The Frankish family

The Frankish royal family in Cologne Cathedral


There is no hard and fast evidence as to the exact identity of the two people buried in the two Frankish graves discovered beneath Cologne Cathedral. Dental examinations have revealed that they are the remains of a twenty-eight-year-old woman and a six-year-old boy. However, the value and the craftsmanship of the grave-goods buried with them reveal that this was the final resting place of a queen and a young prince (possibly her son).

Around about the year 500, Cologne was the capital of a Frankish kingdom that was ruled by King Sigibert I. It later became the seat of Theudebert I, a grandson of Clovis. Theudebert ruled from 534 to 547 and it is likely that the woman and boy were buried during his reign. A dendrochronological examination of the planks that were used to cover up the boy’s grave show that the trees from which the timber was taken were felled sometime around 537 (give or take ten years). This information and the chronicles of St Gregory of Tours provide some valuable clues as to the identity of the deceased.

Theudebert’s father, Theuderic, betrothed his son to Wisigard, daughter of a Lombard king, sometime before 532. This obviously political union was not to Theudebert’s liking; while on a military campaign he entered into a relationship with a Roman woman named Deoteria, whom he married and with whom he had a son, Theudebald, when he came to power. Meanwhile, Wisigard had been waiting to marry Theudebert for seven years. Under severe pressure from his advisors, Theudebert divorced Deoteria in order to marry Wisigard, who died shortly after their union. Theudebert then married a third time. Unfortunately, Gregory of Tours provides no clues as to the identity of this third wife.

The betrothal in 532, the seven-year wait, and the swift death after the marriage all point to the year 537 (plus/minus ten years) calculated by the dendrochronological examination. Moreover the marriage of Wisigard’s parents (c.510) and the birth of their first child means that Wisigard would have been about 28 years of age at the time of her death in 538. In short, it can be said with a degree of certainty that the remains of the woman discovered under Cologne Cathedral are those of the Lombard princess, Wisigard. Although there are no records or legends surrounding her death, it is possible that Wisigard was poisoned—not a rarity in the Merovingian period. Moreover, it is possible that her shunned predecessor, Deoteria, was responsible for her untimely death. Were Wisigard to have become pregnant at the time of the betrothal—which, while not actually mentioned by Gregory of Tours, was certainly nothing unusual at the time—the child would have been about 6 or 7 years of age when his mother died. In short, Deoteria may have committed a double murder in order to secure the succession of her son, Theudebald.