Duke Guntram Boso was a prominent nobleman operating in the Frankish Empire during the second half of the 6th century. He entered the Frankish political scene after 561, when the empire of the Franks was divided between four brothers from the Merovingian Dynasty—Charibert became the King of Paris, Guntram became the king of Orleans and Burgundy, Chilperic was the king of Soissons and Neustria, and Sigebert was crowned the king of Rheims and Austrasia. Duke Guntram Boso, for his part, served in the Kingdom of Austrasia, answering first to King Sigebert (r. 561-575) and then to Sigebert’s son, Childebert II (r. 575-595).
During the reign of Childebert (who ascended to the throne as a child), Duke Guntram Boso ended up running afoul of Childebert’s mother, Queen Brunhild, as well as Childebert’s influential uncle, King Guntram (r. 561-593). Enemies of the duke thought he was too friendly with the violent and intriguing Queen Fredegund (wife of warmongering King Chilperic), and this sin of fraternizing with the bloodthirsty Soissons/Neustria branch of the Merovingian Dynasty was made worse when Guntram Boso was accused of encouraging and facilitating an uprising launched by an adventurer named Gundovald. This figure pressed dubious claims about being a long-lost brother of King Chilperic and King Guntram, despite the assertation being disputed fiercely by the kings in question, Gundovald was able to recruit a number of disgruntled noblemen and clergymen to his side. Duke Guntram Boso was not one of the men who openly fought under Gundovald’s banner, but it was widely believed among the duke’s peers that he had some hand in facilitating Gundovald’s campaign. Whatever the case, Gundovald was defeated in 585 and his supporters were punished. Unfortunately for Guntrum Boso, suspicions that he had encouraged the failed usurper’s campaigns did not subside after the adventurer’s execution, and the courts of Austrasia and Burgundy were beginning to see the duke as more of a liability than an asset. In short, King Guntram wanted the duke dead, as did Queen Brunhild—only King Childebert II’s waning support was keeping the duke alive. Then, an odd incident at a church occurred that would prove to be the beginning of the end for Guntram Boso.
Around 585 or 586, not long after the death of Gundovald, Duke Guntram Boso attended a celebratory feast of Saint Remigius that was occurring near the city of Metz. Unknown to the celebrants, however, the feast was being used as an opportune time for a morbid heist. While the people of Metz were distracted by the celebration, a group of thieves broke into the tomb of a noblewoman (reportedly a relative of Guntram Boso’s wife) who had recently been laid to rest alongside a trove of treasure. The thieves, indeed, broke into the tomb, but, as the story goes, the criminals had a change of heart while they were carrying out their theft and ultimately decided to put the stolen wealth back into the grave. Returning the pilfered treasure to the tomb, unfortunately, required extra time that the thieves did not have, causing the gang of criminals to eventually be caught by clergymen and guards. When the thieves were apprehended, they allegedly proclaimed that their failed heist had been organized by none other than Duke Guntram Boso. This bizarre tale was recorded in the Ten Books of Histories, also commonly known as the History of the Franks, written by the bishop and historian, Gregory of Tours (c. 539-594). He wrote:
“Then a case was brought against Guntram Boso. A few days earlier a relative of his wife had died childless. She was buried in a church near Metz, together with much gold and a profusion of ornaments. It so happened that a short time later there was celebrated the feast-day of Saint Remigius, which is held on the first day of October. A great crowd of the local inhabitants went out of the city with their Bishop and they were accompanied by the Duke and the leading men of the place. Thereupon Guntram Boso’s servants made their way to the church where the woman had been buried and went in. As soon as they were inside they shut the doors behind them, opened the tomb and stole as many precious objects from the dead body as they could lay their hands on. The monks attached to the church heard what they were at and came to the door. They were not allowed in, so they went off to tell their Bishop and the Duke what they had discovered. Meanwhile the servants pocketed their gains, jumped on their horses and fled. Fearing that they might be captured in their flight and subjected to divers[e] punishments, they then returned to the church. They put the things back on the altar, but they were afraid to come out again. ‘We were sent by Guntram Boso!’ they began to shout” (Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks, 8.21).
Whether or not Guntram Boso was truly the organizer of the plot, the incident cast enough suspicion on the duke to embolden his enemies. The attempted tomb heist was the proverbial last straw in the mind of Guntram Boso’s liege, King Childebert II, who had up to that point been lenient with the suspicious duke. After the tomb fiasco, King Childebert II launched an investigation and used the opportunity to strip Duke Guntram Boso of his lands. The duke went into hiding, but he turned himself in around 587, hoping to somehow achieve a reconciliation with King Childebert II and King Guntram. The kings, however, sentenced the duke to death and Guntram Boso was subsequently killed while resisting arrest.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Illustration dated 1894 of Duke Charles of Sudermania (later Charles IX) from Finland in the Nineteenth Century, edited by L. Mechelin, [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.