Lawrence Alma-Tadema (c. 1836-1912), a Dutchman by birth and an Englishman by choice, painted this historically-inspired scene. The piece is set in a royal court of 6th-century France, ruled at that time by the Merovingian Dynasty of the Franks. The woman in the forefront of the painting is Fredegund, a servant-turned-concubine of King Chilperic I of Soissons (r. 561-584). She stares out from her dark room at a wedding ceremony—the wedding of her lover, Chilperic—which occurred around 566 or 567. King Chilperic was marrying Princess Galswintha, a daughter of King Athanagild of the Visigoths (r. 551/554-567). Despite the wedding, Fredegund’s influence over Chilperic was in no way over. She was a sly and competent woman, and she made sure that King Chilperic did not lose interest in her. Fredegund ultimately forced the king to choose between herself and the foreign princess. King Chilperic chose Fredegund and they horrifically had Galswintha murdered in 567 or 568. This crime, however, quickly caused political chaos, as Chilperic’s brother, King Sigebert of Austrasia (r. 561-575), had married Galswintha’s sister, Brunhild. The murder would launch a decades-long, multi-generational feud between Queen Brunhild and Queen Fredegund, who drove their husbands and offspring to go to war against each other.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
- The History of the Franks by Gregory of Tours, translated by Lewis Thorpe. New York: Penguin Classics, 1971.