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Entry by Emmanuelle Santinelli, 2006

Born around 630, Balthild was an Anglo-Saxon slave bought by Erchinoald, the mayor of the Palace of Neustria. She married Clovis II (639-657), probably in 648 (and no later than 651), and played a significant role by his side. She bore him three sons: Clotaire III, Childeric II and Thierry III, who were not yet of age when their father died. This gave Balthild greater authority, exercising royal power in the name of her eldest son who succeeded his father as heir to the throne of Neustria. She benefited from the support of powerful prelates, including Eloi, Ouen and Chrodebert, Bishops of Noyon-Tournai, Rouen and Paris respectively. She also relied on monastic communities, to whom she made large concessions, reasserting their privileges and granting them immunity. In addition, she committed herself to controlling Episcopal designations (Genes in Lyon, Léger in Autun, Erembert in Toulouse and probably Sigobrand in Paris), reforming the principle monasteries (Saint-Denis, Saint-Germain d'Auxerre, Saint-Médard de Soissons, Saint-Pierre-le-Vif de Sens, Saint-Aignan d'Orléans, Saint-Martin de Tours) and banning simony. In sum, her interventions in both the religious and political domains enabled her to reward those who were faithful to her, win their gratitude, and, with their help, maintain territorial control over her kingdom. She also strove to maintain peace between the Merovingian kingdoms, abolish the trade of Christian slaves, and intervened in fiscal policies (abolishing the head tax) which speak to the diversity of her political activities. She is also credited with the foundation of the abbeys of Chelles and Corbie, as well as granting the land on which the abbey of Jumièges would be built. She was probably involved in the appointment, in 662, of her son Childeric II as King of Austrasia, who, as a result, married her cousin Bilichilde, the last surviving child of Sigebert IIII (who had died in 656). Childeric then fell under the control of the Austrasian artistocracy and his aunt and mother-in-law, Chimmechilde.

Around 664, a fraction of the aristocracy, led by the mayor of the Palace of Neustria Ebroin, removed her from power and forced her to retreat to the abbey of Chelles, headed by abbess Bertille. There, she led a pious life without taking monastic vows. Her retreat to the abbey, however, did not prevent her contact with her son Clotaire, and it was probably at her initiative that he was buried at the monastery in 673. Upon her death, on the 30th of January 680, she was also buried there. Her remains were recovered in 1983.

Balthild stands amongst the Merovingian queens of strong personality who are famed for their political and religious actions. Despite her humble origins, she managed to take advantage of her position as a wife and mother of kings to impose her authority and implement her own policies.

She notably used her married years to create a network of allies and loyal supporters, both in the lay community and in the ecclesiastical world. This enabled her, as a widow, to exercise authority in the name of her son. She also illustrates, however, the fragility of such a position, brought into question when her son came of age.

Balthild is also one of the Merovingian queens who were canonized soon after their deaths. The community of Chelles kept her memory alive and the abbess Bertille of Chelles promoted her cult: miracles were said to take place on her tomb. A few years after her death, she became the subject of a vita that was probably written by one of the community of Chelles. Her official cult didn’t start, however, until Louis the Pious in 833 decided to transfer her remains from the former abbey-church to the new one, built at the beginning of the ninth century. Posterity, however, has not always conserved a positive image of the queen: in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, the Vita Wilfridi, written at the beginning of the eighth century, circulated the image of a Jezabel who participated in the murders of several clerics, including the Bishop of Lyon, Aunemond. Since the pioneering work of Janet Nelson, Balthild has aroused renewed interest amongst scholars.

(translated by Armel Dubois-Nayt)

Selected bibliography

- Laporte, Jean-Pierre, «La reine Bathilde ou l'ascension sociale d'une esclave», dans La femme au Moyen Âge, Michel Rouche éd., Jean Heuclin, Maubeuge, éd. Ville de Maubeuge, diff. J. Touzot, 1992, p.147-169.

- Nelson, Janet, «Queens as Jezebels: the Careers of Brunehild and Balthild in Merovingian History», dans Medieval women, Derek Baker éd., Oxford, B. Blackwell, 1978, p.31-77.

- Santinelli, Emmanuelle, «Les reines Mérovingiennes ont-elles une politique territoriale?», dans Rita Compatangello-Soussignan, Emmanuelle Santinelli, Territoires et frontières en Gaule du Nord et dans les espaces septentrionaux francs, Revue du Nord, t.85, 351, juillet-septembre 2003, p.631-653.

- Santinelli, Emmanuelle, Des Femmes éplorées? Les veuves dans la société aristocratique du haut Moyen Âge, Lille, Septentrion, 2003.

- Stafford, Pauline, Queens, Concubines and Dowagers. The King Wife in the Early Middle Ages, Athens, University of Georgia Press, 1983.


- «Exerçant cette grâce de sagesse qui lui venait de Dieu, elle avait soin d'obéir au roi comme à son maître; elle était comme une mère pour les grands, une fille pour les prêtres; excellente mère nourricière pour les jeunes gens et les adolescents, elle était aimable pour tous, chérissant les prêtres comme des pères, les moines comme des frères et les pauvres comme une pieuse nourrice. À chacun de ceux-ci, elle distribuait de larges aumônes et veillait à ce que les décisions des princes soient conformes à leur dignité; elle exhortait toujours les jeunes à la religion et intervenait sans cesse, humblement, auprès du roi, en faveur des églises et des pauvres» (Vita Bathildis A [fin VIIe siècle], c.4, éd. Bruno Krusch, Monumenta Germania Historica, Scriptores Rerum Merovincarum, t.2, Hanovre, Imensis Bibliopolii Hahniani, 1888, p.485-486; traduit du latin par G. Duchet-Suchaux, Bulletin du groupement archéologique de Seine et Marne, 23, 1982, p.31).

- «En ce temps, une reine malveillante du nom de Bathilde s'acharna sur l'église du seigneur, à l'image de la reine très impie Jézabel qui tua les prophètes de Dieu, puisque elle ordonna de tuer neuf évêques, sans compter des prêtres et des diacres» (Eddius, Vita Wilfridi episcopi [début VIIIe siècle], c.6, éd. W. Lewison, Monumenta Germania Historica, Scriptores Rerum Merovincarum, t.6, Hanovre, Imensis Bibliopolii Hahniani, 1913, p.199; traduit du latin).

- «Avec Bathilde, est morte le dernier représentant d'une monarchie mérovingienne effective» (Jean-Pierre Laporte, «La reine Bathilde...», voir supra, choix bibliographique, p.160).

Spouses Clovis II
Also known as Bathild, Saint Bathild
Birth date After 600
Death 680
Biographical entries in old dictionaries
Dictionnaire Pierre-Joseph Boudier de Villemert
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