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In the legend of Saint Kilian’s martyrdom, seventh century Thuringian Duchess Geilana is portrayed as a vengeful woman who wants to hold on to her power.

But could there be more to this story? Could Kilian have urged Duke Gozbert, a convert to Christianity, to separate from his wife for reasons besides than canon law? (Gozbert had married his brother’s widow, and in the eyes of the Church, they were spiritual siblings.)

Kilian did not accuse Geilana of infidelity or some other bad behavior. Nor did he bring up consanguinity for two years.

If we are to believe legend, Kilian waited because he wanted Gozbert to be solid in his faith before asking him to make such a sacrifice, and it took great effort for Gozbert to agree to set his wife aside.

From the 19th century Costume of All Nations

From the 19th century Costume of All Nations

But Kilian could have other motives. Geilana was in a position of power. A queen, duchess, or countess was the equivalent of a chief of staff and business officer. She could control access to her husband and was responsible for the treasury. If Geilana refused to convert from her pagan beliefs or argued against donating land to the Church, she could obstruct Kilian’s work.

The above is a historical novelist’s speculation. The first time we hear of Geilana is when she orders the assassin of Kilian and his companions, a typical tactic among early medieval rulers. Another favorite, from Byzantium to Francia to Rome, was blinding.

But this time, she paid a high price for dispatching an enemy. See Unusual Historicals for a Dark Ages story of martyrdom and madness.