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The First Christian King of Europe

Updated on June 19, 2013

The fall of the Western Roman Empire left a whole Continent ripe for the taking, the Roman's left behind organised chaos and for a leader with intelligence a rich reward could be had. One such tribal leader who saw opportunity was the leader of the Salian Franks Childeric , he was to become the founder of the Merovingian Kings. The Merovingian Kings where 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 Royal line that stretched nearly three centuries. It was King Childeric's son Clovis who was to unite the Frank's and do the ground work to dominate the Continent as the first Christian King of Europe.

Early Christian Cross
Early Christian Cross | Source

The Salian line of the Frank's was more overtly Christian than other faction' of the Frankish tribes, this was due to it's dealings with the Roman Empire. The Salian Frank's had settled in Roman lands in the middle of the Fourth Century and became allies of the Roman's, this lead them to take on a few idea's of their nominal ruler's.

The Salian Frank's where a mixture of Arian Christian's, followers of Odin/Woden, Ancestor worshiper's and a few Roman Catholics. The Arian Christian's 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 are the same thing. Childeric the First was a pagan tribal King, and his son Clovis was born into that 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 Christian. King Clovis 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 King Clovis's ambition's within the new European order.

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 rival's to his claim, although it was a bloodthirsty policy it did spare the Frank's having to endure a civil war.

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) where 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 Christian leader. This allowed Clovis to forge military alliances with the other Catholic leaders and crush the rival Arian Christian tribes such as the Visigoth's.

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 critic's from his own people who did not with to renounce their pagan heritage. The majority of the Frank's 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 it's influence to all corner's 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 Church's 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 foundation's King Clovis had laid down.

Had the King of the Frank's 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 ancestor's 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 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