King Chilperic (r. 561-584) of the Franks was said to have dramatically raised taxes in his realm around 578 or 579. In particular, the landowners were hit hard by the policy, as, among other things, they were taxed per every half acre they owned, as well as the number of workers they employed. The new taxes were so unbearable that many people fled to the less-taxed lands of Chilperic’s fellow Merovingian co-kings, Guntram (r. 561-593) and Childebert II (r. 575-595). The rest who stayed in Chilperic’s kingdom divided into two camps—those who were willing to live with the new taxes, and those who wished to stop the implementation of the new tax code.
The landowners of Limoges were in the latter camp and were willing to go to extremes to resist the taxes. According to Bishop Gregory of Tours (c. 539-594), a tax collector named Mark was responsible for implementing the new code in Limoges. As could be expected, Mark’s occupation made him extremely unpopular in the region. When Mark attempted to collect the tax, the people of Limoges erupted into a violent mob and attempted to kill the official. The beleaguered tax collector reportedly only survived because he was given shelter by Bishop Ferreolus. With Mark off limits, the mob went for the next best thing—the tax books and records. After seizing all of the tax collector’s documents, the rioters built a great bonfire and burned every tax-related item they could find.
King Chilperic was reportedly outraged at the insurrection that occurred in Limoges. According to Gregory of Tours, the king’s response to the city was brutal. Troops and officials were sent to Limoges to enforce law and order. Those who were believed to be ringleaders of the riot were rounded up, tortured and executed, apparently including a few local priests. After meting out these punishments, King Chilperic then reimposed his taxes on the city at an even greater rate than had been originally demanded. Fortunately for the city, the new tax code only lasted until 580. Yet, it was bittersweet news, for the taxes were lowered in response to a widespread epidemic of dysentery in France.
Written by C. Keith Hansley.
Picture Attribution: (The Village Lawyer’s Office, by Pieter Breughel the Younger (1564–1638), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).
- The History of the Franks by Gregory of Tours, translated by Lewis Thorpe. New York: Penguin Classics, 1971.