In the year 584, King Chilperic of the Franks was assassinated, and the late king’s treasurer, Eberulf, was accused of being involved in the murder. Chilperic’s brother, King Guntram (r. 561-593), was convinced of Eberulf’s guilt and sent troops with instructions to take him dead or alive. Hearing this news, Eberulf fled to the city of Tours and sought sanctuary in Saint Martin’s church, bringing him into contact with the city’s resident bishop and historian, Gregory of Tours (c. 539-594). Gregory found the fugitive to be an annoyingly rude and sacrilegious man, yet Eberulf was not the only disturbance in the city—bounty hunters and warriors sent by King Guntram also arrived to arrest (or at least contain) the fugitive, and while they stayed, they were not very courteous in their interactions with the city folk.
Gregory of Tours was a fan and admirer of King Guntram, but that did not stop the bishop from detesting a band of warriors from Guntram’s base of power in Orleans that arrived to keep Eberulf from leaving Tours. When these men arrived in the city, they reportedly became more interested in extorting and pillaging the locals than simply keeping an eye on the accused murderer. According to Bishop Gregory, when this particular armed group from Orleans had served out their guard-duty shift, “they set off home again, taking with them a vast amount of loot, carrying off pack-animals, cattle and whatever they could lay their hands on” (History of the Franks, VII.21). Of particular outrage to Gregory, his own mules had been stolen by the looters. The bishop’s animals would eventually be returned to their pasture, however, and Gregory of Tours happily recorded the tale of how it occurred in his History of the Franks.
As the story goes, the mule theft was carried out by two of the men from Orleans. Driving a herd of mules can be thirsty work, and, as the two thieves were ushering the animals away from the city, they decided to pick up a drink for the road. After surveying their surroundings, the two mule-thieves picked out a house that was sure to have a stockpile of fine beverages. With spears in hand, they pounded on the door to the house, and when the startled inhabitant of the residence appeared at the threshold, the thieves threatened him with their weapons, demanding that the homeowner bring forth something for them to drink.
In picking the house they did, the mule-thieves had horrible luck. The man who came to the door owned a sword, and he apparently had a military background, for he knew how to use his blade with deadly efficiency. Feeling threatened by the demanding, spear-waving thieves, the homeowner decided to fight back and protect his wine cellar. According to Gregory of Tours, “he drew his sword and pierced them both. They fell to the ground and died on the spot. Saint Martin’s beasts arrived home safe” (History of the Franks, VII.21). Gregory of Tours did not elaborate on whether the freed mules found their own way back to pasture, or if the sword-wielding hero did one last deed by helping them return.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Image of a kneeling knight with a sword, by Stewart Watson (fl. 1843-1847), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).
- The History of the Franks by Gregory of Tours, translated by Lewis Thorpe. New York: Penguin Classics, 1971.