Saturday, May 1, 2010

Clotilda's Political Influence

In addition to the credit Clotilda has garnered for converting her pagan husband to Catholic Christianity, there are other arguments made on behalf of the influence wielded by Clotilda in the political arena. A strong queen could take advantage of the vague definition of her role in the early middle ages. Her presence at the royal court and position as mother to royal heirs gave her access to her husband, his advisers and the royal treasury. At the death of Clovis, Clotilda was probably a very politically influential figure in the kingdom, given the young age of her children and the attachments in court she had no doubt made, including the significant support of the Catholic bishops, such as Remigius.

She would need these contacts and their support, and possibly that of her Burgundian relatives, over the next few years. Clovis left behind four sons, but only three were sons of Clotilda. The eldest son, Theuderic, was much older than his half-brothers and even had a son of his own, Theudebert. He was probably in a politically strong position, with military victories and his own loyal warriors, and was a severe threat to the welfare of Clotilda and her sons. Assuming that a mother would be predisposed to guarantee the welfare of her children, it is plausible to propose that a political compromise was reached between she and Theuderic.

As well as church support, Clotilda may have also called on her relationship with her Burgundian relatives to add muscle to the negotiations. It seems doubtful that Theuderic could be checked solely by the officials of a religion to which he had but recently converted, if he did at all (there is no proof that he followed his father to the baptismal pool).

The bishops and the aristocrats were also probably instrumental in helping Clotilda to define the division of the Frankish kingdom amongst the sons of Clovis. Katharine Scherman (The Birth of France) believed that:

[Clotilda], in an attempt to foster harmony, designated as capitals of the four kingdoms cities in a near arc around Paris....Anticipating the predictable clashes of her hotheaded, only semicivilzed sons, it was likely that she was also the one who persuaded them to respect Paris as neutral territory.

Finally, evidence points to the land division of A.D. 511 between Clotilda’s sons and Theuderic as the first such splitting of inheritance. Ian Wood speculated:

"followed the lines of the old Roman civitas boundaries. The experts here were the bishops and the Gallo-Roman aristocracy. The division is inconceivable without their approval...but it seems plausible to suggest [that the division was a] political compromise [not] tradition.

Wood also argued further that Childebert and Chlothar would later have to make a similar compromise with their nephew Theudebert (son of Theuderic, and perhaps older than his uncles) who had the support of many within the kingdom. This seems to have created a “tradition” of land partition between heirs.

If this is so, what looks to us like Frankish tradition may only have been formed by the political compromises of the first half of the sixth century. One result of such a suggestion must be that in 511 [Clotilda] could not have been certain that her sons, young as they were, would survive.

Regardless of the particulars, it can be inferred that Clotilda's greatest political success was in preserving the birthright, and survival, of her sons.

UP NEXT: Clovis' Role in Stoking the Burgundian Civil War

Ian Wood, “Kings, Kingdoms and Consent.”
Janet Nelson, “Queens as Jezebels: The careers of Brunhild and Balthild in Merovingian History,” in Medieval Women, ed. D. Baker (Oxford, 1978), 31-77, in Elisabeth van Houts, “The State of Research: Women in Medieval History and Literature,” Journal of Medieval History 20
Katharine Scherman, The Birth of France: Warriors, Bishops and Long-Haired Kings (New York: Random House, 1987).


Anonymous said...

On her political influence, check out her influence on building the cult of St Genevieve in Lisa Bitel's Landscape with Two Saints.

Marc said...

Thanks for the tip!