In 671, King Grimoald of the Lombards would have been just over 60 years of age, but despite his advancing years, the king was still living life like a younger man. The grey-haired king still personally commanded Lombard armies in battle (his most recent conquests at that time being the cities of Forlimpopoli and Oderzo), and in-between battles he spent his time hunting or training with the weaponry of his day. Grimoald also remained quite active in his private life, for, around 671, he fathered a young son and heir, named Garibald. Active lifestyle aside, King Grimoald’s continued good health was not guaranteed. And in 671, unfortunately, the king suffered a series of unexpected and odd medical problems that proved fatal.
Grimoald’s peculiar demise all began when the king contracted an unknown discomfort or illness. Bothered by his condition, King Grimoald retired to his palace at Pavia to rest. Details of the pain or unease that the king experienced are unknown, but the symptoms of the illness caused the king to call for physicians, who operated on him with a lancet, perhaps performing a bloodletting. Illness, however, could not restrain Grimoald’s desire to move, explore and exercise. He longed to go hunting, and this urge became more and more enticing while he languished in his palatial sickbed for days. Ultimately, despite still recovering from his illness and physicians’ treatments, King Grimoald grabbed a bow and decided to go look for some wild game. This hunting trip, unfortunately, would be the king’s last.
What allegedly happened next was recorded by the Lombard historian Paul the Deacon (c. 720-799). He wrote, “But Grimuald indeed having remained in the palace on the ninth day after the use of the lancet, took his bow and when he attempted to hit a dove with an arrow, the vein of his arm was ruptured” (Paul the Deacon, History of the Lombards, V.33). After suffering this peculiar injury while out hunting, King Grimoald was rushed back to the palace, where his condition went from bad to worse. The physicians were called back in and, though medicines were administered, they apparently could do little to fix the injury. In fact, the king responded so poorly to the medicines that it was rumored that he might have been poisoned by one of his physicians. Whatever the case, King Grimoald never recovered after his hunting accident, but instead succumbed to his injury and died.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Hunting scene from BL Royal 2 B VII, f. 151v, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons, Europeana and The British Library).
- History of the Lombards by Paul the Deacon, translated by William Dudley Foulke (c. 1904). University of Pennsylvania Press, 1907, 1974, 2003.