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In the third quarter of the fifth century the most important of the Frankish chiefs of the Merovingian line was a prince of the Salians, named Childerich, who dwelt at Tournay, and ruled in the valley of the upper Scheldt. He died in 481, leaving his throne to his sixteen-year-old son and heir, a prince named Chlodovech or Chlodwig, who was destined to found the great Frankish kingdom, by extinguishing the other Frankish principalities, and conquering southern and central Gaul.
Such an event seemed most unlikely at the time of Chlodovech's accession, when the dominant power in the land was that of the fierce and able king Euric the Visigoth. It was Euric who had brought the Visigothic kingdom up to its largest extent, by driving the Sueves into a corner of Spain, conquering the last Roman provinces in central Gaul, and receiving Provence from the hands of Odoacer, king of Italy. He was the first Visigothic king to publish a code of laws, and would have left a good name in history but for his assassination of his brother Theodoric, and his persecutions of the Catholics.' Though not such an oppressor as the Vandals Gaiseric and Hunneric, he had made himself hated by refusing to allow the election of Catholic bishops, and by closing or handing over to his favourites, the Arians, many of the churches of the orthodox. Euric died in 485, just as Chlodovech was about to commence his conquering career in northern Gaul, a career which the Visigoth would probably have checked if a longer life had been granted him. He was succeeded by his son Alaric, a boy of only sixteen or seventeen years.
It was in the very year of Euric's death that Chlodovech, now aged twenty-one, set out on the first of his warlike expeditions. In company with his kinsman Ragnachar, king of Cambrai, he invaded the realm of the Roman patrician Syagrius. The Gaulish troops were unable to resist the onset of the Franks, and their leader, after a short struggle, abandoned his home, and fled for safety to the court of Alaric the Visigoth. The councillors of Alaric, either wishing to gratify their Teutonic neighbours, or fearing the event of a war while their king was yet so young, threw the patrician into bonds, chlodovech and sent him back to Chlodovech, who promptly jo, put him to death. The Seine valley and the 486. great towns of Soissons, Paris, Rouen, and Rheims now fell into the hands of the Frankish king, and, in the course of the next three years, he extended his power up to the Loire and boundary of Armorica, where the Romano-Celts of the extreme west still succeeded in holding out. Chlodovech took all the spoils for himself, none fell to his neighbours, the other kings of the Salian Franks. It was these princes who were next to feel the force of his arm. He picked quarrels with his kinsmen the kings of Cambrai and Térouanne, the one for not helping him against Syagrius, the other for claiming part of the spoil of the Roman, and slew them both, the one by treachery, the other in open battle. The remaining Merovingian princes of the Belgic plains soon shared their fate; then Chlodovech pressed eastward against the Ripuarian Franks, and conquered the Thoringi, their chief tribe, in the year 491 In a short time he had won all the Frankish kingdoms save that of his ally Sigebert the Lame, king of Köln. He remorselessly slew every prince of Meroving blood who fell into his hands, and did his best to exterminate all the rival lines. When he could find no more to kill, he is said to have made open lamentation that he was left alone in the world, and that the royal house of the Franks was threatened with extinction ; he then bade any kinsman who might yet survive come to him without fear. But it was cruelty, not remorse, that moved him, for his only object was to catch and slay any Meroving who might yet survive. His conquests in Ripuaria brought Chlodovech into touch with new neighbours, the Burgundians to the south, and the confederacy of the Alamanni to the east, along the Main and Neckar. With the first named he entered into friendly relations, and married Chrotechildis (Clotilde), niece of King Gundobad, in 492. The princess, unlike her uncle and most of her tribe, was a devout Catholic, and much was destined to chiedeyeen's follow from her alliance with the pagan Frank. wars with the With the Alamanni the relations of Chlodovech *** were from the first hostile; in fact, when he brought his frontier up to the middle Rhine, he was constrained to take up an already existing feud between the Ripuarians and their eastern neighbours. For several years he was engaged in a struggle with this confederacy, who held the east bank of the Rhine from Coblenz upwards, the valleys of the Main and Neckar, and all the Black Forest. At last, in 496, he got the better of them in a decisive battle—apparently near Strasburg—and forced the main body of the confederacy to do him homage and acknowledge him as over-lord... An obstinate remnant retired over the Rhine, and took refuge in Rhaetia under the protection of the great Theodoric, but all the rest became Frankish vassals. As a result of this war the Alamanni were driven southward out of the Main valley, which was seized and settled by Ripuarian settlers, and became a Frankish country under the name of East Francia, or Franconia. A suggestive legend and an important fact are connected with these campaigns of Chlodovech against the Alamanni. The ecclesiastic writers of the next century state that, in his decisive battle with the confederates, Chlodovech was driven back and almost routed. Then, recalling the words of his wife Chrotechildis, “who never ceased to persuade him that he should serve the true God,” that the Lord was the Lord of Hosts and the arbiter of battles, he cried aloud, “O Christ Jesu, I crave as a suppliant Thy glorious aid; and if Thou grantest me victory over these enemies I will believe in Thee, and be baptized in Thy name.’ At once the Alamanni began to give back, and the king obtained a complete triumph. Whether this was the manner of his conversion or not, it is at any rate certain that Chlodovech, on returning from his Alamannic campaign, had himself baptized at Rheims on
Christmas Day, 496. His sister and 3ooo of his warriors followed him to the font. Every reader of history knows the famous tale how Archbishop Remigius hailed the king with the words, “Bow thy neck Sigambrian, adore that which thou hast burnt, and burn that which thou hast adored.’ First among the converted Teutonic kings Chlodovech was received into the Catholic Church, and did not become an Arian like his neighbours. In this we may, no doubt, trace the influence of his orthodox queen Chrotechildis. The conse- conversion quences of his conversion to the orthodox of chlofaith were most important; he was the only **** Teutonic king who adopted the faith of his Roman subjects, and was therefore served by them, and more especially by their clergy, with a loyalty which no Goth, Vandal, or Burgundian prince could ever win. Not least among the causes of Chlodovech's easy triumphs and of the permanence of his kingdom may be reckoned his adherence to Catholicism. It cannot be said that the king's conversion made any favourable change in his character or his conduct. He still remained the cruel, unscrupulous, treacherous tyrant that he had always been. It will be seen that his last recorded action was an elaborate incitement to parricide followed by a horrid murder. Yet he was granted a measure of success that was refused to kings of far better disposition and far stronger intellect, such as Theodoric the Ostrogoth, or Ataulf the Visigoth. After their king's conversion the Franks, both Salian and Ripuarian, hastened to follow him to the fold of the Church, and in a single generation the old Frankish paganism disappeared. But, as with king so with people, the change was almost entirely superficial ; it is long before we trace the influence of any Christian graces on the ungodly and perfidious race of the Franks. After subduing the Alamanni, Chlodovech's next war was with the people of his wife's uncle, Gundobad, the king of Burgundy. He made a secret agreement with Godegisl, Gundobad's younger brother, to invade and divide the Burgundian realm. While the treacherous brother raised war in Helvetia, where he possessed an appanage, the king of the Franks attacked Gundobad from the front, and invaded the valley of the Saône. It appeared as if here, as well as in the lands farther north, Chlodovech would sweep all before him. The Burgundian king was beaten and driven out of Dijon, Lyons, and Valence into Avignon, the southernmost fortress of his realm, while his brother was made king by the Frank, and became his vassal. But, in the next year, Gundobad recovered all he had lost, slew Godegisl at Vienne, and drove the Franks out of Burgundy with such success that Chlodovech ere long made peace with him (501). But the next campaign of the Frankish king was one of far greater importance and success. He was set on trying his fortune against the young king of the Visigoths, whose personal weakness and unpopularity with his Roman subjects tempted him to an invasion of Aquitaine. It would seem that Chlodovech carefully chose as a casus belli the Arian persecutions of Alaric, who, like his father Euric, was a bad chlodovech master to his Catholic subjects. A first quarrel Xo, in 504 was composed by the great Theodoric, 507. who, as father-in-law of the Visigoth and brotherin-law of the Frank, could appeal with authority to each of the rivals. But in 507 Chlodovech declared war on the Visigoths. ‘I cannot bear,’ he said, ‘that those Arians should hold any part of Gaul. With God's aid we will go against them, and subdue their land beneath our sway.” Knowing the strength of the Visigothic realm, Chlodovech allied to himself for the struggle his old enemy Gundobad the Burgundian, and Sigebert of Köln, the last surviving Ripuarian king. Advancing from Paris Chlodovech crossed the Loire, and met the Visigoths and their king on the Campus Vocladensis, the plain of Vouglé, near Poictiers. Whether from cowardice, or from distrust of his own generalship, Alaric held back from fighting, but his army forced him to give battle. He attacked