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, but on the death of Charibert in 567 his estates were augmented.
When his brother Sigebert I married Brunhild, 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 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 Fredegund.
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 manuscripts 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.
Chilpéric I died in September of 584 at Chelles, Île-de-France, France.
See Sérésia, L’Eglise el l’Etat sous les rois francs au VI siècle (Ghent, 1888).
See also: List of Frankish Kings
This entry was originally from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.