Balthild (c. 630–c. 680)

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Balthild (c. 630–c. 680)

Queen of the Franks who helped enact laws to improve the conditions of slaves' lives and to prevent Christians from being sold into slavery. Name variations: Balthildis, Bathildis, Bathilde, Baltechildis, Baldechild, Baldhilda, Baldhild. Born around 630 ce in England; died around 680 at the convent of Chelles, France; married Clovis II (634–657), king of Neustria and Burgundy (r. 639–657), king of the Franks (r. 639–657), in 649; children: Childeric II (650–675), king of Austrasia (r. 656–675), king of the Franks (r. 673–675); Chlothaire or Lothair III (654–673), king of Neustria and Burgundy (r. 657–673); Thierry or Theoderic III (d. 691), king of Neustria and Burgundy (r. 673/75–691), king of the Franks (r. 687–691).

Balthild was an influential queen of the Franks. Little is known about her birth or childhood, except that she was born in England to Christian Anglo-Saxon parents. As a young woman, she was kidnapped and sold as a slave in Gaul, around the year 641, and was purchased by the mayor (ruler) of Neustria, located in modern-day northeastern France. Apparently the mayor wished to marry Balthild, who managed to deter his interest by dressing in rags and hiding herself from him until he forgot about her. Several years later, on a visit to the palace of Neustria, the Frankish king Clovis II became infatuated with Balthild and, despite her slave status, married her in 648.

Unlike many early medieval queens, Balthild was not a passive queen-consort. Clovis left to her the considerable duties of managing the royal court and also controlling all charitable funds. She gave birth to three sons, all of whom were to become rulers: Lothair III, Childeric, and Theoderic. Balthild's early life as a slave gave her an empathy for the powerless which was unusual in a queen, and she worked for the improvement of the lives of the less fortunate. Among other legislation, the queen helped enact laws to ameliorate the conditions of slaves' lives, and to prevent Christians from being sold into slavery. She also helped the poor by decreasing the heavy tax burden under which they suffered.

When Clovis died in 657, Balthild became regent for the minority of her son Lothair. During these years, she attempted to realize the ambitious goal of unifying the kingdom of the Franks. Due to opposition from powerful landowners, however, this goal remained unaccomplished at the end of her regency (indeed, the kingdom would not be united for several centuries to come).

When Lothair came of age around 665, Balthild, her active political life behind her, retired to the convent at Chelles which she had founded with her own wealth. The monastery of Saint Peter at Corbie, destined to become an important center of learning, also owed its existence to Balthild's deep piety and her willingness to use her money to expand the Church's influence. At Chelles, the Frankish queen was said to have refused acceptance of any honors or privileges as its founder; instead, she worked at menial jobs with the other nuns. She died there about age 50.

Laura York , Anza, California