Friday, March 26, 2010

The Marriage of Clovis and Clotilda: The Story

According to Gregory of Tours, Clovis had envoys in Burgundy who reported back to him about the beautiful and intelligent princess Clotilda. He sent messengers to Gundobad and asked for her hand in marriage. Afraid to refuse the wishes of a powerful, neighboring king, Gundobad acceded and entrusted Clotilda to Clovis’ envoys. They took her back to Clovis, who was pleased by the sight of Clotilda and married her.

The Fredegarius account is more detailed, though not necessarily more accurate. According to this version of the story, Clotilda and her sister were doing charitable work and were secluded and hidden from Clovis’ men. Eventually, Clovis sent a trusted Roman retainer named Aurelian, disguised as a beggar, to find Clotilda. Once Aurelian found her, he gave her Clovis’ ring as a show of faith.

Clotilda was overjoyed and gave Aurelian her own ring to return to Clovis, telling him to have Clovis ask Gundobad for permission to marry her. She urged haste for fear that a counselor to her uncle, Aridius, would arrive from Constantinople and dissuade Gundobad from allowing the marriage. Gundobad, apparently afraid of Frankish power, agreed to the union and Clovis and Clotilda were formally betrothed at Chalon, in A.D. 493.

Clotilda began her journey to her new kingdom in a treasure-filled carriage guarded by Frank warriors. While traveling, she heard that Aridius had returned to Gundobad’s court. Fearing pursuit, she ordered the Franks to put her on horseback to speed her travel.

Meanwhile, according to this account, Aridius had warned Gundobad of the peril of a marriage between Clovis and Clotilda, claiming she might prevail upon him to avenge the death of her father and brothers, which had been ordered by Gundobad. Gundobad sent a party of Burgundian warriors to abduct Clotilda, but her foresight had saved her and she had already reached the border of the Frankish kingdom. Once safe, she ordered the surrounding countryside to be ravaged by her escort and then gave thanks to God because her revenge upon Gundobad had begun.

As an addendum, based on a close reading of Avitus of Vienne's Epistula 5, Danuta Shanzer and Ian Wood theorize that:

[A]t some point, probably after his return to power in 500, [Gundobad] may have proposed a marriage between his own daughter and Clovis. Her death, however, which is recorded by Avitus, may well have led to the substitution of Gundobad’s niece, [Clotilda], the daughter of [Chilperic] , as a bride for the Frankish king.

UP NEXT: Doubting Gregory of Tours: "All that was best known of the life of Clotilda was that which never really occurred."


Avitus of Vienne, Shanzer and Wood.
Gregory of Tours, The History of the Franks.
Fredegarius, Chronicle of Fredegar.

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