Clovis - The First King: Legacy (S1: E8)

Thugs and Miracles: A History of France

08-12-2019 • 35 mins

Clovis never passed a day in his life as King without thinking about how he could expand his Kingdom and provide loot and booty to the lieutenants he trusted to burnish his hold on power. However, Clovis was pragmatic enough to sense that there were times when he could get more by using his brain rather than his brawn. The most obvious example of this is his conversion to Catholicism, but that wasn’t his only moment of inspired intelligence. He planted the seed of patricide in his rival Clodéric’s mind, leading to the downfall of both Clodéric and his father; he convinced another king's chiefs that he was a better King, leading them to turn their back on their boss and hand the kingdom to Clovis; and he never forgot a slight, real or imagined, and used these as justifications for power grabs.

Once Clovis had his Kingdom, he solidified his hold on it; to do this, Clovis went down three paths. The first of these was the construction of The Church of the Holy Apostles, a project designed to simultaneously show the King’s great piety and his great wealth. The second path was the writing of the Salic Law, bringing Clovis's domain under his written control. And the third path was the First Council of Orléans in 511. This Council established a strong link between the Crown and the Catholic episcopate, with one its main tenets being "the obligation of the approval of the king and of the local civil authority for priestly ordinations."

Clovis is said to have died on 27 November 511. He had done about as much in 30 years as could be expected of any 15-year-old who was handed the keys to the kingdom. It would be easy to sit back and say that Clovis was barbaric, that he was lied and cheated and relied on brute force. But to do so would be to overlook the fact that Clovis was actually very intelligent. He responded to the times in which he lived with the level of force and the attitude of realpolitik necessary to ensure that he not only survived, but thrived. He was the right person, in the right place, at the right time to take advantage of the situation that presented itself.

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