The Christmas Feud Of Sichar, Austregesil And Chramnesind

In the late 6th century, a feud broke out between two well-connected families from the city of Tours. Disagreements spiraled into violence around the year 585, with the fatal spark ironically igniting during a Christmas celebration at a village called Manthelan. As the story goes, Sichar and Austregesil—both influential citizens from Tours—were present for a festival hosted by a priest of Manthelan during Christmastime. During the course of the festivities, Austregesil somehow killed a servant, causing quite the uproar at the party. Yet, as Austregesil was a very influential man, he was confident of being able to escape any serious consequences for the killing. Sichar, however, was an acquaintance of both the priest hosting the party and the servant who had been slain. Fueled by food and drink from the festivities, Sichar publicly vowed to seek vengeance against Austregesil. This gossip eventually made its way to Austregesil, himself, and before long, the festival-goers were picking sides, rallying to the side of the murderer or the avenger. Contrary to the Christmas spirit, the two factions eventually ended up in a deadly brawl. Sichar’s group recieved the worst of it and retreated to the local priest’s home. Once inside, Sichar ensured that the priest would take care of a few of his injured friends, and then he wisely fled from the village. Not long after Sichar escaped, Austregesil and his rowdy thugs found their way to the priest’s house, where they killed the injured people left behind there and stole whatever they could get their hands on, including items belonging to both Sichar and the church.

In Manthelan, a tribunal of citizens began formulating a case against Austregesil for the murders and the thefts, yet before they could put the man on trial, Sichar decided to launch his own raid against a household belonging to Austregesil’s supporters. Austregesil was in some way related to a man named Chramnesind, whose father, uncle and brother were tasked with guarding Austregesil’s recent ill-gotten gains. It was the household of this trio that Sichar struck. In a raid at night, Sichar attacked the property and killed the father, uncle and brother of Chramnesind. Sichar went on to loot the estate, taking anything that could be moved. He even went so far as to steal the animals in the pasture.

At this point Bishop Gregory of Tours (c. 539-594) tried to intervene to stop the feud between the two factions in his flock. The bishop, who recorded the tale of this feud for posterity, attempted without success to bring about a peaceful end. Chramnesind wrested control of the anti-Sichar faction out of Austregesil’s hands and refused to make amends. Instead, he vowed to take revenge for the deaths of his father, uncle and brother.

Sensing the risk of danger from Chramnesind and his supporters, Sichar decided to flee from Tours and sought the protection of Queen Dowager Brunhild and her son, King Childebert II (r. 575-596). When Sichar abandoned his home, Chramnesind seized the opportunity to get some revenge. Rallying his supporters, the vengeance-seeker marched his mob to Sichar’s estates in Tours and went on a rampage. Slaves and servants were killed, anything not bolted down was stolen, and all of Sichar’s cattle were driven away. As a final touch, Chramnesind set fire to buildings and structures on his enemy’s land.

With the death and destruction caused by the feud continuing to escalate, Bishop Gregory of Tours, now aided by other authority figures, was able to bring Sichar and Chramnesind into negotiation. Both sides were fined, but as property belonging to the two rival leaders had been destroyed in the feud, the penalties were not too harsh. Upon reaching their agreement, Sichar and Chramnesind settled back down in Tours and tried to coexist. They surprisingly succeeded at the near-impossible task for a few years, successfully maintaining the facade of happy neighbors. Yet, Chramnesind could not bury his hate for Sichar, and his pent-up emotions eventually led to murder. The killing occurred between the years 587 and 588, and he did not stop with the act of murder, itself. According to the aforementioned Gregory of Tours, “Chramnesind stripped Sichar’s corpse of its clothes and hung it from a post in his garden-fence. He then climbed on a horse and went off to find the King” (History of the Franks, IX.19). As it had been Sichar, not Chramnesind, who had been favored by Queen Dowager Brunhild and King Childebert II, news of the murder was not well received by the royals. In consequence, Chramnesind had to flee to the realm of King Guntram of Burgundy (r. 561-593), who happened to be Childebert’s uncle. During Chramnesind’s exile, his property was sequestered, yet he was said to have eventually succeeded in having his lands restored to his possession.

Written by C. Keith Hansley

Picture Attribution: (Peasants Brawling by Hans Sebald Beham, German, 1500–1550, [Public Domain] via Smithsonian Institute Open Access and Creative Commons).
Sources:

  • The History of the Franks by Gregory of Tours, translated by Lewis Thorpe. New York: Penguin Classics, 1971.
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