Front Page Titles (by Subject) 5.: Selections from the History of the Franks, by Gregory of Tours. - A Source Book for Mediaeval History. Selected Documents Illustrating the History of Europe in the Middle Age
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5.: Selections from the History of the Franks, by Gregory of Tours. - Oliver J. Thatcher, A Source Book for Mediaeval History. Selected Documents Illustrating the History of Europe in the Middle Age 
A Source Book for Mediaeval History. Selected Documents Illustrating the History of Europe in the Middle Age, ed. Oliver J. Thatcher and Edgar Holmes McNeal (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1905).
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Selections from the History of the Franks, by Gregory of Tours.
By the end of the fifth century, the Roman government in the west had practically come to an end and most of the territory was occupied by German tribes. The confederated tribes living along the middle and lower Rhine began to be called Franks about 200 ad For the next two centuries, the Roman garrisons had great difficulty in keeping them out of northern Gaul. With the weakening and final withdrawal of these garrisons in the beginning of the fifth century, the Franks spread over northern Gaul and by about 450 had occupied the land as far south as the river Somme. Under Chlodovech the confederated tribes, which still had their own kings, were united under his single rule, and the other inhabitants of Gaul—Romans, Alamanni, West Goths, and Burgundians—were absorbed or reduced to dependence. The work of Chlodovech was carried on by his sons and grandsons with the conquest of the Burgundians, Thuringians, Bavarians, etc. Then came the civil wars among the descendants of Chlodovech which prevented further advance until the rise of the house of Karl the Great.
There are few documents or chronicles for the history of the Franks during the fifth to the seventh centuries. The only connected account is that of Gregory, bishop of Tours from 573 to 594. His position made him one of the most influential men of his time and he was well acquainted with the contemporary events which he narrates. The earlier part of his work is, of course, less reliable, because he depended upon tradition.
II, 9. It is not known who was the first king of the Franks. . . . We read in the lists of consuls that Theodomer, king of the Franks, son of a certain Richemer, and his mother Ascyla were slain by the sword. They say also that afterward Chlogio, a brave and illustrious man of that race, was king of the Franks and had his seat at Dispargum, on the boundary of the Thuringians. In the region [about Tours], as far south as the Loire, dwelt the Romans; beyond the Loire the Goths held sway, while the Burgundians, who followed the heresy of Arius, dwelt across the Rhône, on which is situated the city of Lyon. Chlogio sent spies to the city of Cambrai1 to spy out the situation and report to him. Then he seized the city and dwelt there a short time, occupying the land as far as the Somme. Some assert that king Merovech, whose son was Childerich,2 belonged to the line of Chlogio. . . .
27. After the death of Childerich his son Chlodovech ruled in his stead . In the fifth year of his reign, Syagrius, son of Ægidius, was ruling in Soissons as king of the Romans,3 where the said Ægidius had held sway. Now Chlodovech and his relative Ragnachar advanced against Syagrius and challenged him to battle; and the latter eagerly accepted the challenge. But in the course of the conflict Syagrius, seeing that his army was defeated, turned and fled from the field, seeking safety with king Alaric at Toulouse.4 Then Chlodovech sent to Alaric, ordering him to surrender Syagrius, on pain of being himself attacked; and Alaric, fearing to incur the wrath of the Franks, as is the habit of the Goths, gave over Syagrius bound to the messengers of Chlodovech. Then Chlodovech had him thrown into prison, and, after seizing his kingdom, had him secretly slain. . . .
28. Now Gundevech, of the line of the persecuting king, Athanaric, was king of the Burgundians.5 He had four sons, Gundobad, Godegisel, Chilperic, and Godomar. Gundobad slew his brother Chilperic, and drowned Chilperic’s wife by tying a stone about her neck and throwing her into the water. He also condemned Chilperic’s two daughters to exile; of these the older was Chrona, who became a nun, and the younger was Chlothilde. . . . Chlodovech sent an embassy to Gundobad demanding the hand of Chlothilde in marriage, and Gundobad, fearing to refuse him, surrendered her to the messengers of Chlodovech, who bore her straightway to the king. . . .
30. The queen [Chlothilde] continually urged Chlodovech to abandon his idols and accept the true God. She was not successful, however, until finally, when he was waging war on the Alamanni,6 he was compelled by necessity to accept that which he had formerly refused. For in the course of the battle, when the two armies were engaged in fierce struggle, it happened that the army of Chlodovech was on the verge of utter rout, and seeing this the king raised his eyes to heaven, and cried: “Jesus Christ, thou whom Chlothilde doth call the son of the living God, who dost comfort those in travail and give victory to those that believe in thee, I now devoutly beseech thy aid, and I promise if thou dost give me victory over these mine enemies and if I find thou hast the power which thy believers say thou hast shown, that I will believe in thee and be baptized in thy name. For I have called on my own gods and they have failed to help me; therefore I believe they have no power, since they do not come to the aid of their worshippers. I call now upon thee; I desire to believe in thee, that I be not destroyed by mine enemies.” And as soon as he had cried thus, the Alamanni turned and fled. And when they saw that their king was slain they surrendered to Chlodovech, saying: “Let not thy people perish further, we beseech thee, for we are thine.”
31. . . . Then the king demanded that he should be the first to be baptized by the bishop. So the new Constantine advanced to the font, to be cleansed from the old leprosy of his sin, and from the sordid stains of his past life, in the water of baptism. As he approached the font, the saint of God addressed him in these fitting words: “Bow thy head, Sigambrian;7 adore what thou hast burned, burn what thou hast adored.” . . . Then the king having professed his belief in omnipotent God the Trinity, was baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and was anointed with the holy oil with the sign of the cross of Christ. And more than 3,000 of his army were baptized also. . . .
32. The brothers Gundobad and Godegisel were at this time ruling the land about the Rhône and the Saône and the province of Marseilles. They, as well as their people, were Arian. And when war was on the point of breaking out between them, Godegisel, who had heard of the conquests of Chlodovech, sent to him secretly, saying: “If you will give me aid in overthrowing my brother, so that I may kill him in battle or drive him from the kingdom, I will pay you such yearly tribute as you shall demand.” Chlodovech accepted the conditions gladly and promised to send aid to Godegisel whenever he should require it. At the time appointed, Chlodovech advanced with his army against Gundobad. When Gundobad, ignorant of the treachery of Godegisel, learned of the approach of Chlodovech, he sent to his brother, saying: “Come to my aid, for the Franks are coming against me to seize my kingdom. Let us unite to withstand this enemy, lest if we remain divided, each of us should suffer the fate of the other nations.” And Godegisel replied that he would bring his army to the aid of his brother. Thus the three armies advancing at the same time, came together at Dijon, and Godegisel and Chlodovech joined forces and defeated Gundobad. Gundobad, seeing the treachery of his brother, which he had not before suspected, turned and fled along the bank of the Rhône until he came to Avignon. . . .
35. Now when Alaric, king of the Goths, saw that Chlodovech was conquering many nations, he sent to him and said: “If it please my brother, let us unite our interests under the protection of God.” And Chlodovech, agreeing, came to him, and they met on an island in the Loire, near the town of Amboise in the vicinity of Tours. There they held a conference, and ate and drank together, and separated in peace, having exchanged vows of friendship. But already many of the Gauls [under Alaric] were greatly desirous of being under Frankish rule.
37. Then Chlodovech said to his followers: “It causes me great grief that these Arians8 should hold a part of Gaul. Let us go with the aid of God and reduce them to subjection.” And since this was pleasing to all his followers, he advanced with his army toward Poitiers. . . . And Chlodovech came up with Alaric, king of the Goths, at Vouillé, about ten miles from Poitiers. . . . There the Goths fled, according to their custom, and Chlodovech gained a great victory with the aid of God. And Chloderic, the son of Sigibert the Lame, aided him in this battle.
40. Now while Chlodovech was staying at Paris, he sent secretly to the son of Sigibert, saying: “Behold now your father is old and lame. If he should die his kingdom would come to you and my friendship with it.” So the son of Sigibert, impelled by his cupidity, planned to slay his father. And when Sigibert set out from Cologne and crossed the Rhine to go through the Buchonian forest [in Hesse, near Fulda], his son had him slain by assassins while he was sleeping in his tent, in order that he might gain the kingdom for himself. But by the judgment of God he fell into the pit which he had digged for his father. He sent messengers to Chlodovech to announce the death of his father and to say: “My father is dead, and I have his treasures, and the kingdom as well. Now send messengers to me, that I may send to you whatever you would like from his hoard.” Chlodovech replied: “I thank you for your kindness, and beg you merely to show my messengers all your possessions, after which you may keep them yourself.” And when the messengers of Chlodovech came, the son of Sigibert showed them the treasures which his father had collected. And while they were looking at the various things, he said: “My father used to keep his gold coins in this little chest.” And they said: “Put your hand down to the bottom, that you may show us everything.” But when he stooped to do this, one of the messengers struck him on the head with his battle-axe, and thus he met the fate which he had visited upon his father. Now when Chlodovech heard that both Sigibert and his son were slain, he came to that place and called the people together and said to them: “Hear what has happened. While I was sailing on the Scheldt river, Chloderic, son of Sigibert, my relative, attacked his father, pretending that I had wished him to slay him. And so when his father fled through the Buchonian forest, the assassins of Chloderic set upon him and slew him. But while Chloderic was opening his father’s treasure chest, some man unknown to me struck him down. I am in no way guilty of these things, for I could not shed the blood of my relatives, which is very wrong. But since these things have happened, if it seems best to you, I advise you to unite with me and come under my protection.” And those who heard him applauded his speech, and, raising him on a shield, made him king over them. Thus Chlodovech gained the kingdom of Sigibert and his treasures and won over his subjects to his own rule. For God daily overwhelmed his enemies and increased his kingdom because he walked uprightly before him and did that which was pleasing in his sight.
41. Then Chlodovech turned against Chararic. For when he was waging war against Syagrius, this Chararic, although Chlodovech had asked him for aid, had kept out of the struggle and had given him no help, waiting to see the issue, that he might then make friends with the victor. On this account, Chlodovech was angry with him and attacked him. When he had succeeded in seizing Chararic and his son by treachery, he caused their heads to be shaved and ordered Chararic to be ordained a priest and his son a deacon. It is said that when Chararic was lamenting his humiliation, his son replied: “These twigs were cut from a green tree, which is not all dead; they will come out again rapidly when they begin to grow. Would that he who did this thing might as quickly perish.” But when it was reported to Chlodovech that they planned to let their hair grow again and slay him, he ordered their heads to be cut off, and thus by their death acquired their realm and treasures and subjects.
42. . . . Then Chlodovech made war upon his relative, Ragnachar [king of the region about Cambrai]. And when Ragnachar saw that his army was defeated, he attempted to flee, but his own men seized him and his brother Richar and brought them bound before Chlodovech. Then Chlodovech said: “Why have you disgraced our family, by allowing yourself to be taken? It would have been better for you to have been slain.” And raising his battle-axe he slew him. Then turning to the brother of Ragnachar, he said: “If you had aided your brother he would not have been taken;” and he slew him with the axe also. . . . Thus by their death Chlodovech took the kingdom and treasures. And many other kings and relatives of his, who he feared might take his kingdom from him, were slain, and his kingdom was extended over all Gaul.9 . . .
43. And after this he died at Paris and was buried in the basilica of the holy saints which he and his queen, Chlothilde, had built. He passed away in the fifth year after the battle of Vouillé, and all the days of his reign were thirty years.
III, 1. Now Chlodovech being dead, his four sons, Theodoric, Chlodomer, Childebert, and Chlothar, received his kingdom and divided it equally.10 . . .
[Chlodomer was slain in an attack on the Burgundians, and his mother, Chlothilde, took his sons, Theodoald, Gunther, and Chlodoald, under her protection.]
18. But while Chlothar was staying at Paris, Childebert, perceiving that his mother Chlothilde loved the sons of Chlodomer greatly, was stirred with envy and with the fear that they might be restored to the kingdom of their dead father by aid of the queen-mother. So he sent secretly to his brother, king Chlothar, saying: “Our mother is keeping the sons of our dead brother Chlodomer, and intends to restore them to his kingdom; come now to Paris and advise with me as to what shall be done; whether their hair shall be cut off and they shall thus be made like the common people, or whether we shall slay them and divide the kingdom of our brother between us.” Chlothar was delighted with these words and hastened to Paris. Now Childebert had caused the rumor to be spread among the people that the two kings were coming together to consider the establishing of the children on the throne of their father. And after they had met they sent word to the queen, who was dwelling in the same city, saying: “Send the children to us that we may place them on the throne.” And she, rejoicing and thinking no evil, sent them the children. . . . But when the children had left her they were immediately seized and separated from their servants and imprisoned by themselves. Then Childebert and Chlothar sent a certain Arcadius, their messenger, to the queen with a pair of shears and a naked sword. And when he came he showed both to the queen and said: “Your sons wish to know your will in regard to the boys; whether they should be shorn of their locks and live, or be slain.” The queen, terrified and distracted at the message and especially at the sight of the shears and the sword, said in the bitterness of her heart and not knowing what she was saying: “If they are not to reign, I would rather see them dead than shorn of their locks.” . . . And when the messenger brought back this reply, Chlothar immediately seized the oldest boy by the arm and throwing him on the floor slew him with his dagger. But when he shrieked, his young brother threw himself at the feet of Childebert and clinging to his knees cried: “Save me, dearest uncle, that I be not slain like my brother.” And Childebert, the tears raining down his face, said to his brother: “Brother, I pray you grant me the life of the boy; I will give you anything you ask in exchange for his life, only do not slay him.” But Chlothar, reviling him, said: “Cast him from you, or you shall die for him. You are the instigator of this business, and do you so soon repent?” At this Childebert cast the boy from him, and Chlothar thrust the dagger into his side and slew him as he had slain his brother. . . . Of the boys one was ten and the other seven years old. But the third boy, Chlodoald, escaped by the aid of certain powerful persons; rejecting a worldly kingdom, he turned to God, and became a priest, cutting off his hair with his own hands. And Childebert and Chlothar divided the kingdom of Chlodomer between them.
[After the death of his brothers, Chlothar united the whole Frankish kingdom under his single rule (558-61). He left four sons, Charibert, Gunthram, Chilperic, and Sigbert, who divided the kingdom among themselves.]
IV, 27. Now when Sigbert saw that his brothers had taken wives of lowly rank, he sent an embassy to Spain and sought the hand of Brunhilda, daughter of king Athanagild [king of the West Goths]. . . .
28. When Chilperic heard of this, although he already had several wives, he sought the hand of Galeswintha, sister of Brunhilda, promising that he would leave his other wives, if he should be given a wife of royal rank. Athanagild, believing the promise of Chilperic, sent him his daughter Galeswintha with rich gifts, as he had already sent Brunhilda. And when she came to king Chilperic, he received her with great honor and was married to her; and he loved her greatly, for she brought rich treasures with her. But great strife was caused by the love of Chilperic for Fredegonda, with whom he had formerly lived. Galeswintha complained to the king of the indignity offered to her and said that she had no honor in his house, and she begged him to keep the treasures which she had brought with her and let her depart alone to her own land. But the king attempted to placate her with soft and deceitful words. Finally he ordered her to be slain by a servant, and she was found dead in her bed. . . . And Chilperic, having mourned her death, after a few days married Fredegonda.11
[1 ] Chlogio died in 457. The advance of the Franks to the Somme was made easy by the depopulation of the land through two centuries of border raids and by the withdrawal of the garrisons.
[2 ] The tomb of Childerich, father of Chlodovech, was discovered at Tournai in 1653. In it were found along with the body, coins, a seal, remnants of a purple mantle, covered with the famous golden bees which Napoleon appropriated and wore, etc.
[3 ] Ægidius and Syagrius, whom Gregory calls kings of the Romans, were probably Roman military commanders who still held out in Gaul in the name of the emperor. Syagrius held the territory between the Somme and the Loire.
[4 ] Alaric II, king of the West Goths, 485-507. At this time the strength of the West Gothic kingdom was apparently in southern Gaul with the capital at Toulouse. After the defeat of Alaric and the acquisition by the Franks of most of the land north of the Pyrenees, the kingdom of the West Goths was practically confined to Spain.
[5 ] The Burgundians were an East German people related to the Goths. They had moved south and west from near the Vistula and had settled on the Main and Rhine about Worms somewhere about 400. At the time of the invasion of Attila they fought with the Romans against him and suffered severely. They were then allowed by the Romans to settle just within the boundaries of the empire in modern Savoy. From here they later overran and occupied the valleys of the Rhône and Saône. Like all the German tribes except the Franks, the Burgundians had been converted to the Arian form of Christianity, which was regarded by the west as a heresy. Owing to the efforts of the popes and the catholic clergy some of the Burgundians had been converted to the orthodox faith, among them the princess Chlothilde, the wife of Chlodovech. Chlodovech’s conversion to Catholic Christianity was of great assistance to him in his conquest of the heretical German kingdoms, since the sympathies of the Roman population were with him.
[6 ] The Alamanni were a confederation of tribes who had occupied the Agri Decumates (see no. 1, Tacitus, note 9) during the century 300-400, and had then spread over the Rhine into the territory of modern Elsass.
[7 ] Sigambrian—the Sigambri or Sycambri were one of the early tribes that made up the Frankish confederation. It is used here as synonymous with Frank.
[8 ] The hostility between the West Goths and the conquered Roman provincials, among whom they settled, was kept alive by religious differences. The dissatisfaction of the Roman population and their leaning to the Franks after the conversion of this tribe were of great aid to Chlodovech in his wars with the West Goths and Burgundians. The same religious differences explain also to some extent the failure of the East Goths and the Vandals to build permanent states in the territory which they occupied. On the other hand, the West Goths in Spain did later become Roman Catholics and enjoyed a longer existence.
[9 ] Chlodovech was originally king of only one of the numerous tribes of the Frankish confederation, but was the natural leader in war of the whole body. We have three kings mentioned by name by Gregory, Sigebert, Chararic, and Ragnachar, but he speaks also of “many other kings and relatives of Chlodovech.” The result of these assassinations was the union of all the Franks under the rule of the house of Chlodovech.
[10 ] The division of the kingdom of Chlodovech among his sons was fatal to the peace of the land and to the development of a permanent government. The strife broke out almost immediately, as appears from the account in ch. 18, and was continued in the later generations, among the sons and grandsons of Chlothar.
[11 ] The murder of Galeswintha was the immediate occasion for the outbreak of the long civil war between the two queens, Fredegonda and Brunhilda, and their husbands and descendants. The incidents need not be followed; the war involved numerous murders and assassinations and resulted in the weakening of the monarchy, the rise of the mayors of the palace, and the independence of the outlying portions of the empire, such as Aquitaine, Bavaria, Alamannia, etc., under native rulers.