Saturday, 19 March 2016

Clovis, first King of France

Clovis, the first king of a united France, died on 27th November 511. Born in about 466, he was 15 or thereabouts when his father, king of the Salian Franks, died. This was a small kingdom centred on the town of Tournai, which is now in western Belgium. Clovis must therefore be included on the select list of “famous Belgians”.

King Clovis of France

Clovis was determined to expand the borders of his realm, and he did so in no uncertain style. By the time of his death, some 30 years later, his kingdom resembled an inverted “L” that incorporated much of present-day France, Belgium and northwest Germany.

His methods of conquest included cunning and brutality. He persuaded a prince named Chlodoric to murder his father, the king of the Rhineland Franks, with the promise that he would support Chlodoric as king. However, Chlodoric was immediately murdered on Clovis’s orders and the Rhineland became incorporated into Clovis’s empire.

When Clovis conquered his cousin Ragnacaire, the King of Cambrai, he executed the latter in person, on the grounds that Ragnacaire had tainted the family’s blood by allowing himself to be captured. Ragnacaire’s brother suffered the same fate for not coming to his brother’s rescue.

At the age of 30 Clovis married Clothilde, the daughter of the King of Burgundy. She was a Catholic who tried to convert Clovis to Christianity and only succeeded when Clovis uttered a swift prayer to get him out of a tight spot during a battle and it appeared to do the trick. Clovis then insisted that 3,000 of his troops should be baptized as well as himself.

The fact that he was now a Christian did not seem to make much difference to his ruthlessness. On one occasion a knight stole a vase from a church and refused to return it, even when Clovis demanded it on behalf of the local bishop. Instead, the knight smashed the vase with his axe. A year later, Clovis spotted the knight on a military parade and, in front of the assembled troops, smashed the knight’s head with an axe as payment for the vase.

It was Clovis who decided to make Paris the capital of his territories, as it was a good central location for his empire as it then stood. A derivation of his name, “Louis” was subsequently chosen by 18 later French kings.

© John Welford