Around the year 585, France experienced a severe famine, which the merchant class savagely used to their advantage. A man named Christopher was one such opportunistic trader who scurried to sell food and drink to the parched and starving people of France at a predatory price. He was apparently from a larger merchant family, and with him in France was at least one other brother who was helping to administer the family’s business interests in the Frankish lands. Their buying and selling schemes were aided by the family’s access to a network of ships that could navigate the rivers and seas of Europe. Christopher’s last known mission brought him to the city of Orleans, where he ensured that a shipment of wine was loaded onto boats and sent down river to its destination. Although the wine was being carried by way of the river, Christopher went in a different direction. Instead of hitching a ride on one of the ships, he hopped on a horse and traveled by road in another direction. His path brought him into a forested region, yet his next mission and intentions are unknown, for he was murdered during his journey and all of his effects were stolen.
Before long, Christopher’s body was discovered, and his brother made his way to the vicinity of Orleans to complete the morbid task of overseeing the funeral arrangements. Yet, the brother was likely not prepared for the gruesome nature of the crime. Wounds on the victim’s body told a foul tale—he had been stabbed in the back and mutilated by blows to the head and torso. The number and ferocity of the blows hinted at the murder being a crime of rage and hate instead of a robbery gone wrong.
Christopher’s wealthy family strove to avenge their kinsman’s death. The brother in Orleans gathered a posse to hunt down the killers, and he already had some persons of interest in mind. In Orleans, witnesses had seen Christopher traveling with two servant-slaves of Saxon origin. While the late merchant had been brutal on the prices of his wares for the starving, he was even more savage in his treatment of his slaves. Christopher’s brother knew the two Saxon slaves had been flogged many a time by their late master and that the two had unsuccessfully tried to run away in the past—leading to even more punishment. As the slaves in question had not been found dead, injured, or present at the scene of the crime, they became prime suspects for the murder. As such, Christopher’s brother had his mercenaries and bounty hunters search specifically for the missing slaves.
After the death of Christopher, whether or not the Saxons were involved, the two servant-slaves fled from the scene and split up. One of the two was unluckily caught by the manhunters, but the Saxon did not give up without a fight. In a second escape attempt from his captors, the unlucky slave killed one of the mercenaries and tried to run away. He did not get far, however, and was soon recaptured. Christopher’s brother had apparently, by then, moved to Tours, so the arrested Saxon slave was brought there by the mercenaries for punishment. Christopher’s brother was in a bitter and unforgiving mood, leading him to push for a merciless and brutal sentencing. When the bounty hunters arrived in that city with their prisoner, tales of the grisly events that they were all involved in reached the ear of Tours’ bishop, Gregory (c. 539-594), who was a historian as well as a clergyman. Gregory of Tours recorded the account of Christopher’s murder for posterity and wrote that the captured Saxon slave was “taken by the others to Tours, submitted to various tortures and mutilated: then his corpse was hanged from a gibbet” (History of the Franks, VII.46). As for the surviving Saxon fugitive, he apparently escaped detection and was not seen again.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Illustration of the death of William the red, dated to c. 1864, by James William Edmund Doyle (1822–1892), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).
- The History of the Franks by Gregory of Tours, translated by Lewis Thorpe. New York: Penguin Classics, 1971.