Around the year 587, three dukes formulated a dangerous conspiracy against King Childebert II of Austrasia (r. 575-595). Two of the conspirators were Berthefried and Ursio, who had long been making trouble for their liege as leaders of an aristocratic faction that wanted to limit the power of the monarchy in the kingdom. As the third member to their triumvirate, Berthefried and Ursio were working with the powerful Duke Rauching—a man ironically considered to be the realm’s most feared law enforcer and bounty hunter. This trio of plotting dukes also found willing allies among the court of Childebert’s cousin, King Chlotar II of Neustria (r. 584-629), as the Austrasian and Neustrian branches of the Merovingian Dynasty were embroiled at that time in a bloody feud. Aiding the conspiracy was not a trivial decision, however, for the plan hatched by Berthefried, Ursio and Rauching was reportedly to kidnap King Childebert’s two young sons and then kill the king, leaving the three plotting dukes to rule in Austrasia as puppetmasters of the captured heirs. The role of the Neustrian courtiers in the conspiracy was to help Dukes Berthefried, Ursio and Rauching resist the backlash that would surely come from the other Merovingian Dynasty power player who was active at that time. This feared obstacle to the conspirators’ ambitions was King Guntram of Burgundy (r. 561-593), the uncle of Kings Childebert and Chlotar. As a powerful king and patriarch of the Merovingian Dynasty, Guntram had the military and moral authority to intervene in the politics of his nephews and their courtiers. He put this influence to good use, making it his mission to stamp out infighting and intrigue among the Merovingian kingdoms during his later reign.
Fortunately for King Childebert, his good uncle Guntram somehow became aware that a large conspiracy was brewing in the Kingdom of Austrasia. Guntram’s spies apparently did not discover the full scope of the plot, but they did uncover the name of a single conspirator—Duke Rauching. When King Childebert subsequently received a message about the plot from his uncle, he acted immediately, assassinating Rauching before the duke could fulfill his part in the conspiracy (read about Rauching’s death HERE). As the assassins cut down the duke, Childebert also sent his agents to sequester and search Rauching’s estates. Whether or not there were letters on the slain duke’s lands that would have incriminated Berthefried and Ursio is unknown, but the possibility of their participation in the plot being uncovered led the two surviving dukes to call up their troops in rebellion.
Dukes Berthefried and Ursio reportedly gathered their forces at a hilltop church in the Woëvre region. This military mobilization, however, did not go unnoticed by their liege. King Childebert II quickly pulled together an army that was more than a match for the two dukes, and he sent this force—under the command of a leader named Godigisel—to take care of the rebels, dead or alive.
Occupying their hilltop church, the rebels held a strong position, and had to be starved and smoked out of the building. Yet, out they did eventually come, and a battle was joined. Duke Ursio died in the fighting, as did one of King Childebert’s loyalist counts. Godigisel and the King’s army eventually seized victory, defeating the rebellion, but Duke Berthefried escaped the battlefield by fleeing on horseback. Godigisel’s knew that his mission was not complete until Berthefried, like Ursio, was dealt with, so the army followed the duke’s tracks. Hoofprints and witnesses led Godigisel and his troops to the residence of Bishop Ageric of Verdun, where the rebel duke had been given sanctuary. Godigisel besieged the bishop’s estate while he decided what to do next. The peculiar plan that the army concocted was recorded by the 6th-century bishop and historian, Gregory of Tours (c. 539-594), who wrote, “The Bishop refused to hand Berthefried over and did what he could to protect him. The soldiers climbed on the roof, tore off some of the tiles and other building materials which covered the oratory, dropped them down on Berthefried, and killed him and three of his men” (History of the Franks, IX.12). Such was the end of the rebellious duke. As for Bishop Ageric, he apparently faced no repercussions at that time for trying to harbor the fugitive. Instead, King Childebert II reportedly sent gifts to Ageric as consolation for the killing that had been committed in the bishop’s oratory.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Illustration of a siege from a 14th-century manuscript of the Chroniques de France ou de St Denis, labeled BL Royal 16 G VI, f. 74 by The British Library, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).
- The History of the Franks by Gregory of Tours, translated by Lewis Thorpe. New York: Penguin Classics, 1971.