This painting by Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836–1912) depicts Bishop Praetextatus of Rouen (r. 544-586) on his deathbed after the clergyman was attacked by an assailant with a knife on February 24, 586. Praetextatus was not killed instantly by the stabbing, but his wounds eventually proved to be fatal. The dying bishop and other witnesses of the crime were not able to identify the person who wielded the knife, but they had a suspicion about who might have hired the assassin. The person they had in mind was the widowed Queen Fredegund, who was living at that time in a nearby manor. Bishop Praetextatus and Fredegund had been at odds for years, and their close proximity at Rouen only worsened their relationship. Fredegund, despite likely knowing the local gossip, went to see Praetextatus on his deathbed. Seeing her caused the dying bishop to explode into a tirade, as Lawrence Alma-Tadema portrayed in his painting. Gregory of Tours, a contemporary bishop at that time, wrote what Praetextatus reportedly shouted that day: “As for you, who are the prime mover in these crimes, as long as you live you will be accursed, for God will avenge my blood upon your head” (History of the Franks, VIII.31). To read more about the life of Bishop Praetextatus and his multiple clashes with Queen Fredegund, read our article, HERE.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
- The History of the Franks by Gregory of Tours, translated by Lewis Thorpe. New York: Penguin Classics, 1971.