Page images

To protect the young Childebert against the attacks of Chilperich, his mother allied herself with the boy's uncle, Guntram, king of Burgundy. Guntram, who had no children of his own, designated Childebert heir to all his dominions, and took up his cause with vigour. But he was not a very warlike prince, and it was as much as he could do to protect his own realm against the active and ruthless king of Neustria. Though Burgundy and Austrasia were allied, Chilperich succeeded in conquering their united armies, under the Burgundian general, Mummolus, and seizing Tours, Poictiers, and all the north of Aquitaine. He would probably have carried his arms further if internal troubles had not arisen to check him. The Bretons of Armorica burst into rebellion, and had to be put down, and other risings were excited by his ruthless and excessive taxation. But his worst vexations were those of his own household, caused by the strife of his elder sons with Atrocities of their stepmother, Fredegundis. All through these Fredegundis, years the wicked queen had been fearfully active. Theudebert and Merovech, the eldest of her husband's family, were dead, but their brother, Chlodovech, still stood between Fredegundis' children and the throne. In 58o the plague swept all over Gaul, and two sons of Fredegundis' were carried off by it. She accused their step-brother of having caused their death by witchcraft, and got her husband to permit her to execute him. But when her last child died, two years later, the wretched woman's rage and grief led her into the wildest outbursts of cruelty. She accused numbers of persons about the court of magic arts practised against her boy, and burnt them alive, or broke them on the wheel. Many other acts of murder and treachery are attributed to her, notably the death of Praetextatus, bishop of Rouen, whom she detested for the part he had taken in the marriage of Merovech and Brunhildis, and her crimes fill many a page in the gloomy annals of Gregory of Tours. A legend tells how two holy bishops once stood before the gate of the palace at Soissons. “What seest thou over this house?” said one. “I see nothing but the red standard which Chilperich the king has ordered to be set up on its topmost gable.” “But I see,” said the first, ‘the sword of God raised above that wicked house to destroy it altogether.’ Meanwhile, Chilperich's wars with his brother of Burgundy and his nephew of Austrasia continued to fill central Gaul with blood and ashes. They ceased for a moment when the Austrasian nobles, against the will of Brunhildis, forced their little king to make peace and alliance with his father's murderer. But no one could long trust Chilperich, and after less than a year the old league between Austrasia and Burgundy was renewed. In 584 Chilperich, to the great joy of all Gaul, was murdered by an unknown hand :—‘As he was returning from the hunt to his royal manor of Chelles, a certain man struck him with a knife beneath the shoulder, and pierced his belly with a second stroke, whereupon he fell down and peath of breathed out his foul soul,” says the chronicler. Chilperich I., He was perhaps the worst of the wicked Merov- 584 ings—cruel, unjust, gluttonous, and drunken, vain, boastful, and irreligious, the worthy son of the ruffian Chlothar, and grandson of the murderer Chlodovech. But his untiring energy and reckless courage bore him safely through many an evil day, and he died leaving the kingdom he had inherited in 561 increased to three times its original bulk. Queen Fredegundis had borne one more son, named Chlothar, to her husband just four months before his murder, so that Neustria was not left altogether without an heir. But Fredegundis feared that Guntram and his nephew would now seize the whole realm, and slay her with her infant. She took sanctuary at Paris; but when the king of Burgundy arrived he showed his superiority to the morals of his family by sparing the life of the wicked queen, and recognising her son as king of Neustria. Brunhildis sought in vain to induce Guntram to give over to her the murderess of her husband; he refused, and Fredegundis took advantage of his kindness to hire assassins to make attempts on the lives both of Brunhildis and her son the young king of Austrasia. Luckily the project failed in both cases. The civil wars of the Franks now ceased for a moment. Guntram, a mild and not unamiable character, controlled both his nephews, the fifteen-year-old Childebert of Austrasia, and the one-year-old Chlothar II. ; and for nine years the three kingdoms had a certain measure of peace, broken only by wars with the Lombards and Visigoths. Guntram seems to have hoped that the fratricidal wars of his family might be staved off for a space by turning the energy of the Franks wars with against their southern neighbours, and engaged Goths and himself in a war with Reccared, king of Spain, * while the Austrasian nobles were induced by the gifts of the emperor Maurice to assist the Byzantines in their struggle against the Lombards. Both wars were long and fruitless. In the West, the repeated attacks of the Burgundian armies on Septimania were all beaten back. In the East, the Austrasians twice crossed the Alps, and wasted the valley of the Po, but in 588 they received such a defeat at the hands of king Authari that they made peace with him and withdrew across the Alps. In 590 Childebert, who had now attained his twentieth year, and was governing for himself, renewed the struggle; but his army was thinned by famine and pestilence before the walls of Verona, and he was finally fain to renew the peace with Agilulf, the successor of Authari. Unfortunate foreign wars, however, were better than strife in the heart of Gaul, and the last years of Guntram were fairly free from this pest. He was only troubled by one rebellion: a conspiracy between his illegitimate brother, Gundovald, and two great Romano-Gallic dukes, Mummolus and Desiderius, who were apparently wishing to become king-makers, and rule under the name of an obscure and incapable pretender. But the day of the complete triumph of the great State officials over the kingship had not yet come, and though he was for a moment master of all Aquitaine, Gundovald was easily put


Guntram died in 593, and his nephew Childebert receiv

[ocr errors]

his dominions in Burgundy and Aquitaine, thus becoming
ruler of four-fifths of the whole Frankish kingdom in his
twenty-third year. Under his nominal sway Austrasia had
been the theatre of a long struggle between his mother
Brunhildis and the great counts and dukes, whose plots and
riots were secretly abetted by Fredegundis. From her home
in Neustria the ruthless widow of Chilperich did her best to set
her nephew's kingdom in disorder, and promised lands and
titles to the Austrasian chiefs if they would murder Brunhildis
and Childebert, and proclaim her own son, Chlothar, king of
Austrasia. But the stern and able Brunhildis unravelled and
crushed all these conspiracies, and had the triumph of seeing
her son attain his majority, and assume the rule in his own
The moment that the pacific Guntram was dead, Brunhildis
and her son, freed from all restraint, set out to punish the in-
trigues of Fredegundis, and by invading Neustria to make an end
of her and her boy Chlothar. But the fortune of war declared
in favour of the Western Franks. At Droisy, near Brunhilais
Soissons, the army of Childebert was defeated with attacks.
the loss of no less than 30,000 men, and Neustria *
was saved from conquest. The war continued without definite
result, for Childebert was prevented from using his full
strength by a rebellion beyond the Rhine, among the Warni
in Suabia. Probably his superior force must in the end have
carried the day, but the entire aspect of affairs was suddenly
changed by his unexpected death in 596, at the early age of
twenty-six. He left two infant sons, Theudebert and Theu-
derich, to the care of their grandmother, who found herself,

though she was now verging on old age, once more *~.

upon to assume the regency. so: d **** The death of Childebert was to the kingly authority a fatal

blow, from which it never recovered. His own long minority

had raised the counts and dukes to a pitch of power which they had never gained before, and all the efforts of Brunhildis had not succeeded in fully holding them down. The equally long minority of his sons was the last blow to the kingship. Their grandmother struggled with all her might to retain the power for the kingly race, and to curb her unruly subjects. But though she worked with untiring energy and zeal, and kept the reins of government in her own grasp for some time, the treacherous nobles, bent on their own aggrandisement at the expense of the royal authority, were at last too much for her. Of the two sons of Childebert II. Theudebert, the elder, became king of Austrasia, Theuderich, the younger, king of Second Burgundy, the legacy of his uncle Guntram. It Regency of was an uneasy inheritance to which they suc* ceeded, for Fredegundis saw her opportunity, and urged the Neustrians forward against her great-nephews. At Lafaux near Laon the Austrasians suffered a great defeat, and all the lands as far as the Meuse fell into the hands of the queen of Neustria. But in the moment of triumph, her son's throne being now firmly established, and her rival's power on the decline, the wicked Fredegundis died at Rouen. Her countless murders and cruelties met no chastisement on earth, and the son for whom she had risked so much was destined to carry out to a successful end the schemes in pursuit of which she had so long striven, and to unite all the Frankish realms under his sceptre (597). The death of Fredegundis brought no relief to Brunhildis. For two years more she struggled on against the intrigues of the Austrasian nobility; duke Wintrio, who led the opposition against her, was seized and executed in 598. But in 599 Exile of a final rising took her by surprise, and she was Brunhildis forced to fly alone and unaccompanied from Metz to save her life. She escaped to Burgundy, where she took refuge with her younger grandson Theuderich, and was there received with all honour. Two successive Mayors of the Palace, Protadius and Claudius, both of Romano-Gallic blood,

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »