Childebert II, born around 570, was the son of King Sigebert and Queen Brunhild. Their particular family was one branch of the large and powerful Merovingian Dynasty that ruled over the Frankish Empire. Sigebert ruled over the portion of the empire called Austrasia, and at the time of Childebert’s birth in 570, the rest of the empire was ruled by Sigebert’s brothers, Chilperic (the King of Soissons and Neustria) and Guntram (the King of Orleans and Burgundy). Despite their sibling status, the three brothers did not coexist peacefully. King Sigebert and King Chilperic were in a bloody feud, waging war against each other from both the shadows and on the battlefield. King Guntram, watching his brothers fight, would join one side and then the other in hopes of maintaining some sort of balance. Nevertheless, while Guntram could try to limit the damage of open war, he was not able to stop the more subtle assaults from assassins. As such, in 575, when Childebert II was only five years old, his father, King Sigebert, was struck dead by an assassin’s blade. Although Guntram could not save Sigebert, he did protect young Childebert from the hostile intentions of King Chilperic, ensuring that the boy would live to inherit his slain father’s kingdom.
Warfare, intrigue and disease made it difficult to keep a stable household of children in the Merovingian Dynasty. By 577, King Guntram had no more living sons to inherit his kingdom, so he adopted King Childebert II and named him his heir. Similarly, King Chilperic also had no living sons as of 581, so he, too, adopted Childebert II as his son and heir in that year. Therefore, at that odd period in time, young Childebert had three fathers—his slain natural father, Sigebert, his protective adopted father, Guntram, and the much more violent and nefarious adopted father, King Chilperic. In the tug-of-war over their shared adopted son, Guntram beat Chilperic by ceding land to Childebert, convincing the young king and his court to realign Austrasia’s military and resources with Guntram. In response, Childebert was quickly disowned by King Chilperic as soon as he had another son.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Scenes of Guntram and Childebert from BL Royal 16 G VI, f. 72v, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons, Europeana, and The British Library).
- The History of the Franks by Gregory of Tours, translated by Lewis Thorpe. New York: Penguin Classics, 1971.