Saint Clotilde: Frankish Queen and Saint

Queen Consort of Clovis I

St. Clotilda
St. Clotilda, illustration from Butler's Life of the Saints, 1886. The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images

Saint Clotilde Facts:

Known for: convincing her husband, Clovis I of the Franks, to convert to Roman Catholic Christianity rather than Arian Christianity, thus ensuring the French alliance with Rome and making Clovis I the first Catholic king of Gaul
Occupation: queen consort
Dates: about 470 - June 3, 545
Also known as: Clotilda, Clotildis, Chlothildis

Saint Clotilde Biography:

The main source we have for the life of Clotilde is Gregory of Tours, writing in the last half of the sixth century.

King Gondioc of Burgundy died in 473, and his three sons divided Burgundy. Chilperic II, father of Clotilde, ruled at Lyon, Gundobad at Vienne and Godegesil at Geneva.

In 493, Gundobad killed Chilperic, and Chilperic's daughter, Clotilde, fled to the protection of her other uncle, Godegesil. Soon after, she was proposed as a bride for Clovis, King of the Franks, who had conquered northern Gaul. Gundobad consented to the marriage.

Converting Clovis

Clotilde had been raised in the Roman Catholic tradition. Clovis was still a pagan, and planned to remain one, though Clotilde tried to persuade him to convert to her version of Christianity. Most of the Christians that were around his court were Arian Christians. Clotilde had their first child secretly baptized, and when that child, Ingomer, died shortly after birth, it strengthened Clovis' resolve not to convert. Clotilde had their second child, Chlodomer, baptized as well, and continued to try to persuade her husband to convert.

In 496, Clovis prevailed in a battle with a German tribe. Legend attributed the victory to Clotilda's prayers, and attributed Clovis' subsequent conversion to his success in that battle. He was baptized on Christmas Day, 496. That same year, Childebert I, their second son to survive was born. A third, Chlothar I, was born in 497.

Clovis's conversion also led to the forced conversion of his subjects to Roman Catholic Christianity.

A daughter, also named Clotilde, was also born to Clovis and Clotilde; she was later married to Amalric, king of the Visigoths, in an attempt to cement a peace between her husband's and her father's peoples.

Widowhood

On the death of Clovis in 511, their three sons and a fourth, Theuderic, Clovis' by a previous wife, inherited parts of the kingdom. Clotilde retired to the Abbey of St. Martin at Tours, though she did not withdraw from all involvement in public life.

In 523, Clotilde convinced her sons to go to war against her cousin, Sigismund, son of Gundobad who had killed her father. Sigismund was deposed, imprisoned and eventually killed. Then later Sigismund's heir, Godomar, killed Clotilde's son Chlodomer in a battle.

Theuderic got involved in a war in the Germanic Thuringia. Two brothers were fighting; Theuderic fought with the victor, Hermanfrid, who deposed his brother, Baderic. Then Hermanfrid refused to fulfill his treaty with Theuderic to share power. Hermanfrid also killed his brother Berthar and took Berthar's daughter and son as spoils of war and raised the daughter, Radegund, with his own son.

In 531, Childebert I went to war against his brother-in-law Amalaric, supposedly because Amalaric and his court, all Arian Christians, persecuted the younger Clotilde for her Roman Catholic beliefs. Childebert defeated and killed Amalaric, and the younger Clotilde was returning to Francia with his army when she died. She was buried at Paris.

Also in 531, Theuderic and Clothar returned to Thuringia, defeated Hermanfrid, and Clothar brought back Berthar's daughter, Radegund, to become his wife. Clothar had five or six wives, including his brother Chlodomer's widow. Two of Chlodomer's children were killed by their uncle, Chlothar, with a third child taking up a career in the church, so he would remain childless and not a threat to his ucle. Clotilde had tried unsuccessfully to protect Chlodomer's children from her other son.

Clotilde was also unsuccessful in her attempts to bring peace between her two surviving sons, Childebert and Chlothar. She retired more fully to a religious life and devoted herself to the building of churches and monasteries.

Death and Sainthood

Clotilde died about 544 and was buried next to her husband. Her role in her husband's conversion, and also her many religious works, led to her being canonized locally as a saint. Her feast day is June 3. She is often depicted with a battle in the background, representing the battle her husband won which led to his conversion.

Unlike those of many saints in France, her relics survived the French Revolution, and are today in Paris.

Background, Family:

  • Father: Chilperic II of Burgundy
  • Paternal uncles: Godegisel, Godomar, Gundobad
  • Paternal grandfather: Gondioc or Gundioch, King of Burgundy, who fought against Attila the Hun in France

Marriage, Children:

  • husband: Clovis I of the Salian Franks (about 466 - 511) - also known as Chlodowech, Chlodovechus or Chlodwig
  • sons:
    • Chlodomer (495 - 524)
    • Childebert (496 - 558)
    • Chlothar I (497 - 561)
  • daughter:
    • Clotilde, married Amalaric, King of the Visigoths
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Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Saint Clotilde: Frankish Queen and Saint." ThoughtCo, Mar. 12, 2017, thoughtco.com/saint-clotilde-bio-3529714. Lewis, Jone Johnson. (2017, March 12). Saint Clotilde: Frankish Queen and Saint. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/saint-clotilde-bio-3529714 Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Saint Clotilde: Frankish Queen and Saint." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/saint-clotilde-bio-3529714 (accessed November 22, 2017).