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Warrior Nuns

The story of two frankish princesses

Clothild and Basina

The late 6th century France housed more than one kingdom and Besina and Clothild were royal cousins, the daughters of kings.


Princess Besina was the youngest child of her father, King Chilperic I, by his first wife. His third wife tried to ensure the succession of her own children by attempting to kill her husband's other children from previous marriages. Little Basina was not killed but suffered such brutality that she was sent to the Holy Cross Abbey at the tender age of 7.


From all the information I could get my hands on, Clothild was sent there because she was a daughter of scandal. Her father, King Charibert I, was married but took two sisters (the daughters of a wool carder) to be his mistresses/concubines, and Clothild was the daughter of one of these. Sending her to the nunnery was a neat way to deal with such a daughter.


So both of these girls were of royal blood and were sent to the nunnery through no fault of their own. All should have been well because nunneries were often a haven for women to escape the duties of marriage and the dangers of childbirth except for one allegedly evil and lowborn Abbess (funny, there is an evil abbess in my book, Agata, Princess of Iberia!). Basina and Clothild were not happy at their treatment at the hands of this woman.


They and 40 other brave nuns escaped from the abbey and threw themselves on the mercy of Gregory, Bishop of Tours. The nuns accused Abbess Leudovera of quite a few things, among which were subjecting the women in her care to pitiful living conditions, harsh and frequent beatings and inadequate food. They also accused the Abbess of keeping a manservant disguised in women's clothing and allowing men to enter the abbey and fraternise with the nuns.


The fact that they left the nunnery was an immense scandal in itself and an excommunicable offense. The accusations they brought were not given much credence. Women and girls sent to convents should stay there. The princesses and their fellow nuns refused to return to the Abbey until the Abbess was expelled. Clotild appealed to her uncle, King Guntrum and eventually it was promised that a commission would be sent to investigate the matter. The women returned to Poitiers but the commissioners never showed up.


Not daunted, our heroine princesses and followers took over the Church of St. Hilaire and established a base there. With an astonishing tenacity and great daring, they recruited a rag-tag band of mercenaries consisting of all sorts of ruffians and criminals to form their own army. They set their sights on achieving justice for themselves.


Their first clash came with the arrival of a group of clerics and bishops charged with the duty of formally excommunicating them.


The princesses and their followers attacked them and the bishops and clerics stumbled from the church covered in blood and bruises.


Unmoved by the censure of their royal uncles, the princesses maintained their stance in a struggle that lasted for almost a year and caused sensation and scandal throughout Europe. The princesses took over the lands surrounding the convent itself and were determined to lay hands on the Abbess Leubovera. Finally they caught her and locked her up in a house. The local bishop was so outraged that he refused to baptise anyone until the abbess was returned. He ordered the townspeople to break into the house and release the abbess, but Clothild ordered a group of men to kill the abbess at once if there was an attempted rescue. A royal envoy managed to get the abbess back but that only led to more violence in which men were slaughtered in the holiest places in the abbey including the shrine of the Holy Cross.


A quarrel arose between Basina and her cousin and between their supporters. It took the king's men to put down the rebellion. The mercenaries hired by the nuns were killed and the rest fled back to the forest.

Both of the princesses were put on trial and were excommunicated which was a terrible sentence at that time and virtually meant that they were banished from society. The dodgy abbess was exonerated. However royal blood counted for a lot and before long Basina and Clothild were forgiven.


King Childebert II persuaded the Church Council to pardon them both, perhaps hoping that he could tame them by sending them back to a cloister rather than having the warlike pair loose within his kingdom


Princess Basina made her peace with the church and returned to being a respectable nun, confident that Abbess Leubovera wouldn't try any of her tricks again. She lived out the rest of her life 'in obedience' but the Princess Clothild was having none of that meek nun stuff.


She appealed to the infamous and ruthless Queen Brunhild who gifted Clothild with her own sizeable estate. Perhaps she recognized in Clotild a kindred spirit! Either way, the disgraced princess lived happily on her villa until her death.


For all their bloodthirsty misadventures, Basina and Clotild were only acting in accordance with their royal blood. Women were subject to violence when they had no power, but those who did have power by virtue of royal blood or marriage could rule with an iron fist.


So what do you think? Were these two girls spoiled and entitled royal brats lashing out at an authority figure who happened to be of lower birth than them? Or do you think they were pushed beyond bearing by the horrible things that had happened to them and further terrible living conditions. Certainly they behaved in an extraordinary way for their time.


As a pair of young women, they were undeniably courageous and proved to be able leaders. Drumming up their own 'army', holding out for nearly a year, and remaining adamant in their cause was truly amazing. Significantly, both achieved the outcome they desired.

I found this story so intriguing! It reminded me of the spark of inspiration that lead to my first book, Agata, Princess of Iberia. I had a dream of a teen girl whose walled city was under attack from fierce warriors. What could she do to escape or survive? What could any woman in medieval/feudal times do to protect themselves against violence? Did they do anything? Well, Basina and Clothild did. It was a rare act but they did reach out beyond the lives set out for them by others that had power over them. The pair embarked on their goal with purpose and determination and carried it through until they attained what they wanted for their own lives. 

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