1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Clovis

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CLOVIS [Chlodovech] (c. 466–511), king of the Salian Franks, son of Childeric I., whom he succeeded in 481 at the age of fifteen. At that date the Salian Franks had advanced as far as the river Somme, and the centre of their power was at Tournai. On the history of Clovis between the years 481 and 486 the records are silent. In 486 he attacked Syagrius, a Roman general who, after the fall of the western empire in 476, had carved out for himself a principality south of the Somme, and is called by Gregory of Tours “rex Romanorum.” After being defeated by Clovis at the battle of Soissons, Syagrius sought refuge with the Visigothic king Alaric II., who handed him over to the conqueror. Henceforth Clovis fixed his residence at Soissons, which was in the midst of public lands, e.g. Berny-Rivière, Juvigny, &c. The episode of the vase of Soissons[1] has a legendary character, and all that it proves is the deference shown by the pagan king to the orthodox clergy. Clovis undoubtedly extended his dominion over the whole of Belgica Secunda, of which Reims was the capital, and conquered the neighbouring cities in detail. Little is known of the history of these conquests. It appears that St Geneviève defended the town of Paris against Clovis for a long period, and that Verdun-sur-Meuse, after a brave stand, accepted an honourable capitulation thanks to St Euspitius. In 491 some barbarian troops in the service of Rome, Arboruchi (Άρμόρνχοι), Thuringians, and even Roman soldiers who could not return to Rome, went over to Clovis and swelled the ranks of his army.

In 493 Clovis married a Burgundian princess, Clotilda, niece of Gundobald and Godegesil, joint kings of Burgundy. This princess was a Christian, and earnestly desired the conversion of her husband. Although Clovis allowed his children to be baptized, he remained a pagan himself until the war against the Alemanni, who at that time occupied the country between the Vosges, and the Rhine and the neighbourhood of Lake Constance. By pushing their incursions westward they came into collision with Clovis, who marched against them and defeated them in the plain of the Rhine. The legend runs that, in the thickest of the fight, Clovis swore that he would be converted to the God of Clotilda if her God would grant him the victory. After subduing a part of the Alemanni, Clovis went to Reims, where he was baptized by St Remigius on Christmas day 496, together with three thousand Franks. The story of the phial of holy oil (the Sainte Ampoule) brought from heaven by a white dove for the baptism of Clovis was invented by Archbishop Hincmar of Reims three centuries after the event.

The baptism of Clovis was an event of very great importance. From that time the orthodox Christians in the kingdom of the Burgundians and Visigoths looked to Clovis to deliver them from their Arian kings. Clovis seems to have failed in the case of Burgundy, which was at that time torn by the rivalry between Godegesil and his brother Gundobald. Godegesil appealed for help to Clovis, who defeated Gundobald on the banks of the Ouche near Dijon, and advanced as far as Avignon (500), but had to retire without being able to retain any of his conquests. Immediately after his departure Gundobald slew Godegesil at Vienne, and seized the whole of the Burgundian kingdom. Clovis was more fortunate in his war against the Visigoths. Having completed the subjugation of the Alemanni in 506, he marched against the Visigothic king Alaric II. in the following year, in spite of the efforts of Theodoric, king of the Ostrogoths, to prevent the war. After a decisive victory at Vouillé near Poitiers, in which Clovis slew Alaric with his own hand, the whole of the kingdom of the Visigoths as far as the Pyrenees was added to the Frankish empire, with the exception of Septimania, which, together with Spain, remained in possession of Alaric’s grandson Amalaric, and Provence, which was seized by Theodoric and annexed to Italy. In 508 Clovis received at Tours the insignia of the consulship from the eastern emperor, Anastasius, but the title was purely honorific. The last years of his life Clovis spent in Paris, which he made the capital of his kingdom, and where he built the church of the Holy Apostles, known later as the church of St Geneviève. By murdering the petty Frankish kings who reigned at Cambrai, Cologne and other residences, he became sole king of all the Frankish tribes. He died in 511.

Clovis was the true founder of the Frankish monarchy. He reigned over the Salian Franks by hereditary right; over the other Frankish tribes by reason of his kinship with their kings and by the choice of the warriors, who raised him on the shield; and he governed the Gallo-Romans by right of conquest. He had the Salic law drawn up, doubtless between the years 486 and 507; and seems to have been represented in the cities by a new functionary, the graf, comes, or count. He owed his success in great measure to his alliance with the church. He took the property of the church under his protection, and in 511 convoked a council at Orleans, the canons of which have come down to us. But while protecting the church, he maintained his authority over it. He intervened in the nomination of bishops, and at the council of Orleans it was decided that no one, save a son of a priest, could be ordained clerk without the king’s order or the permission of the count.

The chief source for the life of Clovis is the Historia Francorum (bk. ii.) of Gregory of Tours, but it must be used with caution. Among modern works, see W. Junghans, Die Geschichte der fränkischen Könige Childerich und Clodovech (Göttingen, 1857); F. Dahn, Urgeschichte der germanischen und romanischen Völker, vol. iii. (Berlin, 1883); W. Schultze, Deutsche Geschichte v. d. Urzeit bis zu den Karolingern, vol. ii. (Stuttgart, 1896); G. Kurth, Clovis (2nd ed., Paris, 1901).  (C. Pf.) 

  1. The story is as follows. The vase had been taken from a church by a Frankish soldier after the battle of Soissons, and the bishop had requested Clovis that it might be restored. But the soldier who had taken it refused to give it up, and broke it into fragments with his francisca, or battle-axe. Some time afterwards, when Clovis was reviewing his troops, he singled out the soldier who had broken the vase, upbraided him for the neglect of his arms, and dashed his francisca to the ground. As the man stooped to pick it up, the king clove his skull with the words: “Thus didst thou serve the vase of Soissons.”