Friday, May 28, 2010

Clovis' Role in Stoking the Burgundian Civil War

Around A.D. 500, Gundobad and Godegisel ruled together in Burgundy, though Gundobad was probably the arch-king while Godegisel was his subordinate, probably ruling only the territory around Geneva more directly. The fate of their brother Godomar was not recorded. The cause of their rivalry is unknown, and it appears they had peacefully coexisted for some time.

That Godigisel was the aggressor in the event was evident. Perhaps sibling rivalry or Godigisel’s jealousy over the position and fame of his older brother, or resentment over the partitioning of the kingdom whereby Gundobad had received most of Chilperic I’s former lands, had prompted him to approach Clovis about an alliance against his brother. Clovis had been winning great victories against other barbarian tribes and Godegisel heard of these and sent ambassadors to him asking for aid in attacking Gundobad. In exchange, Godegisel offered tribute at a rate determined by Clovis.

Clovis accepted the offer, and there have been many theories as to why he did. Perhaps he did it simply based on loyalty to his wife’s former guardian. Godegisil had essentially been Clotilda’s foster father and may have been a Catholic himself (Godefroid Kurth, based on his reading of Pardessus, Diplomata, vol.I., observed, “We know at least that in conjunction with his wife Theodelinda, he built the monastery of St. Peter at Lyons.”).

Additionally, as Godigisel was less powerful than Gundobad, he was less of a threat to Clovis, who probably could not have easily passed up an opportunity to severely weaken, if not destroy, a dangerous rival. Some assumed that Clotilda, if forced to choose, probably would have sided with the uncle under whose care she had been given. Kurth, who wondered if, perhaps, Clotilda saw Clovis’s intervention as a chance to save Godigisel rather than to destroy Gundobad, wrote, "[b]ut, at the same time, while coming to the help of the one, she had no wish to make relentless war on the other.”

Similar to this, others have said that the simple fact of being related to the Burgundians was enough motivation for Clovis to get involved. J.M. Wallace-Hadrill (The Longhaired Kings) asserted that, “It was the fact of kinship, not of his wife’s Catholicism...Clovis marched into Burgundy at the invitation of one of his kinsmen by marriage, Godigisel, caring little where it might lead.”

Others contended that Clovis sought to kill Gundobad to avenge the murder of his wife’s parents, though he ultimately did not exact said revenge. And so we arrive at one of the great debates surrounding Clovis and the Burgundians. Was Clovis, and later his progeny, seeking revenge upon the Burgundians? Or was this a useful myth?

Edward James (The Franks) who theorized that though Clovis could have sought vengeance on behalf of his wife, “if he was a more cynical politician than Gregory allows,” then the story of Gundobad murdering Clotilda’s parents “served the Franks as useful propaganda for many years.” Katherine Scherman (The Birth of France) stated there was no direct evidence that Clotilda encouraged Clovis in his conquest of Burgundy because “the Christian bias of the chroniclers” saw the “motive of revenge” as “immoral.” Along the same line, Godefroid Kurth (Saint Clotilda) observed:

To a bloody-minded and barbarous people, in a state of spiritual infancy, how could Clotilda, the great and the good, lack any element necessary to their crude ideal; how could she be otherwise than vengeful, if vengeance were a point of honour, and if to forgive were weakness and cowardice? As surely as the mind of childhood has got its stereotyped king and queen and prince, ever crowned in high state and radiant with gold, so surely has the childlike multitude certain moulds into which every hero or saint must be pressed unless the public imagination is to be pained and shocked.

Some historians, such as Herwig Wolfram, at least partly attributed Clovis’s interest in the Burgundian civil war as a sort of thanks to his wife for helping to convert him, implying that Clovis thought it would be appropriate to fight Arians. Others have countered that, though the conversion of Clovis and his Franks helped him to consolidate power, there can be no doubt that had they been Arian, they would have still attacked the Burgundians and Visigoths because they were looking to expand no matter who was in their way.

Some believed that more earthly, and immediate, circumstances motivated Clovis. After Clovis had captured Soissons and all of her riches, he was aware that his warriors would expect continued success and booty. A civil war would have seemed a perfect opportunity to satisfy his warriors and this may point to the possibility that Clovis could have approached Godigisel about a joint attack on Gundobad.

UP NEXT: The Burgundian Civil War

Wood, “Kings, Kingdoms and Consent"
Kurth, Saint Clotilda.
Wallace-Hadrill, The Long-Haired Kings.
James, The Franks.
Scherman, The Birth of France.
Wolfram, Germanic Peoples.
O’Sullivan and Burns, Medieval Europe.
Randers-Pehrson, Barbarians and Romans.


Suess Geisel said...

The old term "gisel" has a specific meaning: The royal chiefs of warrior families would seal their peace agreement by exchanging their first-born sons, raising each as their own 1st born son, ensuring that war would not break out between them. The adopted son and "prince" is called "Gisel" (with variant spellings) Perhaps the sibling rivalry you point between Gundobad and Godi-gisel to had much to do the reality that these brothers were not "natural blood brothers" but a less genuine sibling relationship that was dysfunctional from the outset. Godigisel playing second fiddle to Gundobad? Hmmm...could mean trouble.

Marc said...

Thanks for the tidbit on "gisel".