Childéric - Crossing Worlds (S1: E3)

Thugs and Miracles: A History of France

29-09-2019 • 30 mins

Around 455CE, the Salian Franks of Belgica Secunda, an area that in modern times falls in and around Northern France and Belgium, were facing a crisis. They were fresh off of having helped to push Attila and his Huns out of Roman Gaul, and were generally gaining strength due to their military prowess and their ties to the Roman Empire; however, their leader, the great king Merovech – who as we discussed last time, was rumored to have been descended from the Roman gods themselves - had just died, leaving his young son Childéric in charge of the Franks. In a hereditary system where most elders die before the age of 50, having a very young leader in charge of a group of people was most certainly not out of place. But make no doubts about it, a 15-year-old king is an unknown quantity, and one should not be surprised if the new king allows his newfound power to go to his head. Well, this was the case with Childéric. He had been raised from birth to expect to wear the crown, and he had also been raised to learn that what he wants, he gets. And what Childéric wanted more than anything, at the testosterone-fueled age of 15, was to make time with every single girl who came near him. Of course, many of the Frankish leaders probably thought it was great, at least for a moment, that their daughter may be a tool for them to get close to their new king and the power he wielded. But after many, many of the daughters had been sent back home to their families, dishonored and no closer to wearing the crown of queen than before they spent the night with the king, the Franks got fed up.

Or did they?

Skewed histories and altered perceptions have given us this story of Childéric as a wanton defiler of young female Frankish virtue, penalized by his own people to live outside of the tribe for eight years until he could fix his lustful ways. In reality, it is much more likely that he was actually acting as a de facto Roman general during his eight years away from home; however, the story of a fallen king being given a second chance to redeem the wantonness and wickedness of his ways made for better allegorical reading.

No matter which story you believe, the end result is that Childéric spent from roughly 455-481 as the king of the Franks, laying the groundwork for his son Clovis to eventually take the reins of this small northern tribe and transform them into the preeminent military and cultural force in Western Europe. Childéric played a role similar to that of Phillip II of Macedonia almost a thousand years earlier, with both leaving an inheritance to their sons that would allow them to make incredible gains at a very young age and in a relatively short amount of time.

Besides a few great stories and an unimaginable inheritance for Clovis to capitalize on, Childéric's other great contribution to history was his grave, which was discovered in Tournai in the 17th century. This tomb, and the amazing artifacts therein, served to give us tangible proof of a king living in a time between two worlds. With an assortment of Roman artifacts mixed into a grave that would have made any Germanic chieftain proud, Childéric's legacy shows us how people in the 5th century made the transition from a Roman world to a new world wherein Rome was only a memory. Childéric touched both; he crossed worlds.