THE FIRST KING OF FRANCE
 AMONG the Franks who had settled in northern Gaul, the
Salian Franks were the strongest. The heads of the
Salian Franks were called Merwings or Merovingians.
It is said that Meroveus, one of these Merwings, was a
sea-king, and you will remember his name because the
kings of his race were called after him the
Meroveus had long yellow hair reaching to his
shoulders, so the kings of his line always wore their
hair long. Indeed, one of the titles of the Frankish
kings was "Long-Haired." By degrees these long locks
became a sign of royalty; to have them shorn a token of
Whether Meroveus Was really a sea-king or not, his son
Childeric was certainly king of the Salian Franks, and
died in 481 A.D., leaving his son Clovis, a boy of
fifteen, to succeed him.
Clovis might not have become king because he was
Childeric's son, but the lad had already shown on the
battlefield that he was strong and could be brave. The
warriors of his tribe therefore chose him, by vote, to
be their king. To let the people know on whom their
choice had fallen, they placed Clovis on their shields
and Carried him thus through their towns and villages.
At fifteen years of age the lad was king of only a
small tribe of Salian Franks; by the time he was
forty-five years of age he had won all Gaul for himself
and his Frankish warriors.
The only Roman governor left in northern Gaul when
 Clovis became king was Syagrius. He was rash enough to
proclaim himself prince of the province of Soissons.
But the young king of the Franks would have no Roman,
or, for the matter of that, no Frank either, ruling in
opposition to him. He called his warriors together in
486 A.D. and declared war against Syagrius. Then
shouting their fierce battle-cry, clashing their iron
javelins upon their great white shields, the Franks set
out to fight the Roman.
Syagrius did his utmost to defend his province, but
neither skill nor strength was of any use before the
furious onslaught of the Franks. The Roman governor was
taken and secretly put to death, while Clovis
established his capital at Soissons.
This success roused the ambition of Clovis. He sent his
warriors out all over the country, bidding them lay
waste those provinces that refused to own him as their
In this way Gaul was gradually won for the king of the
Franks, and the country which was ruled by the king of
the Franks now, in 496 A.D., began to be known as
As the king's kingdom grew larger, his power also
became greater. Before long it was plain that Clovis
meant to use his power.
The king was a pagan, that is, he worshipped idols, as
did also his followers. But, as you know, the Romans
had brought the teaching of Christ to Gaul, and here
and there churches had been built in which to worship
Him. These churches were already rich and held many
Clovis, being a pagan, did not hesitate to enter the
churches and seize their treasures, whenever there was
an opportunity to do so.
There was a law among the Franks, that all the booty
taken in war should be equally divided among the
warriors, the king taking his share by lot, as did the
 One day Clovis's warriors came to a town called
Rheims. Here there was a church which contained, among
other treasures, a beautiful vase. It was said to be
"of marvellous size and beauty." The soldiers did not
fear to add the vase to their booty.
The Bishop of Rheims had sent his good wishes to Clovis
when he was chosen king, and Clovis had been pleased
with the priest's kindness.
When the bishop heard that the church at Rheims had
been sacked, and that the vase had been carried away,
he sent a messenger to the king, begging that all the
church's treasures might be sent back, but if that
could not be, that at least the vase "of marvellous
size and beauty" should be returned.
Clovis, pagan though he was, wished to please the
bishop, and bade the messenger go with him to Soissons,
where the booty was to be divided.
When they reached the capital, the plunder was piled up
in a great heap, and round it stood the host commanded
by the king.
Clovis, determined to please the bishop, stepped
forward and said, "Valiant warriors, I pray thee not
to refuse me, over and above my share, this vase," and
he pointed to the one which the bishop valued so
The Franks, who were proud of their king because he led
them always to victory, answered his appeal right
"Glorious king," they cried, "everything we see here is
thine, and we ourselves are submissive to thy command.
Do thou as seemeth good to thee, for there is none that
can resist thy power."
You can imagine how pleased Clovis was as he listened
to the words of his brave warriors.
But among these warriors was one who thought it would
be a fine thing to defy his king. He broke from the
ranks and struck the beautiful vase with his
 so that it was broken in half. Then
pointing to the pile of booty, he shouted, "Thou shalt
have naught of all this, O king, save what the lots
shall truly give thee."
Clovis took no notice of the soldier's rudeness. It
seemed as though he had not heard, for he took the
broken vase and gave it to the bishop's messenger.
But punishment was yet to be meted out to the insolent
soldier. Some months later, Clovis ordered his battle
host to assemble, that he might, as was his custom,
inspect their arms. All went well until the king came
to the soldier who had struck the vase.
Before him the king lingered, looking at his lance, his
sword, his battle-axe. Then stern and loud he spoke:
"None hath brought hither arms so ill-kept as thine,
nor lance, nor sword, nor battle-axe are fit for
service" and snatching the battle-axe from the
soldier's hand, Clovis flung it to the ground.
As the warrior stooped to pick it up, the king seized
his own battle-axe, swung it high above his head, and
bringing it down upon the soldier's neck, said, "Thus
diddest thou to the vase at Soissons."
Rough as the times were, the king's deed filled his
warriors with fear.
Now as Clovis journeyed through his land, he heard of a
beautiful princess named Clotilde. Clotilde was a
Christian, yet Clovis, the worshipper of idols,
determined to marry her.
The bishops and priests were pleased that Clovis should
marry Clotilde. They thought that for the love he bore
his wife the king would soon become a Christian, and
the bishops wished the powerful young monarch to be on
their side. When the priests told Clovis the story of
Christ's death upon the Cross, he cried, "Had I and my
Franks been there we would have avenged the wrong."
Clotilde also longed to see her husband give up his
idols and often she would plead with him to pray to the
 God. But the years passed, and still Clovis
clung to his idols.
At length the queen had a little son. She begged Clovis
to let their child be baptized by the Bishop of Rheims.
Perhaps in her heart she hoped that Clovis would
himself be baptized with his boy.
Ofttimes she said to the king, "The gods you worship
are naught and can do naught for themselves or others:
they are of wood or stone or metal."
Clovis loved Clotilde well, and although he was not yet
willing to give up his gods, he could not refuse to let
their little son be baptized as Clotilde wished. So the
bishop came to the palace, and the child was baptized
in the name of Christ.
The queen was glad, and looked more beautiful than ever
in her joy. But in a little while her joy faded, for
her little son grew ill and died.
To add to Clotilde's grief Clovis reproached her. In
his pain he scarce knew what he said.
"Had the child been dedicated to my gods he would have
been alive," he muttered. "He was baptized in the name
of your God and could not live."
Clotilde answered gently, "bear up against my sorrow,
because I believe in the wisdom and goodness of the
true God. Our little babe is with the whitest angels in
Then Clovis grew ashamed and silent before the patience
of Clotilde. When another little son was bom he also
was baptized, and as he grew strong and lusty, Clovis
began to think more kindly of Christ.
Now, soon after the birth of his second son, a fierce
German tribe attacked the Franks. Clovis at once set
out to punish the invaders. When he had said good-bye
to his wife she had begged him, once again, to give up
his strange gods. But on the eve of battle how dare he
forsake those who had often given him victory? So he
had closed his heart against Clotilde's words.
 In the midst of the battle Clovis saw that his
soldiers were beginning to waver before the fury of the
At that moment one of his servants also saw that the
battle was going against his master. Then he called
out, so says an old chronicler, "My lord king, believe
only on the Lord of Heaven, whom the queen my mistress
Then in his despair Clovis raised his hands and prayed,
"Christ Jesus, Thou whom my Queen Clotilde calleth the
Son of the living God, I have invoked my own gods and
they have withdrawn from me. . . . Thee, very God and
Lord, I invoke; if Thou give me victory over these foes. . .
I will believe on Thee and be baptized in Thy
"IF THOU GIVE ME VICTORY OVER THESE FOES I WILL BE BAPTIZED IN THY NAME."
Shouting his war-cry anew, Clovis once again led his
men against the foe, and lo! the victory was his.
When Clotilde heard how the battle had been won, she
was glad, but gladder still she grew as the day drew
near on which her lord would be baptized.
From the palace to the church the royal procession
walked when the great day dawned, the bishop leading
the king by the hand as a little child. Following the
king came the queen, more joyous than on her bridal
morn, while behind her pressed the people. They, too,
were going to be baptized with Clovis.
So great was the splendour prepared for the royal
procession that, as he passed along the road from the
palace to the church, the king said to the bishop,
father, is not this itself that heaven which you have
With Clovis were baptized three thousand of his
warriors as well as many women and children.
After his baptism the king went back to his wars, for
he could not rest until he had brought all Gaul under
his own rule. But now, when he went forth to battle,
Clovis no longer invoked his old gods of wood and
stone; instead, he prayed to one of the saints of the
Soon after he became a Christian, Clovis went to Paris.
And there, in the city which the Emperor Julian had
 for its sea breezes, its vines and figs,
Clovis established his capital.
The work of the king was now nearly over. But before he
died, Clovis confessed all the evil he had done, and
knowing that he had often been cruel and unjust, he
said that he had need of a "large pardon."
It was in the grey autumn days of the year 511 A.D.that King Clovis died at Paris, and was buried in a
church which had been built by his wife Clotilde.
And you will remember that to Clovis belongs the glory
of founding the kingdom of France, and of making it a
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