The Anticlimactic Death Of Duke Dragolen


Dragolen was a 6th-century duke who served King Chilperic (r. 561-584), one of several co-kings from the Merovingian Dynasty who ruled the Frankish Empire. Although the previous Frankish co-kings had reportedly been able to live in relative peace, Chilperic’s generation was unfortunately prone to civil war, not just in the shadows, but also on the battlefield. In particular, a long and deadly feud erupted between King Chilperic and his brother, King Sigebert (r. 561-575), and the feud would continue on in their families after both kings were dead.

Although both Chilperic and Sigebert would eventually be assassinated, Sigebert was the first to have been struck down—reportedly on Chilperic’s instigation. Sigebert left behind a five-year-old heir, Childebert II, and a savvy wife named Brunhild. Chilperic tried to undermine and sabotage the child-king’s rise to power, but Childebert II and Brunhild were able to rebuild their might in Austrasia. A key component of their success was the support offered to them by another Merovingian Dynasty co-king, Guntram (r. 561-593)—Chilperic’s brother and Childebert’s uncle.

 When King Childebert II (or at least his regency council) seemed to have gained stability, his late father’s scattered vassals began making their way to Childebert’s court. One such man was Duke Guntram Boso, who had served as a military leader on the side of King Sigebert.  After Sigebert was assassinated in 575, the duke fled with his family to the city of Tours. King Chilperic tried to have Duke Guntram Boso arrested, but the duke was steadfastly protected by Bishop Gregory of Tours.

Guntram Boso was lucky. Other allies of the late King Sigebert, or defectors to the new King Childebert II, had a much more grim fate—often sealed by the arrival of King Chilperic’s greatest manhunter, the aforementioned Duke Dragolen. The most prestigious fugitive that Dragolen captured was Duke Dacolen, a vassal of King Chilperic who attempted to defect to the side of Childebert II. Dacolen was arrested, hauled back to King Chilperic in fetters, and was either executed or murdered in prison.

Around the year 578, Duke Guntram Boso decided the time was right to flee his sanctuary from Tours and attempt to reach the court of Childebert II. His first move was to bring his daughters to the city of Poiters, which was, at that time, loyal to Childebert II. The daughters were hidden in Saint Hilary’s church in the city. Hoping that his children were safe in the sanctuary, Guntram Boso went off to make contact with King Childebert’s court.

Poitiers, however, was not as safe as Guntram Boso had hoped, for Chilperic sent troops to attack the city before the end of 578 and defeated Childebert’s forces that were stationed there. The duke’s daughters survived the attack, but Guntram Boso decided it was time to move them to another location. As covertly as he could manage, he and a band of warriors returned to Poitiers, gathered the girls and their belongings, then hit the road for friendlier and safer lands.

Guntram Boso’s movements had not gone unnoticed by King Chilperic’s forces in the region, including the warriors of Duke Dragolen. Upon hearing of Guntram Boso’s presence near Poitiers, Dragolen gathered his troops and set up an ambush on the road.

During their travels, Guntram Boso and his party had the misfortune of wandering straight into Dragolen’s trap. Fortunately, the ambushed group was a well-equipped band of warriors, and they were able to resist the ambush and fight the assailants to a standstill. During the lull, Guntram Boso sent a messenger to Dragolen, offering to hand over all of his baggage and supplies if he and his family could continue on their way in peace. According to the writings of the aforementioned Bishop Gregory of Tours, Dragolen responded by holding up a well-used rope and arrogantly bragged, “I have used it to tie up quite a few other culprits, whom I have handed over to the King. Today I shall tie up Guntram Boso with it and hand him over in his turn” (History of the Franks, V.25).

With the parley in shambles, both sides prepared for battle. According to the account of the skirmish presented by Gregory of Tours, the self-confident Duke Dragolen personally led the charge against Guntram Boso, and the two dukes were reportedly the first people to exchange blows. Yet, the duel between the dukes was not as epic as one might expect—Dragolen, armed with a lance, missed his target completely and did no damage to his foe. Guntram Boso, wielding a pike, was more accurate and reportedly stabbed Dragolen through the throat with his first blow. After Dragolen’s immediate incapacitation at the start of the fight, all of his men fled from the battlefield, leaving behind their dead or wounded duke to the mercy of Guntram Boso. After making sure his rival was dead, Guntram Boso resumed travel on the road and successfully returned to the kingdom of Childebert II.

Written by C. Keith Hansley

Picture Attribution: (Death of William II by Joseph Martin Kronheim (1810–96), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).


Leave a Reply