The Franks or Frankish people (Latin: Franci or gens Francorum) were a West Germanic tribal confederation first attested in the third century as living north and east of the Lower Rhine River. From the third to fifth centuries some Franks raided Roman territory while other Franks joined the Roman troops in Gaul. Only the Salian Franks formed a kingdom on Roman-held soil that was acknowledged by the Romans after 357. In the climate of the collapse of imperial authority in the West, the Frankish tribes were united under the Merovingians and conquered all of Gaul in the 6th century. The Salian political elite would be one of the most active forces in spreading Christianity over western Europe. The Merovingian dynasty, descended from the Salians, founded one of the Germanic monarchies which replaced the Western Roman Empire from the fifth century. The Frankish state consolidated its hold over large parts of western Europe by the end of the eighth century, developing into the Carolingian Empire which dominated most of Western Europe. This empire would gradually evolve into France and the Holy Roman Empire. (Wikipedia)

The story of this new dynasty and its evolution is told by an eyewitness: Gregory of Tours. Tours remained one of the most important centers of French culture in the fifth and sixth centuries and Gregory continued the work of his famous predecessor Saint Martin. Gregory was Bishop of Tours from 573 until his death in 594. His book History of the Franks is our most important document for the story of the Franks.

REQUIRED READING

Gregory of Tours,

A History of the Franks,

Lewis Thorpe (translator),

Penguin Classics,

ISBN 0140442952

(History of the Franks summary from Wikipedia)

Gregory of Tours' history is a dense work, full of numerous narratives and characters. Gregory's history contains Christian tales of miracles, descriptions of omens and natural events, stories of Christian martyrs, dialogues of church debates, lives of holy men, lives of the nobility, lives of eccentric peasants, frequent Bible verses and references, and complex international relations between numerous tribes and nations including the Lombards, Visigoths, Ostrogoths and Huns, not to mention Gregory's personal biography and interpretation of events.

Begins with the a pronouncement by the author, the Bishop of Tours, of Gregory's faith. That he is a Frankish Catholic clergyman who follows the Nicene Creed, and abhors heresy like those of the “wicked” Arian sect among other heresies. The Narrative history begins with a brief epitome of the Biblical Old Testament and New Testament, and the subsequent spread of the Christian Religion into Gaul. Next Gregory covers the history of Christianity in Gaul and some of the major events in Roman-Gallo relations. Book One ends with the death of Saint Martin of Tours in AD 397.

Covers the beginnings of the Merovingian dynasty. Book Two ends with the death of King Clovis I in 511, after his conquest of large tracts of land in modern-day France. Also narrated is Clovis's conversion to Christianity by his wife Clotilde.

Follows the four male inheritors of King Clovis who equally divide his realms at his death in AD 511. These four kings, Theodoric I, Lothar I, Childebert I, and Chlodomer, quarrel and fight for supremacy of the Frankish realm. Despite their disputes, the four brothers can occasionally work together against an outside threat, such as successful cooperation against the Burgundians in 523. Eventually Clothar becomes the most powerful King in the Frankish realm. Book Three ends with the death of king Theudebert I in 548. He is a grandson of Clovis and son to king Theodoric I, who died in 534 bequesting his kingdom to Theudebert. The kingdom after 548 falls to Theudebald until 555.

The two remaining sons of Clovis die; King Childebert in 558 and King Clothar in 561. The last years of his life see the entire realm of the Franks ruled by Clothar. At the time of his demise in AD 561 (like Clovis before him), the Kingdom is divided equally between four sons of Clothar and again the kingly sons quarrel for control of the entire Kingdom. A truce between the brothers is maintained until after the death of King Charibert I (son of Clothar) in 567. Clothar's remaining sons, Kings Sigibert, Guntram, and Chilperic, fight for the supremacy of the kingdom, with King Sigibert showing the strongest military force. Book Four ends with the killing of King Sigbert in AD 575. Gregory of Tours blames Fredegund, the wife of King Chilperic, for this assassination. The death leaves King Chilperic as the dominant king. Fredegund has long held a grudge against King Sigibert and his wife Brunhilda.

This book begins the part of the narrative where the author (Bishop Gregory of Tours) has much personal knowledge about the events in the Frankish Kingdom. This book and the ones hereafter, are considerably longer and more detailed than previous, whilst covering a smaller amount of time. This book also contains Gregory's impressions of ecclesiastical issues he saw in person and had some bearing on. This book describes a possible debate that Gregory had with a rival Arian church leader. Moreover, book 5 also introduces Childebert II, the son of recently slain King Sigibert, and of the still living Brunhilda. Childebert is taken along with Brunhilda under the protection of King Gunthram, brother and sometime rival of King Chilperic.

The young Childebert betrays his alliance with his adoptive uncle King Gunthram, the king who had protected Childebert and his mother after his father Sigibert's death. Now Childebert forms an alliance with his uncle, King Chilperic, who had often been an enemy of King Sigibert. Later, King Chilperic is murdered under mysterious circumstances in AD 584.

Fredegund assumes regency for her young son Clothar II. In the future Clothar will be king of all Franks until his death in 619, but that is beyond Gregory's narrative which end in roughly AD 593. Fredegund and her son are under the protection of King Gunthram. She remains in power until her death in AD 597. Also in this book is the rebellion of Gundovald and its failure. Gundovald claimed to be a lost illegitimate son of dead King Chlothar I. Many of the Frankish nobles and the Byzantine emperor Maurice gave some support to this rebellion; however, it is swiftly crushed by King Guntram.

“Many evil things were done at this time” as Gregory writes in Book VIII. It begins with the travels of King Guntram to Paris and Orleans and describes numerous confrontations between the king and some bishops. Meanwhile, king Guntram becomes ill and fears for his life. Gregory comments that the king's illness is a just punishment because he is planning to send a great number of bishops into exile. Fredegund gives two poisoned daggers to two clerics and sends them away with the order to assassinate King Childebert and Brunehild. However, the two clerics are arrested by Childebert, tortured and executed. Meanwhile, Fredegund is also behind the assassination of bishop Praetextus of Rouen while he is praying in his church. King Guntram orders his army to march against Arian Septimania and Spain without success and blames his army commanders for having allowed atrocities and random destruction.

The Treaty of Andelot is signed in AD 587 between King Guntram, Brunhilda, and King Childebert II. The treaty is a close pact of alliance, wherein Childebert is formally adopted as Guntram's heir. Brunhilda also formally allies with Guntram and comes under his protection.

Around 589, Basina the daughter of King Chilperic I and Clotilda, daughter of King Charibert lead a brief revolt from a nunnery. The 18 Bishops of Tours are named and described. Book Ten ends with a summary of Gregory's previous written works.