King Guntram of Burgundy (r. 561-593) of the Merovingian Dynasty was a paranoid king, and rightfully so. Guntram had originally shared power over the Frankish lands in conjunction with three brothers—King Charibert (d. 567), King Sigebert (d. 575) and King Chilperic (d. 584). Of these co-kings, Sigebert and Chilperic were both stabbed to death by assassins, and another brother of these siblings, Chramn, was also murdered before they succeeded to their kingdoms. Given the further numbers of Guntram’s uncles, nephews and other family members who met violent deaths during the frequent Merovingian civil wars and intrigues, his fears were well-founded. As such, King Guntram was obsessive in seeing to his personal security. He kept himself always surrounded by guards and was quick to react against evidence (or accusations of) disloyalty. Unfortunately, this drive of the king to investigate nearly all accusations of treachery caused problems for an innocent doorman at a church.
Bishop (and historian) Gregory of Tours (c. 539-594), an acquaintance of King Guntram, recorded the tale about the poor doorman’s plight. The bishop did not go into fine detail in his account. Our victim, the door keeper, was kept anonymous by the bishop, as was the accuser (a fellow doorman) who accused his colleague of accepting a bribe and conspiring to assassinate King Guntram. Although the accused doorman was well-liked until that time by the king and had no history of violence or crime, the accusation of treachery quickly shattered the good relationship that the implicated man had with the monarch. From the beginning, many people did not believe the accusations. Gregory of Tours wrote of the popular theories behind why the docile doorman was betrayed by his co-worker, “Many people said that this was all done for reasons of jealously and foul play, simply because the door-keeper against whom the charge was brought was a particular favourite with the King” (History of the Franks, VIII.11). Despite the public skepticism and the doorman’s record of loyalty, Guntram did not take chances with his security. Therefore, the king had the man arrested and interrogated.
Interrogations are never pleasant, yet medieval interrogations were especially painful. In those times, torture was an accepted tool used by interrogators in many different kingdoms and cultures. King Guntram’s realm was no different, and they used the latest instruments of pain in their attempts to pry out a confession from the doorman, who had been arrested on mere hearsay. Gregory of Tours reported on the interrogation, writing, “The second door-keeper, against whom the accusation had been levelled, was arrested, flogged and subjected to a whole series of tortures. Nothing came to light of the plot about which he was being interrogated” (History of the Franks, VIII.11). Unfortunately, Gregory of Tours did not elaborate on the story, and nothing else is known of the tortured individual’s fate.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (14t-century image of the Church of St Martin from Church of St Martin from BL Royal 16 G VI, f. 18, [Public Domain] via picryl.com and Creative Commons).
- The History of the Franks by Gregory of Tours, translated by Lewis Thorpe. New York: Penguin Classics, 1971.