Clovis I (c. 466 – 27 November 511) was the first King of the Franks to unite all the Frankish tribes under one ruler. He succeeded his father Childeric I in 481 as King of the Salian Franks, one of the Frankish tribes who were then occupying the area west of the lower Rhine, with their centre around Tournai and Cambrai along the modern frontier between France and Belgium, in an area known as Toxandria. Clovis conquered the neighbouring Frankish tribes and established himself as sole king before his death.
He converted to Roman Catholicism, as opposed to the Arianism common among the Germanic peoples at the time, at the instigation of his wife, the Burgundian Clotilda, a Catholic. He was baptized in the Cathedral of Rheims, as most future French kings would be. This act was of immense importance in the subsequent history of Western and Central Europe in general, for Clovis expanded his dominion over almost all of the old Roman province of Gaul (roughly modern France). He is considered the founder of the Merovingian dynasty which ruled the Franks for the next two centuries.
The name features prominently in subsequent history: Three other Merovingian Kings have been called Clovis, while nine Carolingian rulers and thirteen other French kings and one Holy Roman Emperor have been called Louis.
Nearly every European language has developed its own spelling of his name. Louis (French), "Chlodwig" and Ludwig (German), Lodewijk (Dutch), Luis (Spanish), Luigi (Italian), and Lewis (English) are just six of the over 100 possible variations.
Scholars differ about the exact meaning of his (first)name. Most believe that Chlodovech is composed out of the Germanic roots Chlod- and -vech. Chlod- = (modern English) loud, with its oldest connotation praised. -vech = fighter (modern English). Compare in modern Dutch luid (hard sound or noise), luiden (verb - the oldest meaning is : to praise aloud) and vechten (verb - to fight). Chlodovech means praised fighter .
The conversion of Clovis to Catholic Christianity, the religion of the majority of his subjects, strengthened the bonds between his Roman subjects, led by their Catholic bishops, and their Germanic conquerors. Nevertheless, Bernard Bachrach has argued that this conversion from his Frankish paganism alienated many of the other Frankish sub-kings and weakened his military position over the next few years. William Daly, in order more directly to assess Clovis' allegedly barbaric and pagan origins, was obliged to ignore the bishop Saint Gregory of Tours and base his account on the scant earlier sources, a sixth-century "vita" of Saint Genevieve and letters to or concerning Clovis from bishops and Theodoric.
In the familiar literary convention called "interpretatio romana," Gregory of Tours gave the gods that Clovis abandoned the names of roughly equivalent Roman gods, such as Jupiter and Mercury. Taken literally, such usage would suggest a strong affinity of early Frankish rulers for the prestige of Roman culture, which they may have embraced as allies and federates of the Empire during the previous century.
Though he fought a battle at Dijon in the year 500, Clovis did not successfully subdue the Burgundian kingdom. It appears that he somehow gained the support of the Arvernians in the following years, for they assisted him in his defeat of the Visigothic kingdom of Toulouse in the Battle of Vouillé (507) which eliminated Visigothic power in Gaul and confined the Visigoths to Hispania; the battle added most of Aquitaine to Clovis' kingdom. He then established Paris as his capital, and established an abbey dedicated to Saints Peter and Paul on the south bank of the Seine. Later it was renamed Sainte-Geneviève Abbey, in honor of the patron saint of Paris.
According to Gregory of Tours, following the Battle of Vouillé, the Byzantine Emperor Anastasius I, granted Clovis the title of consul. Since Clovis' name does not appear in the consular lists, it is likely he was granted a suffect consulship. Gregory also records Clovis' systematic campaigns following his victory in Vouillé to eliminate the other Frankish "reguli" or sub-kings. These included Sigobert the Lame and his son Chlodoric the Parricide; Chararic, another king of the Salian Franks; Ragnachar of Cambrai, his brother Ricchar, and their brother Rignomer of Le Mans. Shortly before his death, Clovis called a synod of Gallic bishops to meet in Orléans to reform the church and create a strong link between the Crown and the Catholic episcopate. This was the First Council of Orléans.
The legacy of Clovis is well-established on three heads: his unification of the Frankish nation, his conquest of Gaul, and his conversion to the Roman Catholic Faith. By the first act, he assured the influence of his people in wider affairs, something no petty regional king could accomplish. By the second act, he laid the foundations of a later nation-state: France. Finally, by the third act, he made himself the ally of the papacy and its protector as well as that of the people, who were mostly Catholics.
Detracting, perhaps, from these acts of more than just national importance, his division of the state, not along national or even largely geographical lines, but primarily to assure equal income amongst his sons on his death, which may or may not have been his intention, was the cause of much internal discord in Gaul and contributed in the long run to the fall of his dynasty, for it was a pattern constantly repeated. Clovis did bequeath to his heirs the support of both people and church such that, when finally the magnates were ready to do away with the royal house, the sanction of the pope was sought first.