Queen Clotilde of the Franks

As I was researching the invasions of the Germanic tribes, several resources mentioned Clotilde of Burgundy.  Though she was mentioned only in passing, she struck me as a woman who would have lived a very intriguing life.

Princess Clotilde was born in 475 AD at the Burgundian court at Lyon.  She was born into a world of political upheaval and religious controversy, where democracy of the empire was on the verge of fading and the feudal system of the middle ages had yet to emerge.  Kings were warriors, kingdoms were battlefields and women were pawns in a worldwide game of domination.

Little is said about Clotilde’s Early  life.  She was the eldest daughter of Chilperic the II, raised Roman Catholic in a society that had adopted Arian Christianity.  She did not live the life of a pampered princess.  The days of chivalry and knights in shining armor were centuries in the future.  Clotilde had responsibilities in her home as well as the duties of a woman of royal birth.  She would have had her struggles as well as hopes and fears as she grew from a child to an adolescent to a young woman in the turbulent years that followed the fall of the Roman Empire.

Whatever her life had been growing up, tragedy struck and sent her headlong into the dawning of a new age.

In 493 AD, when Clotilde was still in her teens, her uncle, Gundobad, murdered her parents and ascended her fathers throne.  Orphaned and mourning the loss of their parents, Clotilde and her sister Chrona fled nearly a hundred miles from Lyons to Geneva.  There Chrona sought refuge in the solace of a convent and Clotilda was taken into the home of another uncle, Godegisel.  Clotilde’s future did not remain uncertain for long.  Rumors of her beauty, talent and wisdom spread across the kingdoms of Gaul and into the ears of the most eligible bachelor on the continent.

At 27 years old, King Clovis I had already united most of the Frankish kingdoms of Gaul and defeated the last remaining Roman ruler of the Western Roman Empire.  He was a formidable warrior, strong, powerful and intelligent, an amazing catch for any barbarian woman.  By all accounts the marriage was one of political motivation, the couple never having met until the nuptials were arranged, but I would like to think that a union between a beautiful barbarian princess and a legendary warlord would be quite a passionate affair.  Unfortunately there are no historical references about their personal relationship.

Whatever her relationship with her new husband, Clotilde had many challenges to face in her new home.  She was far away from friends or family, except for any servants she may have brought along, and belonged to a religious minority.  But, she was a strong woman.  She had her faith and she had her new position as Queen of the Franks.

Devoted to her Roman Catholic, Clotilde was determined that her new, pagan husband would convert.  Clovis was not cooperative.  When their first son died in infancy, shortly after being baptized, he was even more adamantly against the the Roman Catholic Church.  Clotilde did not give up.  She continued to practice her religion, have her children baptized and try to convince her husband to change his faith.

Clotilde’s hopes of her husband converting were finally realized a couple of years later.  In a fierce and unsuccessful war against the Alenmeni kingdom Clovis ran out of patience with his pagan gods and, as a last resort, turned to Clotilde’s  God for aid.  The battle turned to his favor and Clovis was victorious.  He was soon baptized into the Roman Catholic church, as were many of his soldiers and subjects.  By all accounts, Clotilde’s influence was a large part of the conversation of Clovis.  He became the first of the barbarian kings to convert to Catholicism thus gaining the a strong alliance and support of the church.

The next several years were relatively quiet for Clotilde.  The royal family began to grow as Clotilde gave birth to four more children, Chlodomer, Childebert, Clothair and finally a daughter, Clotilde.  Her husband continued to expand his empire, now with the backing of the Roman Catholic church.  Over the years Clotilde  watched her sons grow into men that would someday rule their own kingdoms and her daughter become a young woman destined to be a queen.  Fate did not have happy  endings in store for this new generation, but in their early years there was hope and potential for greatness.

King Clovis I died in 511, leaving Clotilde a widow at the age of 36  With three  sons  still in their teens and the younger Clotilde  barely an adolescent.  The loss of Clovis was deeply felt.  His kingdom was divided by the Frankish laws of inheritance, with Chlodomer, Childebert, Clothair and their half brother Theodoric each inheriting roughly one fourth.

Clotilde did not stay to help her sons rule. Instead she chose to withdraw from court life, retreating to the abbey of St. Martins in Tours.  There she dedicated her life more fully to religious and charitable pursuits.  Her reputation for kindness and charity grew and she continued to influence many.

The following years were not easy.  Clotilde was preceded in death by her oldest son (killed during a war with her native Burgundy), her daughter (died of unknown causes very shortly after escaping from her abusive husband) and two young grandsons (murdered by their uncles, the two younger sons of Clotilde).  She spent her her life assisting the Roman Catholic religion advance throughout the Frankish kingdoms, funding funded the building of churches, monasteries and schools.  Clotilde passed away near the age of 80 and buried beside her husband at the Church of St. Peter in Paris.

Queen Clotilde of the Franks was venerated as a saint for her role in converting Clovis and his kingdom, and and for the charity she performed throughout her life.  St. Clotilde is the patron saint of queens, brides, widows, and exiles.   Her descendants ruled the Frankish Kingdoms for over two hundred years.


  • Clovis’ first son, Theodoric was with a previous wife or concubine.
  • During this time period it was customary to split a kingdom between all male children instead of only the oldest child succeeding.  This was the case in Burgundy, where the kingdom was split between Clotilde’s father and uncles and in Gaul where the kingdom was split between all four of Clotilde’s sons.  The practice tended to cause a lot of contention.
  • Dates of events are approximate.  I found several discrepancies during the research process and have used the most agreed upon information available.
  • The most comprehensive information about St. Clotilde, her family and her contemporaries comes from Gregory of Tours.  Though his contribution has been invaluable, it is now believed that he wrote with bias toward the Frankish royal family and the Roman Catholic.







Who Are All These People and Where did Come From?

I assume I am not the only one who is completely baffled by the chaotic mess of invasions leading into the Dark Ages.  I believe that some of the confusion lies in the fact that Germanic tribes, and other early groups, tend to be mentioned as loose collectives in regards to the Fall of Rome or the rise of the Middle Ages.  My goal has been to take a look at these different groups individually in order to better understand their role in the development of Medieval Europe, specifically, England and France.

These “Barbarian” tribes moved to and from countries that no longer exist, switched alliances several times and often split, going in different directions.  The list I have compiled is by know means comprehensive.  There were many other groups that played their part in the downfall of Rome, many of them eventually merged with the more dominant groups, others were completely destroyed.



This map is a decent example of the migrations during this time period.  However, like my own research, it is not comprehensive, though it does give us a good general idea of how the Germanic and Scandinavian tribes moved into France (Gaul) and England (Britannia).

Britannia was a fairly new acquisition for Rome and its hold there had always been a little looser than in other regions.  For this reason I  have included some of the pre-Roman people of Britannia in my list.

Celts:  These people- or rather, groups of people- originally migrated to the British Isles from across the English Channel  during the Iron age.  The Celts in Britain were fierce warrior tribes, with similar language, culture and religion, but they were not a cohesive society.  Because of this lack of unity, Rome was easily able to invade and control them.  However, while under Roman rule they seemed to keep their Celtic identity while also becoming Romanized.  When Rome fell they reverted back to paganism and fighting with each other.  In the Fifth century they were taken over by the Scandinavian Angles, Saxons and Jutes, who almost completely wiped them out.  The remnants of the Celts were driven into Wales and Cornwall.



Picts:  Fierce warriors, from the region that would someday be Scotland.  They successfully defended most of their lands against Rome and Anglo-Saxon invasions.  When Rome pulled out of Britain, the Picts took advantage of the lack of defense along the borders, raiding into the northern territories of Britannia.  It has been suggested that  the Celtic people of Britain recruited help from the Angles and the Saxon’s to repel them. Overtime the Pict culture merged with that of the Gaelic Scots who had moved into the southwest are of Scotland.


Scots/Scoti:  Gaelic people originating from Ireland, who migrated into southern Scotland around 400 AD.  Their population was much smaller than their Pict neighbors but they managed to hold their own.  The Scots and Picts alternated between fighting each other and allying themselves against common enemies.  Eventually the two cultures merged into the medieval Scottish culture we are more familiar with.


Saxons: They came from the northern coast of Germany and the Netherlands, raiding the coastlines of Britannia and Gaul.  When Rome abandoned  Britannia, they moved right in, settling in what are now the counties of Wessex, Sussex and Essex, in southern Britain.  Some groups of Saxons also made migrations into Gaul where they eventually were absorbed by the Franks


Angles: Originating from the southern Denmark/ northern Germany, these tribes crossed the English Channel  during the 5th century.  They made their homes in the Northern Britain, creating the regions of Northumbria, Mercia and East Anglia.  When these kingdoms were conquered by new waves of Danish vikings in the 9th century, the Saxons came to their aid.  The two societies eventually merged into one Anglo-Saxon culture that became dominant until the conquest of Normandy.


Jutes: From the northern coasts of Denmark the Jutes migrated into the southern part of Britain during the 5th century.  They settled in Kent, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.  There counties were eventually absorbed by the larger, more powerful, Anglo Saxon countries.

Many of the Germanic tribes that “invaded” Gaul began as federati of Rome, refugees that were granted their own land in return for alliances and military assistance.  Many of the leaders of the Franks, Burundians, Visigoths, Vandals, etc.,  held high positions in the Roman army.

Visigoths:  The Visigoths were farmers, peacefully settled in the Romanian region until they were attacked by the Huns and forced southward into Gaul.  As refugees they were granted federati status until they revolted due to poor treatment by the Romans.  They were granted federati status a second time under a new Emperor and were given the area that what would someday be Aquitaine.   Once they were firmly settled they declared themselves an independent kingdom.


Burgundians:  Originating from Poland these people were also forced into Roman Gaul as refugees trying to escape the path of the mighty Huns.  They allied themselves with Rome against the Franks for as long as they could hold out, but were eventually defeated and became part of the Frankish empire in the early 6th century.


Franks:  Several different tribes that migrated into northern Gaul and created separate kingdoms.  They allied with Rome against the Huns and other enemies.  When Rome began to crumble they united into one kingdom under Clovis I, defeated the last Roman army left in Gaul and proceeded to conquer the remaining barbarian tribes becoming the dominant people of Gaul by the mid-6th century.



Ostrogoths:   From north of the Baltic Sea the Ostrogoths were driven into the Roman Empire after invasions by the Huns.  They began as Federates to Rome but, as the Empire began to falter, the Ostrogoths moved into Italy and established their own independent Kingdom. After a long and devastating war with the Byzantine Empire, the Ostrogoths lost Italy and were driven into extinction.


Vandals:  The Vandals fleeing westward from the Huns , rampaged through Gaul, settled in Spain for a short time then moved into North Africa were they continued to ravage the Mediterranean Coast.  In 535ish they were completely destroyed by the Byzantine’s.


Lombards:  This group of Germanic people migrated into Italy after the devastating War between the Byzantines and the Ostrogoths.




In the end, when the dust settled and the victors emerged, Gaul had become united under the Frankish Merovingian kings and Britain had broken into a group of independent countries ruled by Anglo-Saxon Kings.  A sense of national identity began to replace tribal affiliation , the economy starts to get back on its feet and Christianity has spread across western Europe.

The journey through the middle ages will not be an easy one, but the people who live through it are tough, determined and intelligent.  They will leave a lasting legacy of innovation, technology and learning, that though often overlooked by future eras, will leave a foundations for future generations to build upon.


Darkness Emerges

bignor mosaic west sussex
Roman mosaic tiles from a villa found on an estate is west Sussex.
Pont_du_Gard_Oct_2007, france
Ponte du Gard, Roman Aqueduct in southern France.

Describing the Roman Empire is beyond my current abilities. Needless to say, the Roman Empire was enormous, stretching from southern Egypt, across the Mediterranean and into northern Britain. But, what makes the Roman Empire so amazing is how well organized and technologically advanced it was.

Rome built roads, aqueducts, bathhouses, and villas, some of which are still standing today. Roman citizens had running water, heated baths and heating and cooling systems in their homes. They had a well organized government (Generally speaking. It ended up falling apart towards the end.) and a well trained military to keep everything in check. When Rome finally fell apart, all of these things fell with it.

What was once the mighty Western Empire of Rome was left to a handful of barbarian tribes. For the first time in their histories, the Anglos, Saxons, Franks, Visigoths, Vandals, etc., Tried to make a go of settling down and learning to become civilized. They had a rough start.

In the shadows of what was once one of the greatest empires ever known a new way of life emerged. Enlightened thinkers of the renaissance termed it the Dark Ages for its lack of education, science, fine arts and forward thinking. It was a time of struggle for survival and control , with many different factions vying for supremacy.

Rival tribes fought brutally against each other striving for a position of power.
Foreign invaders ravaged coasts, sometimes claiming the land for their own. The people scraped thier livelihood out of the earth with only their bare hands and the simplest of tools. It was a turbulent world of hardship and violence.

Like steel from the hottest forge, the harsh landscape of the Dark Ages cultivated a strong and determined people. From the ashes of Viking raids and the wreckage of bloody battlefields, mighty men and women rose up against the odds, heroes were made and legends were born.