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The Story of France by  Mary Macgregor


 

 

THE THREE LITTLE PRINCES

[24] AFTER the death of Clovis, northern France was divided among his four sons.

One of these died, leaving behind him three little boys, who lived with their grandmother Clotilde. The little princes loved their grandmother, and were as happy as three little boys could be.

One day a messenger came to Queen Clotilde from two of her sons, Clotair and Hildebert, saying, "Send thou the children to us that we may place them upon their father's throne."

Clotilde was pleased to do as her sons wished, for she thought she was too old to guard the children well. So, after making a little feast for the princes, she sent them away, never dreaming that any harm could befall them when they were in their uncle's care.

But no sooner had the children reached their uncles than the servants and tutors who had come with them were sent away, while they were shut up in a gloomy room all by themselves.

Then Clotair and Hildebert sent a messenger to Clotilde, bearing in his hands a pair of shears or scissors and a naked sword.

"Most glorious queen," said the messenger when he was shown into her presence, "thy sons and masters desire to know thy will touching these children. Wilt thou that they live with shorn hair or that they be put to death?" You remember that to cut off a prince's long locks was to [25] take from him the sign of his royal birth, when as a rule he entered the Church and became a priest.

Clotilde was so angry and dismayed at this strange message, that scarce knowing what she said, she cried, "If my grandsons are not placed upon their father's throne I would rather see them dead," and the poor queen wrung her hands and wept bitterly.

But the messenger hastened away, and although he knew that Clotilde had not really meant what she said, he told his master that the queen was pleased that the children should be put to death.

Clotair and Hildebert, the two cruel uncles, then sent for the little princes. The eldest, who was only ten years old, began to cry bitterly when he saw that his uncle Clotair held a hunting knife in his hand, but his voice was speedily silenced.

Then the second little prince, who was only seven years old, clung to his uncle Hildebert, begging that he might not be slain as his brother had been. For a moment it seemed as though Hildebert would try to save his little nephew.

But Clotair cried, "Thrust the child from thee, or thou diest in his stead." And Hildebert was afraid, and tried no more to shield his little nephew. Then he too was speedily put to death.

Amid the crowd of cruel men who looked on at Clotair's cruel deeds, one was struck with pity for the little prince who was left. He suddenly caught the child up in his arms and fled with him into the country.

When he was a few years older the prince was taken to church, where his locks were shorn, and in after-days he became a saint. When he became a saint he was named St. Cloud. To-day, close to Paris, on the banks of the Seine, there is a town called St. Cloud, after this little prince who became a saint.

Queen Clotilde wept bitterly when she heard of the [26] death of her two grandsons, and never did she forgive herself for the hasty words she had spoken.

But Clotair and Hildebert divided their nephews' kingdom, and paid no heed to their mother's tears.

Clovis, you remember, ruled as a king over the Franks, but Clotair was ruled by his warriors, for, many years after the death of the little princes, he refused to lead his people to battle, wishing rather to make peace with the Saxons, a German tribe which had come from the mouth of the Elbe, and was harrying the land.

But the Franks would have nothing to do with so cowardly a king, for such, in truth, they deemed him. They set a guard upon Clotair, tore his tent into pieces, and hurled scorn upon his fears. Then they carried him to the head of his army, saying that if he would not march upon the enemy they would kill him. So Clotair was forced to give battle. But the Saxons fought as men fight for home and country, slaying their foes in great numbers, until even the fierce Franks were themselves glad to sue for peace.

In 558 A.D. Hildebert died, and Clotair then ruled over all the Franks. From this time until his death in 561 he was engaged in wars with different tribes. At last he was stricken with fever, and as he tossed upon his couch he cried, "O how great must be the King of Heaven, if He can thus kill so mighty a king as I."

After Clotair's death the kingdom of the Franks was again divided into four parts. The kings who ruled during the next fifty years committed so many cruel deeds and did so little for their country, that there is nothing to tell you about them in this story. But during these years two queens lived, whose wicked lives have made their names well known in history.

Brunhilda and Fredegonda had each married a grandchild of King Clovis. From the first they hated and were jealous of one another,

[27] When by chance Brunhilda fell into Fredegonda's power the jealous queen sent her rival Brunhilda to prison, from which, however, she was rescued by a man who loved her. In vain did Fredegonda try again to capture her prisoner." Brunhilda had escaped beyond the reach of the angry queen.

In 584 A.D. it is said that Fredegonda murdered her husband. Many other crimes she certainly committed, but at length in 597 A.D. she died, leaving her son, Clotair II., to rule over part of the Frankish kingdom.

Brunhilda lived still for many years, and during these later years she grew more and more powerful. She also did much good, building churches, and giving alms to the poor. There were many of these who mourned for her after her death.

When she was eighty years of age, Brunhilda fell into the hands of Fredegonda's son, Clotair II., who was now king of all the Franks. Clotair was Brunhilda's enemy for the old queen had been hated by his mother, and had also, when she was powerful, wrested many provinces from his kingdom. In 618 A.D. he ordered Brunhilda, whose age alone might have aroused his compassion, to be tied to the tail of a wild horse. In this cruel way the poor old queen was trampled to death.

In 628 A.D. Clotair II. died, and Dagobert, his son, at once seized the throne. The times were rough, yet the new king ruled so wisely that he was loved and obeyed by his people.

As he journeyed through his kingdom, he would stop at the towns and villages, that the people might come to tell him their troubles. And because the king was just, and punished the rich if they disobeyed his laws as well as the poor, the nobles did not dare to oppress their vassals so much as they had been used to do.

The king encouraged his people, too, to build churches and to adorn them with the work of skilful goldsmiths.

[28] Because of his justice and his kindness the fame of Dagobert spread all over the land. While he lived his people called him "Great King Dagobert" and for many years after his death his name was remembered with reverence.


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