Sparse Sources and a Larger-Than-Life-Figure - The Death of Clovis the Merovingian

27 November 511, The Merovingian King Clovis I died and having united all Frankish tribes under his rule, the kingdom was divided between his four sons.
“And having killed many other kings and his nearest relatives, of whom he was jealous lest they take the kingdom from him, he extended his rule over all the Gauls. However he gathered his people together at one time, it is said, and spoke of the kinsmen whom he had himself destroyed. "Woe to me, who have remained as a stranger among foreigners, and have none of my kinsmen to give me aid if adversity comes." But he said this not because of grief at their death but by way of a ruse, if perchance he should be able to find some one still to kill. After all this he died at Paris, and was buried in the church of the holy apostles, which he himself had built together with his queen Clotilda. He passed away in the fifth year after the battle; of Vouillé, and all the days of his reign were thirty years, and his age was forty-five.“ (Gregory of Tours)

A pivotal point in Frankish and later European tradition - Clovis routs the Alemanni after the Battle of Tolbiac in 496, an event that allegedly lead the king to accept the Christian faith 

According to legend, it was Clovis Thuringian mother Basina, who chose the name, an early variant of Louis, meaning “renowned in war” and not his father Childerich, a Merovingian petty king of the Salian Franks, who had established his kingdom around Tournai on the modern Franco-Belgian border around 458 CE, when Roman rule in Gaul finally began to crumble. Basina had left her Thuringian husband for Childerich, according to Gregory of Tours, because she wanted to be with the most powerful man in the world. Her son Clovis at least came close to the claim. Around 500, he was indeed one of the most influential and feared Germanic kings reigning in the ruins of the Western Roman Empire. Without much concern for family relations, Clovis had not only conquered the other Frankish petty kingdoms in Gaul, but defeated the last Romans in Gaul and his Visigothic and Alemannic competitors as well, ruling the region of the modern Benelux states, West Germany and France, except Burgundy and the Provence.

“Bend thy neck, proud Sicambrian: adore what thou hast burned, burn what thou hast adored”: A 9th century ivory miniature, showing St Remy baptising Clovis. One of the potential candidates for "Birth of the Christian West"

Basing his rule on the apparently still more or less operational administrative apparatus, replacing the local Gallo-Roman governors one by one with loyal bishops after his legendary conversion to Christianity, Clovis laid the foundations for the Frankish super power that would dominate Europe throughout the early Middle Ages until the Treaty of Verdun in 840 marked the junction where the later Kingdom of France and the Holy Roman Empire took separate turns. Clovis or Clodovech himself appears as a larger-than-life figure from the sparse sources describing the end of Antiquity. Allegedly, his conversion to Roman Catholicism followed a promise á la Emperor Constantine that he would accept the new faith if he’d emerge victorious from the Battle of Tolbiac against the Alemanni, with a snappy comment by St Remy who baptised him in Reims (“Bend thy neck, proud Sicambrian: adore what thou hast burned, burn what thou hast adored”, Sicambrian is an old eponym for the Franks), and a lot of other traditions that would manifest the claim to power of the later Pippinid and Carolingian successors of the Merovingians over the Pope. The Lex Salica, the Salian Law that would play an important role during the Hundred Years’ War, is attributed to him as well.

Lawrence Alma-Tadema's (1836–1912) “Education of the children of Clovis“ (1861)

The ghastliest story handed down about Clovis is certainly the tale of him hunting down every other male Merovingian relative, having them killed and delivered their heads as proof to his new capital in Paris to secure his own line. When he died near Paris, his empire was, according to his will, divided among his four sons – Chlothar would get Aquitaine and the Auvergne, Chlodomer the central region around Orleans west to Poitiers, Childebert the later Normandy and Theuderic the Champagne and everything north and east up to the banks of the River Elbe. And being true Merovingians, the happy family was soon at each other’s throats as well as their offspring and the emerging two successor kingdoms, Neustria, the West, and Austrasia, the East fought each other more often than not until the mighty Austrasian mayors of the palace, Charles Martell and his sons, put an end to that during the 8th century. Clovis himself, ironically enough, was venerated as a saint in late medieval France and claimed during the nationalist nonsense of the 19th and 20th century as either the first King of France or German Emperor.

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