Childeric I

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Childeric I (c. 440 – c. 481) was the Merovingian king of the Salian Franks from 457 until his death, and the father of Clovis.

He succeeded his father Merovech as king, traditionally in 457 or 458. With his Frankish warband he was established with his capital at Tournai, on lands which he had received as a foederatus of the Romans, and for some time he kept the peace with his allies.

In about 463 in Orléans, in conjunction with the Roman General Aegidius, who was based in Soissons, he defeated the Visigoths, who hoped to extend their dominion along the banks of the Loire River. After the death of Aegidius, he first assisted Comes ("count") Paul of Angers, together with a mixed band of Gallo-Romans and Franks, in defeating the Goths and taking booty. Odoacer reached Angers but Childeric arrived the next day and a battle ensued. Count Paul was killed and Childeric took the city. Childeric, having delivered Angers, followed a Saxon warband to the islands on the Atlantic mouth of the Loire, and massacred them there. In a change of alliances, he also joined forces with Odoacer, according to Gregory of Tours, to stop a band of the Alamanni who wished to invade Italy.

The stories of his expulsion by the Franks, whose women he was taking; of his eight-year stay in Thuringia with King Basin and his wife Basina; of his return when a faithful servant advised him that he could safely do so by sending to him half of a piece of gold which he had broken with him; and of the arrival in Tournai of Queen Basina, whom he married, come from Gregory of Tours' Libri Historiarum (Book ii.12).

He died in 481 and was buried in Tournai, leaving a son, Clovis, afterwards king of the Franks.


Childeric's tomb was discovered in 1653 (May 27) by a mason doing repairs in the church of Saint-Brice in Tournai, a city in modern Belgium. Numerous precious objects were found, including a richly ornamented sword, a torse-like bracelet, jewels of gold and garnet cloisonné, gold coins, a gold bull's head and a ring with the inscription CHILDERICI REGIS ("of Childeric the king"), which identified the tomb. Some 300 golden bees were also found. 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.

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