The ‘second Jezebel’: representations of the sixth-century Queen Brunhild
By Emma Jane Thomas
PhD Dissertation, University of Glasgow, 2012
Abstract: This thesis explores the representation of the sixth-century Merovingian Queen Brunhild. By examining seven of the divergent sources which present the queen, the construction of Brunhild, or multiple Brunhilds, is analysed through gendered, literary and political lenses.
Rather than attempting to reconcile the extremities of depictions of this queen, during her life and after her death, I demonstrate that Brunhild is a series of historical and textual problems at different political moments. I also show that the themes damnatio memoriae, feud and queenship, commonly used to analyse her career, are inadequate to understand the queen herself, the authors who wrote about her, and the age in which they lived.
Three main themes within Brunhild’s extensive career allow the exploration of the tensions inherent within the seven main sources which present her. The ‘construction of queenship’ is an examination into Brunhild’s move from Visigothic princess to Frankish queen, a transition often dismissed, but one which proves pivotal to understanding the queen’s later Visigothic dealings. The ways in which authors recognised her at the point of marriage is nuanced by their political context, looking back on the queen upon her husband’s death. The ‘politics of survival’ goes on to study Brunhild’s relationship with the church: first, the positive associations between a queen and piety, and then, the results when that relationship goes awry. It is Brunhild’s tension with the church which labels her ‘the second Jezebel’. Finally, ‘dynasty and destruction’ explores Brunhild’s relationship with her offspring. During three regencies, spanning three generations, the queen’s connection to her family was critiqued in different ways. Her involvement in Visigothic succession politics to the end of her career is examined, alongside Brunhild’s maternal image, and finally the accounts of her death. How Brunhild’s physical and political body is neutralised is crucial to understanding each author’s motives.
There is no other early medieval queen with the textual afterlife of Brunhild and this thesis is the first full examination of the extremities of her representation. Subjected, it has been said, to damnatio memoriae, the vilification, or more literally, destruction of memory, Brunhild and her textual manifestation is read in an entirely new way. The contemporary recognition of this queen, together with her textual representation, betray a tension which illustrates that Brunhild was, in fact, more alive after she was dead.