AT the death of Clovis, in 511, his kingdom was divided among his four sons, 'as if it had been a private estate'. This Frankish custom of inheritance is a cardinal fact in Merovingian history; to it is due much of the incoherence and confusion of the period. Following the death of successive rulers, continual partitions are made, often based on purely personal considerations. The east of France, for instance, was combined on this occasion with the Auvergne, and no account was taken of races or nationalities. But in spite of this division, the kingdom was still regarded as a unity, as its contemporary title, Regnum Francorum, implies, and the four sons of Clovis recognized their common duty to complete the conquest begun by their father. The four capitals, moreover, Rheims, Orleans, Paris, and Soissons, were situated at the extremities of each domain, in close proximity to each other, thus forming a centre of German influence.
The dynastic story of the next half-century is a long series of murders, annexations, revolts, and repartitions. Unity was temporarily restored in 558, when, out of all the descendants of Clovis, only Chlotar remained. In spite of civil wars, the consolidation and extension of the conquests of Clovis had steadily proceeded. Burgundy had been finally subdued in 5341 and now formed part of the Frankish dominions, though its hundred years of independent existence had given it a certain unity of culture which was never completely lost. Provence, which had once belonged to Theoderic, the Ostrogoth ruler of Italy, was relinquished by his successors about the same time. Septimania, the district lying between the Rhône and the Pyrenees, still remained in Visigoth hands, and Brittany acknowledged no more than a nominal overlordship on the part of the Franks. Roughly speaking, however, Gaul had been conquered up to its natural boundaries. Outside these limits, Frankish arms were not so successful. Expeditions into North Italy and Spain led to no permanent result, though the weakness of Ostrogoths and Visigoths____________________