Guntram

(c. 535-592)
   King of the Merovingian Franks, grandson of the great king Clovis, and favorite ruler of the bishop and historian Gregory of Tours, Guntram ruled over Burgundy, one of the kingdoms of the Franks, during a particularly tumultuous period in Merovingian history. Although at odds at times with his brothers, Guntram often sought to keep the peace and generally sought to promote unity and family interests rather than foment civil war and division. Despite differences with Fredegund, the wife of his brother Chilperic, he put personal interests aside to protect her son and his nephew, Chlothar II. He was also supportive of the church in his kingdom, and he was believed able to perform miracles by some of his contemporaries. Although he won the favor of church leaders because of his endorsement of religious reform, Guntram's piety could sometimes be a liability because it kept him from instilling fear in his subjects or rivals.
   Guntram came to power on the death of his father, Chlotar I, in 561. He was joined by his brothers Charibert I, Chilperic, and Sigebert, with whom he came into conflict with over the division of Chlotar's kingdom. Traditionally, each of the sons of a Merovingian king would inherit part of the realm, a custom that in Guntram's generation caused great difficulty of the family. The conflict between the brothers was worsened, perhaps by the death of Charibert, certainly by the rivalry that also existed between Brunhilde, a Visigothic princess and the wife of Sigebert, and Fredegund, the wife of Chilperic. Guntram often found himself in the middle of the conflict between his brothers and between their wives, but he bore the brunt of his brothers' aggression. In 568, for example, Sigebert invaded Guntram's share of the kingdom and attempted to seize the city of Arles. Guntram and his armies were able to repel the invasion, and Sigebert lost many of his soldiers as they crossed the Rhone River after being turned away in their assault on Arles. In the 570s, the brothers once again came into conflict. In 573 a dispute broke out between Guntram and Sigebert that grew into a wider conflict involving all the brothers and their allies. Sigebert called on his allies among the Avars and faced an attack by Chilperic, who had formed an alliance with Guntram. Despite their combined might, Guntram and Chilperic were no match for Sigebert, and Guntram made peace with Sigebert in 575. Indeed, Sigebert seemed the most powerful of the three brothers and was on the point of eliminating Chilperic when Chilperic managed to assassinate his brother.
   The death of Sigebert changed the landscape of the Merovingian kingdoms and altered the relationship of Guntram with the surviving members of his family. Chilperic once again became the aggressor in the family, and Guntram sought to protect his own interests and those of his nephew Childebert II (d. 596), successor of Sigebert. Chilperic struck quickly to seize cities belonging to Childebert, and Guntram took steps to protect his nephew and ensure his position as king. Although Guntram and Childebert had a falling out in the early 580s and Childebert joined with Chilperic, the two kings, Guntram and his nephew, remained on good terms after their falling out and remained allies against Chilperic until Chilperic's murder in 584. Once again the death of his brother altered Guntram's position in the kingdom. At first, Guntram was suspicious of the paternity of Chlotar II, Chilperic's son by Fredegund and his heir. Fredegund was reluctant to have the child baptized, which would have made Guntram the godfather, and she kept Chlotar from Guntram. As a result, Guntram became skeptical of Fredegund's claim that Chilperic was Chlotar's father. Ultimately, Fredegund and Guntram became reconciled, and Guntram remained Chlotar's defender until Guntram's death in 592. It should also be noted that Guntram's defense of family interests was not limited to the sons of his brothers. He was a staunch defender of his nieces, who were married or betrothed to Visigothic kings. He took a keen interest in the fate of Ingunde, who married the rebel Hermenegild, and was active in the failed negotiations over the marriage between Reccared and Chlodosind. Indeed, in both cases Guntram attacked Visigothic territory, unsuccessfully, in defense of family interests.
   Guntram's struggles with his brothers and in defense of family interests were complicated by turmoil in his own kingdom. The most dangerous episode for Guntram was the invasion of the pretender Gundovald (d. 585), who claimed that he was one of Chlotar I's sons and therefore had a right to the throne. Gundovald's claims were supported by other Merovingian kings, but failed to bring him a share in the kingdom, and so he departed for Constantinople until the early 580s. In 582 or 583 he made his first attempt to return to the kingdom. Although that attempt failed, he returned again in 584 and gathered much support. A number of important supporters of Guntram, including his chief military officer and nobles loyal to Guntram's ally and nephew Childebert II, supported Gundovald's attempt to claim the throne and joined his army. Guntram managed to suppress the attempt and capture or kill the disloyal followers as well as the pretender.
   Although some members of the kingdom did not fear Guntram because of his piety, the king gained the respect and support of the church and its bishops in the Frankish kingdoms. He often corresponded and even dined with the bishops, especially Gregory of Tours. The king was well known for his acts of charity. He also helped end an outbreak of an epidemic by his actions, which were more like those of a bishop than a king. He called his subjects together in a church and ordered them to eat and drink only bread and water, and to keep prayer vigils. His prescription ended the outbreak, according to Gregory of Tours. Also, Gregory records the story of Guntram's miracle. As Gregory notes, a woman whose son was seriously ill with a fever "came up behind the King . . . [and] cut a few threads from his cloak"(510). She steeped the threads in water, which she then gave to her son who was immediately cured. Guntram was for Gregory the ideal Christian king; he was devoted to God, supported the interests of his family, and sought to keep the peace in the Merovingian kingdoms.
   See also
   Bibliography
 ♦ Bachrach, Bernard S. Merovingian Military Organization, 481-751. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1972.
 ♦ Gregory of Tours. History of the Franks. Trans. Lewis Thorpe. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1974.
 ♦ James, Edward. The Franks. Oxford: Blackwell, 1988.
 ♦ Lasko, Peter. The Kingdom of the Franks: North-West Europe before Charlemagne. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1971.
 ♦ Wallace-Hadrill, J. M. The Long-Haired Kings. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1982.
 ♦ Wemple, Suzanne. Women in Frankish Society: Marriage and the Cloister, 500 to 900. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1981.
 ♦ Wood, Ian. The Merovingian Kingdoms, 450-751. London: Longman, 1994.

Encyclopedia of Barbarian Europe. 2014.

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