Gregory of Tours (c. 538 – 17 November 594) did in his Historia Francorum not confine himself to main political and social events, but regularly included anecdotes. The following story is such an anecdote and it is also illustrative of Germanic law.
Once at Tours, a man, Ambrosia, persuades his brother Lupus – a widower who had also lost his children – not to enter the clergy, but to remarry. The reason is that he fears that his brother will make the Church his heir. Under Germanic law a man inherited from his deceased childless brother, even when the latter was married, as the wife was not considered as belonging to the next of kin. Otherwise there is no logic in the action of this Ambrosia. Ambrosius finds a woman for his brother. They set a day for giving over the betrothal gift. In all likelihood the wife in spe was an orphan or had otherwise no male relatives who could receive this gift and hand it over to her, so Ambrosius acted as intermediary. The betrothal gift guaranteed some financial independence for a woman within her marriage. Next the brothers go to a common house of theirs at Chinon – not far away from Tours -, had a lot of booze and fall drunk asleep in the same bed. Then a new theme is introduced in the story: Ambrosius’ wife is a meretrix (how far more interesting those women are than bleak virgins!) and she has a lover. Hating her husband, she wants to get rid of him. The lover enters at night the house and kills Ambrosius with his sword, not noticing that Lupus was sharing the same bed. Lupus awakes and finding himself bathing in the blood of his brother, he is crying for help but no other people at home hear his as they too had had enough wine, but the invader does and returns to give Lupus some firm blows with his sword. The following day Lupus dies of his wounds, but not before he has told the servants what has happened. The merry widow and her lover get away with it. This may surprise us, but apparently there were no relatives to ask for compensation in the form of weregild. Weregild (also spelled wergild) was the money one had to pay in compensation for injustice done. It means `man money’ and the first member of this compound is the same word as Latin vir. Anyway, this episode must have been the talk of the town at Tours for decades!
Gregorius Turonensis, , Historia Francorum, liber vi, 13. De Lupo et Ambrosio Turonicis civibus interfectis.
Lupus urbis Turonicae civis, cum, uxore perdita ac liberis, clericatum expeteret, a fratre Ambrosio prohibitus est, timens, ne heredem institueret Dei ecclesiam, si ei coniungeretur. Rursumque illi uxorem providit et diem, in quo ad disponsalia donanda coniungerent, malesuadus frater indicit. Dehinc ad Cainonensem castrum, ubi hospitium habebant, pariter advenerunt. Sed uxor Ambrosii, cum esset adultera et alium in amore lupanario, exoso marito, diligeret, insidias viro tetendit. Cumque hi germani pariter epulantes et nocte usque ad ebrietatem vino maduissent, in uno strato pariter quieverunt. Tunc moechus uxoris Ambrosii nocte veniens, quiescentibus cunctis et vino depressis, accensis igne paleis, ut videret quid ageret, extracto gladio, Ambrosium in capite librat, ita ut descendens per oculos gladius cervical capitis amputaret. In quo ictu expergefactus Lupus et se in sanguinem volutari decernens, exclamat voce magna, dicens: 'Heu, heu, succurrite, frater meus interfectus est!' Moechus vero, qui iam perpetrato scelere discedebat, haec audiens, regressus ad lectum, Lupum adiit. Quo repugnante, multis plagis laceratum oppressit et mortali ictu sauciatum semivivum reliquid. Sed nullus de familia sensit. Mane autem facto, stupebant omnes de tanto scelere. Lupus tamen adhuc vivens nanctus, sicut actum fuerat referens, spiritum exalavit. Sed nec longum meretrix lugendi sumpsit spatium; sed paucis diebus interpositis, coniuncta moecho, discessit.
Lupus: probably a Latinization of the Germanic name `wolf’
clericatus, us (m.): clergy
heres heredis (m.): heir
ei i.e ecclesiae
disponsalium, betrothal gift, bride gift
in amore lupanario: with the love of a whore (lupinaria)
exosus: hating very much, being hated very much
insidias tendo: to lay out an ambush
germanus (m.): brother
epulo: to eat
ebrietas, -atis (f.): drunkenness
madeo madui: to be wet, to overflow
moechus: fornicator, adulter
accensis igne paleis: having kindled chaff (palea) with fire
libro: to swing
ita ut descendens per oculos gladius cervical capitis amputare: that the sword coming down through te eyes cut the pillow of the head (But it could be that Gregory meant calvaria `skull’ instead of cervical `pillow’.)
ictus, ictus (m.): strike, blow
expergefacio: to arouse, awaken
voluto: to turn
succurro succurri succursum: to run to help
perpetrato scelere: the crime (scelus sceleris, n.) being committed
Quo repugnante: though he (Lupus) resisted
lacero: to mutilate, lacerate
saucio: to wound
semivivus: half alive
familia: not `family’ but household, including servants
mane facto: morning having come
nanctus (nanciscor) has here a passive meaning `Lupus being found’
exalo (= exhalo): to breathe out, exhale
lugendi sumpsit spatium: took time for mourning (lugeo)
Translation by Earnest Brehaut (1916)
Lupus, a citizen of Tours, having lost wife and children, desired to enter the clergy but was prevented by his brother Ambrose who was afraid that he would leave his property to the church of God if he were joined to it. Ambrose, persuading him to his harm, provided him with another wife and appointed the day to meet to give the betrothal gifts. Then they went together to the town of Chinon where they had a dwelling. But Ambrose's wife being an adulteress and loving another with the love of a lewd woman and hating her husband, made a plot for him. And when these brothers had feasted together and had drunk wine in the night until they were intoxicated, they lay down on the same bed. When the adulterer came in the night when all were sleeping heavily because of the wine and setting fire to the straw in order to see what he was doing, he drew his sword and struck Ambrose on the head so that the sword went in at his eyes and cut the pillow in two beneath his head. Lupus was aroused by the blow and finding himself wallowing in blood, he called in a loud voice saying: "Alas, Alas! Help; my brother is killed." But the adulterer who had committed the deed and was now going off, heard this and returned to the bed and attacked Lupus. Although he resisted he was wounded many times, and overwhelmed and given a mortal stroke and left half dead. But no one of the household knew of it. In the morning all were amazed at such a crime. Lupus however was found to be still alive and after telling the story as it occurred, he died. But the harlot did not take a long time to mourn. In a few days she joined her adulterer and departed.