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Old July 11th, 2012, 09:46 AM   #1
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Gregory of Tours and the Gundovald affair


Being as that I want to pursue a degree in medieval history, specifically the early medieval period, I have made it a priority this summer to read all the available translations of Gregory of Tours, Paul the Deacon, Jordanes, and Bede along with copious amounts of secondary literature to build up a base of knowledge. My favorite text so far has been History of the Franks by good old Gregory. Outside of Tacitus and Ammianus Marcellinus this has to be one of the most enjoyable pre modern histories I have read thus far. As of this week, I have been mulling over the nature of the Frankish and Gallo-Roman aristocracy of this period.



One of the events that I have been trying to use as a means to understand the power relations between King and aristocracy is the attempted usurpation of the claimant Gundovald, who held he was the illegitimate son of Clothar I (r. 511-561 AD). All of this took place within the devastating civile bellum that raged for the latter half of the sixth century. Gregory exhorted the Merovingians to “beware, then, of discord, beware of civil wars, which are destroying you and your people” (HF. V.1).


It appears that from 567 AD onward the aristocratic magnates of the Merovingian kingdoms were taking advantage of the civil war and minority of Childebert II (575-585 AD) to advance their power and influence at the expense of the monarchy. Men like Dux Mummolus (at Avignon), Dux Desiderius, and Dux Guntram Boso among others profited from this period of chaos and discord carving out semi independent territories between the ever shifting frontiers of Austrasia, Nuestria and Burgundy. However, with the end Childebert II minority in 585 AD and the death of Chilperic I a year before they soon realized their newfound independence, and power was at risk. The pretender Gundovald proved to be a perfect figure head for the aristocratic faction’s bent on limiting and curtailing the power of the King’s Guntram and Childebert II. The conflict lasted only a year, clearly none of Gundovald’s supporters were acting out of any sense of loyalty or justice. Instead this was an opportunistic coup that could have potentially ripped the fabric of the Regnum Francorum further apart, however as soon as it became apparent that Gundovald’s cause was hopeless his supporters began to desert him. Rulers like Clothar II and Dagobert I may have never been able to attain the level of power and political unity they did in the early seventh century and the growth of aristocratic power and privilege potentially could have begun to dramatically increase long before the disastrous Edict of Paris (614-615 AD).


This is the most plausible interpretation that I can come up with for this unique and singular event in Merovingian history. Some scholars like Bachrach have claimed that Gundovald was actually working in tandem with the Eastern Roman Emperor Maurice, as long as Gundodvald would enact a policy of aggression toward the Lombard’s the Emperor would continue support Gundovald. This is of course a simplified, and hyper condensed description of Bachrach’s position yet it is, in essence what he is arguing in favor of. I was wondering if any other reader of Gregory of Tours had any thoughts on this matter.
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