Saint Balthild, also known as Bathilde d'Ascagnie, Batilde, Bathylle, Bathild, Bathildis, or Bathilda (626 or 627 – January 30, 680), was the wife and queen of Clovis II, king of Burgundy and Neustria (639 – 658). Her name comes from the Old English and means "bold battle". Two traditions, independent and conflicting, trace her career. One is a hagiography which was intended to further her successful candidature for sainthood. The other is a record of chroniclers, confirmed by a chance archaeological find in an East Anglian field.
Both traditions represent her as an Anglo-Saxon of elite birth, perhaps a relative of King Ricberht of East Anglia, the last Heathen king there. Ricberht was ousted by his Christian rival Sigeberht, who had spent time in the Frankish court. He was established as the rightful heir to the throne with Frankish help. Balthild was sold into slavery as a young girl and served in the household of Erchinoald, mayor of the palace of Neustria to Clovis.
Even as queen, she remained humble and modest. She is famous for her charitable service and generous donations. From her donations, the abbeys of Corbie and Chelles were founded (and likely others such as those of Jumièges, Jouarre, and Luxeuil). She also provided support to Saint Claudius of Besançon and his abbey in the Jura Mountains. She bore her husband three children, all of whom became kings: Clotaire, Childeric, and Theuderic.
When Balthild's husband died between 655 and 658, Clotaire, the eldest son and heir to the throne, succeeded at age five. Balthild served as the queen regent until he came of age in 664, when she was forced into a convent. As queen, she was a capable stateswoman. She abolished the practice of trading Christian slaves and even sought the freedom of children sold into slavery. As the story goes, after Balthild's three children were of age and "established in their respective territories" (Clotaire in Neustria, Childeric in Austrasia, and perhaps Theuderic in Burgundy), Balthild entered the abbey and gave up her royal rank. She dedicated the rest of her life to serving the poor and the infirm.
Balthild died on January 30, 680. She is buried at her foundation, the Abbey of Chelles outside of Paris. Her Vita was first written soon after her death, probably by one of the community of Chelles. The Vita Baldechildis/Vita Bathildis reginae Francorum in Monumenta Germania Historica, Scriptores Rerum Merovincarum 2, like most of the vitae of royal Merovingian-era saints, provides some useful details for the historian. Her official cult began when her remains were transferred from the former abbey to a new church, in 833, under the auspices of Louis the Pious. Balthild was canonised by Pope Nicholas I about 200 years after her death.
By some chroniclers' accounts she was a ruthless ruler, in continuing conflict with the bishops; she seems to have been responsible for the assassination of several. The vita of Saint Eligius by his companion Dado reports (ch. 32), "Then his widowed queen with her boys obtained the reign for a few years. She was afterward removed by law and left the principate to her sons... She was frustrated in her desire to have Eligius entombed at her monastery of Chelles (Eligius, vita, II.37). By an apparition of Eligius (II.41) was convinced to strip off her gold and jewelled ornaments, "keeping nothing except gold bracelets."
Her gold seal matrix, which was originally attached to a ring, was uncovered in 1999 by a metal detector in a field a few miles east of Norfolk's county town, Norwich. It has two sides. The official side shows her face and her name BALDAHILDIS in Frankish lettering. The private side shows naked figures, doubtless Balthild and Clovis, in a frank erotic position beneath a cross. One seal identified official documents; the other, apparently, private ones. The seal matrix is conserved in the Norwich Castle Museum. It is surmised that the seal matrix was returned to her kin after her death.