The Sons of Clovis - Part V (S1: E13)

Thugs and Miracles: A History of France

23-02-2020 • 34 mins

Extra special thanks this week to Henry at the History of the British Isles podcast! Look for our interview together at:

This week we are going to turn our focus on the last two sons of Clovis, Childebert and Chlothar. And to be honest, I’m going to give Childebert pretty small billing in this episode, mainly due to the fact that many of his other exploits – such as being the mastermind of the execution of his nephews, his “adoption” of Theudebert, and his constant maneuvering to take advantage of the weakened positions of his brothers and co-rulers – has been sprinkled in throughout the rest of the narrative. What’s most important to remember about Childebert at this point is that a) he had no male heirs, and b) his enduring legacy to the Merovingian Dynasty was to build the church of St. Germain de Près, which still stands to this day in Paris’s 6th arrondissement.

So… Chlothar. This youngest son of Clovis lived a relatively long life, especially when compared with most of his brothers and his father. This is all the more impressive when one considers the sheer number of campaigns that Chlothar was involved in throughout his life. He came into his crown around the age of 14 in 511 and was engaged in wars in Burgundy alongside of his brothers on and off for the next 23 years, finally winning the territory when the Ostrogoths were unable to support the Burgundian king any longer due to the issues they were having in their territory. Chlothar fought alongside of his half-brother Theuderic in Thuringia, helping himself to a wife – Radegunda – while he campaigned. He also managed to evade assassination attempts by Theuderic while deployed into Germany. Chlothar fought in Hispania, modern-day Spain, alongside of Childebert in 542; however, according to historian Walter Perry, “The object of this invasion was simply predatory, the Franks soon after retired into Gaul with immense booty, and the Goths resumed possession of their devastated country.” With all of these conquests Chlothar expanded both his treasury and his borders, gaining holdings in various different areas, but much of these were scattered and disconnected. It was the childless death of Theudebald in 555 that brought Chlothar his greatest territorial advance.

Anyway, what do we make of the legacy of Chlothar, Childebert, and the other sons of Clovis ? There’s no doubt that they were every bit as ambitious as their father, and in most cases they were as successful as Clovis. However, with all of them, you can’t look at the successes without also looking at the costs they paid for victory. Chlodomir paid for his ambition with his own life, and in a way, with the life of his sons. Theuderic and Theudebald seemed to be the stronger candidates for the title of King of the Franks, but they weren’t able to overcome basically mortality to ever get to this prize, no matter their strength on the battlefield; ultimately, their line went down in history as quietly as Chlodomir’s. Finally, Chlothar and Childebert both seemed to realize that there was a balance to be repaid for all they did in perpetuating the Merovingian Dynasty and its holdings and, especially in the later years of their lives, appear to have worked with the Catholic clergy in an attempt to expunge their mortal records. While it would ultimately be between them and their Creator to decide how well they had atoned – or if atonement was even an option for their actions – it’s safe to say that their actions were certainly not forgotten by those left behind. As we’ll see in the following episodes, their ambition, greed and general internal fractiousness became a staple of this period, an example to follow rather than a lesson to be learned from. The sons of Clovis set the standard and direction which the next generation would be all too willing to follow.