Clovis, King of the Franks - King by right of war and defender of the faith.
In the introduction to this work I discussed the problems inherent with Chlodovean Chronology. As we have seen an effort was made to interpolate extra dating mechanisms into Gregory of Tour's Histories to extend Clovis' reign to 518. Take away these interpolations and we are left with Gregory's authentic dating statements, which were five years to the battle of Soissons, ten years to the battle against Thuringians and that he died five years after Vouille. Hence, there is no pattern and no lustra scheme. Just bare facts as Gregory knew them. He was in fact quite accurate. He placed Clovis' accession in the late 480's and by removing the seven year interpolations to Clovis' age and reign length we are able to see that Clovis began to reign in 488, age 15 and was therefore born in 473. His father though had died in around 481. Gregory's statements now make perfect sense when amalgamated with the letters from Remegius and the words of Procopius describing Clovis' exploits from 493 onwards against the Visigoths and Thuringians. The fifth year from 488 would place the battle of Soissons in 492. I have suggested 491/2. The tenth year would place the battle against the Thuringians to 498, I have suggested 499. With the interpolated seven years removed, we could now accurately report Clovis' age when he mounted his offensives, about eighteen onwards.
In the second part of this work I discussed the life of Clovis' father Childeric, placing Clovis' birth in the context of that life, meaning Clovis was probably born in Paris. I suggested that Childeric had occupied Paris from 466-476, marrying Basina sometime in this period and that Clovis was born in 473. We then looked at Childeric's exploits in Noricum Ripense when he was called by Odoacer to help with the frequent interruptions of the Alamanni into the province. Using coin evidence to support the dating, the battle against the Alamanni (as reported by Gregory) I have associated with the Battle of Batavis in around 478/9, which agrees with Gregory's sychronisms. Childeric was to return to Tournai and die shortly after this battle, possibly at the hands of Syagrius who at this time had made a play for power in the west in opposition to Odoacer. Zeno though had supported Odoacer forcing Syagrius to set up his rump state with support from the Visigoths, this statement supported by archaeology.
In part three of this work we moved onto Clovis' battle for Soissons against the Romans and Visigoths of Syagrius in 491/2. This answered the question that many scholars had asked. Why did Syagrius flee to the Visigoths when he was defeated? It was, I suggested from archaeological evidence, because the Visigoths had supported his rump state. Clovis had become king in 488 but he did not have a kingdom, so he could not acquire a wife. This was, I suggested, one of the reasons for Clovis' war against the last of the Romans. I followed this with Clovis' subsequent marriage to Clotilda, a Burgundian Catholic Princess in around 492 and at which time, I would suggest, Clovis also became a Christian, but had not chosen which form to be baptised as. The evidence for this came from the letter of Remigius, the words of Procopius and Clovis' allowance for his children to be baptised as Catholics by Clotilda.
In part four I discussed the first Visigothic war which was begun in 493 to force the Visigoths to hand over Syagrius. This at odds with Gregory's testimony that Syagrius was handed over immediately. If he had been then there would have been no obvious reason for Clovis to pursue a war. Clovis appears to have moved against the cities of the Loire, ousting the nominal Visigothic Lordship where it existed. Some independent cities held out against the Franks such as Nantes and western Armorica, forcing him to form an alliance with the Armorici. There was a hint here that Clovis was already Christian due to the words of Procopius who said the Armoricans preferred the Franks because they were Catholic rather than Arian. Procopius also confirmed the chronology by stating it was after the death of Odoacre in 493 that the Visigoths and Thuringians feared the power of the populous Franks, forcing them into marriage alliances with Theoderic, the new Princeps of Italy.
I also discussed here the first letter of Bishop Remigius to Clovis, congratulating him on his 'second military campaign' where he had started retaking the cities on the Loire. This letter has been much discussed but I place it early in his reign and it also confirms that Clovis had a 'first campaign' – i.e. the battle for Soissons. The battles and sieges along the Loire took us up to 495/6, with an episode at the siege of Nantes which may have persuaded Clovis to be baptised a Catholic.
In part five of the series I discussed the important Baptism of Clovis in 496 and in so doing dissected Danuta Shanzer's unchallenged 1998 work where she sought to move the baptism much later in time to 508. Overcoming Shanzer's arguments I suggested that the Princeps she had so much difficulty in finding from the letter of Avitus, was Theoderic the Great himself, the new King of Italy in 493. In 497 the new Emperor of the east Anastasius sent him the imperial regalia confirming him as Princeps of the Western Roman empire. This then made sense of the words of Bishop Avitus in his letter to Clovis in 497 congratulating him on his baptism and comparing him to Theoderic. Further evidence for the date of 496 came from the letter of Bishop Nicetius of Trier who wrote to Clotsinda, granddaughter of Clovis trying to get her to convert her husband, the Lombard King Alboin to Catholicism. He wrote that Clovis had been baptised before the Burgundian war of 500. There can be no doubt then that Clovis was baptised as a Catholic in 496.
In part six I discussed the problems Clovis faced due to taking time out to be baptised with his army and losing his sister Albofled. During this time Alaric's Visigoths had retaken Saints in 496. During his time of mourning in 497 the Visigoths continued their offensive and retook Tours as well. Following a consoling letter from Bishop Remigius Clovis was encouraged to keep his kingdom intact and so moved westward again and took Bordeaux in 498, suggesting he would have needed to re-acquire Saints on the way and possibly Tours.
Around 499 the Thuringians, probably encouraged by Theoderic, threw a spanner in the works and Clovis had to turn east again and defeat them. At the same time things were hotting up in Burgundy and Godigisel hearing of Clovis recent victories sought his help in overthrowing his brother Gundobad. Godigisel a Catholic and Clovis now a Catholic meant this was Clovis' first religious crusade, probably supported and encouraged by his wife. He marched into Burgundy in 500 bringing the Burgundians of the Arian Gundobad to their knees and tribute. Clovis though did not consolidate his victory in Burgundy and Gundobad was able to reclaim his kingdom and kill his brother Godigisel. Gundobad captured a group of Frankish warriors supporting Godigisel and sent them to Alaric. Why did Clovis not consolidate his victory? He seemed to have left in a hurry and this was probably because he got word that the Visigoths were about to move against his newly won possessions or had already. Seeing Clovis approaching meant Alaric called a meeting on the Loire to discuss terms of peace. He may still have had Syagrius and definitely had Clovis' captured Frankish warriors so had some bargaining chips. Clovis appears to have ceded all territory south of the Loire to Alaric and recovered his warriors and Syagrius, possibly now a Bishop, if he hadn't done so already and demanded tribute from Alaric which was agreed. This meant Clovis was now secure with his possessions on the Loire and the first Visigothic war came to an end in around 503.
In part seven I then discussed the problems brewing out east again. The Alamanni with the Thuringians subdued had become confident enough to start encroaching on Frankish territory in Germania Secunda in around 505. Answering a call for help from his Frankish allies on the Rhine, Clovis moved against the Alamanni in 506 in a series of battles culminating in the hard fought battle of Tolbiac, where Clovis may have called on his Catholic God to bring him victory, if we believe this anecdote. The Alamanni were slaughtered, their territory invaded and pillaged and their king killed. The remnants of the Alamanni fled to territory protected by Theoderic the Great so Clovis ordered his men to stop the chase and leave the remnants under the protection of Theoderic, who had brokered the peace.
Next I discussed the battle of Vouille. Clovis was not happy with some aspect of his treaty with Alaric. It may have been the debased coinage that Alaric was paying tribute with or it may have been some other matter that was minor according to Theoderic. In any event Clovis felt that the Visigoths needed seeing to once and for all. Theoderic called on the Thuringians, Heruli and Warni to counter the Frankish threat, but they were in no mood to help seeing how Clovis had recently destroyed the Alamanni. Clovis made a pact with Gundobad and the Burgundians and planned a two pronged attack into Visigothic territory. He would approach from the north and Gundobad from the south. The eastern Emperor Anastasius must have known of Clovis' plans as he sent a fleet of ships to harry the Italian coastal cities, tying up Theoderic's army in Italy so he was unable to help his son in law Alaric. The Franks and Burgundians moved swiftly against the Visigoths culminating with the great battle of Voille in 507 where Alaric was killed and the Visigoths finally defeated. Clovis had triumphed where all had failed in the past. He quickly moved onto Bordeaux and Toulouse by 508 and sent his son Theuderic to secure other cities for the Franks. Clovis then made Paris his capital.
Theoderic was not a happy man. Unable to aid his son in law and once Anastasius' ships had departed, he called to arms his Gothic army in 509 and invaded Provence and retook possessions that the Burgundians and Franks had taken. By 510/511 he had gained authority over Visigothic Spanish possessions as well. His plan was to deny Clovis direct access to the Mediterranean and in this he was successful. Clovis himself was to die shortly of unknown causes, either in his wars for consolidation against the other Frankish kings, possibly assassinated by Theoderic, or illness, we are not told.
Who was Clovis?
“He must have been one of the most remarkable, possibly even one of the most likeable Germanic monarchs who set medieval Europe on its way” Daley 1994.
So what vision of Clovis should we be looking at? The rough pagan barbarian King reluctantly giving into Christianity and Catholicism or a fairly well Romanised Frank intimately associated with Christianity from an early age? The evidence points to the latter but he was certainly also a great warrior. Clovis, most likely born in Paris would have had Genevieve as well as Remigius as religious mentors. But his eastern roots were still there, being part Thuringian on his mothers side. It's quite possible that his mother was an Arian Christian as the Thuringians had been converted to a degree in the early fifth century. This may explain why one of Clovis' sisters had already become Arian Christian, rather than through Clovis' own association with Christianity from around 492 onward as is usually assumed. This would also explain his seemingly early sympathy for Church property such as the Vase of Soissons before he had become Christian himself. It might also explain his own knowledge of Christian ideas and ideals. William Daley in his 1994 work presented a revisionist portrayal of Clovis utilising the evidence that showed that at every turn Clovis seemed to be clearly knowledgeable about Christianity from an early period. The great historian Bury had also suggested something similar, that Clovis was already a Christian before the first letter of Remigius had been written to him in around 493. All letters from churchmen concerning Clovis, whether written to him or by him to them have been proven by Daley to show that Clovis was clearly aware of Christian teachings and tenets. He had even allowed his first born son by Clotilda to be baptised. Daley writes :
“Both Remigius and Avitus assumed that Clovis could comprehend religious ideas beyond the level of simple catechesis. In writing to him Avitus, and more especially Remigius, employed advanced scriptural concepts without feeling it necessary to explain them. Clovis's one extant letter cites Scripture relevantly. He precisely adapted the episcopal apostolium as a documentary means to validate the release of prisoners of war. His profound devotion to St. Genevieve, alongside what must have been permission for his sister, Albofled, to become a consecrated virgin, explains the otherwise surprising respect for the ministry of such women within the church expressed in his one surviving letter. He often commuted sentences of civil offenders and even criminals out of respect for the religious values of Genevieve. After the Aquitainian campaign he showed exceptional generosity about releasing prisoners of war. His motives for summoning the Council of Orleans of 511 seem to have included religious as well as personal and political considerations. He approved its canons, which enlarged the rights of criminals and slaves. One of its most specific canons voices his particular insistence that none of his gifts to the church be diverted from sustaining "repairs of churches, alms for priests and the poor, or the redemption of captives." Overall, his religious outlook reflected acceptance of the insistent teaching of Gallo-Roman Catholicism that divine grace and human good works interact profoundly in the economy of personal salvation. Like canon 5 of Orleans I, but in stone, his church at Paris tells us that he understood the value articulated by Genevieve's biographer epitomizing the force that energized her life: "For she knew the truth of the prophet's saying that the person who gives to the poor honors God" (c. 40).”
If Clovis hadn't converted to Christianity as I suggest in 492 on marriage to Clotilda then the answer would be that his knowledge and association with Christianity came from his mother.
By the time Clovis was three years old his father had left Paris to seek his fortune defending Noricum Ripense with his Frankish cavalry at the call of Odoacer. With Childeric away the Gallic party under Syagrius began to assert its right to rule. After the defeat of the Alamanni Childeric appears to have returned home to counter the threat but was defeated and killed when Clovis was just eight years old, probably by Syagrius and his Visigothic allies. Basina would have taken the young children off to Tornai to safety, deep within Frankish territory. For the next few years Clovis would have been in training both physically and mentally for his future role as king. That day came in 488 at the age of fifteen where he would traditionally have been raised upon a shield by his men. He cemented his kingship by producing a son by the next year through a concubine, naming him Theoderic.
At this age though Clovis was in no place to challenge Syagrius. He would need to spend his father's money wisely in building an army and buying or gaining support from his Frankish relatives. By eighteen he was now old enough to lead his first campaign and gain revenge for his fathers displacement and death. Either Clovis was very lucky with his timing or he had a very astute mind, even from this young an age for the timing was perfect to make his challenge to gain himself a kingdom which came by 491/2 and the rest has been discussed above.
Underlying Clovis' devotion to the Catholic faith was his success in war. He was a king by right of war. Like an Alexander, he moved swiftly and decisively to counter all threats, seemingly winning most major battles until Theoderic was able to counter the Frankish threat in the south. Gregory's portrayal of a ruthless Clovis taking on his Frankish relatives to consolidate his empire seems wide of the mark unless he made this decision on religious grounds to bring the eastern Franks into the Catholic fold. I really doubt though that Clovis had the time to actually do this until the very end of his life and so for this reason I think it was his son, the more ruthless Theuderic who consolidated the Germanic provinces under his and his brothers rule. There's a good chance that this is how Clovis died, early on in some battlefield fighting pagans alongside his son. For Clovis, this would have been a glorious way to die, leading from the front, fighting with his men the Frankish way, unafraid of death. He had nearly come to his end earlier at the battle of Vouille. This time he was not so lucky. Clovis was still very young when he died, just thirty-eight years of age. Theoderic would still consider him a juvenis and this is perhaps why he didn't enter the contemporary chronicle record in the way others did. The first great Catholic king of Gaul had died but in so doing had created a new identity for combined peoples who would conquer most of northern Europe and become the country we now know as France. His legacy has lasted over one thousand five hundred years.
EventPlaceYearBirth of ChildericBelgica II435Childeric KingBelgica II452Childeric Federate leaderBegica II457Childeric ParisParis466-476Childeric Marries BasinaParis470?Birth of ClovisParis473Childeric in Noricum - AlamanniNoricum476-480Death of ChildericTornai482Accession of ClovisTornai488Defeat of SyagriusSoissons491Marriage to ClotildaSoissons492Start of First Visigoth war.LugdunensisSaintes493-495Treaty with ArmoricansNantes495Baptism of ClovisReims496Death of Albofled his sisterParis?497First Visigothic war continuesBordeaux498Defeat of ThuringiansGermania II499Burgundian civil warBurgundy500 - 502Meeting with AlaricTours503Battle of TolbiacGermania II506Battle of Vouillé, Poitiers, Albi, Rodez, Clermont.Poitiers507Toulouse, Anguoeleme Honorary ConsulshipTours508Paris CapitalParis508Loss of southern Gaul.Southern Gaul509-510Rex SalicaParis510Council of OrleansOrleans511Death of ClovisParis511Abbot Maxentius, QuintianusRodez /Clermont512
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