Gregory of Tours (c. 539-594) wrote the History of the Franks, an account of the rise of Frankish power in Europe, tracing its ascendance from the dying days of the Western Roman Empire to Gregory’s own time in the 6th century. Although the scope of Gregory’s text mainly rests on the lives of the infighting Merovingian monarchs of the Frankish Empire, the historian often digressed into tales about other subjects. As Gregory was the bishop of Tours, many such tales were religious in nature, featuring saints or saintly people. Yet, Gregory also had an eye for heroism and tragedy. If the gossip grapevine brought a particularly impressive noble deed or a dastardly crime to the ear of Gregory of Tours, he would find a way to file an account of the event into his text.
One especially heinous event reportedly occurred in Gregory’s own bishopric, in Tours, sometime during the last decades of the 6th century. As the story goes, a resident of Tours named Lupus lived an exceedingly sorrowful life—he had lost his wife and all of his children, perhaps to a deadly epidemic that struck the region in 580. After losing everything dear to him, Lupus began to increasingly feel a calling to abandon the material world and join a monastery.
Although Lupus’ wife and children had died, one of his brothers was still alive. The sibling’s name was Ambrosius, and although he cared deeply for Lupus, he greatly disagreed with his brother’s plans to become a monk. In Ambrosius’ mind, the best way for Lupus to move on in life and to find happiness was for him to remarry. Therefore, Ambrosius delayed Lupus from donating his property to the church or from joining a monastery, while also diligently scouring the country in search of a match for his brother.
Ambrosius’ matchmaking was a success, and he was able to find a potential wife for his brother before Lupus made his vow of celibacy. The couple got along quite well and around 582—two years after the deadly epidemic—Lupus decided to marry this new woman. As a show of thanks to his brother, Lupus went to visit Ambrosius, so that they could celebrate the marriage and exchange wedding presents. Yet, instead of a time of celebration, Lupus’ stay with Ambrosius turned into a scene of horror.
The matchmaker Ambrosius, ironically enough, was himself not in a happy marriage. His wife, according to Gregory of Tours, had long been having an extramarital affair with a devoted lover, to whom she vented all of the many reasons why she hated her husband. Unfortunately for poor ill-fated Lupus, he arrived on his brother’s property the very day that Ambrosius’ wife decided to lash out against her husband.
During the wedding celebration for Lupus, Ambrosius’ wife did a zealous job keeping the brothers’ cups filled with drinks. Ambrosius and Lupus partied late into the night, both eventually collapsing from exhaustion and inebriation. Ambrosius’ angry wife, at this point, reportedly let into the home her clandestine lover, who was armed with a sword. As the wife watched on, the man with the sword tip-toed to where the brothers were asleep. With one strong chop, the man reportedly drove his sword into Ambrosius’ head, killing him instantly. The wife and her lover may have been trying to frame Lupus for the murder, but the blow of the sword caused such a loud impact that it awoke the unlucky brother. Lupus was still in a daze from his partying, and it took him no small amount of time to survey the scene of carnage and understand what the grisly sight meant.
The murderer and the now happily-widowed wife of Ambrosius had left the scene of the crime immediately after the murder. While Lupus, with his muddled mind, slowly began to piece together what had happened, the murderous lovers silently shuffled for the door. Nevertheless, before the killers could exit the home, Lupus—always the unlucky one—recovered from his shock and confusion and began screaming bloody murder. The shouting frightened the murderers, prompting the armed killer to rush back into the room, where he hacked at Lupus with his sword until the man stopped shouting and fell into unconsciousness. With the witness silenced, the widow and her lover fled from the city of Tours.
Although the murderers escaped, Lupus’ screams reportedly caught the attention of neighbors, causing concerned citizens to eventually wandered over to the home to investigate. There, they found the blood-spattered room where Ambrosius and Lupus had been partying. Ambrosius had instantly died from his head wound, but Lupus, sliced and stabbed an untold amount of times, miraculously was still alive by the time neighbors arrived. Lupus’ wounds, however, were fatal. After giving a statement of what had happened on that horrific night, he quickly died. Tragically, in an age without photographs, video surveillance or electronic tracking, the widow and her murderous lover apparently escaped capture and were never brought to justice.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (The Assassination painted by Charles Landseer (1799–1879), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).
- The History of the Franks by Gregory of Tours, translated by Lewis Thorpe. New York: Penguin Classics, 1971.