King Guntram (r. 561-593) lived at a time when the empire of the Franks was divided between several monarchs of the Merovingian Dynasty. With multiple Merovingian kings vying for primacy in the fractured Frankish sphere of influence, the 6th century was marked by prevalent warfare and intrigue. Such an atmosphere caused Guntram to be concerned and paranoid, and he took precautions to preserve his safety. According to Bishop Gregory of Tours (c. 539-594), King Guntram “never went anywhere without an armed escort. Even when he went to church, or to any other place which he wished to visit, he was always surrounded by a band of guards” (History of the Franks, VII.8). In addition to his armed bodyguards, Guntram reportedly made a public plea, asking for his countrymen to be so kind as to spare him from assassination.
King Guntram was right to be concerned. At least three of his brothers had been murdered—Chramn was burned alive, while King Sigebert and King Chilperic had both been stabbed to death by assassins. Further numbers of Guntram’s uncles and nephews had also been murdered, not to mention the other family members who met less-nefarious violent deaths in battle during the frequent Merovingian civil wars.
Hoping to be one of the few Merovingian males to have a natural death, Guntram ultimately went public with his wish for a peaceful, long life. In 584, not long after the assassination of King Chilperic, a congregation in a church of Paris watched with interest as King Guntram, surrounded by his guards, walked up to the pulpit to deliver a message. According to Gregory of Tours, the king proclaimed, “Men and women, all people present, I ask you to remain loyal to me, instead of assassinating me, as only recently you assassinated my brothers. Give me three years at least in which to bring up these two nephews of mine, who are my adopted sons” (History of the Franks, VII.8). The speech was received well by the public and word of the address spread beyond the city limits of Paris. On the response of the people to the king’s plea, Bishop Gregory of Tours claimed, “the entire population prayed to God for his safety” (History of the Franks, VII.8). King Guntrum’s public address apparently paid off, for, despite the fact that further attempts were indeed made against his life, Guntram continued to rule until his natural death in 592 or 593.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Miniature from the Bible Historiale, c. 1400-1425, from BL Royal 15 D III, f. 294v, [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.