Childeric I

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Childeric I
Signet ring of Childeric I. Inscription CHILDIRICI REGIS ("of Childeric the king").[1] Found in his tomb at Tournai, now in the Monnaie de Paris
King of the Salian Franks
Reign 457–481/82
Predecessor Merovech
Successor Clovis I
Spouse Basina of Thuringia
Clovis I
Audoflède, Queen of the Ostrogoths
Dynasty Merovingian
Father Merovech
Born c. 440
Died 481 or 482
Burial Tournai

Childeric I (c. 440 – 481/482) was a Merovingian king of the Salian Franks and the father of Clovis I, who would unite the Franks and found the Merovingian dynasty.


Childeric succeeded his father Merovech as king of the Salian Franks, traditionally in 457 or 458.[citation needed] By 457 at the latest he was the ruler of the Franks in the territory covering Tournai and the Lys valley. He may have had power over further territories to the south, but the sources are unclear on this. According to Gregory of Tours, Childeric was exiled at some point, the reason being traditionally given as Frankish unhappiness with Childeric's private life. Gregory further records that the Franks recalled Childeric after 8 years of exile.[2]

In 463 Childeric fought in conjunction with the Roman General Aegidius, the magister militum of northern Gaul based in Soissons, to defeat the Visigoths, who had hoped to extend their dominion along the banks of the Loire River.[citation needed] After the death of Aegidius, Childeric assisted Comes ("count") Paul of Angers, together with a mixed band of Gallo-Romans and Franks, in defeating the Goths and taking booty.[3] Saxon raiders under the command Odoacer reached Angers and captured it, but Childeric and Count Paul retook the city in 469.[4] Childeric, having delivered Angers, followed a Saxon warband to the islands on the Atlantic mouth of the Loire, and massacred them there.[citation needed] In the period around 476 to 481, he and Odoacer were discussing the possibility of an alliance against the Alamanni who wished to invade Italy.[5]

Marriage, children, and death[edit]

Gregory of Tours, in Libri Historiarum (Book ii.12), records the story of the expulsion of Childeric by the Salian Franks for seducing their wives. He was exiled for eight years in Thuringia with King Basin and his wife, Queen Basina. He returned only when a faithful servant advised him that he could safely do so by sending him half of a gold piece that Childeric had split with him before his exile. The book also describes his arrival in Tournai with Basina, who had left her husband to be with him.

The church of Saint-Brice at Tournai (Belgium), where Childeric's tomb was discovered in 1653, as it looks today

Childeric married Basina and they had the following children:

  1. Clovis I (466 – 511).
  2. Audofleda (467 – 511), Queen of the Ostrogoths, wife of Theodoric the Great.
  3. Lanthilde (468 – ¿¿??).
  4. Aboflede (470 – ¿¿??).

Childeric died in 481[5] or 482 and was buried in Tournai.[6] His son Clovis succeeded him as king of the Salian Franks.[7]


Detail of golden bees with garnet insets
Detailed drawing of the golden bees/flies discovered in the tomb of Childeric I in Tournai on 27 May 1653. Drawn by J. J. Chifflet in 1655

Childeric's tomb was discovered in 1653[8] by a mason doing repairs in the church of Saint-Brice in Tournai, Belgium.[citation needed] Numerous precious objects were found, including jewels of gold and garnet cloisonné, gold coins, a gold bull's head, and a ring with the king's name inscribed. Some 300 golden bees or cicadas were also found which had been placed on the king's cloak.[8] Archduke Leopold William, governor of the Southern Netherlands (today's Belgium), had the find published in Latin. The treasure went first to the Habsburgs in Vienna, then as a gift to Louis XIV, who was not impressed with the treasure and stored it in the royal library, which became the Bibliothèque Nationale de France during the Revolution. Napoleon was more impressed with Childeric's bees and when he was looking for a heraldic symbol to trump the Bourbon fleur-de-lys, he settled on Childeric's bees as symbols of the French Empire.

On the night of November 5–6, 1831, the treasure of Childeric was among 80 kilos of treasure stolen from the Library and melted down for the gold. A few pieces were retrieved from where they had been hidden in the Seine, including two of the bees. The record of the treasure, however, now exists only in the fine engravings made at the time of its discovery and in some reproductions made for the Habsburgs.


  1. ^ G. Salaün, A. McGregor & P. Périn, "Empreintes inédites de l'anneau sigillaire de Childéric Ier : état des connaissances", Antiquités Nationales, 39 (2008), pp. 217-224 (esp. 218).
  2. ^ Wallace-Hadrill Long-Haired Kings pp. 158-161
  3. ^ Heather Fall of the Roman Empire p. 416
  4. ^ Collins Early Medieval Europe p. 103
  5. ^ a b Collins Early Medieval Europe pp. 112-113
  6. ^ Wallace-Hadrill Long-Haired Kings p. 3
  7. ^ Wickham Inheritance of Rome p. 112
  8. ^ a b Wallace-Hadrill Long-Haired Kings p. 162


  • Collins, Roger (1999). Early Medieval Europe: 300–1000 (Second ed.). New York: St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0-312-21886-9. 
  • Heather, Peter (2006). The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History of Rome and the Barbarians. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-532541-6. 
  • Wallace-Hadrill, J. M. (1982). The Long-Haired Kings. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. ISBN 0-8020-6500-7. 
  • Wickham, Chris (2009). The Inheritance of Rome: Illuminating the Dark Ages 400–1000. New York: Penguin Books. ISBN 978-0-14-311742-1. 

External links[edit]

  • Photo: Merovingian sword and scabbard mounts from the tomb of King Childeric featuring silver-gilt and cloisonné garnets
  • "A note on Childeric's bees": the discovery of his tomb: follow the links for the engravings of Childeric's treasure and the two remaining gold bees.
Childeric I
Born: 437 Died: 481
Preceded by
King of the Salian Franks
Succeeded by
Clovis I