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Head of Zeus
The Dark Queens
The Dark Queens: The Bloody Rivalry that Forged the Medieval World by Shelley Puhak

A vivid double biography of two fearless Early Medieval queens, and an enthralling journey of discovery across the unfamiliar and blood-soaked historical landscape of sixth-century Merovingian France.

'Brings the Merovingian empire to thrilling, bewildering, horrifying life' Helen Castor

'Restores two half-forgotten and much-mythologized queens to their proper place in medieval history' Dan Jones

'A story of scheming and savagery to make Game of Thrones look tame' Sarah Gristwood

'A remarkable piece of detective work, by turns enlightening and shocking' Amanda Foreman

Brunhild was a Visigothic princess, raised to be married off for the sake of alliance-building. Her sister-in-law Fredegund started out as a lowly palace slave. And yet – in sixth-century Merovingian France, where women were excluded from noble succession and royal politics was a blood sport – these two iron-willed strategists reigned over vast realms for decades, changing the face of Europe.

The two queens commanded armies, developed taxation policies, established infrastructure and negotiated with emperors and popes, all the time fighting a gruelling forty-year civil war with each other. Yet after Brunhild and Fredegund's deaths, their stories were rewritten, their names consigned to slander and legend.

From the tangled primary evidence of Merovingian sources – the works of the chronicler Gregory of Tours and the Latin poet Venantius Fortunatus – award-winning writer Shelley Puhak weaves a gripping and intricate tale, its characters driven by ambition, lust and jealousy to acts of treachery and murderous violence. The Dark Queens resurrects these two women in all their complexity, painting a richly detailed portrait of a shadowy era and dispelling some of the stubbornest myths about female power.

Head of Zeus, an Apollo book * Medieval History
03 Mar 2022 * 336pp * £9.99 * 9781801109130
REVIEWS
'The Dark Queens brings the Merovingian empire to thrilling, bewildering, horrifying life. This is the story – told with a sharp eye, at heart-pounding pace – of two extraordinary women who held power in a brutal world that believed their sex couldn't rule. Many scholars 'still don't know what to do' with Brunhild and Fredegund. Shelley Puhak does'
Helen Castor
'Bright, smart, and playful, The Dark Queens is a marvelous trip into the murky early Middle Ages. Shelley Puhak presents a believable and vividly drawn portrait of the Frankish world, and in doing so restores two half-forgotten and much-mythologized queens, Brunhild and Fredegund, to their proper place in medieval history'
Dan Jones
'On the one hand, a story of scheming and savagery to make Game of Thrones look tame – on the other, a genuinely important exploration of the relationship between two powerful women, written with zest and verve'
Sarah Gristwood
'History owes more to Brunhild and Fredegund, two queens whose bitter rivalry left a trail of bodies in their wake, than the lies perpetuated by their enemies. So bravo to Shelley Puhak for a remarkable piece of detective work, by turns enlightening and shocking. Anyone who thought that medieval queens spent their time sewing and sighing is in for a surprise'
Amanda Foreman
'A vivid and engaging tapestry of Merovingian plot and counterplot'
Max Adams
Author
Shelley Puhak
Shelley Puhak
Shelley Puhak is a poet and writer whose work engages with history in unexpected ways. She has more than a decade of experience teaching literature and creative writing and is the author of two award-winning books of poetry, Guinevere in Baltimore and Stalin in Aruba. Shelley's writing has appeared in publications including The Atlantic, Creative Nonfiction and Virginia Quarterly Review, been anthologised in Best American Travel Writing, and featured in numerous editions of Best American Essays. The Dark Queens is her first non-fiction book.
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