Radegund of Poitiers, France
Radegund of Poitiers was one of the first Frankish women who founded and ruled over nunneries in France. Her life reads like a soap opera. Born around the year of 520, Radegund was the daughter of a Thuringian King, Berthaire. While just a child, her father was murdered by his brother, Hermanfred, who took Radegund and her brother to raise as his own. But in 531 the Franks invaded Thuringia and defeated and destroyed the Thuringian royal family. The children were captured by the invading Frankish King Clothaire I, who claimed them as spoils of war. Radegund lived with Clothaire in Athies when at the age of 18 he moved her to Soissons to be his queen. She did not want to marry this brute Clothaire but eventually consented to marry him in 540, while apparently goading the man to fury with her austere and devout way of life. She used her revenues from land she received from her wedding to found hospices and was involved in much charitable work on behalf of the poor.
Now what does she have to do with gardens or flowers? Well Radegund loved to decorate the church altar with flowers, and ‘a profusion’ of flowers at that. A great friend of hers was the poet Venantius Fortunatus and he wrote many flowery poems of love to her. He claimed that at one dinner he shared with Radegund at the convent, the table was barely visible as it was strewn with roses, greenery, and flowers.
Violets were sent along with this poem to Radegund:
‘If the time of year had given me white lilies,or had offered me roses laden with perfume,I had culled them as usual in the open or in the ground of my small garden,and had sent them, small gifts to great ladies.But since I am short of the first and wanting in the second,he who offers violets must in love be held to bring roses.Among the odorous herbs which I send,these purple violets have a nobleness of their own.They shine tinted with purple which is regal,and unite in their petals both perfume and beauty.What they represent may you both exemplify,that by association a transient gift may gain lasting worth.’