This week is the birthday of the most famous crime writer in the world – Agatha Christie. Like many millions of others, I have loved her books and tried, usually in vain, to solve the crimes before Hercule Poirot! There are many tales of murder in the Dark Ages, so as a tribute to Agatha Christie, let’s take a look at a few!
I shall start with my favourite dynasty – the Mac Alpins. I have already described Cinaed’s (Kenneth I) crimes in gruesome detail in Kenneth’s Queen ,but it seems his son Causantin (Constantine I) was very much a chip off the old block! The victim was King Artgal of Strathclyde. Causantin ordered or perhaps bribed the Viking chief Olaf to kill him. Artgal was Causantin’s sister’s father-in-law, so the murder paved the way to Causantin’s brother-in-law, Rhun, becoming King of Strathclyde! What Rhun thought of this is not known! And Olaf? He didn’t long survive his crime. He was killed – by Causantin!
In his biography of King Alfred, Asser describes a woman who could rival Agatha Christie for her title Queen of Crime. Offa’s daughter Eadburh was married to King Beorhtric of Wessex. It seems she dominated the court, bitterly resenting any who had influence over the King. If their influence grew too great, she poisoned them. In 802 the King had a particular favourite and whatever Eadburh’s demands he would not get rid of him. So Eadburh resorted to her old tricks. But something went wrong and the King took the poison himself! This is why, according to Asser, there were no more queens in Wessex for a long time – a woman simply could not be trusted with the title!
In 613 was the very brutal death of a Frankish queen, Brunhilda. She was a woman aged around seventy years old and she was killed by being tied to the feet of four wild horses, who tore her apart. This hideous death was the culmination of around forty years of murder and feud. Brunhilda was married to Sigebert of Austrasia, while her sister, Galswintha married Sigebert’s brother, Chilperic of Neustria. Galswintha tried to improve the morals of Chilperic’s court, but Chilperic, no doubt seeing an end to his fun, conspired with his mistress Fredegund to murder her. After the death he married Fredegund. Brunhilda never forgave Fredegund for the death of her sister. The rivalry between the two queens sparked war between the brothers and their kingdoms. Sigebert was eventually killed by poisoned daggers on the orders of Queen Fredegund. Brunhilda’s response was to marry Fredegund’s step-son, Merovech, even though she was his aunt by marriage! The marriage was later annulled and Merovech retired to a monastery. He later killed himself, or rather he ordered a servant to carry out the deed. Brunhilda ruled as regent for several generations, but was eventually captured by Fredegund’s son, who ordered her brutal execution. She was charged with the murder of no less than ten kings!
Fredegund had died some years before of natural causes. Among the crimes to her name was the attempted murder of her own daughter, who she thought would rival her for power.
An unsolved crime is the murder of Alfred the Great’s sixteen-year-old great -great-grandson, Edward the Martyr at Corfe Castle. He was the eldest son of King Edgar. He became King upon his father’s death, but the succession was disputed, with many favouring his younger half-brother Aethelred. He was visiting Aethelred and his step-mother Aelfthryth when the murder took place. The suspects are
- Nobles in Aethelred’s service who wanted their master on the throne.
- Aelfhere, a leading figure in King Edward’s (the elder) reign. A powerful man, who favoured Aethelred’s succession. He was later responsible for the reburial of Edward the Martyr.
- Edward’s step-mother, Queen Aelfthryth, who considered her own son Aethelred to be the rightful heir to the throne.
Where was Hercule Poirot when they needed him?