Duke Rauching was an influential Frankish nobleman in the 6th century, whose specialty was to hunt down and arrest renegade noblemen who had run afoul of his liege. The skills and assets that Duke Rauching used to locate rebels could also be exploited by him for discovering assassins and other similar threats to the realm. In exchange for these services to the state, Duke Rauching was greatly rewarded, making him an immensely wealthy man. As his bounty-hunting feats continued to pile up, thereby increasing his prestige, power and wealth, the duke became more and more arrogant, a progression that eventually landed him in trouble. During the reign of King Childebert II of Austrasia (r. 575-595), Duke Rauching underwent an ironic twist of fate—the duke, who had spent his life as the ultimate manhunter for the Frankish kings, ended his days not as the hunter, but as the hunted.
Duke Rauching’s dramatic transition from a reliable law enforcer into a conspirator against his king was an abrupt change. The duke committed himself to betraying King Childebert II in 587, yet he had saved that very same king from assassins as late as the year 585 or 586. Once Duke Rauching made his choice to betray his liege, however, he never looked back. Duke Rauching’s network of conspirators was reportedly wide and powerful. Within the realm of King Childebert II, Rauching convinced his fellow dukes, Ursio and Berthefried, to join the conspiracy. Their plan, it was said, involved assassinating Childebert II and kidnapping the king’s children. With the deceased king’s young heirs in their power, Rauching, Ursio and Berthefried hoped to become a triumvirate in control of the kingdom of Austrasia. In order to ensure stability once their plan was enacted, the trio of treacherous lords reached out to the court of their liege’s cousin, King Chlotar II of Neustria (r. 584-629). Although Kings Childebert and Chlotar belonged to the same Merovingian Dynasty, their respective branches of the family were locked in a bloody feud, so the members of King Chlotar’s court were more than willing to help the conspiracy of Duke Rauching and his colleagues. With their plan set, the dukes needed only lay low and wait for the opportune moment to strike.
Fortunately for King Childebert II, there was a third king from the Merovingian Dynasty alive at that time who had a network of spies and informants sifting through the shadows in search of intrigues. This new player on the stage was King Guntram of Burgundy (r. 561-593)—the uncle of the other two kings, and the most senior member of the Merovingian Dynasty. King Guntram, as head of the dynasty, tried to eliminate infighting among his younger kingly kinsmen. His concern was understandable, as at least three of Guntram’s brothers had been murdered (Chramn in 560, Sigebert in 575, Chilperic in 584), and further numbers of his uncles and nephews had died violently to assassinations and civil war. Due to these gruesome life experiences, King Guntram was a paranoid man, and any talk of assassination would send the king into a rage.
Vigilant King Guntram, in the nick of time, came across information that implicated Duke Rauching as a leader of a malicious conspiracy. This information, which apparently made no mention of Dukes Ursio or Berthefried, was sent to King Childebert II. When the king received this message from his uncle, he believed it without hesitation and acted immediately to crush the threat to his life. Rauching was promptly summoned, and as he suspected nothing, he willingly appeared before King Childebert II. In their final meeting, the duke’s demeanor did nothing to make Childebert doubt his uncle’s information, and when the talk was over, the king signaled nearby guards to carry out his judgment. Gregory of Tours (c. 539-594), a bishop and historian who knew the kings, wrote of what reportedly happened next:
“The King talked with him about this and that, and then commanded him to withdraw. As he [Duke Rauching] walked out the two guards at the door grabbed his feet. He fell over on the threshold, part of his body lying inside the room and the other part outside. The men who had been ordered to do the deed then fell upon him with their swords. They cut and sliced his head this way and that until the whole of his brains were exposed. He died immediately. He was stripped naked and flung out through the window. Then his body was dispatched for burial” (History of the Franks, IX.9).
As the doomed duke was being hacked apart by King Childebert’s guards, other warriors of the king raided Rauching’s estates. On these properties, the troops reportedly seized treasure that rivaled King Childebert’s own treasury, such was the wealth of the bounty-hunting duke. As for Ursio and Berthefried—the remaining conspirators—they were still at large and no armies or assassins were yet heading in their direction. Nevertheless, when they heard of Duke Rauching’s death, and the raiding of his property, these two surviving conspirators must have believed that their involvement in Rauching’s plots would soon come to light. Therefore, they raised their warriors in a formidable, but ultimately unsuccessful, rebellion against Childebert II.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Illustration of King Clovis from an illuminated manuscript of the Chroniques de France ou de St Denis, labeled BL Royal 16 G VI, f. 12v by The British Library, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons.jpg).
- The History of the Franks by Gregory of Tours, translated by Lewis Thorpe. New York: Penguin Classics, 1971.