This painting, by the French artist Antoine Gros (c. 1771-1835), depicts the Frankish power couple of King Clovis (r. 481-511/513) and his formidable wife, Queen Clotilde. Mighty King Clovis was the Merovingian Dynasty warlord who spread Frankish power to encompass most of France. Clotilde, before becoming queen of the Franks, had been the granddaughter of King Gundioc of the Burgundians. Upon the old Burgundian ruler’s death, the lands of Burgundy were split between Gundioc’s four sons: Chilperic (Clotilde’s father), Gundomar, Godigisel and Gundobad. The partition between the brothers, however, ended in bloodshed and civil war. By the time Clotilde had married Clovis in 493, she was already orphaned by the savage intrigue of Burgundian politics. In a ruthless power grab, Clotilde’s uncle, Gundobad, killed Clotilde’s mother and father. Clotilde understandably favored her uncle, Godigisel, over her other surviving uncle, Gundobad, and Clotilde succeeded in convincing her husband, Clovis, to offer some support to Godigisel in the Burgundian civil wars. Clovis’ brief help, however, did not stop Gundobad from ultimately slaying Godigisel and becoming the sole King of Burgundy. Queen Clotilde, besides bringing Burgundian politics into King Clovis’ household, also brought with her the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. Clovis eventually decided to join his wife in adhering to Rome’s religious ways. Traditionally, Clovis’ baptism is dated to the year 496, soon after a military campaign against the Alemanni. Nevertheless, this traditional date has been contested, and proposals have been made to push the date of the baptism to a later period in King Clovis’ reign. Queen Clotilde’s last remaining uncle, King Gundobad of Burgundy, also eventually began following the Roman Catholic Church. After King Clovis died, Clotilde watched as the Frankish realm became divided and war-torn as her four ambitious sons jostled for power and territory. Queen Clotilde managed to keep a presence on the increasingly-hostile political stage of the Frankish Empire until she withdrew herself from affairs of state in 531 to focus on religion and public works. She died in 548.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
- The History of the Franks by Gregory of Tours, translated by Lewis Thorpe. New York: Penguin Classics, 1971.