The founder of the Merovingian Frankish kingdom was Clovis.
He followed an aggressive policy of conquest to build up the kingdom
over much of modern France, but his death in 511 saw his realm
chopped up into several smaller kingdoms.
It was Frankish custom to divide territory between
surviving sons, a practise known as partible inheritance, and the
event of Clovis' death proved no exception (something the
Merovingians were never able to change). The kingdom was
divided four ways, creating Austrasia, Paris, Orleans, and Soissons
(although the latter had already existed as a separate domain until
its conquest by Clovis in 486). Even so, the Frankish domains were
seen as a single realm that was ruled collectively by several kings.
As Soissons formed the heartland of Frankish power,
Clotaire, king of Soissons was also acknowledged the senior king of
the Franks. Three other Frankish regions, Bordeaux, Aquitaine and
Auvergne lay to the south of Orleans. Bordeaux was held by the king
of Paris, Auvergne was part of the territory of Austrasia, but who
held Aquitaine is not known. It was probably only loosely held by
dukes whose master continually changed during the frequent fighting
between the kingdoms, and may even have been partially held by the
Visigoths who had only recently been expelled from the rest of Gaul.
The territory of the Alemanni had been conquered in 496, and was
probably associated with Austrasia during this period.
While Soissons seemed to be almost the smallest of
the four, its ruler, Chlothar I, was strong enough to survive. In
531 he conquered the Thuringians. In 534 he added the Burgundians to
his territory, and in 555 the Bavarians were conquered. Between
555-561 he also held Austrasia, and in 558, on the death of his
brother in Paris, he gained both Paris and Orleans. However, it
would be a long time before the Frankish realms were fully reunited.