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Clovis I

Clovis I (klōˈvĭs) [key], c.466–511, Frankish king (481–511), son of Childeric I and founder of the Merovingian monarchy. Originally little more than a tribal chieftain, he became sole leader of the Salian Franks by force of perseverance and by murdering a number of relatives. In 486 he defeated the Roman legions under Syagrius at Soissons, virtually ending Roman domination over Gaul. He then subdued the Thuringians. After his marriage (493) to the Burgundian princess Clotilda, a Catholic, he had his children baptized but was not immediately converted himself. He is said to have invoked the Christian God while locked in battle with the Alemanni in the late 490s. He defeated them and two years later converted, having been persuaded by Clotilda and St. Remi (also known as Remigius), bishop of Reims, who baptized him, reputedly along with 3,000 supporters. Thereafter Clovis was the champion of orthodox Christianity against the Arian heretics, the Burgundians, and the Visigoths. He attacked the Burgundians (500) at Dijon and the Visigoths (507) under Alaric II at Vouillé. When he died, he was master of most of Gaul—except Burgundy, Gascony, Provence, and Septimania—and of SW Germany. Shortly before his death he probably had the Salian Law revised and put into writing. Clovis united all Franks under his rule, gained the support of the Gallic clergy, made Paris his base of operations, and extended his conquests into Germany. He thus laid the foundation, which even 400 years of chaos and misrule could not destroy, of the French monarchy and foreshadowed the conquests of Charlemagne. He was succeeded by his four sons, Theodoric I, Clodomir, Childebert I, and Clotaire I.

See the history of Gregory of Tours; F. Lot, The End of the Ancient World and the Beginnings of the Middle Ages (1927; tr. 1953, repr. 1961); E. James, The Origins of France: Clovis and the Capetians, A.D. 500–1000 (1982); P. J. Geary Before France and Germany (1988).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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