King Irminfrid—A Thuringian Monarch Who Gained Sole Rule By Killing Two Brothers, Only To Lose His Kingdom To The Franks


King Bisinus of Thuringia was a contemporary of Kings Childeric (r. 456-481) and Clovis (r. 481-511) of the Franks. In fact, according to The History of the Franks by Gregory of Tours (c. 539-594), Childeric’s wife (Clovis’ mother) was Bisinus’ ex who ran away from Thuringia to be with Childeric in the land of the Franks. Therefore, it is possible that King Clovis and the sons of Bisinus were half-brothers. Whatever the case, King Bisinus died about the same time as Clovis (d. 511), and in the aftermath of the two leaders’ deaths, the Frankish Empire and the Thuringian kingdom both were divided among the sons of the deceased rulers. After Clovis’ death, the empire of the Franks was ruled by his sons: Theuderic, Chlodomer, Childebert and Chlotar. Similarly, the Thuringian kingdom of the late King Bisinus was divided between his sons: Baderic, Irminfrid (or Hermanfrid) and Berthar.

Whereas the sons of Clovis miraculously were able to coexist without too much sibling warfare, the Thuringian co-kings quickly descended into violence. According to Gregory of Tours, Irminfrid went to war against his brother, Berthar, and in that campaign he managed to bring around half of Thuringia under his control. Berthar was captured in one of the battles and summarily executed. Berthar’s wife was either dead already, or was executed along with her husband, for their daughter, Radegund, was left orphaned.

Next, Irminfrid set his gaze on the land of his last remaining brother. Baderic, however, was not idly waiting for his own destruction. Taking warning from Berthar’s death, Baderic must have devoted himself to building a sizable military force. Assessing his brother’s strength, Irminfrid ultimately decided that he would need help from an ally to succeed in the campaign. According to Gregory of Tours, Irminfrid was able to recruit to his cause King Theuderic (r. 511-534), one of the sons of Clovis. Together, Irminfrid’s Thuringians and Theuderic’s Franks marched against the forces of Baderic and were victorious. During the war, Irminfrid successfully captured Baderic and had him beheaded.

With Berthar and Baderic dead, Irminfrid became the sole ruler of Thuringia. Yet, the Franks coveted Thuringian land and Irminfrid had allegedly promised to cede some of his territory to Theuderic as payment for Frankish involvement in the campaign against Baderic. As Irminfrid’s goal was territorial expansion, he, of course, did not give away his hard-won lands to the Franks, which caused a rift between him and Theuderic. The Thuringian king likely knew that conflict with the expansionist Franks was inevitable—he began preparing defensive features such as pitfalls and trenches in locations where he thought the Franks might eventually march an army. Nevertheless, these preparations did little to stop the Franks when they decided to invade Thuringia.

King Theuderic and his brother King Chlotar (r. 511-561) spearheaded the Frankish invasion of Thuringia in 531. The pits and trenches slowed down and obstructed the cavalry of the Franks, but could not repel or stop the invasion. Somewhere along the River Unstrut, Theuderic and Chlotar fought the Thuringian forces in a decisive battle, which, according to Gregory of Tours, became a one-sided massacre that favored the Franks. King Irminfrid survived the battle, but his kingdom was occupied by the invaders. During the campaign, King Chlotar found Irminfrid’s orphaned niece, Radegund and soon after married her. Yet, their marriage was not very warm. This was possibly because the Franks assassinated her remaining kin. Her uncle, Irminfrid, reportedly died from a mysterious fall from a high wall around 532 and Radegund’s unnamed brother was also executed at a later date. Radegund never had any children with Chlotar and eventually abandoned the life of royalty (and her husband) to become a nun.

Written by C. Keith Hansley.

Picture Attribution: (Image of the Thuringian princess, Radegund, being brought before King Chlotar I, as depicted in a medieval painting housed in the Bibliothèque municipale de Poitiers, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).


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