« PreviousContinue »
grandson of Merowig, who was born in the year 467. The original seat of this prince's government was Tournay in Flanders, but he exercised a disputed and precarious sovereignty over the northern districts of Gaul as far as Paris. In his fifteenth year, he succeeded his father Childeric, and five years later he had routed Syagrius, king of a neighbouring tribe, and made Soissons, the conquered capital, his own metropolis. An incident which happened immediately after the battle that put Clovis in possession of Soissons, well illustrates the small advance which the Franks had yet made toward à settled monarchy. The spoils of the conquered army were, as usual, heaped together to be divided by lot among the victors. It so happened that an elaborate and exquisite vase, one of the sacred vessels of a pillaged church, fell to the share of a private soldier. Clovis requested him to transfer it to himself. The soldier insolently refused, saying, that he only owed him allegiance on the field of battle, but that everywhere else they were equals; and raising his battle-axe, shivered the vase to atoms. The young king was compelled to bear the affront thus publicly put upon him. He did not forget it, however, for in the next engagement he rode up to the soldier, charged him with disobeying his orders, and ran him through the body with his sword.
It would be a tedious and useless task to narrate in detail the modes by wbich Clovis succeeded in ridding himself of his rivals and allies, and
obtaining possession of their dominions. A single incident, condensed from the prolix pages of Gregory of Tours, will do more to illustrate the character of the king and the age
than description. " When Clovis came to battle against Alaric, he had for an ally Cloderic the son of Sigbert. This Sigbert limped from a blow on the knee, which he had received at the battle of Tolbiac, fighting against the Germans. Clovis sent secretly to the son of Sigbert, saying, 'Your father is aged, and he limps with his bad leg ; if he should chance to die his kingdom and our friendship would be transferred from him to you.' 'Seduced by this prospect, Cloderic determined to kill his father. Not long after this, Sigbert having gone out of the town of Cologne, went into the neighbouring forest of Buconia, and there fell asleep in his tent. Whilst sleeping he was killed by assassins sent by his son for that purpose. But by the judgment of God, he fell into the grave he had dug for his father. He sent to king Clovis to announce what had happened. Clovis sent back this answer: 'I thank thee for thy good will, and pray thee to show thy father's treasures to my messengers, after which thou shalt possess chem all.' Cloderic thereupon showed the treasures to the deputies. As they were admiring them, the prince said, “This is the box in which my father used to keep his gold coins.' They replied, “ Reach thine hand down to the bottom of the box that we may see them all.' As he stooped low for this purpose,
one of them lifted up his axe and split open his skull. Then Clovis went to Cologne, and advised the people to put themselves under liis protection. They answered him by loud shouts, and having raised him upon their shields, made him their king, and gave to him the kingdom and treasures of Sigbert. Thus, every day," says his biographer, in a manner that shows how blunted were his perceptions of good and evil, “ God caused his enemies to fall before him, and augmented his kingdom, because he walked with an upright heart before the Lord, and did the things which were pleasing in his sight.” To this may be added an extract from the table of contents to Sismondi's “ Histoire des Français," which, though probably undesigned, has the effect of the keenest satire: “ Clovis wishes to kill all the rival kings of France. He has Sigbert and his son Cloderic assassinated. He has Cararic and his son put to death. Afterwards Ragnacair and his two brothers. He has all the other kings of France slain. The church considers whether he should be reckoned as a saint !"*
By such means as these Clovis speedily made himself acknowledged sole chief of the Salian Franks, and extended his authority over most of northern and central Gaul. His alliance was eagerly courted by the neighbouring princes, and he asked and gained in marriage Clotilda, niece of Gondebald, king of the Bur
In the body of his work, Sismondi affirms that he was actually canonized, together with his wife.
gundians.* She was a Christian princess, and Clovis, though a pagan, did not forbid her having their children baptized. The death of the first upon whom this rite was performed produced an unfavourable impression upon the king's mind, but by degrees he was so far won over by the influence of his wife and the exbortations of her chaplain Remigius, as to declare that he was willing to adopt her religion provided that he could have convincing proof of the power of her God. Soon afterwards, another of those confederacies which had been formed among the German tribes, and whose members had assumed the name of Allemanni, "all men," became jealous, and perhaps fearful of the growing power of the Franks. A war ensued, and the Allemanni had reached the Rhine, with the intention of marching into Gaul, when they were met by Clovis at Tolbiac. The battle hung long in suspense, and the Franks seemed on the point of receiving a total and ruinous defeat, when their leader remembered the God of the Christians, and the promise he had made Clotilda. In his distress he invoked His aid. The tide of battle turned, and Clovis remained master of the field. He was now more than ever disposed to listen to the entreaties of his queen and her chaplain, and invited the latter to give
* The name Burgundians, from Buhr Gunds, "allied warriors,” shows that they were like the Franks, a confederation of tribes. Those of Gonde Bald, “pacific above all,” and Clotilda, or Hlodo-hilda, “ brilliant and noble,” indicate that they had begun to appreciate the benefits of peace.
him fuller information as to the doctrines of the new religion. As Remigius proceeded to do so, he described with so much pathos the character and sufferings of Jesus, that the king started from his seat, and grasping his sword, cried out,
“ Would I had been there with my Franks, I would have avenged him.” He was soon, however, won to milder thoughts, and submitted to baptism. In this he was at once followed by three thousand of his warriors, and speedily the whole nation imitated the example of their chief. It is evident, however, that this conversion was little more than nominal, since long afterwards an image of Diana was worshipped at Treves.* And in the capitularies of Charlemagne, and even of the later Carlovingians, there occur frequent enactments against pagan rites and superstitions.
It is necessary to a due understanding of this era that we should inquire into the character and results of these hasty national conversions to the profession of Christianity, so common among the barbarians of that age.
In doing this, we must distinguish between what is direct and primary, and what is merely indirect and secondary in religion. In all that concerns the former of these, in true conversion to God, in the commencement of a new spiritual life, consisting of "righteousness, peace, and joy,
* There would seem to be something at Treves favourable to idolatry, since to this day one of the five coats-each of which has been pronounced by papal infallibility to be the one worn by our Lord at his crucifixion-is worshipped there by crowds of pilgrims, who cry, “Holy coat, pray for us."