The Kingdom Of The Franks


Chlodwig, the Founder of the Merovingian Dynasty. --His Conversion to

Christianity. --His Successors. --Theuderich's Conquest of

Thuringia. --Union of the Eastern Franks. --Austria (or Austrasia)

and Neustria. --Crimes of the Merovingian Kings. --Clotar and his

Sons. --Sigbert's Successes. --His Wife, Brunhilde. --Sigbert's

Death. --Quarrel between Brunhilde and Fredegunde.
--Clotar II.

--Brunhilde and her Grandsons. --Her Defeat and Death. --Clotar

II.'s Reign. --King Dagobert. --The Nobles and the Church. --War

with the Thuringians. --Picture of the Merovingian Line. --A New



The history of Germany, from the middle of the sixth to the middle of

the ninth century, is that of France also. After having conducted them

to their new homes, we take leave of the Anglo-Saxons, the Visigoths and

the Longobards, and return to the Frank dynasty founded by Chlodwig,

about the year 500, when the smaller kings and chieftains of his race

accepted him as their ruler. In the histories of France, even those

written in English, he is called "Clovis," but we prefer to give him his

original Frank name. He was the grandson of a petty king, whose name was

Merovich, whence he and his successors are called, in history, the

Merovingian dynasty. He appears to have been a born conqueror, neither

very just nor very wise in his actions, but brave, determined and ready

to use any means, good or bad, in order to attain his end.

Chlodwig extinguished the last remnant of Roman rule in Gaul, in the

year 486, as we have related in Chapter VII. He was then only 20 years

old, having succeeded to the throne at the age of 15. Shortly afterwards

he married the daughter of one of the Burgundian kings. She was a

Christian, and endeavored, but for many years without effect, to induce

him to give up his pagan faith. Finally, in a war with the Alemanni, in

496, he promised to become a Christian, provided the God of the

Christians would give him victory. The decisive battle was long and

bloody, but it ended in the complete rout of the Alemanni, and

afterwards all of them who were living to the west of the Rhine became

tributary to the Franks.

[Sidenote: 511.]

Chlodwig and 3,000 of his followers were soon afterwards baptized in the

cathedral at Rheims, by the bishop Remigius. When the king advanced to

the baptismal font, the bishop said to him: "Bow thy head,

Sicambrian!--worship what thou hast persecuted, persecute what thou hast

worshipped!" Although nearly all the German Christians at this time were

Arians, Chlodwig selected the Athanasian faith of Rome, and thereby

secured the support of the Roman priesthood in France, which was of

great service to him in his ambitious designs. This difference of faith

also gave him a pretext to march against the Burgundians in 500, and the

Visigoths in 507: both wars were considered holy by the Church.

His conquest of the Visigoths was prevented, as we have seen, by the

interposition of Theodoric. He then devoted his remaining years to the

complete suppression of all the minor Frank kings, and was so successful

that when he died, in 511, all the race, to the west of the Rhine, was

united under his single sway. He was succeeded by four sons, of whom the

eldest, Theuderich, reigned in Paris; the others chose Metz, Orleans and

Soissons for their capitals. Theuderich was a man of so much energy and

prudence that he was able to control his brothers, and unite the four

governments in such a way that the kingdom was saved from dismemberment.

The mother of Chlodwig was a runaway queen of Thuringia, whose son,

Hermanfried, now ruled over that kingdom, after having deposed his two

brothers. The relationship gave Theuderich a ground for interfering, and

the result was a war between the Franks and the Thuringians. Theuderich

collected a large army, marched into Germany in 530, procured the

services of 9,000 Saxons as allies, and met the Thuringians on the river

Unstrut, not far from where the city of Halle now stands. Hermanfried

was taken prisoner, carried to France, and treacherously thrown from a

tower, after receiving great professions of friendship from his nephew,

Theuderich. His family fled to Italy, and the kingdom of Thuringia,

embracing nearly all Central Germany, was added to that of the Franks.

The northern part, however, was given to the Saxons as a reward for

their assistance.


Four years afterwards the brothers of Theuderich conquered the kingdom

of Burgundy, and annexed it to their territory. About the same time, the

Franks living eastward of the Rhine entered into a union with their more

powerful brethren. Since both the Alemanni and the Bavarians were

already tributary to the latter, the dominion of the united Franks now

extended from the Atlantic nearly to the river Elbe, and from the mouth

of the Rhine to the Mediterranean, with Friesland and the kingdom of the

Saxons between it and the North Sea. To all lying east of the Rhine, the

name of Austria (East-kingdom) or Austrasia was given, while Neustria

(New-kingdom) was applied to all west of the Rhine. These designations

were used in the historical chronicles for some centuries afterwards.

While Theuderich lived, his brothers observed a tolerably peaceful

conduct towards one another, but his death was followed by a season of

war and murder. History gives us no record of another dynasty so steeped

in crime as that of the Merovingians: within the compass of a few years

we find a father murdering his son, a brother his brother and a wife her

husband. We can only account for the fact that the whole land was not

constantly convulsed by civil war, by supposing that the people retained

enough of power in their national assemblies, to refuse taking part in

the fratricidal quarrels. It is not necessary, therefore, to recount all

the details of the bloody family history. Their effect upon the people

must have been in the highest degree demoralizing, yet the latter

possessed enough of prudence--or perhaps of a clannish spirit, in the

midst of a much larger Roman and Gallic population--to hold the Frank

kingdom together, while its rulers were doing their best to split it to


The result of all the quarrelling and murdering was, that in 558 Clotar,

the youngest son of Chlodwig, became the sole monarch. After forty-seven

years of divided rule, the kingly power was again in a single hand, and

there seemed to be a chance for peace and progress. But Clotar died

within three years, and, like his father, left four sons to divide his

power. The first thing they did was to fight; then, being perhaps rather

equally matched, they agreed to portion the kingdom. Charibert reigned

in Paris, Guntram in Orleans, Chilperic in Soissons, and Sigbert in

Metz. The boundaries between their territories are uncertain; we only

know that all of "Austria," or Germany east of the Rhine, fell to

Sigbert's share.

[Sidenote: 565.]

About this time the Avars, coming from Hungary, had invaded Thuringia,

and were inciting the people to rebellion against the Franks. Sigbert

immediately marched against them, drove them back, and established his

authority over the Thuringians. On returning home he found that his

brother Chilperic had taken possession of his capital and many smaller

towns. Chilperic was forced to retreat, lost his own kingdom in turn,

and only received it again through the generosity of Sigbert,--the first

and only instance of such a virtue in the Merovingian line of kings.

Sigbert seems to have inherited the abilities, without the vices, of his

grandfather Chlodwig. When the Avars made a second invasion into

Germany, he was not only defeated but taken prisoner by them.

Nevertheless, he immediately acquired such influence over their Khan, or

chieftain, that he persuaded the latter to set him free, to make a

treaty of peace and friendship, and to return with his Avars to Hungary.

In the year 568 Charibert died in Paris, leaving no heirs. A new strife

instantly broke out among the three remaining brothers; but it was for a

time suspended, owing to the approach of a common danger. The

Longobards, now masters of Northern Italy, crossed the Alps and began to

overrun Switzerland, which the Franks possessed, through their victories

over the Burgundians and the Alemanni. Sigbert and Guntram united their

forces, and repelled the invasion with much slaughter.

Then broke out in France a series of family wars, darker and bloodier

than any which had gone before. The strife between the sons of Clotar

and their children and grandchildren desolated France for forty years,

and became all the more terrible because the women of the family entered

into it with the men. All these Christian kings, like their father, were

polygamists: each had several wives; yet they are described by the

priestly chroniclers of their times as men who went about doing good,

and whose lives were "acceptable to God"! Sigbert was the only

exception: he had but one wife, Brunhilde, the daughter of a king of the

Visigoths, a stately, handsome, intelligent woman, but proud and


[Sidenote: 570. FAMILY WARS IN FRANCE.]

Either the power and popularity, or the rich marriage-portion, which

Sigbert acquired with Brunhilde, induced his brother, Chilperic, to ask

the hand of her sister, the Princess Galsunta of Spain. It was granted

to him on condition that he would put away all his wives and live with

her alone. He accepted the condition, and was married to Galsunta. One

of the women sent away was Fredegunde, who soon found means to recover

her former influence over Chilperic's mind. It was not long before

Galsunta was found dead in her bed, and within a week Fredegunde, the

murderess, became queen in her stead. Brunhilde called upon Sigbert to

revenge her sister's death, and then began that terrible history of

crime and hatred, which was celebrated, centuries afterwards, in the

famous Nibelungenlied, or Lay of the Nibelungs.

In the year 575, Sigbert gained a complete victory over Chilperic, and

was lifted upon a shield by the warriors of the latter, who hailed him

as their king. In that instant he was stabbed in the back, and died upon

the field of his triumph. Chilperic resumed his sway, and soon took

Brunhilde prisoner, while her young son, Childebert, escaped to Germany.

But his own son, Merwig, espoused Brunhilde's cause, secretly released

her from prison, and then married her. A war next arose between father

and son, in which the former was successful. He cut off Merwig's long

hair, and shut him up in a monastery; but, for some unexplained reason,

he allowed Brunhilde to go free. In the meantime Fredegunde had borne

three sons, who all died soon after their birth. She accused her own

step-son of having caused their deaths by witchcraft, and he and his

mother, one of Chilperic's former wives, were put to death.

Both Chilperic and his brother Guntram, who reigned at Orleans, were

without male heirs. At this juncture, the German chiefs and nobles

demanded to have Childebert, the young son of Sigbert and Brunhilde, who

had taken refuge among them, recognized as the heir to the Frankish

throne. Chilperic consented, on condition that Childebert, with such

forces as he could command, would march with him against Guntram, who

had despoiled him of a great deal of his territory. The treaty was made,

in spite of the opposition of Brunhilde, whose sister's murder was not

yet avenged, and the civil wars were renewed. Both sides gained or lost

alternately, without any decided result, until the assassination of

Chilperic, by an unknown hand, in 584. A few months before his death,

Fredegunde had borne him another son, Clotar, who lived, and was at once

presented by his mother as Childebert's rival to the throne.

[Sidenote: 597.]

The struggle between the two widowed queens, Brunhilde and Fredegunde,

was for a while delayed by the appearance of a new claimant, Gundobald,

who had been a fugitive in Constantinople for many years, and declared

that he was Chilperic's brother. He obtained the support of many

Austrasian (German) princes, and was for a time so successful that

Fredegunde was forced to take refuge with Guntram, at Orleans. The

latter also summoned Childebert to his capital, and persuaded him to

make a truce with Fredegunde and her adherents, in order that both might

act against their common rival. Gundobald and his followers were soon

destroyed: Guntram died in 593, and Childebert was at once accepted as

his successor. His kingdom included that of Charibert, whose capital was

Paris, and that of his father, Sigbert, embracing all Frankish Germany.

But the nobles and people, accustomed to conspiracy, treachery and

crime, could no longer be depended upon, as formerly. They were

beginning to return to their former system of living upon war and

pillage, instead of the honest arts of peace.

Fredegunde still held the kingdom of Chilperic for her son Clotar. After

strengthening herself by secret intrigues with the Frank nobles, she

raised an army, put herself at its head, and marched against Childebert,

who was defeated and soon afterwards poisoned, after having reigned only

three years. His realm was divided between his two young sons, one

receiving Burgundy and the other Germany, under the guardianship of

their grandmother Brunhilde. Fredegunde followed up her success, took

Paris and Orleans from the heirs of Childebert, and died in 597, leaving

her son Clotar, then in his fourteenth year, as king of more than half

of France. He was crowned as Clotar II.

Death placed Brunhilde's rival out of the reach of her revenge, but she

herself might have secured the whole kingdom of the Franks for her two

grandsons, had she not quarrelled with one and stirred up war between

them. The first consequence of this new strife was that Alsatia and

Eastern Switzerland were separated from Neustria, or France, and

attached to Austria, or Germany. Brunhilde, finding that her cause was

desperate, procured the assistance of Clotar II. for herself and her

favorite grandson, Theuderich. The fortune of war now turned, and before

long the other grandson, Theudebert, was taken prisoner. By his

brother's order he was formally deposed from his kingly authority, and

then executed: the brains of his infant son were dashed out against a


[Sidenote: 613. MURDER OF BRUNHILDE.]

It was not long before this crime was avenged. A quarrel in regard to

the division of the spoils arose between Theuderich and Clotar II. The

former died in the beginning of the war which followed, leaving four

young sons to the care of their great-grandmother, the queen Brunhilde.

Clotar II. immediately marched against her, but, knowing her ability and

energy, he obtained a promise from the nobles of Burgundy and Germany

who were unfriendly to Brunhilde, that they would come over to his side

at the critical moment. The aged queen had called her people to arms,

and, like her rival, Fredegunde, put herself at their head; but when the

armies met, on the river Aisne in Champagne, the traitors in her own

camp joined Clotar II. and the struggle was ended without a battle.

Brunhilde, then eighty years old, was taken prisoner, cruelly tortured

for three days, and then tied by her gray hair to the tail of a wild

horse and dragged to death. The four sons of Theuderich were put to

death at the same time, and thus, in the year 613, Clotar II. became

king of all the Franks. A priest named Fredegar, who wrote his

biography, says of him: "He was a most patient man, learned and pious,

and kind and sympathizing towards every one!"

Clotar II. possessed, at least, energy enough to preserve a sway which

was based on a long succession of the worst crimes that disgrace

humanity. In 622, six years before his death, he made his oldest son,

Dagobert, a boy of sixteen, king of the German half of his realm, but

was obliged, immediately afterwards, to assist him against the Saxons.

He entered their territory, seized the people, massacred all who proved

to be taller than his own two-handed sword, and then returned to France

without having subdued the spirit or received the allegiance of the bold

race. Nothing of importance occurred during the remainder of his reign;

he died in 628, leaving his kingdom to his two sons, Dagobert and

Charibert. The former easily possessed himself of the lion's share,

giving his younger brother only a small strip of territory along the

river Loire. Charibert, however, drove the last remnant of the Visigoths

into Spain, and added the country between the Garonne and the Pyrenees

to his little kingdom. The name of Aquitaine was given to this region,

and Charibert's descendants became its Dukes, subject to the kings of

the Franks.

[Sidenote: 628.]

Dagobert had been carefully educated by Pippin of Landen, the Royal

Steward of Clotar II., and by Arnulf, the Bishop of Metz. He had no

quality of greatness, but he promised to be, at least, a good and just

sovereign. He became at once popular with the masses, who began to long

for peace, and for the restoration of rights which had been partly lost

during the civil wars. The nobles, however, who had drawn the greatest

advantage from those wars, during which their support was purchased by

one side or the other, grew dissatisfied. They cunningly aroused in

Dagobert the love of luxury and the sensual vices which had ruined his

ancestors, and thus postponed the reign of law and justice to which the

people were looking forward.

In fact, that system of freedom and equality which the Germanic races

had so long possessed, was already shaken to its very base. During the

long and bloody feuds of the Merovingian kings, many changes had been

made in the details of government, all tending to increase the power of

the nobles, the civil officers and the dignitaries of the Church.

Wealth--the bribes paid for their support--had accumulated in the hands

of these classes, while the farmers, mechanics and tradesmen, plundered

in turn by both parties, had constantly grown poorer. Although the

external signs of civilization had increased, the race had already lost

much of its moral character, and some of the best features of its

political system.

There are few chronicles which inform us of the affairs of Germany

during this period. The Avars, after their treaty of peace with Sigbert,

directed their incursions against the Bavarians, but without gaining any

permanent advantage. On the other hand, the Slavonic tribes, especially

the Bohemians, united under the rule of a renegade Frank, whose name was

Samo, and who acquired a part of Thuringia, after defeating the Frank

army which was sent against him. The Saxons and Thuringians then took

the war into their own hands, and drove back Samo and his Slavonic

hordes. By this victory the Saxons released themselves from the payment

of an annual tribute to the Frank kings, and the Thuringians became

strong enough to organize themselves again as a people and elect their

own Duke. The Franks endeavored to suppress this new organization, but

they were defeated by the Duke, Radulf, nearly on the same spot where,

just one hundred years before, Theuderich, the son of Chlodwig, had

crushed the Thuringian kingdom. From that time, Thuringia was placed on

the same footing as Bavaria, tributary to the Franks, but locally



King Dagobert, weak, swayed by whatever influence was nearest, and

voluptuous rather than cruel, died in 638, before he had time to do much

evil. He was the last of the Merovingian line who exercised any actual

power. The dynasty existed for a century longer, but its monarchs were

merely puppets in the hands of stronger men. Its history, from the

beginning, is well illustrated by a tradition current among the people,

concerning the mother of Chlodwig. They relate that soon after her

marriage she had a vision, in which she gave birth to a lion (Chlodwig),

whose descendants were wolves and bears, and their descendants, in turn,

frisky dogs.

Before the death of Dagobert--in fact, during the life of Clotar II.--a

new power had grown up within the kingdom of the Franks, which gradually

pushed the Merovingian dynasty out of its place. The history of this

power, after 638, becomes the history of the realm, and we now turn from

the bloody kings to trace its origin, rise and final triumph.