The Sons of Clovis - Part I (S1: E9)

Thugs and Miracles: A History of France

22-12-2019 • 29 mins

This week we’re going to explore what exactly happened after Clovis’s ended his 30-year reign and passed the torch to his sons Theuderic, Chlothar, Chlodomir and Childebert.

Theuderic was Clovis’s oldest child by nearly a decade. He was born around 487, just a year or so after his father led his army to victory against Syagrius in Soissons. Not much is mentioned about his birth or his childhood except that Gregory refers to his mother as a “concubine” who had had a child with Clovis prior to him having met Clotilde. Well, Theuderic grew up tall and he grew up right, and by the age of twenty he went on campaign with his father in Vouillé. Following Clovis’s victory against Alaric in the main event, he sent his son to clean up in Visigothic areas to the east of the battle. According to Gregory, Theuderic “went, and brought under his father's dominion the cities from the boundaries of the Goths to the limit of the Burgundians.”

As a result of all of this, Theuderic had a commanding lead over his half-brothers when it came time to determine the line of succession for their father. Clotilde’s three boys ranged in age from 14-16 years old at Clovis’s death, and would have had little, if any, military experience by this point. Although it’s possible that Clotilde may have tried to push her own children to the head of the line of succession, their status as minors, Theuderic’s claim as the first-born, and his military success alongside of his father guaranteed he would in no way be passed over. When all was said and done, a strong argument can be made that Clotilde did well to barter for as much as she was able to get for her boys.

In the end, Clotilde was willing to bide her time and wait for an opportunity to push the career of all three of her sons. This event came about when myriad considerations came together to make an attack on Burgundy politically advantageous. Clotilde was not new to the political scene of this time and would have received an education both from the tragic events of her youth and from having been in Clovis’s presence for nearly two decades. She would have known the geography and she would have known the general location of her threats, her stepson included. She would have had all sorts of intelligence indicating for her that now was the time, and as a mother wanting to set her children up for success, she likely would have pushed them to move fast and hard. She may even have used a little Catholic mother guilt to get the job done, but what I find extremely unlikely is that she simply cried and wailed due to her “ungovernable passions” in an attempt to get her kids to avenge the deaths of her parents some thirty years prior. To believe otherwise is to rob Clotilde of her agency, and she showed on multiple other occasions in Gregory’s writings that she was intelligent, pious and headstrong.