In 585, politics in the lands of the Franks was disrupted by a man named Gundovald (or Gundoald), who claimed to have been a long-lost son of the Merovingian Dynasty’s King Chlotar (d. 561). The late king, as well as his sons, denied Gundovald’s claims, labeling him as a pretender to the throne. Nevertheless, Gundovald was more than willing to recruit disgruntled or opportunist lords and clergymen. By 585, he had recruited various counts, dukes and bishops to his cause. Yet, before he could rally this rag-tag band of followers into a truly threatening force, the patriarch of the Merovingian Dynasty at that time, King Guntram (r. 561-593), rallied his own forces with the intention of hunting down the pretender.
Fleeing from Guntram’s approaching army, Gundovald dragged his forces from town to town, eventually ending up in a place called Comminges. After giving the locals his usual speech about his dubious ties to royalty, the people of Comminges invited Gundovald’s army into the town with open arms. Gundovald reportedly informed the people of the city that an enemy force would soon be approaching, and he proposed that they gather any friends, family and belongings that happened to be outside of the town walls and bring them into the safety of the city. The gullible and trusting people of Comminges followed their guest’s suggestions, concentrating all of their supplies and belongings in the city. When this was completed, Gundovald launched a mischievous plan. The scene that reportedly followed was recorded by the bishop and historian, Gregory of Tours (c. 539-594):
“Gundovald remained in Comminges. He addressed the inhabitants a second time. ‘The enemy army is approaching,’ he said. ‘You must sally forth and fight.’ They marched out to do battle. Gundovald’s men then seized the gates, slammed them to and so shut out the people of Comminges and their Bishop. They thereupon took possession of everything which they could find in town” (The History of the Franks, VII.34).
Thus, Gundovald allegedly took possession of the belongings of an entire community. He did not, however, have long to enjoy the plunder. King Guntram’s army quickly closed in on Comminges and successfully besieged Gundovald in the city. Trapped by the king’s military, Gundovald’s coalition of supporters began questioning their loyalty. Before the end of 585, Gundovald was betrayed by his supporters and faced execution.
Written by C, Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Swordsman illustrated by H. Pyle, c. 1888, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).
- The History of the Franks by Gregory of Tours, translated by Lewis Thorpe. New York: Penguin Classics, 1971.