Marileif was an interesting figure who, for a time, was a prominent member of society in the land of the Franks in the 6th century. He came from obscure origins, apparently starting his career as a layman laborer for a church near the city of Poitiers. His father, brothers and some cousins were also working for the church, running church-owned mills or cooking in church-run kitchens. Marileif, however, had greater ambitions than being a laborer for the local church. Likely with the help of one of the book-smart clergymen that he had access to in his work as a church laborer, Marileif started studying the medical theories of the day. We, unfortunately, do not know where he studied, who taught him, or what types of credentials he touted, but it is certain that he ultimately became a renowned physician. His skills were treasured and trusted to such a degree that he became the court physician for King Chilperic of the Franks (r. 561-584).
Although Marileif was an important member of Chilperic’s court and he was lavished with untold gifts of precious metals, jewels and horses, his overall experience in Frankish high society was not good. His bad luck began around 577, when King Chilperic’s rebellious son, Merovech, targeted Marileif as a way to get back at the king. According to the contemporaneous bishop and historian, Gregory of Tours (c. 539-594), Merovech “ordered that Marileif, the royal physician, should be seized when he was journeying home from the King’s court. Marileif was cruelly beaten, his gold and silver and everything else which he had with him was confiscated, and he was left destitute” (History of the Franks, V.14). Merovech reportedly was planning to murder the physician, too, but Marileif fortunately escaped and used his contacts in the church (including Gregory of Tours) to return home to Poitiers.
Despite this robbery and attempted murder, Marileif made a comeback in the court of King Chilperic. Through work, he regained his lost wealth and expanded upon it, filling his estate in Poitiers with a vast hoard of gold and silver. He also had a fine stable of pricy horses, the pride and joy of many a well-to-do medieval man. Unfortunately, fate came to take its due once again from Marileif in 584. That year, King Chilperic was assassinated, and the vassals of the slain monarch’s brother and nephews scrambled to gain an advantage in the power vacuum. Shortly after Chilperic’s assassination in 584, Duke Gararic, a lord working for King Childebert II (Chilperic’s nephew), arrived in Poitiers to claim the city for Childebert. Before leaving Poitiers to make a similar demand to the people of Tours, Duke Gararic stopped by Marileif’s estate to pilfer some of the now patronless physician’s stockpile of wealth.
Poor Marileif’s ill luck, however, did not stop with Duke Gararic. Next came King Guntram (Chilperic’s brother) who sent an army against Poitiers in 585 as reprisal for the city’s submission to King Childebert II. As had happened last time, the invading army knew that Marileif was a wealthy man, and they targeted his estate for looting. The second round of pillaging was apparently even worse than the first. Gregory of Tours wrote about Marileif’s disastrous experience during 584 and 585, stating, “He had already been robbed once by Duke Gararic; and now he was stripped a second time, so that nothing remained to him of all his property. They took his horses, his gold and silver, and all of his precious possessions, of which he had a vast store, and reduced him once more to service to the church” (History of the Franks, VII.25).
Prompted by the ruthless one-after-the-other looting by the armies of King Childebert II and King Guntram, Marileif apparently returned to his beginnings, rejoining the group of workers that saw to the daily tasks of church properties. What he did from then on, if he continued as a physician for the clergymen or if he simply worked in the mills or kitchen, is unknown. Whatever path he chose, be it medical or muscle, hopefully it was free from further theft.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (A physician/alchemist examining a flask, by David Teniers the Younger (1610–1690), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).
- The History of the Franks by Gregory of Tours, translated by Lewis Thorpe. New York: Penguin Classics, 1971.