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Portrait of Chilperic I on a bronze medal 1720.
Chilperic I and Fredegund

Chilperic I (c. 539 – September 584) was the king of Neustria (or Soissons) from 561 to his death. He was one of the sons of Clotaire I, sole king of the Franks, and Aregund.

Immediately after the death of his father in 561, he endeavoured to take possession of the whole kingdom, seized the treasure amassed in the royal town of Berny and entered Paris. His brothers, however, compelled him to divide the kingdom with them, and Soissons, together with Amiens, Arras, Cambrai, Thérouanne, Tournai, and Boulogne fell to Chilperic's share. His eldest brother Charibert received Paris, the second eldest brother Guntram received Burgundy with its capital at Orléans, and Sigebert received Austrasia. On the death of Charibert in 567, his estates were augmented when the brothers divided Charibert's kingdom among themselves and agreed to share Paris.

Not long after his accession, however, he was at war with Sigebert, with whom he would long remain in a state of—at the very least—antipathy. Sigebert defeated him and marched to Soissons, where he defeated and imprisoned Chilperic's eldest son, Theudebert. The war flared in 567, at the death of Charibert. Chilperic immediately invaded Sigebert's new lands, but Sigbert defeated him. Chilperic later allied with Guntram against Sigebert (573), but Guntram changed sides and Chilperic again lost the war.

When Sigebert married Brunhilda, daughter of the Visigothic sovereign in Spain (Athanagild), Chilperic also wished to make a brilliant marriage. He had already repudiated his first wife, Audovera, and had taken as his concubine a serving-woman called Fredegund. He accordingly dismissed Fredegund, and married Brunhilda's sister, Galswintha. But he soon tired of his new partner, and one morning Galswintha was found strangled in her bed. A few days afterwards Chilperic married Fredegund.

This murder was the cause of more long and bloody wars, interspersed with truces, between Chilperic and Sigebert. In 575, Sigebert was assassinated by Fredegund at the very moment when he had Chilperic at his mercy. Chilperic then made war with the protector of Sigebert's wife and son, Guntram. Chilperic retrieved his position, took from Austrasia Tours and Poitiers and some places in Aquitaine, and fostered discord in the kingdom of the east during the minority of Childebert II.

In 578, Chilperic sent an army to fight the Breton ruler Waroch of the Vannetais along the Vilaine. The Frankish army consisted of units from the Poitou, Touraine, Anjou, Maine, and Bayeux. The Baiocassenses (men from Bayeux) were Saxons and they in particular were routed by the Bretons.[1] The armies fought for three days before Waroch submitted, did homage for Vannes, sent his son as a hostage, and agreed to pay an annual tribute. He subsequently broke his oath, but Chilperic's dominion over the Bretons was relatively secure, as evidence by Venantius Fortunatus celebration of it in a poem.

He was detested by Gregory of Tours, who dubbed him as the Nero and Herod of his time (History of the Franks book VI.46): he had provoked Gregory's wrath by wresting Tours from Austrasia, seizing of ecclesiastical property, and appointing as bishops counts of the palace who were not clerics. His reign in Neustria also saw the introduction of the Byzantine punishment of eye-gouging. Yet, he was also a man of culture: he was a musician of some talent, and he wrote verse (modeled on that of Sedulius); he attempted to reform the Frankish alphabet; and he worked to reduce the worst effects of Salic law upon women.

It was one day in September of 584, while returning from the chase to his royal villa of Chelles, that Chilperic was stabbed to death.

Chilperic may be regarded as the type of Merovingian sovereigns. He was exceedingly anxious to extend the royal authority. He was jealous of the royal treasury, levied numerous imposts, and his fiscal measures provoked a great sedition at Limoges in 579. When his daughter Rigunth was sent to the Visigoths as a bride for King Reccared, laden with wagonloads of showy gifts, the army that went with her lived rapaciously off the land as they travelled to Toledo. He wished to bring about the subjection of the church, and to this end sold bishoprics to the highest bidder, annulled the wills made in favour of the bishoprics and abbeys, and sought to impose upon his subjects a unique conception of the Trinity, as Gregory of Tours here relates:

At the same time king Chilperic wrote a little treatise to the effect that the holy Trinity should not be so called with reference to distinct persons but should merely have the meaning of God, saying that it was unseemly that god should be called a person like a man of flesh; affirming also that the Father is the same as Son and that the Holy Spirit also is the same as the Father and the Son. "Such," said he, "was the view of the prophets and patriarchs and such is the teaching the law itself has given." When he had had this read to me he said: "I want you and the other teachers of the church to hold this view." But I answered him: "Good king, abandon this belief; it is your duty to follow the doctrine which the other teachers of the church left to us after the time of the apostles, the teachings of Hilarius and Eusebius which you professed at baptism." [1]

Contents

Family

Chilperic I's first marriage was to Audovera. They had four children:

  • Theudebert, died in the war of 575
  • Merovech of Soissons (d.578), married the widow Brunhilda and became his father's enemy
  • Clovis of Soissons, assassinated by Fredegund in 580
  • Basina, nun, led a revolt in the abbey of Poitiers

His short second marriage to Galswintha produced no children.

His concubinage and subsequent marriage to Fredegund produced four more legitimate offspring:

  • Samson, died young
  • Rigunth, betrothed to Reccared but never married
  • Theuderic, died young
  • Clotaire, his successor in Neustria, later sole king of the Franks

Etymology

Chilperic's name in Frankish meant "powerful supporter", akin to German hilfreich "auxiliary" (cf. G Hilfe "aid" + reich "rich, orig. powerful")

Notes

  1. ^ Howorth, 309.

Sources

External links

Chilperic I
Born: 539 Died: 584
Preceded by
Clotaire I
King of Soissons (Neustria)
561–584
Succeeded by
Clotaire II
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1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

CHILPERIC I. (d. 584) was one of the sons of Clotaire I. Immediately after the death of his father in 561 he endeavoured to take possession of the whole kingdom, seized the treasure amassed in the royal town of Berny and entered Paris. His brothers, however, compelled him to divide the kingdom with them, and Soissons, together with Amiens, Arras, Cambrai, Therouanne, Tournai and Boulogne, fell to Chilperic's share, but on the death of Charibert in 567 his estates were augmented. When his brother Sigebert married Brunhilda, Chilperic also wished to make a brilliant marriage. He had already repudiated his first wife, Audovera, and had taken as his concubine a serving-woman called Fredegond. He accordingly dismissed Fredegond, and married Brunhilda's sister, Galswintha. But he soon tired of his new partner, and one morning Galswintha was found strangled in her bed. A few days afterwards Chilperic married Fredegond. This murder was the cause of long and bloody wars, interspersed with truces, between Chilperic and Sigebert. In 575 Sigebert was assassinated by Fredegond at the very moment when he had Chilperic at his mercy. Chilperic retrieved his position, took from Austrasia Tours and Poitiers and some places in Aquitaine, and fostered discord in the kingdom of the east during the minority of Childebert II. One day, however, while returning from the chase to the town of Chelles, Chilperic was stabbed to death.

Chilperic may be regarded as the type of Merovingian sovereigns. He was exceedingly anxious to extend the royal authority. He levied numerous imposts, and his fiscal measures provoked a great sedition at Limoges in 579. He wished to bring about the subjection of the church, and to this end sold bishoprics to the highest bidder, annulled the wills made in favour of the bishoprics and abbeys, and sought to impose upon his subjects a rationalistic conception of the Trinity. He pretended to some literary culture, and was the author of some halting verse. He even added letters to the Latin alphabet, and wished to have the MSS. rewritten with the new characters. The wresting of Tours from Austrasia and the seizure of ecclesiastical property provoked the bitter hatred of Gregory of Tours, by whom Chilperic was stigmatized as the Nero and the Herod of his time.

See Seresia, L'Eglise et l'Etat sous les rois francs au VI e siecle (Ghent, 1888).


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