• The Dark Queens

  • The Bloody Rivalry That Forged the Medieval World
  • By: Shelley Puhak
  • Narrated by: Cassandra Campbell
  • Length: 10 hrs and 50 mins
  • 4.6 out of 5 stars (102 ratings)

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The Dark Queens

By: Shelley Puhak
Narrated by: Cassandra Campbell
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Publisher's Summary

“A well-researched and well-told epic history. The Dark Queens brings these courageous, flawed, and ruthless rulers and their distant times back to life.” (Margot Lee Shetterly, New York Times best-selling author of Hidden Figures)

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.

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 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, 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.

In The Dark Queens, award-winning writer Shelley Puhak sets the record straight. She resurrects 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.

©2022 Shelley Puhak (P)2022 Audible, Inc.

What listeners say about The Dark Queens

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Lost in the names!

Great history and narration. However I struggled to keep the characters straight. This was not the fault of the author. In the medieval times names were not John and Mary! I skipped ahead at the end as I grew tired of the wars and grisly detailed deaths. The narrator does a great job with those names and the author needed to add what she added for history. I would recommend this book especially if you are patient!

1 person found this helpful

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More Like This Please!

As a history person, this title jumped out to me when I was browsing as worth getting. Women in the Dark Ages and medieval period are often noted in the past for not having power or much say in their lives, even if they're royal. But Brunhilda and Fredegund's stories show that this isn't true at all. In fact, it was women like these two rivals that made events possible. When their husbands died and their sons were too young to rule, they took over and fought for their rights and lands as regents and royals. In Fredegund's case, she had to overcome her past as a former slave and someone who many people looked down upon, while Brunhilda was raised to rule from a young age by her father. These women had power and they both chose to wield it differently with varying results, but calling them powerless is untrue.

I also appreciate that Puhak pointed out that the sources regarding these women are both biased and have been read only one way by most scholars for centuries. The men who wrote the histories of Francia weren't keen on female rule and even those who were still disparaged them to a degree. But re-examining these sources from a new perspective builds a different story than the one we think we know. This is true of all history, but very true when it comes to women in this period. We don't always have records but we should also try to look at the ones we do have for new information as Puhak did.

It's also interesting to read about how the kingdoms tried to maintain a sense of normalcy in a very tumultuous period of history. The fall of the Western Empire did mean a lot of disunity and fragmenting, but also people still kept some Roman traditions while new cultures developed alongside them. But you can see the seeds of the medieval world we do know developing as the church struggles with local power sources and nobles switch sides based on personal advantage.

Cassandra Campbell did a great job narrating. Her pronunciations of Frankish names sounded right and must've been difficult at times because many names were varied only by a little. While she's not overly emotional in her reading, the soothing but straightforward reading is easy to listen to.

Overall, I recommend this book as a listen. This is history everyone should read but if you're interested in the story of some lesser-known medieval women, this is really a good pick!

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Fascinating & Long Overdue

I LOVED this. As historical figures, Brunhilde & Fredegund were two rulers chock full o’ sexy plot twists & political hi-jinx. Sarah Puhak details a litany of sly, survivalist machinations into a thoughtful narrative so action-packed that it’s baffling to me how woefully under-told their stories STILL are.
But beyond the (very entertaining) historical timeline, the author did a great job weaving all of it into a cohesive tale that left me pulling for BOTH titular characters on an emotional level. In the not yet unified kingdoms destined to one day become France, the back & forth pendulum-swinging parties veer from betrayal to betrothal, and back again, with lots of fragile interplay between church & state, sinister assassinations aplenty, & fates that often turn on a “solidi” (What, too “inside?” Too soon? Too bad. Sorry/not sorry. I don’t care what anyone says, sixth century Merovingian currency jokes are HILARIOUS!)
Anyhoo- Puhak has a keen eye for how both these women managed to leverage the few options open to them at the time (and not just once, but over and over and over again). Also- the narration is excellently delivered, striking just the right note throughout.
The only criticism I have is that the NAMES of the (many) players in this tale are so similar at times that I had a lot of trouble keeping track of who just poisoned whom. Clearly, though, that’s nothing the author had any control over.
I was so wrapped up in these two bad-asses that I searched online for a documentary or feature film I could watch. There ARE NONE! WTF? I’m sure there’ll be a bidding war for Puhak’s dueling dames in no time. Hollywood suits will be clamoring for the rights to turn her book into a blockbuster movie starring… (I’m pitching Scarlett Johansson or Cate Planchette for Fredegund, & Helena Bonham Carter or Olivia Colman as Brunhilde.) Or me. I could play Brunhilde. Why am I giving roles away to those other actresses? They work ALL. THE. TIME.

Lastly, I’m so glad little girls today will be growing up in a world where they can look to the past & see women represented wayyyy more than I did. Even if their “role models” poisoned a bunch of folks now & then. I mean, it was the 6th century— who WASN’T poisoning their nemeses back then. Nomsain?

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Thought about this book all the time!

Even though it was sometimes hard to catch the names of all of the kings ( I listened in my convertible with the top down), it was so fascinating that I would take the long way home. The writing wasn’t perfect, but the narrator more than made up for it.

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Loved it!

At this time when women all over the globe need to raise their voice, this history is a caution to us to work together, not in opposition.

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This!!

is like the 50th book ive read in the past year and a half, of midieval history and not going to lie! I loved it. Its all absolutely fascinating to me. I believe this book needs to be turned into another historical based tv series. These two women deserve to be highlighted in the modern craze of midieval shows and dramas. Brunhilda's marriage to her demise being the beginning and end of the show. I would put this as a must read for those, like me, whom are just in love with learning and reading deep into the history of all of our ancestors and greats of the past! I cannot say it enough, I loved listening to this book! I will be buying a tangible copy as well! MAJOR KUDOS to Shelley Puhak for this masterpiece 👏

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fantastic hidden history

a fantastic hidden history of two formidable and unknown dark age queens. the narration expertly illuminates and brings the text to the ear

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women who kicked ass and took names

Gorgeous history that reveals a collection of powerful and fierce women. They shaped their era and then historians tried to vanish. The cultural echoes never went away.