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The Story of Old France by  H. A. Guerber
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TWO RIVAL QUEENS

Y
OU have heard the story of the reigns of the first Merovingian kings in some detail, and therefore have a fair idea of the times in which they lived, and of the way in which these early rulers behaved. But it would be weary work to read as minute a history of all the kings of this race, whose names and dates you can find att eh end of this book if you care to look them up.

[58] Only a few interesting events happened in France during the next two centuries, by the end of which the Merovingians had ceased forever to occupy the throne. During that time the first kings were brave, and their successors were in turn cruel, revengeful, sly, and cowardly, each ruler sinking a little lower than the one who came before him.

Not many years after the death of Clotaire I., a deadly rivalry arose between his sons' wives, Brunhilda and Fredegonda. The former was a handsome, strong-minded Visigoth princess, who married Sig'ebert, king of Austrasia, shortly before her gentle sister was given as wife to his brother Chilperic, king of Neustria. The Neustrain monarch, however, soon grew tired of his meek wife, and she was strangled in her sleep by his order, so that he could marry her handmaiden, Fredegonda, one of the most wicked as well as most beautiful women in history.

In those days, some people who called themselves Christians yet believed it a sacred duty to avenge every injury received. Brunhilda no sooner heard of her sister's death than she urged her husband to attack his brother.

After a few years of warfare, Siggebert managed to gain possessions of Paris, and was elected king of the Neustrian Franks. He was about to pursue his deposed brother, [59] when he was stabbed by some murderers bribed by Fredegonda.

Brunhilda's husband being thus slain, she fell into Fredegonda's hands, and suffered great hardships before she managed to get back to Austrasia. There, and later in burgundy also, Brunhilda became regent for her son, her grandson, and her great-grandsons in turn, all of whom proved little more than puppets in her hands.

There is something fine and strong about Brunhilda. She was a wise woman, and made many improvements in the country, where an ancient road still bears her name; but her desire to avenge her sister's death and to harm Fredegonda kept her people in a constant state of warfare and turmoil.

Each year the hatred between the two queens became more bitter, and when Fredegonda, after murdering her stepsons and husband, become regent of neustria for her infant son, the feud was worse than ever. During those years, when neither queen stopped at anything, Fredegonda generally managed to get the better of the quarrel. And when, after a long time, she found that she would die before she had wreaked all her hatred upon Brunhilda, she charged her son, Clotaire II., to carry out her wicked plans.

This king, having by treachery finally secured Brunhilda and her four great-grandsons, had two of these princes slain on the spot, shut the other two up in monasteries after shearing off their royal locks, and then proceeded to torture poor Brunhilda.

Although an old woman, by this time, Brunhilda, the daughter, wife, mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother of kings, was by his order mounted upon a camel, camel [60] —like the meanest of criminals—and led through the camp, where the soldiers were encouraged to pelt her with mud, and to insult her in every possible way. After three days of torture and shameful treatment, she was finally tied, hair, hand and foot, to the tail of a wild horse, which dashed through briers and over stones, until she was torn to pieces!


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