16 People in History Who Schemed and Plotted Their Way to the Top

Fredegund and Rigunth, steel engraving from Mme de Witt, Vieilles histoires de la patrie, 1887. Thomas Körner 2007/Wikipedia/Public Domain.

13. Fredegund Tried to Kill Her Daughter

Fredegund lived in the sixth century and was a servant to the wife of the Merovingian king, Chilperic I. As a servant, she won the king’s affection and persuaded him to divorce his wife and send her away to a convent. He then married Galswintha, so Fredegund strangled her to death. The king later married Fredegund. She quickly developed a reputation for being cruel and heartless, and Gregory of Tours immortalized her cruelty. However, she had a bit of a conscience. When a dysentery epidemic broke out and affected her two young sons, she was convinced that it was the result of her sins. To atone for what she had done, she burned tax documents and any other incriminating evidence. Sadly, the young boys died anyway.

Fredegund also had a daughter, Rigunth, with whom she had a somewhat stormy relationship. According to Gregory of Tours, “She was jealous of her own daughter, Rigunth, who continually declared that she should be mistress[6] in her place. Fredegund waited her opportunity and under the pretense of magnanimity took her to the treasure-room and showed her the King’s jewels in a large chest. Feigning fatigue, she exclaimed, “I am weary; put thou in thy hand, and take out what thou mayest find.” The mother thereupon forced down the lid on her neck and would have killed her had not the servants finally rushed to her aid.”