With quick fingers, the slave girl undid her hair from its long, flaxen braids. In moments, it looked as if it had never felt a comb. Hastily stripping off the attractive clothes she had worn while she attended noble ladies, she slipped into rags. When she had daubed her face with kitchen grime, her disguise was complete. From a beautiful lady's maid she had transformed herself into a dirty kitchen hand.
Bathilde was trying to escape marriage. Archimbold, mayor of the palace of the kings of France had announced he was going to take her as his wife.
Captured by Danish raiders and sold as a slave in France, the Anglo-Saxon captive, Bathilde served as a slave to the mayor's wife. When his wife died, he turned his eyes on modest and beautiful Bathilde, who had always shown herself cheerful and attentive to the needs of others. What her original name was, we do not know, for Bathilde means "Maiden of the female apartment." We would call her a maid in waiting. Archimbold learned to trust this Christian girl and made her his cupbearer.
Now Bathilde was having nothing to do with Archimbold's marriage scheme. Hiding behind her disguise, she escaped the Mayor's attention. Thinking she had run away, Archimbold married another woman. Then Bathilde breathed a sigh of relief. She scrubbed her face, changed her clothes and braided her hair. The sunny beauty of former days was back again.
King Clovis II noticed her. He asked for her hand in marriage. This time Bathilde did not hide. In 649, the nineteen-year-old girl became queen of France. This sudden rise to giddy heights did not rush to her head. Remembering her own trials as a slave, she continued in her pattern of serving others. She exerted all her energies to assist the poor and she encouraged Clovis to do good.
Six years and three sons later, Clovis died. Bathilde became regent of France. Free to do the good she would, she studied the problem of slavery and determined to outlaw it. One of her actions was to reduce the high taxes which forced poor families to sell children. Although she did not outlaw existing slaves, she made it illegal to buy or sell a slave in France; and she passed a law that any slave who was brought into the country immediately became free.
Furthermore, she hunted for children who had been sold into slavery, bought them and set them free.
In addition to this, Bathilde set out to improve French land. The best way to do this was to take unattached men and set them to cultivating wild lands and praying. Consequently, she founded a number of monasteries and these transformed the ruins of France.
As soon as Bathilde's oldest son was of age, she retired to an abbey where she served out the remainder of her life, waiting on others as she had always done. Tradition says she died on this day, January 30, 680. A humble slave, a gracious and far-seeing queen, France has good reason to honor this English-born woman. Pope Nicholas I canonized her as a saint.
- Baring-Gould, Sabine. Lives of the Saints. Edinburgh: John Grant, 1914.
- Various internet articles.