Above is an illustration of a 6th-century crime that would cause decades of family feuding and civil war. Sleeping in the bed is Galswintha, daughter of King Athanagild of the Visigoths (r. 551-567). She married the Frankish Merovingian Dynasty’s King Chilperic of Soissons in 566 or 567. As might be guessed from the picture above, the marriage of these newlyweds did not have a happy ending. By the time Galswintha arrived in Chilperic’s court, the king was already smitten with his life-long partner, Fredegund. The Visigoth princess’ bitter existence in France was enhanced by bad news from Spain—her kingly father died very soon after the wedding. Possibly because of Fredegund’s urging, combined with Galwsintha’s loss of political usefulness following the death of her father, King Chilperic quickly came to despise his marriage to his Visigoth wife. He ultimately decided to end the marriage, and he did so in brutal fashion. The story of what happened to poor Galswintha was recorded by one of Chilperic’s acquaintances, Bishop Gregory of Tours (c. 539-594), who wrote “In the end he had her garroted by one of his servants and so found her dead in bed” (History of the Franks, 4.28). This murder would bring the Merovingian Dynasty to civil war, spanning the reigns of several successive kings. As it happened, Chilperic’s brother, King Sigebert of Austrasia, had also married a Visigoth princess—Queen Brunhild, the sister of Galswintha. In response to the murder, Sigebert and Brunhild went to war against Chilperic and Fredegund, a conflict that was carried on by their respective branches of the Merovingian Dynasty.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
- The History of the Franks by Gregory of Tours, translated by Lewis Thorpe. New York: Penguin Classics, 1971.