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Christmas is a time when friends and relatives gather around the table to celebrate love, joy, and all things good.

I know that this is the time of the year for inspirational stories, and I promise you’ll have one of those for Christmas. Unfortunately, it is also a time when the weight of preparations can turn a celebration into a demanding chore. No wonder that arguments often break out between family. And while I love a Hallmark Christmas story, this is not it. On the other hand, if you find yourself trying to enjoy a fractious Christmas dinner, you may console yourself that, no matter how bad things are, they’re still infinitely better than the ill-fated 6th-century Christmas banquet that ended in murder, pillage, and a feud between two well-connected families from the city of Tours, France.

A Christmas Celebration to Remember

As The Historian’s Hut reports, the Christmas dinner at a village called Manthelan was closer to the infamous Red Wedding rather than a celebration of peace.

Two influential citizens from Tours, Sichar and Austregesil, were present for a festival hosted by a priest of Manthelan on the Christmas of 585. During the course of the festivities, Austregesil somehow killed a servant, causing quite the uproar at the party. Yet, as Austregesil was a very influential man, he was confident he’d be able to escape any serious consequences for the killing.

Sichar, however, begged to differ. He was just as important as Austregesil, being chummy with Queen Dowager Brunhild and her son, King Childebert II (r. 575-596). He was also an acquaintance of both the priest hosting the party and the servant who had been slain. Most importantly, he was fueled by loads of food and drink from the festivities. So, Sichar publicly vowed to seek vengeance against Austregesil.

The news eventually made its way to Austregesil. Before long, the festival-goers were picking sides, as one does on these occasions. Except, instead of using their inner voice, as many a child has been urged to do at the Christmas table, these kind folk was choosing weapons and rallying to the side of the murderer or the avenger.

The two factions eventually ended up in a deadly brawl. Sichar’s group received the worst of it and retreated to the local priest’s home. Once inside, Sichar ensured that the priest would take care of a few of his injured friends, and then wisely fled Manthelan. Not long after, Austregesil and his rowdy thugs found their way to the priest’s house, where they killed the injured people left behind and stole whatever they could get their hands on, including items belonging to both Sichar and the Church. Austregesil then brought the loot to a relative named Chramnesind, whose father, uncle, and brother were tasked with guarding Austregesil’s ill-gotten gains.

Medieval peasants brawling | From the blog of Nicholas C. Rossis, author of science fiction, the Pearseus epic fantasy series and children's books
Medieval peasants enjoying a quiet family Christmas dinner. (Illustration: Peasants Brawling by Hans Sebald Beham, German, 1500–1550. Public Domain via Smithsonian Institute Open Access and Creative Commons)

Sichar’s Counter-Raid

Not to be outdone, and after he recovered from his presumed hangover, Sichar launched his own raid against a household belonging to Austregesil’s supporters even as a tribunal of Manthelan citizens began formulating a case against Austregesil for the murders and the thefts.

One has to wonder if even more drink was involved in his foolhardy decision. Whatever his reasoning, Sichar attacked Chramnesind’s property in a night raid and killed the father, uncle, and brother of Chramnesind. Sichar went on to loot the estate, taking anything that could be moved—he even went so far as to steal the animals in the pasture.

At this point, Bishop Gregory of Tours (c. 539-594) tried to intervene to stop the feud between the two factions. Instead, Chramnesind vowed to take revenge for the deaths of his father, uncle, and brother. When Austregesil suggested they listen to the Bishop, Chramnesind wrested control of the anti-Sichar faction out of Austregesil’s hands and refused to make amends, ignoring the bishop’s attempts at forging peace between the two parties.

Sensing the danger, Sichar did the smart thing: he fled Tours and sought the protection of Queen Dowager Brunhild and her son, King Childebert II (r. 575-596). When Sichar abandoned his home, Chramnesind marched his mob to Sichar’s estates in Tours and went on a rampage. Slaves and servants were killed, anything not bolted down was stolen, and all of Sichar’s cattle were driven away. To make sure his point was not too subtle, Chramnesind set fire to buildings and structures on his enemy’s land.

An Uneasy Truce

This proved too much. With the death and destruction caused by the feud continuing to escalate, Bishop Gregory of Tours, now aided by the Queen and King, was able to bring Sichar and Chramnesind into negotiation. Both sides were fined, but as property belonging to the two rival leaders had been destroyed in the feud, the penalties were not too harsh.

Upon reaching their agreement, Sichar and Chramnesind settled back down in Tours and tried to coexist. Surprisingly, they succeeded at the near-impossible task for a few years, successfully maintaining the facade of happy neighbors… until Chramnesind murdered Sichar and fled Tours for good.

And it all started at a Christmas dinner. So, no complaints if the dog eats the turkey (and everything else) off the table or the kids make more noise than, well, a bunch of drunken 6th-century peasants. At least, your dinner hasn’t started a decades-long feud!