was simultaneously French, German, and Belgian without actually being any of those things, and that when she was in her late teens she was sold as a slave to the wife of King Chilperic of Souissons – a guy who at the time sort-of ruled a piece of the Frankish Kingdom (when Chilperic's dad died, he'd divided his empire up among his sons rather than putting one kid in charge of the entire kingdom... I think we can all agree that this is a dumbshit move, but it's not like we can do anything about it anymore). Well Fredegund wasn't all that particularly interested in being a servant-girl to the Queen, so instead of doing stupid bullshit like brushing the Royal Hair she seduced King Chilperic, hooked up with him, then convinced him to divorce the Queen and send that annoying primadonna off to live a life of celibacy in a convent somewhere. Unfortunately for Freddie, once the king was divorced he decided to marry some annoying Visigoth Princess instead, so once again Fredegund worked her magic and had that bitch strangled to death in her sleep. After all the competition was dead or nunnified, Chilperic decided it was in the best interest of self-preservation to marry Fredegund, a woman who had now somehow awesomely gone from slave-girl to Queen of the Franks in the span of like a year and a half.
Well, naturally being the Queen was great and everything, but now Fredegund had a new problem to worry about – the hardcore sister of the recently-strangulated Visigoth Queen just so happened to be a tough-as-shit warrior-babe named Brunhilde, and Brunhilde was not a very happy girl. Brunhilde also just so happened to be a Queen in her own right, married to Chilperic's brother Siegebert, a guy who was in charge of another part of the recently-divided Frankish Kingdom (still with me here?), and before long the two factions were in the process of stabbing each other in the face repeatedly and without mercy in an all-out war that stretched from Paris to Berlin.
Frankish troops like Fredegund would have routinely led into battle.
Long story short, Chilperic/Fredegund fought an epic seven-year war with Siegebert/Brunhilde, with either side sending their mailed knights charging spears-first into combat and shivving the fuck out of anyone in their paths. After a hard-fought campaign, Fredegund defeated her rivals, crushed them in battle, then had King Siegebert whacked by stabbing him in the kidneys by a pair of assassins while he was in the process of giving a speech about how he was going to get revenge and beat the shit out of Fredegund once and for all (I'm not sure if she planned the timing to work out like that, but it's badass either way). With the rival King dead, Fredegund overran the rest of Siegebert's men, captured Brunhilde, destroyed her cities, and then had Siegebert's top government official (who was admittedly a greedy evil bastard known as "The Breaker of Wills") executed by being systematically dismembered joint-by-joint with white-hot pokers and knives (holy shit).
Fredegund also planned to have Brunhilde whacked as well, but while she was trying to figure out some sort of awesome new cruel and unusual punishment to carry out some ass hole broke Brunhilde out of prison and snuck her out of the realm. But, whatever. Fredegund eventually tracked that guy down and had him stabbed to death by his own servants, then had his kid poisoned to death by an evil chef just for good measure.
Fredegund sits there smiling like a badass while some asshole publicly accuses her of poisoning him to death.
With Brunhilde sort-of out of the way, Fredegund continued her mad rampage to consolidate power for her, her husband, and their now-newborn son. First she went after the sons of Chilperic's first wife (you know, the poor girl Fredegund had already exiled to a monastery), killing them by infecting them with dysentery until they died of their own explosive diarrhea. Then she went after some alleged conspirators and other people that talked trash about her, having them executed on torture racks and then throwing their broken bodies to wolves or lions. After that she attacked the clergy, most of whom weren't all that cool with things like torture-related deaths and were stupid enough to say something like that out loud – first she whacked a dude named Mummolus the Perfect (who, let's face it, couldn't have been all that bad), then she publicly yelled at a Catholic Saint (and then silently watched the guy get stabbed and slowly bleed to death in his own cathedral), and, as if that's not enough, she then tried to ice the Bishop of Bayeux for investigating the murder and sticking his stupid face where it didn't belong (snitches get stitches).
In true badass back-room Emperor Palpatine conspirator fashion, Fredegund's primary method of disposing of her enemies was by hiring easily-bribeable men to poison or shiv her enemies for her. Thanks to her own personal charm, a collection of dirty secrets that would make Nick Fury want to high-five her, and a nearly-limitless amount of gold at her disposal, the Queen of the Franks routinely hired everyone from Dukes and Priests to slaves and brigands to take up oleander-coated daggers and shank douchebags in her name. Her personal favorite method of execution was to hire a band of thugs armed with heavily-poisoned Swedish eating utensils known as scramsaxes (it even sounds like an IKEA thing) to fall upon her target in the woods, beat the shit out of them, rob them, and leave them to die slow, agonizingly-painful deaths. Then, when the brigands would return to report the kill, Fredegund would have those assholes whacked as well, regardless of whether they completed their mission or not (though it's worth mentioning she'd just behead them with axes at dinner parties if they succeeded, whereas if they failed it was much worse... one poor cleric who failed to execute Brunhilde was punished by having his hands and feet cut off and then being thrown in a hole).
Eventually Fredegund's enemies got a little fed up with all this nonsense and had her husband Chilperic assassinated (some people thing this was Fredegund's doing as well, but this seems unlikely). With her husband dead and her son still too young to rule, Fredegund fled Soissons to Paris, moved into the cathedral of Notre Dame, and took on the role of Queen Regent, where she controlled the day-to-day operations of the realm. Now officially in charge of the Kingdom, she ruled with an iron fist, forging alliances, sending armies into the field, and utterly crushing anyone who she considered a threat to either herself or her son.
For the most part, things were pretty successful – she ruled solo for a decade, captured several cities near Paris, allied with the powerful Kingdom of Burgundy, won the throne for her son, and beat the shit out of a dude named Theodebert who was acting up and causing all sorts of trouble – all of which are notable achievements for anybody, let alone a woman ruling undisputed in the fucking Middle Ages. She did have a little trouble with her daughter though... Fredegund unwisely tried to marry that poor girl off to the Visigoths, but instead of accepting her into their tribe they just robbed her of her dowry and sent her back to Paris empty-handed. The girl lived at home for a while, and, as can tend to happen with teenaged daughters and their mothers, they didn't really get along. The highlight of this feud was one time when the daughter came out and said she should be the Queen Regent and Fredegund should retire – Fredegund, who was in the treasure room picking out jewels at the time, asked the daughter to grab something for her out of a particularly-huge treasure chest. When the daughter reached in, Fredegund closed the chest on her head and choked her shit out of her until she got her act together. As if you needed more badass shit about this woman, this story was so popular during the Middle Ages that Fredegund is sometimes cited as a possible inspiration for the Wicked Stepmother in Cinderella.
Fredegund eventually sorted shit out with her kid, handed the reins off once her son was old enough to take over as King, and then died peacefully in her bed in Paris in 597 AD. She'd ruled for 40 years, killed everyone who opposed her, and lived for revenge in a way most action movie heroes could only dream about. The only person who'd successfully eluded her wrath was that annoying do-gooder Brunhilde, but Fredegund's son eventually settled that shit once and for all as well – he captured the 60 year-old queen, put her on the rack for three days, then had her drawn and quartered by horses. His mom would have been proud.
LOL CRUSHIN UR HED
Queen Fredegund's Life Condensed
Harlots and Harpies
Gregory of Tours. A History of the Franks. Digireads, 2010.
Frassetto, Michael. Encyclopedia of Barbarian Europe. ABC-CLIO, 2003.
Jackson-Lauffer, Guida Myrl. Women Rulers Throughout the Ages. ABC-CLIO, 1999.
Miles, Rosalind and Robin Cross. Hell Hath No Fury. Three Rivers, 2008.