Conversation and Conquests of Clovis
THE victory at Soissons made Clovis master of a large part of northern Gaul. An early attempt against Paris, however, was not successful. It is said that Genevieve relieved the starving inhabitants by sending them boatloads of provisions, and that she pleaded with Clovis, who more than once, at her request, set prisoners free. Because she saved the city from the Huns and from famine, Genevieve is regarded as its patron saint, and in a church in Paris there are many pictures representing the good deeds done by this brave little shepherd girl, from the time when she first received the bishop's blessing and became a Christian, until she died in Paris, at more than fourscore years and ten, after having spent all her life in good deeds and prayer.
By this time Clovis was anxious to marry. Hearing of Clotilda,—a niece of the king of Burgundy, who, according to the legend, had murdered her parents,—he sent a messenger to her. Clotilda gladly consented to become Clovis's wife, and as her uncle dared not refuse to let her go, they were soon married at Soissons, the Frankish capitol.
Clotilda was a Catholic; so she and the priests wished to have Clovis become one, too. This he refused to do, although he allowed his first son to be baptized to please his wife. But when the babe sickened and died a few days after the ceremony, he felt very sure that his gods were angry with him. When Clotilda therefore begged that her second child might receive baptism also, Clovis consented with great reluctance, and when this boy too fell dangerously ill, he bitterly exclaimed that it would surely die like the first! But Clotilda assured him that his gods had no power whatever over their children, and that her God would yet grant her prayers and let the boy live. As the child did live, Clovis's faith in his heathen deities was shaken, and he even began to think that, after all, his wife's God might be more powerful than they.
Ten years after the famous battle of Soissons, some Germans crossed the Rhine, and Clovis went forth with all his army to meet them at Tolbiac (496). During the fierce battle, Clovis called on his fathers' gods for help, without avail. Then suddenly he cried aloud: "Christ Jesus, in whom Clotilda believes, I have called upon my gods in vain. Help Thou me!" And he vowed that if he won the day, he would become a Christian, as his wife wished. Legend asserts that as soon as Clovis had made this vow, the skies opened, and angels flew down to help him drive away the Germans. We know that Clovis won so great a victory that day that no savage German tribes ever tried to come and settle in France after that.
On his return from the battle of Tolbiac, Clovis listened for the first time to the story of Christ. When the priest described how He had been crucified, Clovis grew very angry, clenched his fists, and loudly cried, "Ah, if I had only been there with my Franks, I would have taught those Jews a lesson!"
It had been decided that Clovis should be baptized in the church at Rheims, on Christmas Day, and the priests, in their joy at securing such an important convert, decked the church and city with such magnificence that Clovis stared about him in wonder, and asked, "Is this the heaven which you have promised me?"
"No," answered the priest, "it is not heaven, but the road that leads to it."
Clovis was then led to the font, where St Rémi said, "Bend your head, O chief. Worship what you have hitherto burned, and burn what you have worshipped." There is a legend that just then a dove flew down from heaven, bringing to St Rémi the vial of a holy oil which was used to anoint Clovis and all the kings of France who came after him. This vial (ampulla) of holy oil was carefully treasured in Rheims until the Revolution (1794), when it was broken to pieces, but even then the priests managed to save a few drops of the sacred oil for future use.
Clovis's two sisters and three thousand of his warriors were baptized with him that day in the church of Rheims, and because Clovis was the first king anointed by Roman Catholic priests, he was called the "Eldest Son of the Church," a title which was borne by all his successors on the throne of France.
Although a Christian in name, Clovis was very much the same old pagan, for when once asked how long he wished the new church to be, which he had ordered built in Paris, he hurled his battle-ax as far as he could, and said that the distance between his weapon and the hand which threw it should be the length of the building. This famous edifice soon received the bones of St. Genevieve, and Clovis, his wife, and descendants were laid to rest there in their turn. Although the original building is now nearly all gone, some traces of it can still be seen.
After his baptism, so the story runs, Clovis said it was high time to avenge Clotilda's wrongs; so he made war against the Burgundians, whom he defeated and compelled to pay tribute. He then went on to make war against the Visigoths, partly because they were oppressing the Gallo-Roman Catholics.
It is said that on his way southward, as he drew near a church, he heard the priests chant, "Thou hast also given me the necks of mine enemies; that I might destroy them that hate me." This, he declared, was a sure sign that he would wim a great vitory. Going on, he was careful to pay his respects to the shrine of St. Martin at Tours, and was rewarded for his devotion by being guided at night by a mysterious light which shone from the church tower, and by seeing a doe cross a river with her young, just when he was vainly looking for a ford for his army.
Clovis met the Visigoths near Poiters (pwä-tyā'), in 507, and there slew their king and won a glorious victory. He then marched on to their capitol, Toulouse, and from thence his army went to attack Provence. There, for the first and only time in his life, Clovis's soldiers were defeated; so he gave up all hope of taking Provence, and returned to Tours, where he was greatly pleased to receive messengers from the Emperor of the East.
The last Emperor of the West had been deposed in 476, and the Eastern Emperor had thus become the highest ruler of all civilize Europe, though he had little real power in the West. He now sent Clovis a purple cloak and appointed him Consul. This title, of which Clovis was very proud, helped him to keep the allegiance of the Gallo-Roman population. He was now master of his dominions on the north by killing several of his relatives, chiefs of other Frankish tribes, and getting himself elected king in their stead.
Clovis made Paris the capitol of his great realm. There he died and was buried in 511, after a reign of thirty years.