The Privy Revenge Against Count Werpin Of Meaux

Count Werpin of Meaux was a Frankish nobleman who flourished in the late 6th century. Little is known about his style of rule or his deeds—writers from that time period evidently thought his day-to-day actions were not noteworthy. This underwhelming impression about the count’s reign was also held by Bishop (and historian) Gregory of Tours (c. 539-594), who wrote an admirably-detailed book about Frankish history, tracing the rise of the Franks up to and including the 6th century. In Gregory’s intricate ten-book text concerning Frankish counts, dukes and kings, Count Werpin was only mentioned in a single, short paragraph.  Even worse for the poor count, the single story recorded about him for posterity was not flattering.

By the late 6th century, Count Werpin had fallen out of favor with the Merovingian kings. He was eventually stripped of his authority as a count—an event that likely occurred in the nobility title shuffles and reassignments that occurred after the assassination of King Chilperic (r. 561-584). After Chilperic’s death, the late king’s brother, Guntram of Burgundy (r. 561-593), became the head of the Merovingian Dynasty, dominating over two nephews: the teenage King Childebert II (r. 575-596) and infant King Chlotar II (r. 584-629). Guntram, in his attempts at restructuring the Frankish empire after the death of his brother, sent a man named Gundovald to replace Werpin as the Count of Meaux. The king’s new nominee, however, would not rule the region for long.

Prospective Count Gundovald reportedly reached the city of Meaux and assumed his title. Werpin evidently stayed behind in the city to instruct his replacement on how to govern the county and to help him get a feel for the lay of the land. Yet, all was not as it seemed; Werpin’s hesitancy to leave was in no way selfless. One day, while the two counts toured the countryside around the city of Meaux, Werpin finally shed his facade of kindness and let his hostility show. In that secluded environment, the replaced noble lashed out at his successor. Whether it was a premeditated attack or a crime of opportunity is unknown, but whatever the case, the stroll in the countryside turned into a deadly encounter. In the end, Count Werpin killed Gundovald and fled to a manor that stood on one of his estates.

If Count Werpin wanted the death of Gundovald to remain a secret, he did not succeed in his task. News of the murder spread throughout the Frankish lands, reaching the ears of our source, Bishop Gregory of Tours, as well as the family members of the slain man. The outraged kinsmen of Gundovald reportedly swore to seek revenge for the killing, and they journeyed to Meaux in order to track down Count Werpin. Before long, the vigilantes discovered their target’s estate, and after watching the count’s routine for a while, they launched their attack. As the story goes, they caught their prey at an incredibly vulnerable and embarrassing time—while he was in a privy or outhouse in or around his manor. Gregory of Tours recorded the tale of revenge, saying Gundovald’s “relations joined forces and attacked Werpin, shutting him up in a bathroom in the manor and killing him there” (History of the Franks, 8.18). So ends the only tale that Gregory wrote about the unfortunate Count Werpin.

Written by C. Keith Hansley

Picture Attribution: (14th-century depiction of events at Damascus from BL Royal 16 G VI, f. 322v, [Public Domain] via picryl.com 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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