Clovis I (466-511) consolidated Frankish power and expanded it to include most of Gaul and southwest Germany. He also converted to the Roman Catholic faith so making it easier for the Gallo-Romans to accept Frankish rule.
Clovis' father was Childeric, King of the Salian Franks. Clovis succeeded to his throne in 481. At that time, the 'Franks' was a term used to describe a number of kingdoms in northeast Gaul and present-day Belgium. They had launched raids on Roman Gaul and Spain throughout third century but had never established lasting conquests.
Clovis embarked on a series of conquests which was to extend the power of his kingdom and lay the basis for present-day France. The Merovingian dynasty of which he was part was to last for another two hundred years until the rise of the Carolingians in the eight century.
He began by invading the Roman province of Belgica Secunda in 486. There he defeated Syagrius at the capital Soissons. Following this victory Frankish hegemony over northern Gaul was established and the remaining Roman legions in Gaul were vanquished.
Gregory, Bishop of Tours, wrote an account of the reign of Clovis about a century after his death. He tells many tales that have grown into myth.
Clovis followed this up by capturing some neighbouring Frankish kingdoms- the Salic kingdoms of Cambrai and Tongres. He married Chlothild (later St. Clotilda), daugther of the Burgundian King.
His wife was a Christian and tried to persuade Clovis to convert. Their children were baptised in the the Roman Catholic faith but Clovis resisted. However, during his next battle, against the Alemanni in 496, Clovis promised to convert if his forces prevailed (according the Gregory).
Clovis kept his word when the battle was won; he was baptised on Christmas day 496 by Remigius, bishop of Reims. According to Gregory, angels bore the chrism from heaven and he was baptised with the words
"Bow thy head, O Sicambrian. Adore what thou hast burned and burn what thou hast adored."
It is important to note that Clovis was baptised into the Roman version of Christianity unlike the Arian heretics of Visigothic Spain and elsewhere.
In 500, Clovis defeated the Burgundians at Dijon. He defeated the Visigoths at Vouille in 507 and had their king, Alaric II, executed. The Visigoths were driven back into Spain apart from a salient in Septimania.
Clovis re-established his capital at Paris. The Pactus Legis Salicae (Law of Salian Franks) was probably written during his reign. It contained elements of Roman, Frankish and Christian tradition.
The fact that the Franks and the conquered Gallo-Romans now shared a religon, and that they were treated as equals under the law, made for a cohesive kingdom. The reign of Clovis saw the beginning of a shift of power from southern to northern Europe.
The Byzantine emperor Anastasius was enthused by the victories of Clovis and made him his premier ally. He hoped to subdue the Ostrogoths who held power in Italy.
Clovis died in Paris on November 27, 511. His kingdom was divided between his four sons (following Frankish tradition). Theuderic ruled from Rheims, Chlodemer from Orleans, Childebert from Soissons and Chlothar from Paris.