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Interview with Rebecca Hazell

Today, I have the pleasure of interviewing Rebecca Hazell. She has just released her latest novel, The War Queens. While researching her family heritage allowed her to discover a previously unknown link to Queens Brunhilda and Fredegunda. These women have been judged harshly at times throughout history. Thank you, Mrs. Hazell for the wonderful interview!

What inspired you to write a novel about Queen Brunhilda and Queen Fredegunda?

I was researching my family tree and discovered that I’m supposedly descended from both of them. Looking them up on Wikipedia, I came up with far more questions than answers and started digging into serious histories. Their biographies, which are full of gaps, fascinated me, especially since a close reading of the most reliable history tells quite a different story from what is commonly accepted about them. I wanted to tell their stories from a fresh point of view that humanizes them.

Brunhilda and Fredegunda were not the traditional medieval women that are often depicted in history. They were very strong and independent. What made these women unconventional in their times?

Yes, both were strong people. Each took advantage of her opportunities in her own way. Fredegunda was bright as well as beautiful, but she was stunted emotionally and devoted entirely to self-preservation and power. Today we’d call her a psychopath. She used her sex appeal to manipulate men and influence their politics, and she was extraordinarily ruthless, favoring poison and beheadings. So, she basically outdid the warrior elite around her, and because she was also unpredictable, they feared her. 

Brunhilda was thrust into power and rose to the occasion. She was well educated, accustomed to command, and had a sense of responsibility that her rival lacked. She also deeply loved her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren, so she worked hard to do what was best for them. (Not all queens loved their family.) She was accused of being a Jezebel—power mad—but she kept having to start over again, and she did it. She must have been politically skillful to have stayed in power for so long, especially since she was always perceived by the Frankish warrior elite as an untrustworthy foreigner.

Did you find yourself favoring one queen over the other?

Brunhilda. Fredegunda’s behavior was appalling. (I left a lot out in the novel.) It’s much easier to write about wicked people, and I did try to humanize her, but she creeped me out. Brunhilda was a subtler and more complex person who achieved much in her lifetime against the odds.

What were some of the challenges in writing The War Queens

Very little reliable information. Other than Gregory of Tours, the other main source about the queens, written by a monk decades after their deaths, was extremely hostile to both women. In those days, women were thought to be scarcely human.

What were some surprises in The War Queens? 

Realizing how unquestioningly misogynistic the histories remained down the ages. The exception was Gregory, who knew both women and also the other major people in their lives. I was surprised that later historians continued to picture both women as power mad. Why?

What methods did you use in researching The War Queens? 

I started with the internet, where a lot of historical documents are available. I also used the nearby university library and bought a few books that were no longer in print. And I visited three former Frankish capitals in France and haunted their museums.

In addition to your novel, are there any historical sources for those who want to learn more about the era? 

The foremost is the History of the Franks by Gregory of Tours, still in print through Penguin. You can also find it online as Historia Francorum. A good resource for Brunhilda’s correspondence is Epistolae: But it’s a perfect example of taking conventional attitudes about Brunhilda for granted even while presenting material that contradicts those attitudes. The Chronicles of Fredegar is less reliable and is nasty towards both queens. You can find it online. Modern books are rare, but one feminist source is Seven Medieval Queens, now out of print and so biased in its own way that it was greeted by scholars with mockery. The Franks by Edward James is a good all-around introduction.

What project are you working on next? 

I’m just finishing a romance set in San Francisco soon after the last big earthquake, and I’m also back to making art.

About Rebecca Hazell:

Rebecca Hazell is the author of The War Queens and The Tiger and the Dove Trilogy. For more information, please visit her website.

Also, check out my reviews of Rebecca Hazell's novels:


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