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The Great Christian King of Dark Age Europe.

Updated on December 5, 2017

The fall of the Western Roman Empire left a whole continent ripe for the taking. The diminished Roman Empire left behind chaos and despair. For a leader with intelligence a rich reward could be had, providing they could offer stability to the fragmented nations of Europe.

One such tribal leader who saw this opportunity was the leader of the Salian Franks Childeric . It was he, who was to become the founder of the Merovingian Kings of Europe. The Merovingian Kings were to rule the Frankish Empire from the rule of Clovis the First in 481 AD to the demise of Childeric III in 752 AD. This was a stable and royal line that lasted for nearly three centuries.

It was King Childeric's son Clovis, who was to unite the Franks and to provide the stable ground work which would see him become the first Christian King of Europe.

Early Christian Cross
Early Christian Cross | Source

Historically, the Salian line of the Franks were more overtly Christian than other factions of the Frankish tribes, this was due to its former dealings with the Roman Empire. The Salian Franks had settled in Roman lands in the middle of the Fourth Century and they soon became allies of the Romans, this lead them to take on a few ideas and beliefs of their senior partner as they served as auxiliaries throughout the remaining Roman lands.

The Salian Franks where a mixture of Arian Christians, followers of Odin/Woden, Ancestor worshipers and a few who followed the teachings of Rome. The Arian Christians believed that Christ was subordinate to God and was created as a separate individual by God. The Catholic Church taught and believed God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit were the same thing. Childeric the First had been a pagan tribal king, his son Clovis was not born into the faith that Rome encouraged despite his mother's faith..

King Clovis only converted to the religion of Rome after his marriage to the Burgundian Princess Clotilde. Whether or not Clovis was a deeply committed to the entire Christian faith is hard to verify, Clovis was raised a warrior and his elite troops would not have been remotely Christian. King Clovis was astute, he saw the advantage of Christianity in legitimizing his rule over all the Frankish people of Europe.

The Christian King: Clovis the First
The Christian King: Clovis the First | Source

Before King Clovis converted to Catholicism he was a pagan ruler who had refused all attempts by outside Christian missionaries to renounce his faith. The pressure from his Queen Clotilde to convert was intense, his Queen was very committed to the King's conversion and had their first son baptized in secret. Their first child tragically died and this must have soured the King's view on the religion of Rome. When the Queen did the same to their second born son and he also fell ill, Clovis must have believed his refusal to convert was responsible for the tragedies.

This child survived and it is possible that the King saw it as a sign from God that he must renounce his pagan ways. It is more likely that he feared that if his children were made Christian he would not see them in the next world or he was getting tired of his Queen's constant talk of taking on her faith. The Queen's family represented an important political and military ally in his ambitions within the newly emerging European order.

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Embracing the Catholic Church.

King Clovis was able to consolidate his fledgling kingdom using his abilities as a master tactician and general. His first aim was to unite the Frankish tribe under one ruler, there were many chieftains of war bands competing for the poorly defended lands of the Western Roman Empire. King Clovis secured the complete control over his people by defeating and executing all rivals to his claim, although it was a bloodthirsty policy it did spare the Franks having to endure a brutal civil war further down the line.

Clovis was able to use his new found Christianity to endear himself to the old Romano aristocracy of Europe. The important families of Roman stock in Gaul ( modern day France) were Christian and from their estates they still held some power politically. King Clovis was able to make alliances as he was now seen as a noble barbarian, using the Christian Aristocracy of the Western Empire he was able to be recognised by the still powerful Byzantine Empire as a trustworthy and Christian leader. This allowed Clovis to forge military alliances with the other Catholic leaders and crush the rival Arian Christian tribes such as the Visigoths.

King Clovis was a valuable ally to the Catholic Church in a time of drastic upheaval across the Continent of Europe. King Clovis gained stability and prestige in his new Christian faith, but he also had his critics. There were those from his own people who did not with to renounce their pagan heritage. The majority of the Franks who lived in the Christian King's lands had followed their leader into accepting Christianity, and those people he had defeated in battle also adopted his Empire's major religion. The King was able to stabilize the core of Europe and defend the doctrine of the Roman Church, this allowed the Church to consolidate itself and spread its influence to all corners of Europe.

King Clovis used his faith to raise his credentials in a time where anarchy and bloodshed were the norm. The Catholic Church was happy to have a strong Christian King to protect it's interests and allowed it time to reinvent itself away from the Greek dominated Byzantine doctrines. In honour of the Christian King's success he undertook new building works of Christian Churches to establish the Catholic faith throughout his own sphere of influence. Many of the Christian Churches we see today in Central and Western Europe are built on the foundations that King Clovis had laid down.

Had the King of the Franks not embraced the Catholic faith, it is likely the Arian brand of Christianity would have prevailed in Europe. King Clovis knew that his pagan faith lacked the unifying appeal of Christianity, the heathen tradition of his ancestors focused on war and conflict. By eventually accepting Roman Catholicism he had secured his own position, given his people laws backed up with religious moral authority and given much of Europe a new Christian identity. Clovis had made himself "The First Christian King of Europe" and had laid the foundations for Charlemagne to dominate Europe in later years.


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    • Asp52 profile image

      Asp52 4 years ago from England

      Thank you for visiting and the feedback, hope you enjoyed it as much as I did researching it!

    • mactavers profile image

      mactavers 4 years ago

      Well written historical Hub, on a topic that I have not read about before. Very interesting