Clovis of the Franks

Clovis of the Franks

(c. 466-511)

Roman Gaul disintegrated into sets of small barbarian kingdoms around A.D. 400, but one man reunited them, a Gaulish leader named Clovis of the Franks. Little is known of Clovis’ youth. His father was Childeric, leader of the Salic Franks in northeastern Gaul. Childeric died in A.D. 481, and Clovis took his position.

Clovis wanted to expand his tribal lands. First, he turned east and defeated the Thuringian tribe in A.D. 491. Then he looked south and married Clotilda, niece of the two brothers who were joint kings of Burgundy. The marriage had an unexpected effect because Clotilda was a Christian. Slowly, she worked to convert Clovis. He allowed their children to be baptized as Christians, but held off himself until A.D. 496. In that year, Clovis fought the Swabian tribe in an important bat¬ tle at Tolbiac. Prior to the battle, he prayed to the Christian god and promised he would convert to Christianity if he won. Clovis did triumph, and he became a Christian. He also required some 3,000 of his followers to do the same.

Clovis’ feelings were said to be a combina¬ tion of barbarian vengeance and Christian pathos after repeatedly hearing the story of the crucifixion of Christ. “Had I been present with my valiant Franks,” Clovis was alleged to exclaim, “I would have revenged his injuries.”

Around A.D. 306, Clovis had permanently subdued the Swabians. He then turned his attention south once more and launched a series of campaigns against the Visigothic tribes that held power in southern France. He won a major battle against them at Vouille in A.D. 507, and soon all of southern Gaul (with the exception of present-day Provence) was in his hands.

His victories brought Clovis widespread attention. The Byzantine emperor in Constantinople, Anastasius I, gave him the honorary title of Roman consul and encour¬ aged him to make war on the Ostrogothic kingdom of Italy, led by King Theodoric. Clovis did just that, but his campaign (A.D. 509—510) yielded him little glory and no expansion of his territory.

Clovis died in Paris on November 27, A.D. 511. At that time, Gaul was largely united, due to his ceaseless efforts. However, his achievement was soon blunted; his four sons divided the kingdom amongst themselves. Clovis left three important legacies to the future kingdom of France: he created the Merovingian dynasty, which lasted until A.D. 751; he made Orthodox Christianity the offi¬ cial religion of his people; and he created an alliance with the papacy in Rome that would outlast even his own dynasty.