Gateway to the Classics: Display Item
Helene A. Guerber

Clotaire and His Relatives

CLOVIS left his vast dominions to his four sons, who became kings of Metz, Orleans, Soissions, and Paris. Besides these estates north of the river Loire, each of these four rulers also owned several rich cities in the newly conquered province of Aquitania, whence they drew fine incomes. But Burgundy no longer paid tribute.

Clovis' sons were all cruel and grasping, like their father, so each strove to increase his own kingdom and wealth at the expanse of his neighbors and brothers. One of the greatest wars they undertook was waged against Burgundy—the land of the upper Rhone valley.

Clodomir, king of Orleans, took the lead in this war, captured one Burgundian king, and cast him with his family into a deep well. Then Clodomir set out in pursuit of the other king, but was himself drawn into an ambush and slain. His brothers soon afterwards made peace with the Burgundians, who again paid tribute, and only ten years later became entirely subject to the Franks, after forming a separate nation for about one hundred and twenty years.

Clodomir left three young sons; they were tenderly cared for by their grandmother Clotilda, who hoped to see them rule one day over their father's estates. But Chil'debert, king of Paris, grew so jealous of these children that he summoned his brother Clotaire' to consult with him how to rob these nephews of their inheritance.

The two wicked uncles finally dispatched a messenger to Queen Coltilda, asking her to send the children to them, so that they might set them upon their father's throne. Clotilda, delighted with the prospect of seeing her little grandsons kings, dressed them up in their finest clothes, and after giving them a parting feast, joyfully sent them to their uncles. But the three little boys—the eldest was only ten years of age—had no sooner reached their uncle's palace, than they were torn from their attendants and locked up to await their doom.

Clotilda was indulging in happy daydreams about her grandchildren, when a warrior suddenly appeared before her, carrying a naked sword in one hand, and a pair of scissors in the other. He roughly said: "Thy sons, our lords, great and glorious queen, are waiting until thou sendest them word how thy grandsons shall be treated. Order them to live with shorn heads, or to be put to death."

The Frankish kings and princes were proud of their long hair, and to cut it off meant that they were unfit to reign and had to become monks. Knowing this, the queen cried out her grief, "Oh! If they are not to be raised to the throne, I would rather see them dead than disgraced!"

The messenger hastened back to tell the kings. Both uncles then went into the room where two of the princes were imprisoned, and Clotaire, roughly seizing them one after another, put them to death with his own hands! But when the uncles sought their third nephew, to kill him also, they discovered that one of his attendants had helped him to escape through a narrow window, and had borne him away to a place of safety.

For fear lest the wicked uncles should murder him too, this child (Clodoald) was taken to Italy, where he was brought up secretly in a monastery. But when he had grown up, he expressed a wish to become a monk, and cut off his long hair with his own hand. He died in a monastery near Paris, which from him received the name of (St. Clodoald, or) St. Cloud (săn cloo'). A small town grew up where this old monastery once stood; and the beautiful park near it was for many years the favorite resort of several of the kings and queens whose history you are about to hear, but is now only a playground for many happy French children.

The wicked uncles divided their nephew's estates, and four years later Clotaire set out with his elder brother Theod'eric to conquer part of Germany. During this expedition, Theoderic once invited Clotaire to his room, intending to have him killed; but Clotaire happened to see the feet of the murderers sticking out from under the curtain behind which they were hiding, and therefore, instead of laying aside his weapons, he called his guards. Theoderic then pretended that he ahd called his brother in only to make him a present of a fine silver dish. Clotaire haughtily accepted the gift and bore it off, but Theoderic, regretting its loss, soon sent his son to ask that it might be returned to him!

The sons of Clovis also waged war against the Visigoths, from whom they won Provence. By 540 they had become so powerful, that the Emperor Justinian ceded to them all the Roman rights in Gaul, and allowed them henceforth to coin money, whereon their own heads replaced those of the Roman Emperors.

The lands of Theoderic descended to his son and grandson, and then fell into the hands of Clotaire, who also inherited Childebert's lands in 558, and thus became sole king over more land then was owned by Clovis.

Clotaire was as grasping and selfish as he was cruel, so he now fancied that he would be happy, for he had not rivals left. Still, before settling down, he wished to punish one of his sons, who had revolted a short time before, and therefore pursued him with an army. Clotaire overtook the fugitive prince in Britany, just as he was about to sail for England, and ordered his men to tie the unhappy man, his wife, and several small children, tot he beams of a cottage, which was then set on fire.

This is the last of Clotaire's crimse recorded in history, for as we are told that he lived only one year after committing this awful deed. During that time he was continually haunted by the memory of the son whom he had slain. Night and day he seemed to see the flames and to hear the cries of his victims. On his death bed he exclaimed, "Oh! How great must be the King of Heaven, if he can thus kill so mighty a monarch as I!"

The Frankish kingdom, after being divided for forty-eight years, had been under the rule of a single king for three. It was now divided again among four princes, Clotaire's sons, but as one of them died six years later (567), the whole country was then formed into the three famous kingdoms of Austrasia, or Northern France, Neustria, or Western France, and Burgundy.