Chlotar (sometimes spelled Lothar) was the youngest of four brothers who jointly ruled over the Frankish Empire after the death of their father, King Clovis I, in the year 511. Chlotar and his brothers, Theuderic, Chlodomer and Childebert often feuded and sometimes even raised armies against each other, yet, miraculously, no brother was assassinated, executed, or killed in battle by another sibling—although, they did sadly assassinate some of their nephews. Even though Frankish assassins did not bring down any of the sons of Clovis, that did not mean that the brothers never tried to assassinate a sibling. According to Gregory of Tours (c. 539-594), Theuderic once attempted to lure his younger brother, Chlotar, into a brutal murder.
Around the year 531, Theuderic and Chlotar conquered the Thuringians and assassinated the defeated regional king, Hermanfrid (or Irminfrid). According to Gregory of Tours, it was sometime after the completion of this Thuringian campaign that Theuderic set in motion his plan to murder Chlotar. The scene of the attempted crime was at an unnamed estate owned by Theuderic. The most prominent feature of the estate, and the royal manor built there, was a large courtyard enclosed by tall walls. Theuderic’s supposed plan was simple—he hired a band of loyal warriors and hid them in the courtyard, placing a canvas or tapestry so that it shielded them from view. Once the royal guest arrived at the estate and entered the manor, the assassins would then sneak out from behind the canvas, rush into the home, and stab Chlotar to death.
Despite the grisly plot, Gregory’s account of the event quickly shifted from horror to humor. When Chlotar arrived on the scene of his potential murder, he quickly realized something was amiss. Gregory painted the picture like a corny comedy. Upon Chlotar’s entrance into the courtyard, his eye was immediately drawn to the single large canvas. The material was wide enough to cover an entire wall of the courtyard. Yet, the placement of the cloth was completely botched, resulting in a gap between the bottom of the canvass and the floor of the courtyard. As a result of this mistake, Chlotar could see pairs of clearly visible feet jutting out from underneath the canvas.
Warned by the un-stealthy boots of the potential assailants, Chlotar simply walked out of the courtyard and gathered enough of his personal guards to counteract Theuderic’s plot. With his posse of well-armed bodyguards, Chlotar reentered the courtyard and confidently met with his mischievous brother.
Gregory of Tours did not mention if Theuderic’s assassins came charging into the manor, only to find that Chlotar’s guards were waiting for them. Whatever the case, peace was apparently maintained and no blood was spilled at the manor that day. With his plan thwarted, Theuderic apparently tried to buy his way back into his brother’s good graces. He grudgingly handed over a magnificent silver salver (a large decorative tray) as a gift of reparation to his brother. Chlotar apparently forgave his brother, accepted the gift of silver, and promptly left the estate.
Adding to the bizarre nature of the story, Gregory of Tours claimed that Theuderic immediately wanted his silver platter back. He apparently sent his son, Theudebert, to catch up with Chlotar and beg for the salver to be returned. The dutiful Theudebert succeeded in finding his uncle on the road and was reportedly able to awkwardly retrieve the gift and brought it back to Theuderic.
The humorous and odd nature of Gregory’s account of the attempted assassination makes one wonder if the story is fictitious or extremely embellished for comedic effect. On the other hand, Gregory personally met with Chlotar’s son, King Chilperic (d. 584), and also met with Chlotar’s grandson, Childebert II (d. 595), thereby possibly gaining some information passed down through the royal family. Whatever the case—history, fiction, or historical fiction—the peculiar story is entertaining.
Written by C. Keith Hansley.
Picture Attribution: (Frankish footwear illustrated by Albert Kretschmer c. 1882, behind an image of a theatre curtain courtesy of pixabay.com, both [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).
- The History of the Franks by Gregory of Tours, translated by Lewis Thorpe. New York: Penguin Classics, 1971.