In the 6th century, there lived a man named Eulalius who ruled as a count over the Frankish-controlled region of Clermont-Ferrand. Although he was not one of the top noblemen or power players of the age, his peculiar interactions with other nobles and the Frankish legal system made him a household name to members of 6th-century Frankish society who kept their ears open for the realm’s latest gossip. One such avid listener to the news was Bishop Gregory of Tours (c. 539-594), who wrote a contemporary Ten Books of Histories, also commonly known as the History of the Franks, which covered events that occurred during Bishop Gregory’s own life. Chaotic wars and brutal dynastic intrigue between the Frankish kingdoms were the main focus of Gregory’s work, and once again, it should be said that Count Eulalius was in no way a leading character in the overarching narrative that the bishop recorded. No, Count Eulalius was not a leader of armies or a statesman masterminding the kingdom’s administration behind the scenes—therefore, you would not find him mentioned in accounts of battle or described as having any meaningful influence in the throne rooms of the Frankish kings. Instead, in Gregory of Tours’ account of the 6th century, you are more likely to find brief mentionings of Count Eulalius scattered in digressions here and there about a marriage that Eulalius was involved in or some crime that Eulalius was accused of. Curiously, as Count Eulalius’ marriages and crimes were both several in number, Bishop Gregory of Tours ended up recording quite a few tales about the unscrupulous count. Most of these tales can be found scattered in volumes 8-10 of Gregory’s history, and although the stories do not come close to a complete biography of Eulalius, they nevertheless can be combined to present a colorful outline of the count’s infamous life.
According to Gregory of Tours, Eulalius was born in the Clermont region sometime before the year 571. Fair warning, Gregory’s account of Eulalius’ childhood (as well as every other stage of his life, for that matter) is heavily laced with bias and innuendo of evil and villainy—even so, there are likely grains of truth to the legends, and it is better to have folktales than nothing at all. Eulalius, so the story goes, was an unruly child who often clashed with his parents, especially his mother. When she subsequently died suspiciously, the local populace and authorities strongly suspected that young Eulalius was somehow involved in his mother’s demise. On this tale, Bishop Gregory of Tours wrote:
“As young men often do, Eulalius used to behave in an irresponsible fashion. The result was that his mother frequently had reason to chide him, and in the end he came to hate her whom he ought to have loved. After the servants had retired to bed, it was his mother’s habit to go off to pray in her oratory and to keep the night vigils there, making her tearful supplications to God. She was found garrotted, still wearing the hair-shirt which she put on when she prayed. No one knew who had done this, but her son was strongly suspected of having murdered his mother. As soon as Cautinus, the Bishop of Clermont, came to hear of this, he cut Eulalius off from communion” (Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks, 10.8).
This unflattering story makes up the bulk of the knowledge about Eulalius’ childhood. In summary, he did not seem to get along with his parents (his father is not mentioned), his mother was reportedly murdered, and there was enough evidence against Eulalius for the young man to be excommunicated from the local church after his mother’s death. Eulalius did manage to regain access to the church’s communion relatively quickly, however, and there is no mention of him ever suffering any real legal trouble from the government regarding his mother’s death. Make of it what you will regarding his guilt or innocence, but the gossip that he may have murdered his mother apparently lingered for the rest of Eulalius’ life. As a side note, the Bishop Cautinus featured in the quote is known to have died in 571, and his role in the story is the reason why we know Count Eulalius was born before that 571 date.
Next time we hear of Eulalius, time had skipped forward to his wedding day. He married a noblewoman named Tetradia, and their fates would be intertwined for the rest of their lives. Yet, instead of a picturesque love story, the couple would unfortunately turn out to be life-long enemies. Eulalius, following his usual character traits, was said to have been a cheating and abusive husband. When he was not pursuing maids or beating his wife, the count could also be found squandering the family’s money. Eulalius’ behavior and expenditures apparently even surprised and appalled his own relatives, eventually causing one of Eulalius’ own nephews, named Virus, to go out of his way to intervene on behalf of the battered wife, Tetradia. Summarizing these details up to this point in the story, Gregory of Tours wrote:
“[Eulalius] had married Tetradia, through her mother a young woman of noble blood, but of humbler origin on her father’s side. He was in the habit of sleeping with the women-servants in his household. As a result he neglected his wife. He used to knock her about when he came back from his midnight exercises. As a result of his excesses, he ran into serious debt, and to meet this he stole his wife’s jewelry and money. In the appalling straits in which she found herself, Tetradia gradually lost all standing in the marital home. Eulalius had occasion to go off to see the King. During his absence a man called Virus, who was her husband’s nephew, fell in love with Tetradia. He had lost his own wife and wanted to marry her. He was afraid of what his uncle would do to them both, so he sent Tetradia off to Duke Desiderius…” (Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks, 10.8).
When Tetradia fled, she did not leave empty handed. She grabbed whatever valuables had survived Eulalius’ debt-fueled plundering, and she also took with her a son that was old enough to travel. On these developments, Gregory of Tours wrote, “She took with her all her husband’s property, gold, silver, clothing, everything in fact which she could carry. She also took her elder son, leaving her younger boy behind” (History of the Franks, 10.8). While Tetradia fled to the safety of Duke Desiderius—a top military commander who served with varying degrees of loyalty under the Frankish Kings Chilperic (r. 561-584), Guntram (r. 561-593) and Childebert II (r. 575-595)—Virus unwisely decided to lag behind. As a result, Virus was still in the vicinity when Eulalius returned home to find out that his wife, eldest son, and a large amount of household belongings were gone.
Through unexplained means, Eulalius was able to deduce a clear picture of what had happened, including the role of Virus played in Tetradia’s escape. Despite their uncle-nephew relationship, Eulalius was filled with rage at Virus over the incident and eventually chased him down. Concerning these events, Gregory of Tours wrote, “When Eulalius came back from his journey he discovered what they had done. For a while he took no action, nursing his resentment. Then he attacked his nephew Virus and killed him in one of the narrow defiles of Auvergne” (History of the Franks, X.8). Killing Virus, however, did not solve Eulalius’ marriage situation. Tetradia had already reached the safety of Duke Desiderius, and the duke decided to take her in and offer her protection. As it happened, Duke Desiderius was a widower, and after he and Tetradia got along well during the time they spent together, the duke decided to ask Tetradia to marry him. She agreed to the proposal, but as Tetradia was already married, her new union with Duke Desiderius became a national incident. Eulalius began preparations to bring the case to court, but, in a curious turn of events, other nobles and even King Guntrum intervened on the side of Tetradia. As told by Gregory of Tours, “Duke Desiderius hurried off to see King Guntram, taking with him Antestius, Abbot Aredius and a number of bishops…At this same time Eulalius was also there, for he was preparing to bring a lawsuit about his wife, who had left him and gone to live with Desiderius. However, he became the subject of so much ridicule and humiliation that he decided to remain silent. Desiderius received presents from the king and came back home” (History of the Franks, 8.27). Count Eulalius, knowing he was outranked and politically outmaneuvered by Duke Desiderius, decided to drop the issue for the time being.
With Tetradia out of reach, Eulalius eventually remarried. Instead of trying to learn from his mistakes and achieve a normal relationship, Eulalius ended up embarking on an even more scandalous journey of courtship and marriage than the last one. As told by Gregory of Tours, “Eulalius abducted a nun from a convent in Lyons and made her his wife” (History of the Franks, 10.8). This sacrilegious move caused a stir in the community and it earned Eulalius enemies from the nuns family, as well as from more of his own relatives. Just as had happened at other points in his life, Eulalius’ critics began mysteriously dying and the infamous count was rumored to have been the culprit. According to Gregory of Tours, “A little later Eulalius assaulted Emerius, who was one of the nun’s cousins, and killed him. Then he killed Socratius, the brother of his own half-sister…He committed a number of other crimes which I have no space to relate” (History of the Franks, 10.8). Such was the villainous life that Eulalius was living as he stayed out of Duke Desiderius’ way. Desiderius, however, was no immortal, and as the duke frequented the field of battle, he often put himself at risk.
Around 587, Duke Desiderius embarked on an ambitious raid into the lands of the Frankish Empire’s southern rivals—the Visigoths. As the story goes, the duke called in help from only one other nobleman before he launched his attack. This ally was Count Austrovald, who marched with Duke Desiderius down toward the Pyrenees. How far the daring noblemen were planning to push into Visigoth territory is unknown, but their first target was the city of Carcassonne, on the French side of the Pyrenees Mountain chain. What allegedly happened next was recorded by Gregory of Tours (c. 539-594):
“The Carcassonnais got wind of this, for the news reached them early, and they made their preparations, being determined to resist. The battle began, the goths turned in flight and Desiderius with Austrovald at his side attacked their rear. As the Goths continued their retreat Desiderius came near to the town, accompanied by only a handful of his troops, for his men’s horses were exhausted. As he rode up to the town-gate, he was cut off by the inhabitants, who had been lurking inside their walls. Desiderius was killed, together with all the men who had kept up with him” (History of the Franks, 8.45).
With the downfall of Duke Desiderius, Tetradia lost her protector. She also discovered that her social network and acquaintances were fair-weather friends, for they abandoned her after her powerful husband died. Count Eulalius was quick to realize his ex-wife’s weakened position and he eagerly renewed his much-delayed plans to bring Tetradia to court. This time, Duke Desiderius’ influence was not able to override Eulalius’ schemes. Instead, the count’s charges were taken up by the court and Tetradia suffered greatly. As told by Gregory of Tours:
“Eulalius pleaded his own case against her. He demanded restitution of the property which she had taken when she went off to Desiderius. The verdict was that Tetradia should repay fourfold all that she had taken. The sons which she had borne to Desiderius were declared illegitimate. It was agreed then that if she paid back to Eulalius all that she had been ordered to pay, she might return to Clermont without let or hindrance and have there the free use of what she had inherited from her father. All of this was done.” (History of the Franks, 10.8).
So ended Tetradia’s long streak of leverage against her ex-husband. Following the death of Duke Desiderius, Tetradia’s children were disenfranchised, she had to pay back four times what she took from Eulalius’ home, and she was banished from Clermont until she paid over what was ordered by the court. Unfortunately, other than the “All of this was done” quote, Gregory of Tours did not elaborate any further on the chaotic tale of Tetradia and Eulalius, leaving the story of the rest of their lives a mystery.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Cropped manuscript illustration, attributed to Maïtre François, [Public Domain] via the Koninklijke Bibliotheek and Europeana.jpg).
- The History of the Franks by Gregory of Tours, translated by Lewis Thorpe. New York: Penguin Classics, 1971.