Clovis I

Born in c.466, Clovis I united all the Frankish tribes and became the first King of the Franks. Having converted to Catholicism at his wife’s urging, Clovis was also the first Catholic ruler of Gaul. He founded the Merovingian dynasty which would lead the Franks for roughly two centuries. Clovis also expanded his rule by lessening the power of Rome by 486 when he won the famed Battle of Soissons and defeated the Roman Syagrius. Clovis is often regarded as the founder of France.

Clovis was the son of Childeric I who was king of the Salian Franks. His mother was Queen Basina of Thuringia (a kingdom that would have been located in present-day central Germany). Upon his father’s death, Clovis became king in 481. Clovis began to cement his rule by conquering neighboring Salian Frankish kingdoms until he brought them all under his rule. In 493 Clovis married Clotilde, a Burgundian princess and noted for her piety. In fact, she was later declared a saint for persuading her husband to convert to Catholicism and spent her later years performing acts of charity. Their offspring included three sons and a daughter along with another son who died at an early age.

Embracing Catholicism was beneficial for Clovis as most of the Gaulish people were formerly Roman subjects and most Catholic. Many Goths at that time had begun to convert to Arianism, but Clotilde persuaded him first to let their son be baptized. According to legend, after Clovis called on his wife’s God during battle to grant the subsequent victory, he decided to grant her wish and was baptized at Rheims in c.498. Clovis’s important victory at Soissons allowed him to extend his kingdom into the area north of the Loire. He then began to secure alliances with other tribes through marriage. For example, his sister Audofleda was wed to Theodoric the Great who ruled the Kingdom of Italy. His conversion to Catholicism helped him to gain the backing of the Gallo-Roman aristocracy which he needed to help drive the Visogoths from southern Gaul. Eventually Clovis set up his capital at Paris.

There is some debate about when Clovis died, but most historians accept the year 511. He and Clotilde are buried in Saint Denis at the Basilica of St. Denis. The name Clovis became important after the reign of Clovis I for later Frankish kings and kings of France. The name Clovis was Latinized as Chlodovechus. Chlodovechus then became Ludovicus which finally became Louis. Clovis left his realm to his sons who divided the kingdom among themselves.