Damien F. Mackey
“Gregory calls him "the Nero and Herod of our time," and loads him with abuse. He ridicules his poems, and according to his own story overwhelms him with an avalanche of contempt …”.
King Chilperic I lived (according to the conventional view) from c. 539 – 584 AD, and was said to have been a Merovingian king of Soissons.
Gregory of Tours (considered to have been the king’s contemporary), called Chilperic the Nero and the Herod of his age.
And according to the following site, King Chilperic was an early ‘gangster’:
Chilperic: The Original Gangsta'
Chilperic, the “Nero and Herod of our time” as quoted by Gregory of Tours, was the king of Soissons from 561 until his assassination in 584, an event Gregory seems to cherish, as it ended the reign of “this wicked man”. Gregory’s description of him is very unfavourable throughout the book. From the onset, Chilperic is described as a greedy man who inherited his late father’s treasury, and bribed all the prominent Franks to his side. (IV. 21) He also lusted after women, as he asked for the hand of Galswinth, the sister of his brother’s wife, even though he had a number of wives. He told his messengers to inform the people that he had gotten rid of the other wives, in order for him to marry someone with his own ranking, and with a large dowry. He went back and forth between Galswinth and his other trophy wife Fredegund, before ultimately choosing Galswinth. Ultimately, Galswinth died and within a couple of days, he was asking Fredegund to sleep with him again, and there was strong suspicion he killed Galswinth. (IV 27-8) He charged outrageous taxes for people under his control, and felt no contempt for the poor, rather burdened them with more debt, and banned them from the churches. (VI.46)
Chilperic was also described by Gregory of Tours as being a man of uncontrollable rage and violence. He burned much of the districts around Tours, and marched on Rheims burning and destroying almost everything in his path. (IV. 47) When his brother Sigibert was killed, Sigila, who was associated with Sigibert’s death was captured by King Chilperic was burned by red hot pincers, and had his limbs torn limb by limb. (IV. 51) Obviously not trying to win a father of the year award, Chilperic had his son Clovis stabbed to death, had his wife Fredegund brutally murdered, and had his daughter thrown into a monastery. (V.1 ) And the woman who testified against Clovis was burnt alive. People who attempted to desert his city would be cut down and slaughtered by the thousands, and he even poked out people’s eyes for disobedience. In an exceedingly cruel act, Leudast, a man who had fallen on the King’s bad side, and was not allowed to take residence in the city, had his scalp chopped off. Still alive, Chilperic ordered that he receive medical attention until he healed, and then would be tortured to death, done by having a block of wood wedged behind his back while being bludgeoned to death by being repeatedly hit in the throat by another block of wood. (V1.32)
Chilperic was also described as an intolerant man, as he forbade his son Merovich from seeing Sigibert’s widowed wife, whom the King had banished to the city of Rouen and stole her treasure. When they refused to come out of church, Chilperic lied to them in order for them to come out, and took his son home with him, refusing the two to coalesce. When he still chose to defile his fathers wishes, Chilperic had his son held in exile in a narrow, roofless tower for two years. After these two years, Merovich was forced to become a priest and sent to live in a monastery. Merovich decided to take his life rather than allow his father to constantly dominate his life, so he had his friend Gailen kill him. In retaliation, Gailen was taken by Chilperic and had his hands, feet, ears and nose cut off, and was tortured to death. Anyone who was associated with Merovich were also tortured to death. (V1-18)
One aspect of judgement that Gregory of Tours holds against Chilperic is in regards to religion. Chilperic attacked and destroyed churches along the way, and made a mockery of the Lord. He even argued Gregory’s religious views by stating to him that there should be no distinctions of Persons in the Holy Trinity. For him, they should all be referred to as God, as if he was a Person, and the Holy Ghost, Father, and Son were one. Gregory of Tours viciously debated his assertion, stating that anyone who agreed with Chilperic would be a fool. Chilperic even begged to the Bishop of Albi to believe his views. (V.44) Gregory of Tours dislike of Chilperic also stems from the fact that the King accused him of levelling wild accusations about his wife. Gregory shows that his judgements of Chilperic are due to the fact that he has been a victim of the Kings outrage. (V.49) Chilperic eventually turned towards Gregory and asked for a blessing to be performed on him. This newfound religious aspect, moved Chilperic to convert a great number of Jews to be baptized, and even carried out a number of baptisms. However, many “converted” Jews resorted to their old faith. He even gave to the churches, and the poor in an effort to show good grace. (V.34)
Overall, by bestowing the unfortunate name of “Nero and Herod” of our time, Gregory of Tours is claiming that King Chilperic was an evil, demonic tyrant, who lusted for power, and reviled in torturing others. His standard of judgement is being a victim himself of Chilperic’s outrage, and having witnessed grave atrocities. Personally, I see a direct link between Chilperic and a later tyrant, and the first tsar of Russia, Ivan Grozny. Ivan IV was a man similar in many ways, in that he had numerous wives, some whom strangely disappeared, but lusted after one in specific, Anastasia Romanov. More than that, he was a man who disliked the woman whom his son was dating, beat her until she had a miscarriage, and murdered his own son “accidentally”. He even set up the “oprichnina” and had thousands of fleeing citizens to Novgorod cut down and massacred. He was fascinated by torture, and seeing others in grave pain. Much like Chilperic, he would remove people’s eyes, much like he did with the two architects who made a beautiful church monument that outshone all others, and Ivan even found religion later on in life. Aside from my ramblings about similarities, overall I think Chilperic was a brutal man, who committed many acts of greed, gluttony and death, in order to elevate his status, and force obedience from other people. Too call him Nero is a very harsh comparison, but by looking at many of his acts, including the murder of Leudast, it may be deserved, as he was a man not afraid to torture, maim, and kill for his own personal enjoyment. Overall, Gregory is correct in looking down upon Chilperic, as he was a bad man.
Finally, Ernest Brehaut (1916) has designated king Chilperic I “the forerunner of the secular state in France”:
Gregory calls him "the Nero and Herod of our time," and loads him with abuse. He ridicules his poems, and according to his own story overwhelms him with an avalanche of contempt when he ventures to state some new opinions on the Trinity. The significant thing about Chilperic was this, that he had at this time the independence of mind to make such a criticism, as well as the hard temper necessary to fight the bishops successfully. "In his reign," Gregory tells us, "very few of the clergy reached the office of bishop." Chilperic used often to say: "Behold our treasury has remained poor, our wealth has been transferred to the churches; there is no king but the bishops; my office has perished and passed over to the bishops of the cities." [note: see p. 166 (Book VI: 46)] Chilperic was thus the forerunner of the secular state in France.