Gregory of Tours:
Harsh Treatment of Serfs and Slaves, c. 575
The decisions of Church Councils were not always effective in preventing harsh
treatment of serfs and slaves. The priest in this instance acted correctly, but the mental
reservation of Rauching appears to have nullified his promise.
Book V, Chapter 3: (The widow of Godwin) married Rauching, a man of great vanity,
swollen with pride, shameless in his arrogance, who acted towards those subject to him as
though he were without any spark of human kindness, raging against them beyond the bounds
of malice and stupidity and doing unspeakable injuries to them. For if, as was customary,
a slave held a burning candle before him at dinner, he caused his shins to be bared, and
placed the candle between them until the flame died; and he caused the same thing to be
done with a second candle until the shins of the torchbearer were burned. But if the slave
tried to cry out, or to move from one place to another, a naked sword threatened him; and
he found great enjoyment in the man's tears. They say that at that time two of his slaves,
a man and a girl, fell in love---a thing which often happens---and that when their
affection for each other had lasted for a period of two years, they fled together to a
church. When Rauching found this out he went to the priest of that place and asked him to
return the two slaves immediately, saying that he had forgiven them. Then the priest said
to him, "You know what veneration is due to the churches of God. You cannot take them
unless you take an oath to allow them to remain together permanently, and you must also
promise that they will be free from corporal punishment." But he, being in doubt and
remaining silent for some time at length turned to the priest and put his hands upon the
altar, saying, "They will never be separated by me, but rather I shall cause them to
remain in wedlock; for though I was annoyed that they did such things without my advice, I
am perfectly happy to observe that the man did not take the maid of another in wedlock,
nor did she take the slave of another." The simple priest believed him and returned
the two slaves who had been ostensibly pardoned. He took them, gave thanks, and returned
to his house, and straightway ordered a tree to be cut down. Then he ordered the trunk to
be opened with wedges and hollowed out, and a hole to be made in the ground to the depth
of three or four feet, and the trunk to be placed therein. Then placing the girl as if she
were dead, he ordered the slave to be thrown on top of her. And when the cover had been
placed upon the trunk he filled the grave and buried them both alive, saying, "I have
not broken my oath and I have not separated them."
J. P. Migne, ed., Patrologiae Cursus Completus, (Paris, 1849), Vol . LXXI, p.
318; reprinted in Roy C. Cave & Herbert H. Coulson, A Source Book for Medieval
Economic History, (Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Co., 1936; reprint ed., New York:
Biblo & Tannen, 1965), pp. 289-290.
Scanned by Jerome S. Arkenberg, Cal. State Fullerton. The text has been modernized by
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© Paul Halsall, October 1998