Wife of Clovis II, King of France, time and place of birth unknown; d. January; 680. According to some chronicles she came from England and was a descendant of the Anglo-Saxon kings, but this is a doubtful statement. It is certain that she was a slave in the service of the wife of Erchinoald, mayor of the palace of Neustria. Her unusual qualities of mind and her virtues inspired the confidence of her master who gave many of the affairs of the household into her charge and, after the death of his wife, wished to marry her. At this the young girl fled and did not return until Erchinoald had married again. About this time Clovis II met her at the house of the mayor of the palace, and was impressed by her beauty, grace, and the good report he had of her. He freed and married her, 649. This sudden elevation did not diminish the virtues of Bathilde but gave them a new lustre. Her humility, spirit of prayer, and large-hearted generosity to the poor were particularly noticeable.
Seven years after their marriage Clovis II died, 656, leaving Bathilde with three sons, Clothaire, Childeric, and Thierry. An assembly of the leading nobles proclaimed Clothaire III, aged five, king under the regency of his mother, Bathilde. Aided by the authority and advice of Erchinoald and the saintly bishops, Eloi (Eligius) of Noyon, Ouen of Rouen, Leéger of Autun, and Chrodebert of Paris, the queen was able to carry out useful reforms. She abolished the disgraceful trade in Christian slaves, and firmly repressed simony among the clergy. She also led the way in founding charitable and religious institutions, such as hospitals and monasteries. Through her generosity the Abbey of Corbey was founded for men, and the Abbey of Chelles near Paris for women. At about this date the famous Abbeys of Jumièges, Jouarre, and Luxeuil were established, most probably in large part through Bathilde's generosity. Berthilde, the first Abbess of Chelles, who is honoured as a saint, came from Jouarre. The queen wished to renounce her position and enter the religious life, but her duties kept her at court. Erchinoald died in 659 and was succeeded by Ebroin. Notwithstanding the ambition of the new mayor of the palace, the queen was able to maintain her authority and to use it for the benefit of the kingdom. After her children were well established in their respective territories, Childeric IV in Austrasia and Thierry in Burgundy, she returned to her wish for a secluded life and withdrew to her favourite Abbey of Chelles near Paris.
On entering the abbey she laid down the insignia of royalty and desired to be the lowest in rank among the inmates. It was her pleasure to take her position after the novices and to serve the poor and infirm with her own hands. Prayer and manual toil occupied her time, nor did she wish any allusion made to the grandeur of her past position. In this manner she passed fifteen years of retirement. At the beginning of the year 680 she had a presentiment of the approach of death and made religious preparation for it. Before her own end, that of Radegonde occurred, a child whom she had held at the baptismal font and had trained in Christian virtue. She was buried in the Abbey of Chelles and was canonized by Pope Nicholas I. The Roman martyrology places her feast on 26 January; in France it is celebrated 30 January.
January 30, 680 • Once a Slave, Humble Queen Bathilde Died
Bathilde rose from slavery to Queen of France, but kept her kindness.
With quick fingers, the slave girl undid her hair from its long, flaxen braids. In moments, it looked as if it had never felt a comb. Hastily stripping off the attractive clothes she had worn while she attended noble ladies, she slipped into rags. When she had daubed her face with kitchen grime, her disguise was complete. From a beautiful lady's maid she had transformed herself into a dirty kitchen hand.
Bathilde was trying to escape marriage. Archimbold, mayor of the palace of the kings of France had announced he was going to take her as his wife.
Captured by Danish raiders and sold as a slave in France, the Anglo-Saxon captive, Bathilde, had served the mayor's wife. When the Mayor's wife died, he turned his eyes on modest and beautiful Bathilde, who had always shown herself cheerful and attentive to the needs of others. What her original name was, we do not know, for Bathilde means "Maiden of the female apartment." We would call her a maid in waiting. Archimbold learned to trust this Christian girl and made her his cupbearer.
Bathilde was having nothing to do with Archimbold's marriage scheme. Hiding behind her disguise, she escaped the Mayor's attention. Thinking she had run away, Archimbold married another woman. Then Bathilde breathed a sigh of relief. She scrubbed her face, changed her clothes and braided her hair. The sunny beauty of former days was back again.
King Clovis II noticed her. He asked for her hand in marriage. This time Bathilde did not hide. In 649, the nineteen-year-old girl became queen of France. This sudden rise to giddy heights did not rush to her head. Remembering her own trials as a slave, she continued in her pattern of serving others. She exerted all her energies to assist the poor and she encouraged Clovis to do good.
Six years and three sons later, Clovis died. Bathilde was appointed regent of France. Free to do the good she would, she studied the problem of slavery and determined to outlaw it. One of her actions was to reduce the high taxes which forced poor families to sell children. Although she did not outlaw existing slaves, she made it illegal to buy or sell a slave in France; and she passed a law that any slave that was brought into the country immediately became free.
Furthermore, she hunted for children who had been sold into slavery, bought them and set them free.
In addition to this, Bathilde set out to improve French land. The best way to do this was to take unattached men and set them to cultivating wild lands and praying. Consequently, she founded a number of monasteries and these transformed the ruins of France.
As soon as Bathilde's oldest son was of age, she retired to an abbey where she served out the remainder of her life, waiting on others as she had always done. Tradition says she died on this day, January 30, 680. A humble slave, a gracious and far-seeing queen, France has good reason to honor this English-born woman. Pope Nicholas I canonized her as a saint.
1. Baring-Gould, Sabine. Lives of the Saints. (Edinburgh: John Grant, 1914)
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