Chlothar I

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Chlothar I
Denar koenig chlotar i.png
A denarius from the reign of Chlothar I
King of Soissons
Reign 511-558
Predecessor Clovis I
Successor Chilperic I
King of Orléans
Reign 524-558
Predecessor Chlodomer
Successor Guntram
King of Reims
Reign 555-558
Predecessor Theudebald
Successor Sigebert I
King of Paris
Reign 558
Predecessor Childebert I
Successor Charibert I
Born c. 497
Died 29 November 561
Spouse Guntheuc
Issue Gunthar
Dynasty Merovingian
Father Clovis I
Mother Clotilde
Religion Catholic

Chlothar I[1] (c. 497 – 29 November 561), called the Old (le Vieux), King of the Franks, was one of the four sons of Clovis I of the Merovingian dynasty.


The division of Gaul upon Chlothar's death (561)

Frankish customs of the day usually allowed for a man to practice polygamy, especially royalty. It was not uncommon, therefore, to see a king with multiple wives and several competing heirs upon his death. This was a major deviation from late Roman customs influenced by the Church of practicing monogamy. Frankish rulers largely practiced this to increase their influence across larger areas of land, since it was in the wake of the collapse of Rome. The aim was to maintain peace and ensure the preservation of the kingdom by appeasing several local leaders.[2]

In much of the Germanic tradition, succession fell not to sons, but to younger brothers, and perhaps uncles and cousins. However Clovis I instituted, under Salic law, the custom of sons being the primary heirs in all respects. However it was not a system of primogeniture, with the eldest son receiving the vast majority of an inheritance, rather it was split evenly between all sons. Therefore, the greater Frankish Kingdom was often splintered into smaller sub-kingdoms.[2]


Early life

Chlothar was the fifth son of Clovis and the fourth of Queen Clotilde. The name 'Chlothar' means "glory".[3] Chlothar was born around 497 in Soissons. On the death of his father on 27 November 511, he received, as his share of the kingdom, the town of Soissons, which he made his capital; the cities of Laon, Noyon, Cambrai, and Maastricht; and the lower course of the Meuse River. But he was very ambitious, and sought to extend his domain.

Bust of Chlothar

Accession to the throne

At this time, the Frankish kingdom was divided between Chlothar and his brothers Theuderic, Childebert, and Chlodomer.[4]

Because of the rights of mothers, different queens were granted a portion of their son's kingdom. Clovis who had two wives, divided his kingdom into two for each of them, and then parceled out pieces for his respective sons. The eldest, Theuderic, son of the first wife, had the benefit of receiving the kingdom of Reims. Chlothar shared the second half with two other brothers, with Chlothar receiving the northern part, Childebert the central kingdom of Paris, and Chlodomer receiving the southern Kingdom of Orléans.[2]

Imagined Bust of Chlothar on coin minted by Louis XVIII

The domain inherited by Chlothar consisted of two distinct parts: one in Gaulic Belgium, corresponding to the kingdom of the Salian Franks, where he established his capital at Soissons and also included the dioceses of Amiens, Arras, Saint-Quentin and Tournai; the other part being in Aquitane including the dioceses of Agen, Bazas, and Périgueux.[2]

First Burgundian war

In 516, Gundobad, king of Burgundy, died and the throne passed to his son Sigismund, who converted to Catholicism. Sigismund adopted a very anti-Arian policy, and even went as far as executing his Arian son Sigeric who was the grandson of the Ostrogoth King Theoderic the Great. Sigismund also nearly prompted the Franks to launch an offensive against him, but it was avoided when he married one of his daughters, Suavegotha, to Theuderic I.

In 523, at the instigation of Clotilde, Chlothar, Childebert, and Chlodomer joined forces in an expedition against the Burgundians. The Burgundian army was routed and Sigismund was captured and executed. However his brother Godomar replaced him on the throne with the support of the aristocracy and the Franks were forced to leave.

A new campaign began in 524, this time also including Theuderic. The Franks advanced to the Isère valley, but on 25 June 524, suffered a serious defeat at the Battle of Vézeronce, during which Chlodomer died. The Franks left Burgundy and Godomar resumed his rule until 534.[5]

Marriage with Guntheuc

Chlothar married Guntheuc, the Queen of Orléans and widow of Chlodomer, giving Chlothar access to Chlodomer's treasury and ensured the rights of Guntheuc as sole heiress of King Godégisile's lands; as Frankish law allowed a woman to inherit land if she had no sons.[6]

Marriage with Aregund

Ingund had asked him to find a husband worthy of her sister Aregund, and after finding no suitable suitor, decided to marry her himself. They were together until Ingund's death in 546, after which she fell out of favor with Chlothar.[7]

Thuringian conquest

In 531 Hermanafrid, king of the Thuringians, promised Theuderic part of the Kingdom of Thuringia if he helped to depose of his rival and brother Baderic. Theuderic accepted, but being injured after a victory, appealed to Chlothar to continue the war. Hermanafrid died around this time and the goal became simply to conquer Thuringia.

The alliance, along with the aid of his nephew Theudebert I, enabled them to conquer Thuringia and it became a part of the Frankish domain. During the division of the spoils, the two kings fiercely argued over Princess Radegund, but eventually Chlothar won the dispute, on the grounds that it had been his men who had captured the Princess.[8]

Princess Radegund

Radegund is brought before Chlothar

In 538, Radegund was brought to Soissons to marry Chlothar, as "not illegitimate but legitimate queen" who could help consolidate his dominance over Thuringia. While the title and status of Queen was necessary for Chlothar to attain his authority over Thuringia, she remained very much in simple clothing and was not treated as a queen customarily was supposed to. However, this was largely due to her Christian faith, as she did not want to appear luxurious. She did not eat to excess but insisted much of her food was given to the poor. She spent much of her time praying and singing psalms. She spent very little time with the King, as her allegiance was to God first and Chlothar second. Chlothar became irritated and had many disputes with the woman.[9]

Radegonde's wedding, depiction of her praying, and prostrate in the marital bed

Although their relationship was largely platonic, she did have a slight religious impact on him, causing him to offer more clemency to his enemies and captives. She had many dealings with the church and brought Chlothar closer to it as well. Eventually, she decided to live in the royal villa Saix in Poitou, and lived a monastic life. Eventually Chlothar became irritated and demanded her return. When she refused, he sent men to recover her.

Rather than live a worldly life with the king, she decided her religious life was better and fled. It was on this date, 28 February, that the "Miracle of Oats" is celebrated. The account states that as she was fleeing, with Chlothar not far behind, she told a farmer planting oats to tell anyone following her that she came by when the seeds were planted. As she continued the oats grew entirely to full size in the blink of an eye. When Chlothar arrived, the farmer confessed the miracle of what she had done. Rather than catch her, Chlothar decided offending God would be worse than having his wife return.[10]

She retired to a convent and went on to found the abbey in Poitiers St. Croix, the first nunnery in Europe. She was canonized Saint Radegund.[10]

Acquisition of the kingdom of Orléans

He was the chief instigator of the murder of his brother Chlodomer's children in 524, and his share of the spoils consisted of the cities of Tours and Poitiers. To prevent the kingdom of Orleans returning to his nephews, Chlothar joined with Childebert in 532 to arrange the assassination of the three young heirs if they would not join a monastery.

They sent Arcadius, grandson of Sidonius Apollinaris, to Clotilde with a pair of scissors and a sword. He then told the queen that the boys could either live as monks or die. Germanic traditions gave Queen Clotilde the right of head of her household, as the mother. However among kings the lineage passed to younger brothers before it passed to the next generation. Due to tribal politics, shearing of the boys' hair could lead to a civil war; as long hair was a symbol of Frankish royalty and to remove it was a grave insult. If not Theodebald, Gunthar, and Clodoald could lay claim to the throne some day in the future, as it was Chlothar and Childebert's duty to pass authority onto them. Clotilde was disgusted and shocked at the demand and stated that she would rather see her sons dead than see their hair shorn.[11]

Assassination of Thibaut and Gunthar

The two uncles went through with their plan to murder Chlodomer's children, Chlothar stabbing Theodebald in the armpit. Gunthar threw himself at the feet of Childebert who began to cry and almost gave in to the pleas of his nephew. Chlothar however demanded that Childebert carried through, stating it was the only way to consolidate power. Childebert gave Gunthar up to Chlothar, who had him stabbed and strangled. Theodebald and Gunthar were ten and seven years old respectively. Clodoald remained alive by managing to escape, hidden by loyal supporters. He renounced all claims and chose a monastic life. Childebert and Chlothar could then freely share their acquired territory. Theuderic, meanwhile captured a parcel consisting of Auxerrois, Berry and Sens.

Second Burgundian war

In 532, Childebert and Chlothar seized Autun and hunted for Godomar III, brother of Sigismund, with the help of his father and ally, the king of the Ostrogoths Theoderic the Great.

The death of Athalaric in 534 generated a succession crisis in the Ostrogothic kingdom, the Burgundian ally. Chlothar, Theudebert, and Childebert took the opportunity to invade the Burgundian Kingdom, now devoid of Ostrogothic protection. The Burgundian kingdom was overtaken and then divided between the three Frankish rulers, Chlothar receiving Grenoble, Die, and many of the neighbouring cities.[12]

First Visigoth war

Over the years, the Spanish Visigoths had made many incursions into Frankish territories and taken lands. Clovis had retrieved them and even made further conquests of Gothic territories. Chlothar sent his eldest sons to reclaim lost territories. Although there was some success, for some unknown reason Gunthar, his second eldest, ended his campaign and returned home. Theudebert, the eldest, continued the war and took the strongholds of Dio-et-Valquières and Cabrières. Most of the lost Frankish lands were recovered.[13]

Civil war

Chlothar attempted to take advantage of Theuderic's illness during this time, trying to attain his kingdom with the help of Childebert. However Theudebert, who was then busy securing Arles, rushed back to his father Theuderic's aid who died a few days after. Supported by his vassals, Theudebert managed to keep his kingdom and restrained his uncles from taking over.

Childebert and Theudebert joined forces and declared war on Chlothar and initially defeated him, forcing him to take refuge in a forest to protect against the alliance against him. While Chlothar was besieged, a storm ravaged equipment, roads, and horses and disorganized the allied army. They were forced to abandon the siege and make peace with Chlothar.[14]

Ceding of Provence

In 537, a conflict broke out between the Eastern Roman Empire and the Ostrogothic kingdom. To ensure Frankish neutrality in the conflict, King Vitiges offered Provence which the Frankish Kings shared between them, along with the northern Alps with sovereignty over the Alemanni by grabbing the upper Rhine valley, Main and high Danube.[15] When the Ostrogoths ceded Provence to the Franks, he received the cities of Orange, Carpentras, and Gap.

Second Visigoth war

In spring 542, Childebert and Chlothar, accompanied by three of his sons, led an army into Visigoth Hispania. They seized Pamplona and Zaragoza, but were finally forced to abandon after conquering most of the country. Since most of the king's army was still with Theudis and there was still enough power to be shown, they were ceded some major lands beyond the Pyrénées, although not as much as they had occupied.[13]

Tuscan tribute

The murder of Amalasuntha, the daughter of Theodoric the Great and of Audofleda, sister of Clovis I, at the hands of the king of Tuscany, caused Chlothar to threaten invasion if he did not receive a payment. The agreement that averted the war was for the Tuscan king to send 50,000 gold coins. However, Childebert and Theudebert had it intercepted and stole the payment before it reached Chlothar and split it. Chlothar's treasury was still much larger than either's.[15]

Death of Clotilde

Frankish Realm in 548

On 3 June 548, Clotilde died in the city of Tours. Childebert and Chlothar transported her by the funeral procession to the Basilica of St. Apostles to be buried alongside her husband Clovis I, and St. Genevieve.

Acquisition of Metz

Theudebald, Chlothar's great-nephew (grandson of the late Theuderic), died childless in 555. Chlothar immediately went to Metz to take possession of the kingdom from his late nephew, but under Salic Law he had to share with his brother. He married Vuldetrade, Theudebald's widow and daughter of the Lombard king Wacho. This ensured the smooth succession to the Kingdom of Great Metz, as well as an alliance with the Lombards established since the reign of Theudebert. But the bishops condemned this incestuous marriage and forced Chlothar to divorce her and instead gave her in marriage to the Bavarian Duke Garibald. To compensate for the breakdown of the marriage with Vuldetrade (Waldrada), Chlothar gave Chlothsind, his daughter, to the Lombard prince and future king Alboin. Condat the domesticus (great administrator of the palace) of King Theudebald retained his position after the annexation of the Kingdom of Metz.[16]

Saxon war

In 555, he attacked and conquered the Saxons located in the upper valley of the Weser, Elbe, and the coast of the North Sea, who had revolted. As a submission, Chlothar required them to pay a substantial annual tribute and for some time exacted from the Saxons an annual tribute of 500 cows.[17]

Between 555 and 556, the Saxons revolted again, perhaps instigated by Childebert. Faced with the Saxons, Chlothar prefer parley and avoid a massacre if they would accept his demand to continue to pay him tribute despite a previous rejection. But his men, bellicose and eager for battle, contested the decision. Talks were cut short when the soldiers forced him with insults and death threats to take on the Saxons. After an incredibly bloody battle, the Saxons and Franks made peace.[18]

Frankish Real from 556-560

Submission of Auvergne

Auvergne, a once prosperous Roman province, which had resisted the Visigoths and Franks, had hoped they would could avoid destruction by offering fealty. Theuderic had devastated much of the land, and Theudebert pacified the land by marrying a Gallo-Roman woman of Senatorial descent. In anticipation of the death of Theodebald, Chlothar sent his son Chram to take possession of the area. In time Chram came to control a larger area and desired to break away from his father entirely. To achieve this, he joined politically with Childebert who encouraged his dissent. In time his influence was expanded over Poitiers, Tours, Limoges, Clermont, Bourges, Le Puy, Javols, Rodez, Cahors, Albi, and Toulouse.[19]

War with Chram

Chlothar, then engaged in a war again with the Saxons, sent his sons Charibert and Guntram to lead an army against Chram. They marched to Auvergne and Limoges, and finally found Chram in Saint-Georges-Nigremont. Their armies met at the foot of a "black mountain" where they demanded Chram to relinquish land belonging to their father. He refused and a storm prevented the battle. Chram sent a messenger to his half-brothers, falsely informing them of the death of Chlothar, from fighting against the Saxons. Charibert and Guntram immediately marched to Burgundy. The rumor that Chlothar died in Saxony spread throughout Gaul, even reaching the ears of Childebert. It is possible that Childebert was behind the rumor as well. Chram then took the opportunity to extend his influence to Chalon-sur-Saône. He besieged the city and won. Chram married Chalda, daughter of Wiliachaire (Willacharius), Count of Orléans, which was under Childebert's authority.[20]

The end of his reign was troubled by internal dissensions, his son Chram rising against him on several occasions. Following Chram into Brittany, where the rebel had taken refuge, Chlothar shut him up with his wife and children in a cottage, which he set on fire. Overwhelmed with remorse, he went to Tours to implore forgiveness at the tomb of St Martin, and died shortly afterwards at the royal palace at Compiègne.

Unification of all Francia

On 23 December 558, Childebert died childless after a long illness, which allowed Chlothar to reunite again the Greater Frankish Kingdom as his father Clovis had done and seized the treasure of his brother.[21]

The news of the death had caused many kingdoms to unify under Chlothar. Paris, which had fought against him, submitted to his rule. Chram therefore called on the Bretons to allow him refuge. He had made such an agreement with his father-in-law Willacharius, Count of Orléans, although he was currently taking refuge himself in the Basilica of St. Martin of Tours. He was caught and subsequently burned "for the sins of the people and the scandals that were perpetrated by Wiliachaire and his wife." Chlothar then restored the Basilica.[21]

Between 1 September and 31 August 559, with the help of the Bretons, Chram plundered and destroyed a large number of places belonging to his father. Chlothar, accompanied by his son Chilperic, advanced to Domnonée where he arrived in November or December 560. During the battle, located near the coast, Conomor was defeated and killed when he attempted to flee. Conomor owned land on both sides of the Channel, and Chram perhaps intended to flee from Chlothar to take refuge in England with the support of Conomor. Chram fled for the sea but first attempted to rescue his wife and daughters. He was then captured and immediately sentenced to death. Locked in a shack with his wife and daughters, they were strangled and burned.[22]

The Death of Chramn

Relations with the church

In 561, Chlothar attempted to raise taxes on churches despite the exemption granted by Roman law and which had been routinely confirmed by past kings. Indeed, Childeric I granted immunities to ecclesiastics. The Bishop of Tours, Injuriosus refused and left his diocese and abandoned Chlothar. At the death of the bishop, the king replaced him with a member of his household named Baudin. Similarly, he exiled the bishop of Trier, Nizier, because of its inflexibility on canon law. Thus the tax on churches held.

Ingund and Chlothar made many additions to churches including the decorations of the tomb of Saint-Germain Auxerre; the basilica are preserved with a given royal chalice.


At the end of his reign, the Frankish kingdom was at its peak, covering the whole of Gaul (except Septimania) and part of present-day Germany. He died at the end of 561 of acute pneumonia at 64, leaving his kingdom to his four sons who went to bury him at Soissons, in the Basilica of St. Marie where he had started to build the tomb of St. Médard.[23]


Female monasticism

Chlothar financed the construction of the monastery of Sainte-Croix in Poitiers which folds Radegund and transferred reliquaries that the queen had accumulated during her stay with the king to the monastery of St. Croix.


According to Gregory of Tours, "The King Chlothar had seven sons of various women, namely: with Ingund he had Gunthar, Childeric, Charibert, Guntram, Sigebert, and a daughter named Chlothsind; of Aregund, sister of Ingund he had Chilperic; and of Chunsine he had Chram."

Breakup of the Frankish Kingdoms upon Chlothar's death in 561

Chlothar's first marriage was to Guntheuc, widow of his own brother Chlodomer, sometime around 524. They had no children (however, Guntheuc's Wikipedia page reports "Guntheuc and Clothaire had three children: Clodeswinthe, Gondebaud and Gothard"). His second marriage, which occurred around 532, was to Radegund, daughter of Bertachar, King of Thuringia, whom he and his brother Theuderic defeated.[25] She was later canonized. They also had no children. His third and most successful marriage was to Ingund,[26] by whom he had five sons and two daughters:

  • Gunthar, predeceased father
  • Childeric, predeceased father
  • Charibert, King of Paris
  • Guntram, King of Burgundy
  • Sigebert, King of Austrasia
  • Chlothsind, married Alboin, King of the Lombards
  • He likely had an illegitimate son named Gondovald with an unnamed woman, born sometime in the late 540s or early 550s. Since Chlothar had sown children all throughout Gaul this was not unlikely. The boy was given a literary education and allowed to grow his hair long, a symbol of belonging to royalty. Although Chlothar would offer no more aid or privilege to the boy, his mother took him to the court of Childebert who recognized him as his nephew and agreed to keep him in court.

His next marriage was to a sister of Ingund, Aregund, with whom he had a son, Chilperic, King of Soissons.[26] His last wife was Chunsina (or Chunsine), with whom he had one son, Chram,[27] who became his father's enemy and predeceased him. Chlothar may have married and repudiated Waldrada

A false genealogy found in the Brabant trophies, made in the ninth century during the reign of Charles the Bald, invents a daughter of Chlothar's named Blithilde who supposedly married Ansbert of Rouen, son of Ironwood III. From this marriage was born Duke Arnoald, father of Arnulf of Metz, thus connecting the Merovingian and Carolingian dynasties, creating the appearance that the Carolingian ruled by right of inheritance, and also linking them to the Romans by their affiliation with the senatorial family Ferreoli.


  1. Also spelled Chlothachar, Chlotar, Clothar, Clotaire, Chlotochar, or Hlothar, giving rise to the name Lothair.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Michel Rouche, Aquitaine from the Visigoths to the Arabs, 418-781 : naissance d'une région, Paris, École des hautes études en sciences sociales, Jean Touzot, 1979
  3. Jean-Louis Fetjaine, The Purple Queens: The Robes of Fredegonde. Chap 1, Belfond, Paris, 2006, p. 14.
  4. Godefroid Kurth, Clovis, the Founder, Éditions Tallandier, 1896, p.505 ; Patrick Périn, Clovis and the Birth of France, Éditions Denoël, collection « The History of France », 1990, p.117 ; Rouche (1996), p.345 ; Laurent Theis, Clovis, History and Myth, Bruxelles, Éditions Complexe, collection « Le Temps et les hommes », 1996, p.80.
  5. Récit des campagnes burgondes : Lebecq, page 65.
  6. Grégoire de Tours, Histoire, livre III, 6.
  7. Grégoire de Tours, Histoire, livre IV, 3.
  8. Bernard Bachrach, Quelques observations sur la composition et les caractéristiques des armées de Clovis dans Rouche (1997) pp.689-703, p.700, n. 55.
  9. Georges Duby, Le Moyen Âge 987-1460. Histoire de France Hachette, 1987, p.56.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Bernet (2007), p.143.
  11. Grégoire de Tours, Histoire, livre III, 18.
  12. Marius d'Avenches, Chronique, a. 534.
  13. 13.0 13.1 Isidore de Séville, Historia Gothorum. Auctores antiquissimi, t. XI.
  14. Grégoire de Tours, Histoire, livre III, 28.
  15. 15.0 15.1 Grégoire de Tours, Histoire, livre III, 31.
  16. Venance Fortunat, Carmina, VII, 16 ; PLRE, III, 1, pp. 331-332.
  17. Ian Wood, The Merovingian Kingdoms:450-751, (Longman Limited, 1994), 65.
  18. Ferdinand Lot, Naissance de la France, éditions Fayard, 1948, pp. 59-61.
  19. Rouche (1979), p. 494, n. 67.
  20. Grégoire de Tours, Histoire, livre VII, 18.
  21. 21.0 21.1 Rouche (1979), p. 63.
  22. Grégoire de Tours, Histoire, livre IV, 20.
  23. Grégoire de Tours, Histoire, livre IV, 19, 21, 54.
  24. Armand (2008), p. 34.
  25. Ian Wood, The Merovingian Kingdoms:450-751, 137.
  26. 26.0 26.1 Ian Wood, The Merovingian Kingdoms:450-751, 59.
  27. Ian Wood, The Merovingian Kingdoms:450-751, 60.

Further reading

Chlothar I
Born: 497 Died: 561
Preceded by
Clovis I
King of Soissons
Succeeded by
Chilperic I
Preceded by
King of Orléans
Succeeded by
Preceded by
King of Reims
Succeeded by
Sigebert I
Moved to Metz
Preceded by
Childebert I
King of Paris
Succeeded by
Charibert I
Title last held by
Clovis I
King of the Franks
Title next held by
Chlothar II