The founder of the Merovingian dynasty of Frankish kings, Clovis defeated the last Roman ruler in Gaul and conquered various Germanic peoples in what is today France. His conversion to Catholicism (instead of the Arian form of Christianity practiced by many Germanic peoples) would prove a landmark development for the Frankish nation.
Clovis was the son of the Frankish king Childeric and the Thuringian queen Basina; he succeeded his father as ruler of the Salian Franks in 481. At this time he also had control of other Frankish groups around present-day Belgium. By the time of his death he had consolidated all the Franks under his rule. He took control of the Roman province of Belgica Secunda in 486, the territories of the Alemanni in 496, the lands of the Burgundians in 500, and portions of Visigothic territory in 507.
Although his Catholic wife Clotilda ultimately convinced Clovis to convert to Catholicism, he was interested for a time in Arian Christianity and was sympathetic to it. His own conversion to Catholicism was personal and not a mass conversion of his peoples (many of whom were already Catholic), but the event had a profound influence on the nation and its relationship to the papacy. Clovis convoked a national Church council at Orléans, in which he participated significantly.
The Law of the Salian Franks (Pactus Legis Salicae) was a written code that most likely originated during the reign of Clovis. It combined customary law, Roman law and royal edicts, and it followed Christian ideals. Salic Law would influence French and European law for centuries.
The life and reign of Clovis was chronicled by Bishop Gregory of Tours more than half a century after the death of the king. Recent scholarship has revealed some errors in Gregory's account, but it still stands as an important history and biography of the great Frankish leader.
The name Clovis would later evolve into the name "Louis," the most popular name for French kings.
Died: Nov. 27, 511
On the Web
Catholic Encyclopedia: Clovis
Fairly extensive biography by Godefroid Kurth.
The History of the Franks by Gregory of Tours
Abridged translation by Earnest Brehaut in 1916, made available online at Paul Halsall's Medieval Sourcebook.
The Conversion of Clovis
Two accounts of this significant event are offered at Paul Halsall's Medieval Sourcebook.
The Baptism of Clovis
Oil on panel from the Franco-Flemis Master of St. Giles, c. 1500. Click the image for a larger version.
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Clovis, King of the Franks
by John W. Currier
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