The remarkable, little-known story of two trailblazing women in the Early Middle Ages who wielded immense power, only to be vilified for daring to rule.
The Dark Queens
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Brunhild was a foreign 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 6th-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, changing the face of Europe.


The two queens commanded armies and negotiated with kings and popes. They formed coalitions and broke them, mothered children and lost them. They fought a decades-long civil war—against each other. With ingenuity and skill, they battled to stay alive in the game of statecraft, and in the process laid the foundations of what would one day be Charlemagne’s empire. Yet after the queens’ deaths—one gentle, the other horrific—their stories were rewritten, their names consigned to slander and legend.


The Dark Queens sets the record straight, resurrecting two very real women in all their complexity, painting a richly detailed portrait of an unfamiliar time and striking at the roots of some of our culture’s stubbornest myths about female power. The Dark Queens offers proof that the relationships between women can transform the world.

"Bright, smart, and playful, The Dark Queens is a marvelous trip into the murky early Middle Ages...[that] restores two half-forgotten and much-mythologized queens, Brunhild and Fredegund, to their proper place in medieval history.”

DAN JONES, New York Times-bestselling author of The Templars and Powers and Thrones

"A well-researched and well-told epic history...[that] brings these courageous, flawed, and ruthless rulers and their distant times back to life."

MARGO LEE SHETTERLY, New York Times-bestselling author of Hidden Figures

"An eye-opening medieval delight! Shelley Puhak rescues two fascinating, real-life women from the misogynistic dustbin of history, and sheds light on the origins of such strong fictional grande dames as Lady Macbeth, Cersei, and every Wagnerian heroine who ever sported a Viking helmet. Impeccably researched. A delicious read. ”

DENISE KIERNAN, New York Times-bestselling author of The Girls of Atomic City and We Gather Together

“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. Most of us know far too little about the ‘Dark Ages,’ so this narrative carries the all-important sense of discovery, that feeling of ‘I can’t believe I hadn’t heard any of this before!’”

SARAH GRISTWOOD, internationally bestselling author of Arbella and The Tudors in Love

"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, author of She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth 


“In her stirring and passionate account of the 6th-century queens Brunhild and Fredegund, Shelley Puhak breaks down the doors of history to reveal a Dark Ages we’ve been told to forget: when queens ruled Europe, with wisdom, piety—and poisoned daggers... A brilliant reconstruction of our long-suppressed past, with all its murder and intrigue, loyalty and courage, The Dark Queens is unforgettable.”

NANCY MARIE BROWN, author of The Real Valkyrie


“These dark queens were undaunted survivors who still whisper powerful advice... Puhak has rescued forgotten biographies we must not forget.”

KARA COONEY, PhD, author of When Women Ruled the World

“A blood-soaked journey through sixth-century Europe, casting new light on the so-called Dark Ages. Puhak's compelling narration offers a surprising and thoroughly riveting take on the under-explored lives of fascinating female figures of the past.”

EMILY MIDORIKAWA, author of Out of the Shadows

“This gripping saga features everything from gory murders to scandalous nuns. Brunhild and Fredegund are often flattened into Early Medieval Europe’s great villains, but in Shelley Puhak’s brilliant telling, they come to rich and nuanced life.”

EMMA SOUTHON, PhD, author of Agrippina

"A richly detailed tapestry depicting a volatile, turbulent age...Lively, well-researched history focused on powerful women."


“A fast-paced and intriguing account of two remarkable women who deftly managed to subvert the medieval patriarchy.”


"Lyrical and astute...Puhak skillfully draws on contemporaneous create her thrilling history. A deeply fascinating portrait of the early Middle Ages that vigorously reclaims two powerhouse women from obscurity."

PUBLISHER'S WEEKLY (starred review)