Theuderic I and his brothers, Chlodomer, Childebert and Chlotar jointly ruled the empire of the Franks after the death of their famous father, King Clovis (r. 481-511/513). Although they were co-rulers of the empire, they operated from separate kingdoms and, despite their coordination together in military campaigns against foreign threats, the brothers were also known to be quite conniving when it came to internal politics in the Frankish Empire. This was made most clear by the fate of King Chlodomer’s children after his death in 524—two of his sons (Theudovald and Gunthar) were murdered and a third (Chlodovald) was forced into a monastery so that Theuderic, Childebert and Chlotar could divide their late brother’s kingdom amongst themselves. Miraculously, the brothers rarely took up arms against each other, but that did not stop them from being paranoid. Additionally, as each brother was covetous of the brothers’ domains, a false rumor of a monarch’s death was a very serious affair and could be deadly for the king’s children.
One such false rumor of a regal death apparently occurred in 531, while Kings Theuderic and Chlotar were campaigning against Thuringia. Although the war was going extremely well and both kings were safe, troubling gossip began to spread that Theuderic had died. In the event of the king’s death, Theuderic’s kingdom was supposed to pass to his son, Theudebert. Yet, many knew that succession could be a tricky subject and that the late king’s last will and testament might not be respected.
Spurred on by the rumor of Theuderic’s death, the region of Clermont-Ferrand decided to prepare for the inevitable political struggle. Surveying their option of lieges, the leadership in Clermont apparently did not rank Theuderic’s son, Theudebert, high on their list of preferred rulers. Therefore, the people of Clermont were said to have invited King Childebert to take control over the Clermont-Ferrand district.
Childebert had not been involved in the Thuringian campaign with his brothers and therefore had no information to disprove the gossip that Theuderic was dead. Consequently, he eagerly took the bait and agreed to take control of Clermont. Childebert reportedly traveled to the district and was on the verge of occupying the city when messengers arrived with news that Theuderic was still very much alive and had just returned home from Thuringia. After discovering the truth, Childebert slipped away from Clermont as quickly as he could and spent the rest of his year attacking Visigoths in the south of France.
When King Theuderic learned of Clermont’s attempted defection, he was extremely angry. In fact, Gregory of Tours (c. 539-594) reported that Theuderic raised his army and launched a punitive campaign against the disloyal district in 532. The furious king and his army entered Clermont and hunted down the leaders who had invited Childebert to take control. He then was said to have attacked fortresses in the region that had garrisons of questionable loyalty. Among his targets were the fortress of Vollore and the forces at Chastel-Marlhac. Along with besieging local forts, Theuderic reportedly let his army ravage the district. Gregory of Tours wrote, “The army ran riot through the whole region, attacking everything, destroying everything” (History of the Franks, Book III, section 12). When Theuderic had finished meting out revenge on the local population, he placed a trusted kinsman named Sigivald in charge of a loyal garrison and tasked them with keeping an eye on Clermont.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (15th-century depiction of Childebert and Clotar from BL Royal 20 E I, f. 47, [Public Domain] via picryl.com and Creative Commons).
- The History of the Franks by Gregory of Tours, translated by Lewis Thorpe. New York: Penguin Classics, 1971.