In the fourth and fifth century, Clovis’ conversion to Trinitarian Christianity set him apart from other competing powers of Western Europe. As a political leader he was ruthless; as a military kingpin he was murderous and merciless. These characteristics played a large role in his defeat of the Roman legions. His decision to embrace the religion of his hostage-wife Clotilda brought many more advantages to his political, military, and social strategies. Eventually Clovis’ kingdom expanded and through conversion of the people in his new dominion, he was able to unite the many diverse civilizations within.
Trinitarian Christianity was based on the belief that Jesus, God, and the Holy Spirit are consubstantial. Arian Christians, on the other hand, held the understanding that Jesus was a separate entity and inferior to God. Due to the missionary Ulfila, the latter branch of Christianity dominated Gaul. According to Gregory of Tours, Clovis “[decided to convert] in the fifteenth year of his reign” after his victory against the Alamanni. This was also largely due to the incessant bidding of his Burgundian bride, Clotilda, who had baptized both their children in the name of her Christ.
Before being baptized himself, Clovis expressed his concern about how his followers would react to this decision. The enormity of his power is undeniably evident by the people’s immediate rejection of their mortal gods and instantaneous decision to follow their king (30). This truly set him apart from other Germanic Kings. After his baptism, three thousand men of his army were baptized, as well as his sisters, Albofled and Lanthechild.
This, however, was only a small demonstration of his unique power. His conversion to Orthodox Christianity furthered Clovis’ motivation to conquer surrounding kingdoms. Now he felt it was his duty to conquer over those heretical Arian Christians and unite Western Europe in the name of the Church and Christ. He immediately set out to meet with the king of the Goths, Alaric, and took his city of Toulouse under his dominion after slaying the king (37).
He later moved to meet Ragnachar, the selfish king of Cambrai, and killed him; He continued this murderous streak throughout the lands of all his kinsmen and brought their kingdoms under his. He eventually brought most of Gaul under his rule. No doubt his conversion to Trinitarian Christianity granted him the support of the Gallo-Roman aristocracy in his military campaigns.
Still, military and political power was not the only advantages to Clovis’ conversion. Although he declared himself a necessary slayer of heresy for the Church, Clovis grew to respect the land that was considered holy due to the presence of a church or its relics. Gregory of Tours’ mention of this wayward king’s clemency in the presence of the blessed Martin is significant to insight into Clovis’ intentions as a Christian. It is obvious from this account that Clovis is genuinely grateful to his new God for bestowing victory upon him and his followers.. To avoid offending the blessed Martin “he issued an edict … that no one should take anything…except grass for fodder, and water.” He told his men that they were not to pillage and plunder anyone or their property on their quest to conquer the heretic armies since they were “aided by the light of the blessed confessor Hilarius (37).”
Clovis’ conversion to Trinitarian Christianity ultimately led to the unification of Germanic territories which formed the Frankish dominion. Widespread conversion of the Frankish people followed his conquest of so much of Western Europe. The expansion of his dominion was indubitably aided by his alliance with the papacy and Christian elites. In return, Clovis offered the people a more unified kingdom and protection within that kingdom.
Featured Image: Baptism of Clovis.