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Frankish History: Clovis and the Merovingians

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  • 0:05 Introduction to Clovis
  • 1:17 Unification of the Franks
  • 2:15 Conversion to Catholicism
  • 3:47 Cultural Advancements
  • 5:00 Decline of the Dynasty
  • 6:00 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

This lesson will focus on Clovis and the rise and fall of the Merovingian Dynasty. It will highlight his unification of the Franks, his conversion to Catholicism, and the cultural advancements of the dynasty's rule.

Introduction to Clovis

France has given the world some very memorable leaders. There's Napoleon, Joan of Arc, and Marie Antoinette, just to name a few. Ironically, the guy credited for being the first to unite the ancestors of modern-day France, is not nearly as famous as those we just listed. His name is Clovis, and today we're going to give him the spotlight he deserves.

Now, before we dive into the details of Clovis and his Merovingian Dynasty, we should probably acknowledge that most of you have never heard of the guy. To simplify things, and to make this guy more memorable, we'll just concentrate on three things. First, Clovis established the Merovingian Dynasty. Second, he established Catholicism as the major religion of Western and Central Europe. Lastly, his dynasty brought cultural advancement to the areas he ruled. In order to cement these three things in your mind, we're going to give Clovis three corresponding names. We'll call him Clovis the Conqueror, Clovis the Convert, and Clovis the Craftsman.

Unification of the Franks

Let's get started with Clovis the Conqueror. Clovis the Conqueror was a member of a Germanic tribe known as the Franks. The Franks inhabited the territory of Gaul, now modern-day France, and parts of Germany.

Although the people of this area were all called Franks, there were sub-groups among them. For instance, there were the Salian Franks, of whom Clovis was a ruler. These Salian Franks were very militaristic and subdued the other groups to form the Merovingian Dynasty.

Although Clovis' father was the first official ruler of this dynasty, historians traditionally give Clovis the nod as its first major leader or founder. He gets this title because he used the military might of his Salian Franks to unite all the Franks, not just some, into one kingdom known as Francia. Since he is given credit for bringing all the Franks under one crown, we'll remember him as Clovis the Conqueror.

The Franks lived in what is now France and parts of Germany.
Franks Territory Map

Conversion to Catholicism

Now, on to Clovis the Convert. Not only did Clovis unite the Franks under one crown, he also united them under one religion. Although many of the details of Clovis' reign are sketchy, history holds that he converted to Catholicism sometime around the year 496 CE. In doing this, he established the precedence for future Frankish kings to rule under the Catholic faith. Since Gaul also had non-Frankish Catholics living within its borders, this helped to ease the tensions between the groups. In short, if people were going to be forced to submit to Frankish rule, at least they were ruled by a fellow Catholic.

His conversion to Catholicism also gave him close ties to Catholic Rome. Although the Roman Empire had lost most of its power, the Papacy, or the office of the Pope, was still a force to be reckoned with. On converting, Clovis gained himself an ally in the Church and could count on their support and their aid.

Clovis also used his ties with the church to control the Frankish nobility. Those of the upper-class who supported his Merovingian Dynasty were appointed high positions within monasteries and the church. Those who donated land to the Church were also given something akin to our modern-day tax breaks. In rewarding those who gave him and his faith allegiance, Clovis and his Merovingian Dynasty spread Catholicism across Western and Central Europe. To this day, France remains a predominately Catholic nation.

Clovis built ties with the Catholic Church and advanced the spread of the religion in Europe.
Clovis Baptised Statue

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