In the year 586, Bishop Praetextatus of Rouen was assassinated. The assassin used a dagger to inflict a mortal wound, but unfortunately for the bishop, it took a while for the bishop to succumb to the injury. While on his deathbed, Praetextatus accused the widowed Queen Fredegund of orchestrating the assassination. As the bishop and the queen (who was living at a manor near Rouen at the time) had been often seen arguing and insulting each other in the days before the assassination attempt, the locals of the region easily believed Praetexataus’ hypothesis. Fredegund’s general reputation for being a violent and conniving woman further solidified her guilt in the minds of the populace. The death and funeral of Praetextatus did nothing to calm the population or ease suspicion of Fredegund, as, unbelievably, one of the funeral goers reportedly died suspiciously at a banquet hosted by Fredegund. Whether the widowed queen had truly orchestrated the assassinations or not, Rouen and other nearby communities firmly believed she was responsible.
In Bayeux, Bishop Leudovald decided to take action. Sending word to other nearby bishops and clergymen, he formed a coalition that hoped to gain proof of Fredegund’s guilt. To further ramp up the pressure, these clergymen reportedly managed to have all of the churches in and around Rouen stop holding services. While these clergymen went on strike, they were not idle. They reportedly set up some sort of inquisition and had enough power to make arrests and interrogate their prisoners. A contemporaneous bishop, Gregory of Tours (c. 539-594), reported on these peculiar events, writing:
“Bishop Leudovald sent a letter to all his fellow-bishops and with their assent closed the churches of Rouen so that the people could attend no more divine services in them until such a general outcry should arise that the author of this crime would be discovered. Leudovald apprehended certain individuals. They were put to torture and he extracted confessions from them that these deeds had been done at the instigation of Fredegund. She denied everything, so that she could not be punished” (Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks, VIII.31).
Such a disturbance was caused by the assassination of Bishop Praetextatus, and the clergy’s backlash against the killing, that it caught the attention of Fredegund’s protector, King Guntram of Burgundy (r. 561-593). At that time, Guntram was the patriarch of the Merovingian Dynasty, the family that ruled the various kingdoms of the Frankish empire. His was the tough job of keeping his bloodthirsty kinsmen from killing each other. On one side of his complicated family, he had to contain the aforementioned widowed Fredegund, and her infant son, King Chlotar II (r. 584-629). In another branch of the dynasty was the widowed Queen Brunhild and her son, young King Childebert II (r. 575-595), who both despised Fredegund. As King Guntram was more in the business of preserving his bloodied and battered dynasty than in punishing them, the agents that he sent to Rouen did little but give Fredegund and her supporters a strict talking-to before heading home.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Image from History of France from the reign of Clovis, 481 A.D., to the signing of the armistice, November, 1918 (1919), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and Flickr).
- The History of the Franks by Gregory of Tours, translated by Lewis Thorpe. New York: Penguin Classics, 1971.