King Guntram of Burgundy (r. 561-593) and his entourage of guards and courtiers went on a hunting trip around the year 590 into the royal forests of the Vosges mountain range, in eastern France. While Guntram and his companions trekked around the royal forest, they came across evidence that an animal in the forest had been illegally killed by someone who was not the king or a member of his immediate hunting party. The slain creature was an aurochs—a large species of wild cattle that has since become extinct. Guntram called for an investigation into the unsanctioned killing of the aurochs and summoned the local forester who was responsible for the Vosges forests. Precise information about the evidence collected in the investigation is unknown, but ultimately the list of suspects was narrowed down to someone close to King Guntram. According to the forester and the investigators he was aiding, the most likely culprit was a man named Chundo, who happened to be the royal chamberlain of the king.
What happened next was quite dramatic. King Guntram ordered a trial by combat to be arranged, with the defendant, Chundo, facing off against his main accuser, the forester. Due to inability, cowardice or scheming, Chundo decided not to personally participate in the fight. He could do this because the system of trial by combat allowed the chamberlain to choose a champion to duel on his behalf. Therefore, Chundo picked his nephew to represent him in the violent trial. As the young lad was fit and a decent fighter, perhaps Chundo believed it would be a favorable match-up for his case. Whatever the reasoning, out of fear or confidence, the chamberlain let his nephew enter a duel to the death. An account of the fight between Chundo’s nephew and the forester was recorded by Bishop Gregory of Tours (c. 539-594), who was well acquainted with King Guntram and his court:
“The King decided upon trial by combat. The Chamberlain appointed a nephew of his to do battle in his stead. When the two stood face to face on the battlefield, the young man hurled his spear at the forester and pierced his foot, so that he fell over backwards. Then he drew the dagger which hung at his belt and tried to cut the fallen man’s throat. Instead he himself was wounded in the stomach by a knife-thrust. In short they were both laid low and died” (Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks, X.10).
Such was the way the duel turned out. The chamberlain’s nephew had a valiant start, but he made fatal mistakes as he was trying to finish off his opponent. The young man eventually did end the life of his foe, the forester, but not before suffering a death-blow to his own body. With both combatants dead, it was left to King Guntram to announce his interpretation of who won the duel and trial. Chundo, predicting that the king would rule in the forester’s favor, took off running before King Guntram could announce a decision on the trial. Guntram, however, was a king who usually had plentiful numbers of guards around himself, and these warriors were able to keep the chamberlain from escaping. Consequently for Chundo, his attempted flight only hardened the king’s opinion about the illegal hunting case and the trial. Guntram sentenced the chamberlain to death and the order was quickly executed. As told by Gregory of Tours, “[Chundo] was tied to a stake and stoned to death” (Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks, X.10). So ends the peculiar tale of Chundo, his nephew, and the forester of the Vosges. Curiously, King Guntram (who was posthumously considered a saint) later was said to have regretted that three people met such violent ends as a result of an illegal hunting incident in his royal forest.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Hunting scene from a fresco transferred to canvas, dated to the 12th century in Castile-León, Spain, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and the MET.jpg).
- The History of the Franks by Gregory of Tours, translated by Lewis Thorpe. New York: Penguin Classics, 1971.