The world-historical break-up of the Roman Empire in the west inaugurated a period of struggle for power and control of the former imperial territories.
That world history involved women.
The life of Radegund (b. ca. 520, d. August 13, 587) — Queen of the Franks, Saint of the Church — dramatizes the intricate relationships that formed between European leaders of the early medieval period and the church representatives whose approval they sought. It also dramatizes the human side of the political and military struggles taking place during this period.
Radegund was the daughter of a king of Thuringia (what would today be an area of central Germany). Her uncle killed her father in a battle for territorial control when she was very young. In 531, Clotaire I, King of the Franks, invaded Thuringia, killed most of her remaining relatives, and took her and her brother, Hermanfried, back to his stronghold in what is now Picardy. This abduction meant exposure to Christianity; the Franks had been at least officially a Christian people since Clovis I’s conversion to Christianity in 496.
Radegund was less than cooperative with the plan that she marry Clotaire to reinforce the Franks’ claim to Thuringia. She fled Clotaire’s court around the age of 18, but was brought back to Soissons and did marry the king ca. 540. She fled the court again ca. 550, after Clotaire’s murder of her brother — another move to reinforce claims to the territory. This time she appealed to the church, first to the Bishop of Noyon — to dedicate her life to the church, despite her married state — and later to the Bishop of Paris, to use the church’s influence over her husband more or less as a restraining order, to induce him to stop trying to return her to his court. This move succeeded. Radegund thereafter remained in religious life, with the support of her former husband and later of his children,
Just how much support can be gleaned from the following facts: Radegund founded the Convent of Our Lady of Poitiers, later the Convent of the Holy Cross, ca. 552, with lands and money from her own inheritance, and with the blessing and active assistance of Clotaire. The convent grew to a community of about 200 nuns. Its organization under the strict Caesarian rule, which stipulated the education of the sisters and their devotion of part of the day to sacred reading, as well as a strict confindement to the cloister, seems to have been part of her efforts to remain free of the control of Maroveus, the Bishop of Poitiers.
Radegund was a saint, but her piety left ample room for politics and pleasure. She reportedly saw no contradiction between the strict monastic rule governing the convent and her practice of entertaining visitors with lavish feasts. In a letter to the bishops of her district regarding the welfare of the convent, she does not hesitate to direct these personages from the status of one long accustomed to make use of her position. On the other hand, if her own words are any indication, this attitude reflected an underlying altruism and advocacy; as she writes:
Some time ago, when I found myself freed from earthly cares, with Divine Providence and with God’s grace to inspire me, I turned of my own volition, under Christ’s guidance, to the religious life. I asked myself, with all the ardor of which I am capable, how I could best forward the cause of other women, and how, if our Lord so willed, my own personal desires might be of advantage to my sisters.
Other Women’s Voices – Radegund and Baudonivia — a biography and links to primary and secondary sources
Jesus College, Cambridge — a biography, and additional resources on connections between Radegund, patron saint of Jesus College, and the convent at Poitiers