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Radegund of Thuringia

Title social-status: 
Queen of the Franks, nun of Poitiers
Biography: 

Radegund was the daughter of a king of Thuringia, Berthachar. After the Franks conquered Thuringia in 531, killing most of the royal family and capturing Radegund, the Frank king Clothar won her by lot from his brothers. Clothar, whose mother Clothild was revered as a saint, had four other wives. Before he married Radegund in 540, he sent the child to his villa of Athies in Picardy for several years. But when he had her brother murdered she fled the marriage.
The bishop of Soissons tried to avoid consecrating her because he had been threatened by her husband’s men, but Radegund threatened him with divine vengeance if he let her soul escape the church, so he made her a deacon, an old position which did not require virginity or widowhood. When Clothar finally accepted the fact that she would not return to the world, he underwrote what JoAnn McNamara describes as “the first large-scale female monastery that we know about among the Franks” (Sisters in Arms, 98). Radegund established Sainte-Croix of Poitiers in 550, adopting Caesarius’ Rule for Nuns, and appointing Agnes the first abbess; Radegunde remained there for over thirty years.
Gregory of Tours suggests that by adopting Caesarius’ Rule, she meant to tie Sainte-Croix to the diocese of Arles rather than Poitiers, whose bishop Maroveus she had poor relations with. Maroveus refused to install her relics, among them a piece of the True Cross, which she had sent for and collected at some expense from Constantinople. Radegunde wrote to King Sigibert, who sent the bishop of Tours to install them, and Fortunatus wrote a major hymn for the occasion, “Vexilla regis prodeunt.” Maroveus also refused to conduct her funeral, which was attended by Gregory of Tours.
Fortunatus exchanged poems frequently with Radegund and Agnes and after her death wrote a life of the saint. Baudonivia, a nun of Poitiers wrote another life adding to what Fortunatus had said.* Gregory of Tours also included many details of her life in his History of the Franks and cites some of the letters in her correspondence; he describes her miracles in his Book of Miracles.
Though we know from Fortunatus that he and Radegund exchanged gifts and poems, only his are extant. But we do have three of her epistolary poems, one on the destruction of her land and people to her cousin Hamalafred, to whom she had been close as a child and whose absence she feels most strongly, one to her nephew Artachis, which begins with a lament for her fallen land and her dead father and uncles, and one praising the emperor Justinus and the empress Sophia who had sent her the relics of the cross. The poems have been attributed to Fortunatus but since we know she wrote poems and she inscribes her name in these, there seems no good reason to deny her authorship.

Biographical notes: 

* Jo Ann McNamara gives a translation of Fortunatus' and Baudonivia’s lives in Sainted Women of the Dark Ages, ed. and trans. by McNamara and John Halborg (Durham, NC: Duke University, 1992). The Latin lives can be found in the MGH, Scriptores rerum merowingicarum 2.