Balthild, St.

(d. 680)
   Wife of King Clovis II (639-657) and regent of Chlotar III (657-683), Balthild was an important figure in the Merovingian kingdom of the second half of the seventh century. A saint, whose feast is celebrated on January 30, Balthild was also a shrewd political leader who successfully guided her son's regency and implemented important political and religious reforms. Often compared with the Merovingian queen Brunhilde (d. 613), Balthild could be as ruthless as her predecessor could when family interests were at stake, but Balthild was not quite so brutal as the earlier Merovingian queen. Indeed, even when their policies seem most similar, Balthild seems to have been motivated less by simple power politics than Brunhilde. Balthild also seemed genuinely committed to the reform of the Frankish church and, according to her biographer, was a devout and pious member of the convent where she spent her last years. Her biography, or saint's life, The Life of Saint Balthild or The Life of the Lady Balthild, written by a member of her community at Chelles, is the primary source for our knowledge of Balthild's life.
   Little is known of Balthild's early life. Her biographer notes that before her marriage to Clovis II she had an "admirable and pious religious way of life" and that she was "kind in her heart, temperate and prudent" (Vita Domnae Balthildis, 119). She was described as an Anglo-Saxon slave, who was purchased by a Frankish noble to serve at his court. Indeed, so attractive were her personality and appearance that, as her biographer tell us, the noble desired to marry her, but she resisted. "By the true will of God," (120) she eventually married Clovis, son of the great king Dagobert I, and bore him the future kings Chlotar II (584-629) and Childeric II (662-675). She apparently had little direct influence during her husband's reign and lived a life of piety and religious devotion. Her husband recognized this and granted her as a servant Abbot Genisius, who assisted her in works of charity, including donations of food and clothing to the poor as well as grants of money to churches and monasteries.
   After Clovis's death in 657, however, Balthild assumed the regency for her son Chlotar III and exercised much power and influence throughout the kingdom. She may also have been instrumental in the reunification of the three parts of the Merovingian kingdom, Austrasia, Neustria, and Burgundy. Under his mother's regency, Chlotar assumed authority over Neustria, and Balthild's close ties with important abbots and bishops in Burgundy strengthened the connection between Neustria and Burgundy. She also appointed a new mayor of the palace for Neustria, further extending her authority in the realm. She also arranged the marriage of her son Childeric with an important noblewoman in Austrasia in 622. The marriage and Balthild's connection with Austrasian nobles paved the way for Childeric's ascension to the Austrasian throne.
   Balthild's political success was due in part to the good relationship she had with the clergy in the Merovingian kingdom. She was by all accounts pious and deeply committed to the reform of the Frankish church. She was an ardent supporter of the cult of the saints, and she also actively collected the relics of the saints, perhaps to gain the saints' support for her family. As regent, Balthild was actively involved in the daily affairs of the church and its hierarchy. She appointed bishops to their sees and to important positions in the regency government.
   Although she has been blamed for the death of nine bishops, Balthild should not be compared too closely with Brunhilde in this matter. As regent, Balthild was responsible for executions, but only after the letter of the law had been followed; apparently, she never acted arbitrarily. Indeed, any executions she ordered were to preserve the peace and order of the kingdom. Moreover, despite the suggestion that some of these bishops were martyred, Balthild's relations with the bishops were not that bad, and the appointments she made were uniformly good bishops. She also, unlike Brunhilde, was an active opponent of simony and a strong supporter of religious reform. She promoted the more stringent monasticism of the Irish missionaries and founded monasteries, including one at Chelles that followed the pattern of Luxeuil, which had been founded by the great Irish saint Columban. To strengthen monasticism in the kingdom, she ordered that certain monasteries be exempted from episcopal jurisdiction, an act that surely alienated some bishops in her kingdom but also found much support from the bishops as a whole.
   By the mid-660s, Balthild had ruled effectively and proved a successful regent for her son, Chlotar, who reached his majority in 664. In that year or the year after, 665, Balthild fell from power. According to the author of the saint's life, Balthild lost power because of her opposition to the murder of the bishop of Paris, Sigobrand. Her struggle against the nobles responsible for the murder proved unsuccessful, however, and she was deposed and allowed to enter the woman's monastery she founded at Chelles. She stayed at Chelles until her death in circa 680. Although she may have felt the convent to be a prison, Balthild's hagiographer assures the reader that the queen was a model of pious devotion at the monastery. She exhibited "great humility," "joy," and a "cheerful heart" even when cleaning the kitchen or the latrines (127). Her piety was so great that as her death approached, according to the author of The Life of Saint Balthild, she received a vision in which she ascended a stairway leading to Mary. Although she lived her final years secluded in a monastery in a sort of internal exile, Balthild left an important mark on the Merovingian kingdom, its ruling dynasty, and its church.
   See also
   Bibliography
 ♦ Vita Domnai Balthildis (The Life of Lady Balthild, Queen of the Franks). In Late Merovingian France: History and Hagiography, 640-720. By Paul Fouracre and Richard A. Gerberding. Manchester, UK: University of Manchester Press, 1996. Pp. 47-132.
 ♦ Nelson, Janet L. "Queens as Jezebels: The Careers of Brunhild and Balthild in Merovingian History." In Medieval Women, ed. Derek Baker. Oxford: Blackwell, 1978, pp. 31-77.
 ♦ Schulenburg, Jane Tibbetts. Forgetful of their Sex: Female Sanctity and Society, ca. 500-1100. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998.
 ♦ Wemple, Suzanne. Women in Frankish Society: Marriage and the Cloister, 500 to 900. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1981.
 ♦ Wood, Ian. The Merovingian Kingdoms, 451-751. London: Longman, 1994.

Encyclopedia of Barbarian Europe. 2014.

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