Chlotar II

Chlotar II
   Merovingian king from 613 to 629 and the first monarch to rule a united kingdom since the first Merovingian king of the Franks, Clovis, in the late fifth and early sixth century, Chlotar was a successful king who restored the integrity of the dynasty and laid the foundation for the high point in the dynasty's history. The son of Chilperic I and Fredegund, Chlotar established a period of peace and prosperity for the kingdom and ended generations of civil strife and fraternal violence that had plagued the realm since the early sixth century. Chlotar improved relations with the nobility and the church, reformed the law, established a rudimentary chancery that was to develop in the generations to follow, and emphasized the king's stature as a sacred figure. The peace and prosperity enjoyed by the kingdom during his reign continued during that of the reign of his son, Dagobert, because of important foundation laid by Chlotar and because of the talents of his successor.
   Chlotar was born during a time of great civil strife in the kingdom that was the result of the competition between his parents, Chilperic and Fredegund, and their rivals King Sigebert (r. 560/561-575) and his queen Brunhilde. He ascended to the throne in 584 when his father was murdered by his mother and immediately faced numerous difficulties that threatened his claim to the throne. One of the most serious problems was the question of his legitimacy and right to inherit. Many leaders in the kingdom, including the historian Gregory of Tours and King Guntram, the pious and highly respected Merovingian ruler, expressed doubts about his parentage. Only after Fredegund gathered the sworn oaths of three bishops and three hundred nobles was Chlotar's claim preserved, with the aid of his uncle, King Guntram. He faced further challenges, however, in the 590s, including the ascendancy of his mother's rival, Brunhilde, attacks on his own part of the kingdom, and the loss of important territories. Growing dissatisfaction among the nobility with Brunhilde and her sons, however, provided Chlotar with the opportunity not only to secure his place in his own part of the kingdom but to establish his authority over the entire Frankish realm. He led a revolt against Brunhilde that led to her deposition and brutal execution in 613.
   The opening years of Chlotar's reign, known mainly from the garbled pages of the chronicle of Fredegar, were marked by an attack on the reign of his predecessor. The condemnation and savage execution of Brunhilde for numerous murders were only the start of Chlotar's war on his predecessor's memory. To further denigrate the reputation of his predecessor, Chlotar promoted the memory and saint's cult of one of the bishops that Brunhilde had murdered. He also made contact with the Irish missionary St. Columban, who had been exiled by the queen. Although Columban did not return, his foundation at Luxeuil received protection from Chlotar. These actions not only worsened Brunhilde's reputation, they also improved Chlotar's relationship with the church in his realm.
   Chlotar made significant overtures to the nobility during the early years of his reign. His success against Brunhilde was due to the support of the nobility, particularly to the founders of what later became the Carolingian dynasty, Arnulf of Metz and Pippin of Landen. They were made important advisors of the king and rewarded with prominent religious and political office, Arnulf with the see of Metz and Pippin with the office of mayor of the palace (major domus). The support of the Frankish nobility was essential for the success of the king, particularly because of the shifting alliances of various noble families. During his entire reign and that of his son Dagobert, Chlotar sought to manage these unstable alliances. His creation of a subkingdom in Austrasia in 622 for Dagobert may have been an attempt to appease regional interests and draw powerful families in the region closer to the ruling dynasty. Marriage alliances were also made to maintain good relations with various noble factions. Dagobert's mother, Berthetrude, may have been Burgundian, which would have preserved ties between Chlotar and that part of the kingdom. After Berthetrude's death, Chlotar married again, and Dagobert married Chlotar's new wife's sister, both marriages attempted to gain the support of the wives' family for the two kings.
   Chlotar throughout his entire reign introduced significant legal reforms and issued numerous charters and diplomas. One of his most important pieces of legislation came very early in his reign, when he pronounced the Edict of Paris of 614. Once seen as a concession to the nobility, the edict bound the king and nobility closer together and provided them the shared purpose of ruling a great kingdom and maintaining peace and order throughout the realm. The edict also addressed tolls, ecclesiastical property, and the restitution of property lost under Chlotar's predecessor Brunhilde; in this way Chlotar further denigrated Brunhilde's memory and enhanced his own image before the nobility. His activity as a lawgiver had two further consequences. It forced him to establish a writing office, which in generations to come evolved into an official chancery, an office that attracted skilled men, often from the church, who would support his power. The office also enhanced his reputation as king and reinforced his image as an almost sacred figure, a result that distinguished him from the nobles who served him and needed him to continue to act as lawgiver.
   By the end of his reign in 629, Chlotar had reestablished the authority of the Merovingian dynasty and laid the foundation for even greater successes by his son Dagobert. Chlotar had reunited the kingdom under his sole authority and maintained good relations with the nobility. He reordered and improved relations with the church in his kingdom, which offered a valuable counterweight to the nobility should he need it. He reformed the law and enhanced his reputation as king through his role as lawgiver. Chlotar also redefined the status of the king in the Merovingian realm-all of which aided his son and established an era of prosperity for the dynasty.
   See also
 ♦ Bachrach, Bernard S. Merovingian Military Organization, 481-751. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1972.
 ♦ Geary, Patrick. Before France and Germany: The Creation and Transformation of the Merovingian World. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988.
 ♦ Gregory of Tours. The History of the Franks. Trans. Lewis Thorpe. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1974.
 ♦ James, Edward. The Franks. Oxford: Blackwell, 1991.
 ♦ Lasko, Peter. The Kingdom of the Franks: North-West Europe before Charlemagne. New York: McGraw Hill, 1971.
 ♦ ---. The Frankish Church. Oxford: Clarendon, 1983.
 ♦ Wallace-Hadrill, J. M. The Long-Haired Kings. Toronto: Toronto University Press, 1982.
 ♦ Wallace-Hadrill, J. M., ed. and trans. The Fourth Book of the Chronicle of Fredegar with Its Continuations. London: Nelson, 1960.
 ♦ Wemple, Suzanne. Women in Frankish Society: Marriage and the Cloister, 500 to 900. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985.
 ♦ Wood, Ian. The Merovingian Kingdoms, 450-751. London: Longman, 1994.

Encyclopedia of Barbarian Europe. 2014.

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