Theudechild was one of many women in the life of short-reigned King Charibert (r. 561-567) of the Franks. Charibert was one of four brothers from the Merovingian Dynasty who all received a portion of the Frankish Empire to rule in 561. Paris was Charibert’s capital city, whereas his brothers Guntram, Sigebert and Chilperic, were installed at Orleans, Rheims and Soissons respectively. To these 6th-century kings, polygamy, or at least concubinage, was an accepted practice. Therefore, for the aforementioned Theudechild in Charibert’s court, the palace was a crowded place.
Theudechild was never the most favored partner of King Charibert, but she outlasted other women in the household who came and went, such as Queen Ingoberg, who was divorced or ejected from court by King Charibert. Besides Ingoberg, Charibert was also known to have married a pair of sisters by the name of Merofled and Marcovefa during his lifetime. All of the women mentioned above likely outranked Theudechild, as they were specifically described in historical records as wives, whereas Theudechild may have never ascended above the rank of a mistress or concubine. Theudechild, regardless of her lower rank, was able to keep herself in close proximity to power, and she grew quite rich during her stay in Charibert’s court. Nevertheless, Charibert was a short-lived king and he died suddenly and unexpectedly of illness in 567.
At the time of Charibert’s death, Theudechild was still a young woman, and she craved to remain in the presence of power and luxury. Therefore, she reportedly hatched a plan to get remarried, and to one of her former lover’s kingly brothers, no less. Somehow, she contacted King Guntram (r. 561-591) and made it known that she was willing to be his bride. As the story goes, Guntram led her on, replying that she would receive a prestigious and respectable position in his kingdom. Theudechild believed the king’s enticing words and moved to King Guntram’s court, bringing all of her treasures with her on the journey. Unfortunately for Theudechild, her future would not be as regal as she hoped.
King Guntram, although he was later considered a saint, did not act very saintly toward Theudechild. According to King Guntram’s acquaintance, Bishop Gregory of Tours (c. 539-594), when Theudechild arrived at her prospective new home with all of her wealth, King Guntram looked at her and said, “It is better that this treasure should fall into my hands than that it should remain in the control of a woman who was unworthy of my brother’s bed’” (Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks, IV.26). After making this comment, the king seized almost all of Theudechild’s wealth for himself. Then, using a typical tactic of a medieval Christian king, Guntram had Theudechild dragged off to a nunnery in Arles.
Theudechild’s enrollment in the convent was quite unwilling, and she is known to have tried to escape. Yet, this attempt to flee only made her life more of a living hell. As the story goes, she was caught trying to elope with a Visigoth traveler, who was planning to smuggle Theudechild to Spain. This unhappy epilogue was recorded by Bishop Gregory of Tours, who wrote, “[Theudechild] once more collected her possessions together and made them into bundles. As she was about to make her escape from the nunnery, she was surprised by the vigilant abbess. The abbess, who had caught her red-handed, had her beaten mercilessly and locked her up in her cell. There she remained until her dying day, suffering awful anguish” (History of the Franks, IV.26). So ends the tragic and horrid tale of unfortunate Theudechild.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
- The History of the Franks by Gregory of Tours, translated by Lewis Thorpe. New York: Penguin Classics, 1971.