Time and time again, vassals of monarchal governments divide into opposing political camps, one side supporting the royal family, and the other side wishing to limit the power of the monarchy. Duke Lupus of Champagne, a 6th-century vassal to the Merovingian kings of Austrasia, fit into the former pro-monarch category—Lupus supported King Sigebert I (r. 561-575) until the king was assassinated, and then he defended the interests of Sigebert’s widow, Queen Brunhild, and her five-year-old son, King Childebert II (r. 575-595). Duke Lupus, however, was only one of many vassals in the court of young Childebert II, and the party in favor of protecting the young king’s interests was apparently outnumbered by the faction that wanted to decrease or freeze monarchal power.
Opposed to Duke Lupus and his allies was a so-called aristocratic party, led by Dukes Ursio and Berthefried. Tensions ran hot during the political debating and maneuvering between the two sides, and eventually, Lupus and the opposing dukes became bitter personal enemies. Ursio and Berthefried grew tired of playing politics with Duke Lupus and ultimately decided it would be much simpler just to send an army to capture or kill the troublesome duke. Queen Brunhild discovered this plot and was able to warn Duke Lupus before the aristocratic party forces arrived on his estate; so, Ursio and Berthefried failed to catch their foe, and bloodshed was avoided. Unfortunately, the aristocratic party had already mobilized its forces and wanted some gain for their efforts. Therefore, as they could not reach the duke, they attacked the next best thing—Lupus’ estates. Ursio and Berthefried looted Lupus’ properties of its wealth and, using their ties to the regency council of Childebert II, managed to hide Lupus’ wealth inside the boy-king’s treasury.
Although Duke Lupus had escaped with his life, he could no longer fight the aristocratic party from within the kingdom of Austrasia. With his assets plundered and his pro-monarchy allies unwilling or unable to help him fight back against Ursio and Berthefried at that time, Duke Lupus fled to the court of another Merovingian monarch—King Guntram of Burgundy (r. 561-593), who was an uncle of Childebert II. Duke Lupus stayed with Guntram until Childebert II grew old enough to shed off his regency council. As for Ursio and Berthefried, they continued their plotting against the crown even after Childebert II came of age, and for this reason they both eventually met violent deaths.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Image of King Childebert II from a text dated 1885, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).
- The History of the Franks by Gregory of Tours, translated by Lewis Thorpe. New York: Penguin Classics, 1971.