Biography of Clovis, Founder of the Merovingian Dynasty

Clovis I
Public Domain

Frankish King Clovis (466-511) was the First Merovingian.

Fast Facts: Clovis

  • Known For: Uniting several Frankish factions and founding the Merovingian dynasty of 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.
  • Also Known As: Chlodwig, Chlodowech
  • Born: c. 466
  • Parents: Clovis was the son of the Frankish king Childeric and the Thuringian queen Basina
  • Died: Nov. 27, 511
  • Spouse: Clotilda

Occupations

  • King
  • Military Leader

Places of Residence and Influence

  • Europe
  • France

Important Dates

  • Became the ruler of Salian Franks: 481
  • Takes Belgica Secunda: 486
  • Marries Clotilda: 493
  • Incorporates territories of the Alemanni: 496
  • Gains control of Burgundian lands: 500
  • Acquires parts of Visigothic land: 507
  • Baptized as a Catholic (traditional date): Dec. 25, 508

About Clovis

Clovis 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 were 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.

Clovis died in 511. His kingdom was divided among his four sons: Theuderic (born to a pagan wife before he wed Clotilda), and his three sons by Clotilda, Chlodomer, Childebert, and Chlotar.

The name Clovis would later evolve into the name "Louis," the most popular name for French kings.

Clovis Resources

Clovis in Print

  • Clovis, King of the Franks by John W. Currier
  • Biography from Ancient Civilizations by Earle Rice Jr.

Clovis on the Web