The remarkable, little-known story of two trailblazing women in the Early Middle Ages who wielded immense power, only to be vilified for daring to rule.
Brunhild was a foreign princess, raised to be married off for the sake of alliance-building. Her sister-in-law Fredegund started out as a lowly palace slave. And yet-in 6th-century Merovingian France, where women were excluded from noble succession and royal politics was a blood sport-these two iron-willed strategists reigned over vast realms, changing the face of Europe.
The two queens commanded armies and negotiated with kings and popes. They formed coalitions and broke them, mothered children and lost them. They fought a decades-long civil war-against each other. With ingenuity and skill, they battled to stay alive in the game of statecraft, and in the process laid the foundations of what would one day be Charlemagne's empire. Yet after the queens' deaths-one gentle, the other horrific-their stories were rewritten, their names consigned to slander and legend.
In The Dark Queens, award-winning writer Shelley Puhak sets the record straight. She resurrects two very real women in all their complexity, painting a richly detailed portrait of an unfamiliar time and striking at the roots of some of our culture's stubbornest myths about female power. The Dark Queens offers proof that the relationships between women can transform the world.
Shelley Puhak is a critically acclaimed poet and writer whose work has appeared in the Atlantic, Lapham’s Quarterly, Teen Vogue, Virginia Quarterly Review, and elsewhere. Her essays have been included in The Best American Travel Writing and selected as Notables in four consecutive editions of The Best American Essays. She is the author of of two books of poetry, most recently Guinevere in Baltimore, winner of the Anthony Hecht Prize. The Dark Queens is her nonfiction debut. She lives in Maryland.
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The Dark Queens by Shelley Puhak is an excellent nonfiction that gives the historical account of two formidable women in their own right, ahead of their time, and finally given a voice of their own. Let me first just say that the amount of research and time placed into this book is just stunning. I had never heard of either of these women before picking up this book, and now after having finished, I can admit how much I truly learned. The author shines a light on two women of history: Queen Brunhild and Queen Fredegund. Both fascinating women respectively. Both women before their time and also flawed in their own ways. I found not only their existence during the late 500s to early 600s (in Brunhild’s case), but also their parts played in history, their feud, and their downfalls. Some of their actions impressive and brave, others reckless and somewhat petty. The author paints a vivid and honest portrait of these influential women that have somehow been brushed aside, and brings their stores to the forefront, blemishes and all. 5/5 stars Thank you NG and Bloomsbury USA for this wonderful arc and in return I am submitting my unbiased and voluntary review and opinion. I am posting this review to my GR and Bookbub accounts immediately and will post it to my Amazon, Instagram, and B&N accounts upon publication on 2/22/22.
I received The Dark Queens as part of a NetGalley giveaway. In the 6th century, as Western Europe rearranged itself following Rome's fall, two sisters-in-law emerged on the stage that would shape policy in Francia for generations: Brunhild, noble by birth, and Fredegund, an upstart slave. They married royal brothers, but their husbands' shadows are short compared these two women who were in many ways too alike--wily, ambitious, intelligent--to ever forge a close relationship. By ruling in lieu of their minor sons and grandsons, they wielded power that was otherwise denied to them on the basis of their sex. And, in doing so, they ushered in an era of political and religious change that would have ramifications for centuries to come. I find the early Middle Ages fascinating, probably because of the chaos that was unfolding in the wake of the Western Roman Empire's fall, and the corresponding lack of sources to explain the myriad characters and events, so I jump at any chance to read history or historical fiction about the era. This is a popular history that it well done but not without its flaws. I did notice a few errors--for instance, there's a reference to the Clovis/Louis name lasting in the French royal dynasty for "twelve thousand years" when it was actually twelve hundred. Similarly I think there were a couple times when relationships were mislabeled. These slip ups may be minor, but it does call into question the reliability of the other research, particularly when the author isn't a historian. That said, the narrative was very engaging and easy to navigate despite the unfamiliar names and relationships, and I appreciated the focus on the women rather than the men who surrounded them. Despite the lack of sources, Puhak does a worthy job of making Brunhild and Fredegund vibrant and well-rounded figures.