Clovis I

Clovis I
Clovis I
Clovis roi des Francs by François-Louis Dejuinne (1786–1844)
King of the Franks
Reign 509 - 511
Predecessor Francia conquered
Successor Clotaire I (Soissions)
Childebert I (Paris)
Chlodomer (Orléans)
Theuderic I (Rheims)
King of the Salian Franks
Reign 481 - 509
Predecessor Childeric I
Successor Francia conquered
Spouse Clotilde
Childebert I
Chlothar I
House Merovingian
Father Childeric I
Mother Basina of Thuringia
Born c. 466
Died 511
Burial St. Genevieve Church, Paris
Religion Catholic

Clovis (c. 466–511) (Ch-)Leuthwig (Ludwig, Louis) was the first King of the Franks to unite all the Frankish tribes under one ruler. He was also the first Catholic King to rule over Gaul (France). He was the son of Childeric I and Basina. In 481, when he was fifteen, he succeeded his father.[1] The Salian Franks were one of two Frankish tribes who were then occupying the area west of the lower Rhine, with their center in an area known as Toxandria, between the Meuse and Scheldt (in what is now the Netherlands and Belgium). Clovis' power base was to the southwest of this, around Tournai and Cambrai along the modern frontier between France and Belgium. Clovis conquered the neighboring Salian Frankish kingdoms and established himself as sole king of the Salian Franks before his death. The small church in which he was baptized stood in the vicinity of the subsequent abbey of Saint-Remi in Reims, and a statue of him being baptized by Saint Remigius can be seen there. Clovis and his wife Clotilde were buried in the St. Genevieve church (St. Pierre) in Paris. An important part of Clovis' legacy is that he locally succeeded to the power of the Romans in 486 by beating the Gallo-Roman ruler Syagrius in the battle of Soissons.[2]

Clovis was converted to Catholicism,[3] as opposed to the Arian Christianity common among the Goths who ruled most of Gaul at the time, at the instigation of his wife, Clotilde, a Burgundian Gothic princess who was a Catholic in spite of the Arianism which surrounded her at court. In the XI century the abbey's church was to become the Cathedral of Rheims, where most future French kings would be crowned. This act was of immense importance in the subsequent history of Western and Central Europe in general, for Clovis expanded his dominion over almost all of the old Roman province of Gaul (roughly modern France). He is considered the founder of the Merovingian dynasty which ruled the Franks for the next two centuries.



In primary sources Clovis' name is spelled in a number of variants: the Frankish form Chlodovech was Latinized as Chlodovechus, from which came the Latin name Ludovicus, which evolved into the French form Louis. Clovis ruled the Franks from 481 to 511 AD. The name features prominently in subsequent history: three other Merovingian Kings have been called Clovis, while nine Carolingian rulers and thirteen other French kings and one Holy Roman Emperor have been called Louis. Nearly every European language has developed its own spelling of his name. Louis (French), "Chlodwig" and Ludwig (German), Lodewijk (Dutch), Людовик (Russian), Luis (Spanish), Luigi (Italian), and Lewis (English) are just seven of the over 100 possible variations. Scholars differ about the exact meaning of his (first) name. Most believe that Chlodovech is composed out of the Germanic roots Chlod- and -vech. Chlod- = (modern English) loud, with its oldest connotation praised. -vech = "fighter" (modern English). Compare in modern Dutch luid (hard sound or noise), luiden (verb - the oldest meaning is: to praise aloud) and vechten (verb - to fight). Chlodovech means "praised fighter".[4]


Frankish consolidation

Clovis I leading the Franks to victory in the Battle of Tolbiac, in Ary Scheffer's 19th Century painting

In 486, with the help of Ragnachar, Clovis defeated Syagrius, the last Roman official in northern Gaul, who ruled the area around Soissons in present-day Picardy.[5] This victory at Soissons extended Frankish rule to most of the area north of the Loire. After this, Clovis secured an alliance with the Ostrogoths through the marriage of his sister Audofleda to their king, Theodoric the Great. He followed this victory with another in 491 over a small group of Thuringians east of the Frankish territories. Later, with the help of the other Frankish sub-kings, he narrowly defeated the Alamanni in the Battle of Tolbiac.

Christian king

Clovis had previously married the Christian Burgundian princess Clotilde (later canonized as St. Clotilde), and, according to Gregory of Tours, as a result of his victory at Tolbiac (traditionally set in 496), he converted to her Catholic faith. Conversion to Trinitarian Christianity set Clovis apart from the other Germanic kings of his time, such as those of the Visigoths and the Vandals, who had converted from pagan beliefs to Arian Christianity. It also ensured him of the support of the Catholic Gallo-Roman aristocracy in his later campaign against the Visigoths, which drove them from southern Gaul (507). According to legend, it was only by invoking the God of his Christian wife, Clotilde, that he defeated his enemy. Clotilde was almost certainly instrumental in Clovis' conversion to the Catholic faith.

Clovis was baptised at Rheims on Christmas 496, 498 or 506 by Saint Remigius.[6] The conversion of Clovis to Catholic Christianity, the religion of the majority of his subjects, strengthened the bonds between his Gallo-roman subjects, led by their Catholic bishops, and their Germanic conquerors. Nevertheless, Bernard Bachrach has argued that this conversion from his Frankish paganism alienated many of the other Frankish sub-kings and weakened his military position over the next few years. William Daly, in order more directly to assess Clovis' allegedly barbaric and pagan origins,[7] was obliged to ignore the bishop Saint Gregory of Tours and base his account on the scant earlier sources, a sixth-century "vita" of Saint Genevieve and letters to or concerning Clovis from bishops and Theodoric.

In the "interpretatio romana", Gregory of Tours gave the Germanic gods that Clovis abandoned the names of roughly equivalent Roman gods, such as Jupiter and Mercury.[8] Taken literally, such usage would suggest a strong affinity of early Frankish rulers for the prestige of Roman culture, which they may have embraced as allies and federates of the Empire during the previous century.[citation needed]

Though he fought a battle at Dijon in the year 500, Clovis did not successfully subdue the Burgundian kingdom. It appears that he somehow gained the support of the Arvernians in the following years, for they assisted him in his defeat of the Visigothic kingdom of Toulouse in the Battle of Vouillé (507) which eliminated Visigothic power in Gaul and confined the Visigoths to Hispania and Septimania; the battle added most of Aquitaine to Clovis' kingdom.[5] He then established Paris as his capital,[5] and established an abbey dedicated to Saints Peter and Paul on the south bank of the Seine. Later it was renamed Sainte-Geneviève Abbey, in honor of the patron saint of Paris.[9]

According to Gregory of Tours, following the Battle of Vouillé, the Byzantine Emperor Anastasius I, granted Clovis the title of consul. Since Clovis' name does not appear in the consular lists, it is likely he was granted a suffect consulship.

Images of the King

Campaigns of Clovis

Gregory of Tours recorded Clovis' systematic campaigns following his victory in Vouillé to eliminate the other Frankish "reguli" or sub-kings. These included Sigobert the Lame and his son Chlodoric the Parricide; Chararic, another king of the Salian Franks; Ragnachar of Cambrai, his brother Ricchar, and their brother Rignomer of Le Mans.

Later years and death

Gaul after Clovis' death

Shortly before his death, Clovis called a synod of Gallic bishops to meet in Orléans to reform the Church and create a strong link between the Crown and the Catholic episcopate. This was the First Council of Orléans. Thirty-three bishops assisted and passed 31 decrees on the duties and obligations of individuals, the right of sanctuary and ecclesiastical discipline. These decrees, equally applicable to Franks and Romans, first established equality between conquerors and conquered.

Tomb of Clovis I at the Basilica of St Denis in Saint Denis

Clovis I is traditionally said to have died on 27 November 511; however, the Liber Pontificalis suggests that he was still alive in 513.[10] After his death, Clovis was laid to rest in the Abbey of St Genevieve in Paris. His remains relocated to Saint Denis Basilica in the mid- to late-18th century.

Upon his death his realm was divided among his four sons: Theuderic, Chlodomer, Childebert, and Clotaire. This partitioning created the new political units of the Kingdoms of Rheims, Orléans, Paris and Soissons and inaugurated a period of disunity which was to last, with brief interruptions, until the end (751) of his Merovingian dynasty.


Clovis is remembered for three main accomplishments:

  1. The Unification of the Frankish nation
  2. The Conquest of Gaul
  3. His conversion to Christianity.

By the first act, he assured the influence of his people beyond the borders of Gaul, something no regional king could accomplish. By the second act, he laid the foundations of a later nation-state, France. By the third act, he made himself the ally of the papacy and its protector as well as that of the people, who were mostly Catholics.

Detracting perhaps, from this legacy, is his aforementioned division of the state. This was done not along national or even largely geographical lines, but primarily to assure equal income amongst his sons after his death. While it may or may not have been his intention, this division was the cause of much internal discord in Gaul. This precedent led in the long run to the fall of his dynasty, for it was a pattern repeated in future reigns.[11] Clovis did bequeath to his heirs the support of both people and Church such that, when the magnates were ready to do away with the royal house, the sanction of the Pope was sought first.



  1. ^ The date 481 is arrived at by counting back from the Battle of Tolbiac, which Gregory of Tours places in the fifteenth year of Clovis' reign.
  2. ^ Frassetto, Michael, Encyclopedia of barbarian Europe, (ABC-CLIO, 2003), p. 126
  3. ^ James Muldoon, Varieties of religious conversion in the Middle Ages, (University of Florida Press, 1997), 88.
  4. ^ Etymologisch Woordenboek van het Nederlands, Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2003-, for the words luid (loud) and vechten (to fight)
  5. ^ a b c "Iron Age Braumeisters of the Teutonic Forests". BeerAdvocate. Retrieved 2006-06-02. 
  6. ^ Geary, Patrick J. (1988) Before France and Germany: the creation and transformation of the Merovingian world. Oxford; p. 84
  7. ^ Daly, William M., "Clovis: How Barbaric, How Pagan?" Speculum 69.3 (July 1994:619-664)
  8. ^ James, Edward (1985) Gregory of Tours' Life of the Fathers. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press; p. 155 n. 12
  9. ^ The abbey was demolished in 1802. All that remains is the "Tour Clovis," a Romanesque tower which now lies within the grounds of the Lycée Henri-IV, just east of The Panthéon, and the parish Saint-Étienne-du-Mont, which was built on the abbey territory.
  10. ^ Collins, Roger, Early Medieval Europe
  11. ^ "The Rise of the Carolingians or the Decline of the Merovingians?" (pdf)
  • Daly, William M. (1994) "Clovis: How Barbaric, How Pagan?" Speculum, 69:3 (1994), 619–664
  • James, Edward (1982) The Origins of France: Clovis to the Capetians, 500–1000. London: Macmillan, 1982
  • Kaiser, Reinhold (2004) "Das römische Erbe und das Merowingerreich", in: Enzyklopädie deutscher Geschichte; 26. Munich (German)
  • Oman, Charles (1914) The Dark Ages 476-918. London: Rivingtons
  • Wallace-Hadrill, J. M. (1962) The Long-haired Kings. London
Clovis I
Born: 466 Died: November 27 511
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Childeric I
King of the Salian Franks
481 – c. 509
Conquered Francia
of Francia
King of the Franks
c. 509 – 511
Succeeded by
Clotaire I
in Soissons
Succeeded by
Childebert I
in Paris
Succeeded by
in Orléans
Succeeded by
Theuderic I
in Rheims
Political offices
Preceded by
Flavius Ennodius Messala,
Areobindus Dagalaiphus Areobindus
Consul of the Roman Empire
with Anastasius I,
Venantius Junior
Succeeded by
Basilius Venantius,

External links

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