François Pierre Guillaume Guizot.

A Popular History of France from the Earliest Times, Volume 1 online

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also of all the towns that were traversed on the way, that they should
make great preparations to defray expenses, for the king forbade any
contribution from the treasury: all the charges were met by extraordinary
taxes levied on the poor." (Gregory of Tours, VI. xlv.)

"Close upon this tyrannical magnificence came unexpected sorrows, and
close upon these outrages remorse. The youngest son of King Chilperic,
Dagobert by name, fell ill. He was a little better, when his elder
brother Chlodebert was attacked with the same symptoms. His mother
Fredegonde, seeing him in danger of death, and touched by tardy
repentance, said to the king, 'Long hath divine mercy borne with our
misdeeds; it hath warned us by fever, and other maladies, and we have not
mended our ways, and now we are losing our sons; now the tears of the
poor, the lamentations of widows, and the sighs of orphans are causing
them to perish, and leaving us no hope of laying by for any one. We heap
up riches and know not for whom. Our treasures, all laden with plunder
and curses, are like to remain without possessors. Our cellars are they
not bursting with wine, and our granaries with corn? Our coffers were
they not full to the brim with gold and silver and precious stones and
necklaces and other imperial ornaments? And yet that which was our most
beautiful possession we are losing! Come then, if thou wilt, and let us
burn all these wicked lists; let our treasury be content with what was
sufficient for thy father Clotaire.' Having thus spoken, and beating her
breast, the queen had brought to her the rolls, which Mark had consigned
to her of each of the cities that belonged to her, and cast them into the
fire. Then, turning again to the king, 'What!' she cried, 'dost thou
hesitate? Do thou even as I; if we lose our dear children, at least
escape we everlasting punishment.' Then the king, moved with
compunction, threw into the fire all the lists, and, when they were
burned, sent people to stay the levy of those imposts. And afterwards
their youngest child died, worn out with lingering illness. Overwhelmed
with grief, they bare him from their house at Braine to Paris, and had
him buried in the basilica of St. Denis. As for Chlodebert, they placed
him on a litter, carried him to the basilica of St. Medard at Soissons,
and, laying him before the tomb of the saint, offered vows for his
recovery; but in the middle of the night, enfeebled and exhausted, he
gave up the ghost. They buried him in the basilica of the holy martyrs
Crispin and Crispinian. Then King Chilperic showed great largess to the
churches and the monasteries and the poor." (Gregory of Tours, V.

It is doubtful whether the maternal grief of Fredegonde were quite so
pious and so strictly in accordance with morality as it has been
represented by Gregory of Tours; but she was, without doubt, passionately
sincere. Rash actions and violent passions are the characteristics of
barbaric natures; the interest or impression of the moment holds sway
over them, and causes forgetfulness of every moral law as well as of
every wise calculation. These two characteristics show themselves in the
extreme license displayed in the private life of the Merovingian kings:
on becoming Christians, not only did they not impose upon themselves any
of the Christian rules in respect of conjugal relations, but the greater
number of them did not renounce polygamy, and more than one holy bishop,
at the very time that he reprobated it, was obliged to tolerate it.
"King Clotaire I. had to wife Ingonde, and her only did he love, when she
made to him the following request: 'My lord,' said she, 'hath made of his
handmaid what seemed to him good; and now, to crown his favors, let my
lord deign to hear what his handmaid demandeth. I pray you be graciously
pleased to find for my sister Aregonde, your slave, a man both capable
and rich, so that I be rather exalted than abased thereby, and be enabled
to serve you still more faithfully.' At these words Clotaire, who was
but too voluptuously disposed by nature, conceived a fancy for Aregonde,
betook himself to the country-house where she dwelt, and united her to
him in marriage. When the union had taken place he returned to Ingonde,
and said to her, 'I have labored to procure for thee the favor thou didst
so sweetly demand, and, on looking for a man of wealth and capability
worthy to be united to thy sister, I could find no better than myself;
know, therefore, that I have taken her to wife, and I trow that it will
not displease thee.' What seemeth good in my master's eyes, that let him
do,' replied Ingonde: 'only let thy servant abide still in the king's

Clotaire I. had, as has been already remarked, four sons: the eldest,
Charibert, king of Paris, had to wife Ingoberge, "who had in her service
two young persons, daughters of a poor work-man; one of them, named
Marcovieve, had donned the religious dress, the other was called
Meroflede, and the king loved both of them exceedingly. They were
daughters, as has been said, of a worker in wool. Ingoberge, jealous of
the affection borne to them by the king, had their father put to work
inside the palace, hoping that the king, on seeing him in such condition,
would conceive a distaste for his daughters; and, whilst the man was at
his work, she sent for the king.

"Charibert, thinking he was going to see some novelty, saw only the
workman afar off at work on his wool. He forsook Ingoberge, and took to
wife Meroflede. He had also (to wife) another young girl named
Theudoehilde, whose father was a shepherd, a mere tender of sheep, and
had by her, it is said, a son who, on issuing from his mother's womb, was
carried straight-way to the grave." Charibert afterwards espoused
Marcovive, sister of Meroflede; and for that cause both were
excommunicated by St. Germain, bishop of Paris.

Chilperic, fourth son of Clotaire I. and king of Soissons, "though he had
already several wives, asked the hand of Galsuinthe, eldest daughter of
Athanagild, king of Spain. She arrived at Soissons and was united to him
in marriage; and she received strong evidences of love, for she had
brought with her vast treasures. But his love for Fredegonde, one of the
principal women about Chilperic, occasioned fierce disputes between them.
As Galsuinthe had to complain to the king of continual insult and of not
sharing with him the dignity of his rank, she asked him in return for the
treasures which she had brought, and which she was ready to give up to
him, to send her back free to her own country. Chilperic, artfully
dissimulating, appeased her with soothing words; and then had her
strangled by a slave, and she was found dead in her bed. When he had
mourned for her death, he espoused Fredegonde after an interval of a few
days." (Gregory of Tours, IV. xxvi., xxviii.)

Amidst such passions and such morals, treason, murder and poisoning were
the familiar processes of ambition, covetousness, hatred, vengeance, and
fear. Eight kings or royal heirs of the Merovingian line died of brutal
murder or secret assassination, to say nothing of innumerable crimes of
the same kind committed in their circle, and left unpunished, save by
similar crimes. Nevertheless, justice is due to the very worst times and
the very worst governments; and it must be recorded that, whilst sharing
in many of the vices of their age and race, especially their extreme
license of morals, three of Clovis's successors, Theodebert, king of
Austrasia (from 534 to 548), Gontran, king of Burgundy (from 561 to 598),
and Dogobert I., who united under his own sway the whole Frankish
monarchy (from 622 to 688), were less violent, less cruel, less
iniquitous, and less grossly ignorant or blind than the majority of the

"Theodebert," says Gregory of Tours, "when confirmed in his kingdom,
showed himself full of greatness and goodness; he ruled with justice,
honoring the bishops, doing good to the churches, helping the poor, and
distributing in many directions numerous benefits with a very charitable
and very liberal hand. He generously remitted to the churches of
Auvergne all the tribute they were wont to pay into his treasury." (III.

Gontran, king of Burgundy, in spite of many shocking and unprincipled
deeds, at one time of violence, at another of weakness, displayed, during
his reign of thirty-three years, an inclination towards moderation and
peace, in striking contrast with the measureless pretensions and
outrageous conduct of the other Frankish kings his contemporaries,
especially King Chilperic his brother. The treaty concluded by Gontran,
on the 38th of November, 587, at Andelot, near Langres, with his young
nephew Childebert, king of Metz, and Queen Brunehant, his mother,
contains dispositions, or, more correctly speaking, words, which breathe
a sincere but timid desire to render justice to all, to put an end to the
vindictive or retrospective quarrels and spoliations which were
incessantly harassing the Gallo-Frankish community, and to build up peace
between the two kings on the foundation of mutual respect for the rights
of their lieges. "It is established," says this treaty, "that whatsoever
the kings have given to the churches or to their lieges, or with God's
help shall hereafter will to give to them lawfully, shall be irrevocable
acquired; as also that none of the lieges, in one kingdom or the other,
shall have to suffer damage in respect of whatsoever belongeth to him,
either by law or by virtue of a decree, but shall be permitted to recover
and possess things due to him. . . . And as the aforesaid kings have
allied themselves, in the name of God, by a pure and sincere affection,
it hath been agreed that at no time shall passage through one kingdom be
refused to the Leudes (lieges - great vassals) of the other kingdom who
shall desire to traverse them on public or private affairs. It is
likewise agreed that neither of the two kings shall solicit the Leudes of
the other or receive them if they offer themselves; and if, peradventure,
any of these Leudes shall think it necessary, in consequence of some
fault, to take refuge with the other king, he shall be absolved according
to the nature of his fault and given back. It hath seemed good also to
add to the present treaty that whichever, if either, of the parties
happen to violate it, under any pretext and at any time whatsoever, it
shall lose all advantages, present or prospective, therefrom; and they
shall be for the profit of that party which shall have faithfully
observed the aforesaid conventions, and which shall be relieved in all
points from the obligations of its oath." (Gregory of Tours, IX. xx.)

It may be doubted whether between Gontran and Childebert the promises in
the treaty were always scrupulously fulfilled; but they have a stamp of
serious and sincere intention foreign to the habitual relations between
the other Merovingian kings.

Mention was but just now made of two women - two queens - Fredegonde and
Brunehaut, who, at the Merovingian epoch, played important parts in the
history of the country. They were of very different origin and
condition; and, after fortunes which were for a long while analogous,
they ended very differently. Fredegonde was the daughter of poor
peasants in the neighborhood of Montdidier in Picardy, and at an early
age joined the train of Queen Audovere, the first wife of King Chilperic.
She was beautiful, dexterous, ambitious, and bold; and she attracted the
attention, and before long awakened the passion of the king. She pursued
with ardor and without scruple her unexpected fortune. Queen Audovere
was her first obstacle and her first victim; and on the pretext of a
spiritual relationship which rendered her marriage with Chilperic
illegal, was repudiated and banished to a convent. But Fredegonde's hour
had not yet come; for Chilperic espoused Galsuinthe, daughter of the
Visigothic king, Athanagild, whose youngest daughter, Brunehaut, had just
married Chilperic's brother, Sigebert, king of Austrasia. It has already
been said that before long Galsuinthe was found strangled in her bed, and
that Chilperic espoused Fredegonde. An undying hatred from that time
arose between her and Brunehaut, who had to avenge her sister. A war,
incessantly renewed, between the kings of Austrasia and Neustria
followed. Sigebert succeeded in beating Chilperic, but, in 575, in the
midst of his victory, he was suddenly assassinated in his tent by two
emissaries of Fredegonde. His army disbanded; and his widow, Brunehaut,
fell into the hands of Chilperic. The right of asylum belonging to the
cathedral of Paris saved her life, but she was sent away to Rouen.
There, at this very time, on a mission from his father, happened to be
Merovee, son of Chilperic, and the repudiated Queen Audovere; he saw
Brunehaut in her beauty, her attractiveness and her trouble; he was
smitten with her and married her privately, and Praetextatus, bishop of
Rouen, had the imprudent courage to seal their union. Fredegonde seized
with avidity upon this occasion for persecuting her rival and destroying
her step-son, heir to the throne of Chilperic. The Austrasians, who had
preserved the child Childebert, son of their murdered king, demanded back
with threats their queen Brunehaut. She was surrendered to them; but
Fredegonde did not let go her other prey, Merovice. First imprisoned,
then shorn and shut up in a monastery, afterwards a fugitive and secretly
urged on to attempt a rising against his father, he was so affrightened
at his perils, that he got a faithful servant to strike him dead, that he
might not fall into the hands of his hostile step-mother. Chilperic had
remaining another son, Clovis, issue, as Merovee was, of Queen Audovere.
He was accused of having caused by his sorceries the death of the three
children lost about this time by Fredegonde; and was, in his turn,
imprisoned and before long poniarded. His mother Audovere was strangled
in her convent. Fredegonde sought in these deaths, advantageous for her
own children, some sort of horrible consolation for her sorrows as a
mother. But the sum of crimes was not yet complete. In 584 King
Chilperic, on returning from the chase and in the act of dismounting, was
struck two mortal blows by a man who took to rapid flight, and a cry was
raised all around of "Treason! 'tis the hand of the Austrasian Childebert
against our lord the king!" The care taken to have the cry raised was
proof of its falsity; it was the hand of Fredegonde herself, anxious lest
Chilperic should discover the guilty connection existing between her and
an officer of her household, Landry, who became subsequently mayor of the
palace of Neustria. Chilperic left a son, a few months old, named.
Clotaire, of whom his mother Fredegonde became the sovereign guardian.
She employed, at one time in defending him against his enemies, at
another in endangering him by her plots, her hatreds and her assaults,
the last thirteen years of her life. She was a true type of the
strong-willed, artful, and perverse woman in barbarous times; she started
low down in the scale and rose very high without a corresponding
elevation of soul; she was audacious and perfidious, as perfect in
deception as in effrontery, proceeding to atrocities either from cool
calculation or a spirit of revenge, abandoned to all kinds of passion,
and, for gratification of them, shrinking from no sort of crime.
However, she died quietly at Paris, in 597 or 598, powerful and dreaded,
and leaving on the throne of Neustria her son Clotaire II., who, fifteen
years later, was to become sole king of all the Frankish dominions.

Brunehaut had no occasion for crimes to become a queen, and, in spite of
those she committed, and in spite of her out-bursts and the moral
irregularities of her long life, she bore, amidst her passion and her
power, a stamp of courageous frankness and intellectual greatness which
places her far above the savage who was her rival. Fredegonde was an
upstart, of barbaric race and habits, a stranger to every idea and every
design not connected with her own personal interest and successes; and
she was as brutally selfish in the case of her natural passions as in the
exercise of a power acquired and maintained by a mixture of artifice and
violence. Brunehaut was a princess of that race of Gothic kings who, in
Southern Gaul and in Spain, had understood and admired the Roman
civilization, and had striven to transfer the remains of it to the
newly-formed fabric of their own dominions. She, transplanted to a home
amongst the Franks of Austrasia, the least Roman of all the barbarians,
preserved there the ideas and tastes of the Visigoths of Spain, who had
become almost Gallo-Romans; she clung stoutly to the efficacious exercise
of the royal authority; she took a practical interest in the public
works, highways, bridges, monuments, and the progress of material
civilization; the Roman roads in a short time received and for a long
while kept in Anstrasia the name of Brunehaut's causeways; there used to
he shown, in a forest near Bourges, Brunehaut's castle, Brunehaut's tower
at Etampes, Brunehaut's stone near Tournay, and Brunehaut's fort near
Cahors. In the royal domains and wheresoever she went she showed
abundant charity to the poor, and many ages after her death the people of
those districts still spoke of Brunehaut's alms. She liked and protected
men of letters, rare and mediocre indeed at that time, but the only
beings, such as they were, with a notion of seeking and giving any kind
of intellectual enjoyment; and they in turn took pleasure in celebrating
her name and her deserts. The most renowned of all during that age,
Fortunatus, bishop of Poitiers, dedicated nearly all his little poems to
two queens; one, Brunehaut, plunging amidst all the struggles and
pleasures of the world, the other St. Radegonde, sometime wife of
Clotaire I., who had fled in all haste from a throne, to bury herself at
Poitiers, in the convent she had founded there. To compensate, Brunehaut
was detested by the majority of the Austrasian chiefs, those Leudes,
landowners and warriors, whose sturdy and turbulent independence she was
continually fighting against. She supported against them, with
indomitable courage, the royal officers, the servants of the palace, her
agents, and frequently her favorites. One of these, Lupus, a Roman by
origin, and Duke of Champagne, "was being constantly insulted and
plundered by his enemies, especially by Ursion Bertfried. At last, they,
having agreed to slay him, marched against him with an army. At the
sight, Brunehaut, compassionating the evil case of one of her lieges
unjustly persecuted, assumed quite a manly courage, and threw herself
amongst the hostile battalions, crying, "'Stay, warriors; refrain from
this wicked deed; persecute not the innocent; engage not, for a single
man's sake, in a battle which will desolate the country!' 'Back, woman,'
said Ursion to her; 'let it suffice thee to have ruled under thy
husband's sway; now 'tis thy son who reigns, and his kingdom is under our
protection, not thine. Back! if thou wouldest not that the hoofs of our
horses trample thee under as the dust of the ground!' After the dispute
had lasted some time in this strain, the queen, by her address, at last
prevented the battle from taking place." (Gregory of Tours, VI. iv.) It
was but a momentary success for Brunehaut; and the last words of Ursion
contained a sad presage of the death awaiting her. Intoxicated with
power, pride, hate, and revenge, she entered more violently every day
into strife not only with the Austrasian laic chieftains, but with some
of the principal bishops of Austrasia and Burgundy, among the rest with
St. Didier, bishop of Vienne, who, at her instigation, was brutally
murdered, and with the great Irish missionary St. Columba, who would not
sanction by his blessing the fruits of the royal irregularities. In 614,
after thirty-nine years of wars, plots, murders, and political and
personal vicissitudes, from the death of her husband Sigebert I., and
under the reigns of her son Theodebert, and her grandsons Theodebert II.
and Thierry II., Queen Brunehaut, at the age of eighty years, fell into
the hands of her mortal enemy, Clotaire II., son of Fredegonde, now sole
king of the Franks. After having grossly insulted her, he had her
paraded, seated on a camel, in front of his whole army, and then ordered
her to be tied by the hair, one foot, and one arm to the tail of an
unbroken horse, that carried her away, and dashed her in pieces as he
galloped and kicked, beneath the eyes of the ferocious spectators.

[Illustration: The Execution of Brunehaut - - 175]

After the execution of Brunehaut and the death of Clotaire II., the
history of the Franks becomes a little less dark and less bloody. Not
that murders and great irregularities, in the court and amongst the
people, disappear altogether. Dagobert I., for instance, the successor
of Clotaire II., and grandson of Chilperic and Fredegonde, had no
scruple, under the pressure of self-interest, in committing an iniquitous
and barbarous act. After having consented to leave to his younger
brother Charibert the kingdom of Aquitania, he retook it by force in 631,
at the death of Charibert, seizing at the same time his treasures, and
causing or permitting to be murdered his young nephew Chilperic, rightful
heir of his father. About the same time Dagobert had assigned amongst
the Bavarians, subjects of his beyond the Rhine, an asylum to nine
thousand Bulgarians, who had been driven with their wives and children
from Pannonia. Not knowing, afterwards, where to put or how to feed
these refugees, he ordered them all to be massacred in one night; and
scarcely seven hundred of them succeeded in escaping by flight. The
private morals of Dagobert were not more scrupulous than his public acts.
"A slave to incontinence as King Solomon was," says his biographer
Fredegaire, "he had three queens and a host of concubines." Given up to
extravagance and pomp, it pleased him to imitate the magnificence of the
imperial court at Constantinople, and at one time he laid hands for that
purpose, upon the possessions of certain of his "leudes" or of certain
churches; at another he gave to his favorite church, the Abbey of St.
Denis, "so many precious stones, articles of value, and domains in
various places, that all the world," says Fredegaire, "was stricken with
admiration." But, despite of these excesses and scandals, Dagobert was
the most wisely energetic, the least cruel in feeling, the most prudent
in enterprise, and the most capable of governing with some little
regularity and effectiveness, of all the kings furnished, since Clovis,
by the Merovingian race. He had, on ascending the throne, this immense
advantage, that the three Frankish dominions, Austrasia, Neustria, and
Burgundy were re-united under his sway; and at the death of his brother
Charibert, he added thereto Aquitania. The unity of the vast Frankish
monarchy was thus re-established, and Dagobert retained it by his
moderation at home and abroad. He was brave, and he made war on
occasion; but, he did not permit himself to be dragged into it either by
his own passions or by the unlimited taste of his lieges for adventure
and plunder. He found, on this point, salutary warnings in the history
of his predecessors. It was very often the Franks themselves, the royal
"leudes," who plunged their kings into civil or foreign wars. In 530,
two sons of Clovis, Childebert and Clotaire, arranged to attack Burgundy
and its king Godomar. They asked aid of their brother Theodoric, who
refused to join them. However, the Franks who formed his party said, "If
thou refuse to march into Burgundy with thy brethren, we give thee up,
and prefer to follow them." But Theodoric, considering that the
Arvernians had been faithless to him, said to the Franks, "Follow me, and
I will lead you into a country where ye shall seize of gold and silver as
much as ye can desire, and whence ye shall take away flocks and slaves
and vestments in abundance!" The Franks, overcome by these words,
promised to do whatsoever he should desire. So Theodoric entered
Auvergne with his army, and wrought devastation and ruin in the province.

"In 555, Clotaire I. had made an expedition against the Saxons, who
demanded peace; but the Frankish warriors would not hear of it. 'Cease,
I pray you,' said Clotaire to them, 'to be evil-minded against these men;
they speak us fair; let us not go and attack them, for fear we bring down

Online LibraryFrançois Pierre Guillaume GuizotA Popular History of France from the Earliest Times, Volume 1 → online text (page 14 of 35)