How Bible symbols are “retconned” into both real and imagined history.
Over a hundred years ago John Thomas, founder of the Christadelphian movement, puzzled over the identity of the frog-like spirits described in Revelation chapter 16. Styled as “foul” or “unclean”, the creatures proceed from the mouths of three characters in John’s vision:
And I saw three foul spirits like frogs coming from the mouth of the dragon, from the mouth of the beast, and from the mouth of the false prophet. These are demonic spirits, performing signs, who go abroad to the kings of the whole world, to assemble them for battle on the great day of God the Almighty.Rev 16:13–14 (NRSV)
The conclusions he drew are well known among Christadelphians. The frogs, he asserted, represented the spread of French democratic power, the spirit of revolution:
The conviction produced on my mind is, that the Frogs in the prophecy are the symbol of the French democratic power. It will be seen from the armorial shield of Clovis that the frogs and the lilies were both used as symbols. They are both indigenous to wet, or marshy, lands, and therefore very fit emblems of the French, who came originally from the marshes of Westphalia.John Thomas
At first reading this deduction may appear arbitrary: while the French are colloquially (and often disparagingly) referred to as “frogs”, this seems to be a modern insult unrelated to the Bible. It’s not the only rationale though; alongside the frog shield of Clovis, two other lines of evidence are advanced.
…on the shield of Pharamond so far back as 420CE, the frogs without the lilies appear in the armorial bearings of the Franks; and in the medal of Childeric I there is no lily, but the frog only. It would therefore seem from this, that the lilies were not in the original arms, but superadded many years after; and at length adopted by the Bourbons, as the symbol of their race in its dominion over the frogs.
Based on this information the association of the French power and Revelation’s frogs has endured to our own time. While it is by no means universally accepted across the Christadelphian community, it garners enough attention to warrant the occasional article in some special interest publications.
Which people or nation are characterised by their association with the symbol of the frogs?
The answer has been known for hundreds of years: the French. Today you can visit Rheims cathedral and the palace of Tau, next door to the cathedral, to read and see the history of [King Clovis]. In the palace hang tapestries telling the stories and depicting the battles of [Clovis].
These tapestries show the banner of Clovis, his heraldic symbol, made up of three frogs.Bible Magazine Vol 32 Issue 1 (Jan 2019)
Over a century passed since Thomas drew his conclusions but the arguments for identifying the frog spirits as the spirit of the French revolution are largely unchanged. In summary they are:
- Tapestries showing Clovis, first king of the Franks, had three frogs as his heraldic symbol
- The shield of Pharamond carries frogs as the arms of the Franks
- That Childeric I’s tomb contained a medallion bearing the image of a frog
How well does this reasoning stand up to scrutiny today?
Clovis and Saint Remi
Much of what we know of Clovis takes the form of stories told about his life. We find these stories captured in both word and art.
Some of the most compelling imagery associating Clovis with frogs (or toads) is in Reims, France. In the Saint Remi History Museum are ten tapestries which illustrate the life of Saint Remi, bishop of Reims. 
In the upper register we see King Clovis, dressed in gilded armour adorned with toads, fighting with swords at the Battle of Tolbiac. In the lower register, King Clovis and his army drive away the enemy horsemen. In the lower half we see Saint Remi instructing King Clovis as part of his Christian religious initiation on the left, and his baptism on the right.
One of the most important points to note about this image is the date: it was produced during the first third of the 16th century, more than a full thousand years after the events it depicts. Soldiers are shown wearing full plate armour; this type of armour was a medieval development, contemporary with the time that the tapestry was produced rather than the events it portrays.
Further tapestries are found in the Palace of Tau (next door to Reims cathedral, a UNESCO world heritage site) depicting the same battle and Clovis’ subsequent coronation.
Again, several parts of the arrangement are inconsistent with the period it depicts. Once more we see full plate armour worn by the soldiers. Also present in the image are cannon, which were not invented in the time of Clovis.
The broader collection includes scenes from the life of Christ which are similarly historically anachronistic, with characters dressed in clothing of the medieval period, and with medieval buildings set in western European landscapes.
Putting aside the historical inaccuracies it is true that we see a consistent association of Clovis with frogs or toads. This artistic association is consistent with other books of arms which associate two different arms with the French kings.
Notes accompanying the arms explain:
- TOP: Bears three black toads on an argent (silver) field, which arms the Kings of the Franks [i.e. French, France] once carried.
- BOTTOM: Bears three golden fleurs-de-lis on an azure field which arms the Kings of France now carry.
The significance of the two arms, and the transition between them, centres on Clovis. His reign was a key moment in French history because he was the first Christian king of the Franks. The tapestries and arms all reference a collection of medieval legends regarding the conversion of Clovis to Christianity.
A popular version of the legend can be found in Fabyan’s Chronicle, which collects accounts of British history from the arrival and reign of the legendary king Brutus following the Trojan War to the death of Henry VII.
“It is wytnessyd of Maister Robert Gagwyne that before thyse dayes all French kynges used to here in their armes iii Todys (ed: three toads), but after this Clodoveus had recognised Cristes relygyon iii Floure de lys were sent to hym by diuyne power, sette in a shylde of azure, the whiche syns that been borne of all French kynges.”
There are several variations of this myth which focus on different details of the story: Clovis, prior to his conversion to Christianity, is said to have had for his arms three toads. Persuaded at length to adopt the Catholic faith by his wife Clotilde, upon his conversion he was given, by divine power, the Fleur de Lys, which replaced the arms of toads.
The historical problem with this narrative is that Clovis and all the other Frankish kings lived well before the late 12th century origins of heraldry as we know it. Just as the tapestries of Clovis’ life showed him clad in armour which did not exist in his time, so also the Clovis of real history had no arms on his shield, banner, or clothing because nobody of his time used arms at all.
What we are dealing with in all instances are “attributed arms”, that is, heraldry that has been “attributed” to the subject by later authors. Wikipedia provides a succinct definition:
“Attributed arms are Western European coats of arms given retrospectively to persons real or fictitious who died before the start of the age of heraldry in the latter half of the 12th century.”
Why did medieval authors and masters of arms attribute heraldry in this way? Simply put, it is because their priority was not historical accuracy, but commentary on their present.
“Throughout the Middle Ages heraldry was used in a variety of ways to symbolise politics and propaganda. In a secular society which was largely illiterate, and in which great significance was attached to outward trappings and social display, arms, banners, and badges, often loaded with deep-seated significance but readily discernible to most, were swiftly enlisted in the war to win hearts and minds.”
Medieval officers of arms thought it important that notable individuals from before the heraldic age should have arms attributed to them. Perhaps surprisingly, this includes characters from the Bible.
Jesus’ Coat of Arms
We are not surprised to find that Jesus was considered a notable historical character. The Bible provides rich seams of sign and symbol from which to create arms, and it was only a matter of time before arms were attributed to him.
On the Hyghalmen Roll, a 15th century roll of arms from Cologne, Germany, Jesus himself is shown wearing plate armour and carrying a shield with the head of Judas, alongside various other items related to his ministry. Produced a century before the tapestries of Clovis, it is not intended to be historically accurate but show emblems of his victory and status.
Evidently, medieval artists did not feel limited to attributing arms only to human persons. They were just as likely to attribute them to mythical characters.
Satan’s Coat of Arms
In the Douce Apocalypse,  a 13th century English illustration of Revelation, we find scenes depicting the last great battle of good and evil. In keeping with other artefacts of its time, the artist imagines the scenes in contemporary dress and armour.
And what arms are ascribed to Satan? Three frogs.
Why would someone in medieval England, drawing a picture of Satan from Revelation ascribe three frogs as Satan’s arms?
“Naturally, because men tried to avoid contact with [Satan], there is some uncertainty as to the correct insignia to be assigned to him. Fortunately St John came to the rescue of our forefathers and, in the Book of Revelations, he tells us that he ‘saw three unclean spirits like frogs come out of the mouth of the dragon… beast… and false prophet’”
The arms of Satan are gules a fess gold between three frogs proper. A shield of three frogs, based on the very passage that we started with: Revelation 16v13.
This bears more than a passing similarity to the arms of Clovis!
“The device of Clovis was three toads (or botes, as they were called in Old French), but after his baptism the Arians greatly hated him, and assembled a large army under King Candat to put down the Christian king. While on his way to meet the heretics, he saw in the heavens his device miraculously changed into three lilies or on a banner azure. He had such a banner instantly made, and called it his liflambe.”
When we evaluate depictions of Clovis we see that these are all steeped in the same lore regarding his conversion to Christianity. Versions of the legend are recorded in Grandes Chroniques de France, of which there are around 130 surviving manuscripts. This lore was not static, and a particularly early version of the tale provides an intriguing variation. In summary:
“By the late 13th century, an allegorical poem by Guillaume de Nangis (d. 1300), written at Joyenval Abbey in Chambourcy, relates how the golden lilies on an azure ground were miraculously substituted for the crescents on Clovis’ shield, a projection into the past of contemporary images of heraldry.” (Emphasis mine)
Note that in this early version of the legend, it is not toads but crescents which are found on Clovis’ shield. When the story reappears at the end of the 15th century, the alleged arms carried by Clovis before his baptism are no longer crescents but toads. Why?
“Significantly, at the end of the Middle Ages, Clovis’ paganism is not represented by a Muslim symbol (crescent) but a demonic one (toad)…”
Using a Muslim crescent symbol was intended to show Clovis’ paganism. Later, his paganism was represented by devilish toads, just like the arms that Satan carries.
John Thomas’ Eureka alludes to the statue of Clovis at Innsbruck which carries arms with a division of the field party per pale (split vertically). The two halves contain three toads and three Fleur-de-Lys respectively. This is perhaps the clearest heraldic representation of Clovis’ transition from paganism to Christianity.
Clovis was made to bear the three toads as his arms by medieval artists to signify his pagan roots. The choice of toads is informed by their devilish associations, which come from the Bible. It seems that John Thomas’ appeals to heraldry to explain Revelation 16 were based on attributed arms which come from Revelation 16. The argument is entirely circular.
Having understood that the age of heraldry was several centuries after Clovis, it is reasonably easy to dismiss any association of frogs with Clovis’ ancestors on the same basis: that heraldry did not exist at the time they lived.
While this is a reasonable conclusion, it is reinforced by the fact that Pharamond is considered a legendary character by modern historians.
An anonymous work of the 8th century, Liber Historiae Francorum, describes Pharamond as the first king of the Franks rather than Clovis. This work creates an origo gentis, or “origin story of a people” (in this case, France) describing their descent from the legendary Trojan heroes. None of this is considered reliable history today. Instead, the 6th century work Historia Francorum by Gregory of Tours provides a more consistent history, attesting multiple rulers at the time that it is suggested Pharamond lived.
In later French Arthurian romance (the Prose Tristan, follow-up to the wildly successful Holy Grail and Lancelot/Guinevere tales), Pharamond is a knight of Arthur’s round table, and like other knights is ascribed his own attributed arms.
The Pharamond passed down to us today appears to be more of a literary device than a historical person, used to legitimise French royalty by connecting it to a mythic past. It is hard to connect him with real French history, frogs, or anything to do with Revelation.
The Frogs of Westphalia
While remarking on national origins, it’s worth a small aside on Thomas’ suggestion that frogs and lilies are:
“…both indigenous to wet, or marshy, lands, and therefore very fit emblems of the French, who came originally from the marshes of Westphalia.”
Westphalia is part of the Rhine province in Germany, east of Belgium, but at the time Thomas wrote it was a part of Prussia. The early Franks formed from the remains of several tribes both east and west of the Rhine which coalesced against the Saxons as Roman hegemony declined. Some of these tribes were lived in the area which later was known as Westphalia.
It is true that there are frogs in Westphalia. The habitat of the European Tree Frog ranges from the west coast of France through to northern Greece, including the Rhine marshlands of the area. Industrialisation and irrigation in the early 20th century endangered many of the frog’s natural habitats, and it’s likely that there were more frogs in the area in the past than there are today.
This is an anecdotal and increasingly tenuous line of reasoning. We’re far from the Bible text, historical evidence, or ecological significance. “There were probably frogs where some French people came from” isn’t a sound basis for an exposition of the Apocalypse.
But there remains one key piece of evidence which does associate frogs with the French prior to the age of heraldry: the frog medallion of Childeric I.
The Tomb of Childeric I
In 1653 a mason was making repairs to the Saint-Brice church in modern-day Tournai, Belgium. Working several feet below ground he struck gold, uncovering a tomb containing precious artefacts and artistic treasures. Amongst the grave goods was found a ring bearing the inscription CHILDERICI REGIS, or “of Childeric the King”.
Childeric (c458-c481) fits into our story as he was the father of Clovis I. The discovery of his tomb was a major archaeological find, and the goods within it provided concrete insight into the lives of the early kings of the Franks, who at the time of its discovery lived over a thousand years prior.
John Thomas’ Eurekarefers to the discovery, and in particular a frog depicted on a medal attributed to Childeric. Later writers are more emphatic, making claims that “Childeric… struck a medal displaying the frog as his symbol”.
This is incredibly important as it gives us a tangible connection between frogs and French kings before the age of heraldry—even before Clovis. How did Thomas discover this connection?
Thomas’ Eureka owes portions of its content to Edward Elliot’s Horae Apocalyptica. In fact, the section of Eureka titled “Like to frogs” appears to be taken almost verbatim from Elliot’s footnotes. Potential plagiarism aside, the significance is that both books cite the discovery of a frog medal in the Tomb of Childeric as evidence of the association between the French kings and frogs, and therefore represented by the frog spirits of Revelation 16.
Expanding on the notes in Horae Apocalyptica, Thomas quotes the French Benedictine monk Bernard de Montfaucon, who was one of the founders of the modern discipline of archaeology. Thomas writes:
“Montfaucon, in his Monumens de la Monarchie Francaise, p. 4, plate 6, gives a Frog as one of the monuments of the French king, Childeric; thus writing respecting it, “3. Another medal representing a frog, which was also an Egyptian symbol”. This was found 1623CE (sic), at St. Brice, near Tournay, with other things belonging to Childeric. He reigned 456CE.”
Accompanying the text of Eureka is a depiction of the medal with the caption “Medal of Frog found in the tomb of Childeric I”.
Complete details of the hoard are reported by Jean-Jacques Chifflet (1588–1660) who documented the discovery in his book Anastasis Childerici I (“The resurrection of Childeric I”). The frog medallion is shown at the bottom of the set.
Chifflet’s plate seems to confirm that early Frankish kings used the frog symbol. However, it should be noted that the frog is only one of several animals shown on the medals, including birds, unicorns, and cats. As our only contemporary evidence of a connection between frogs and the French kings, this already seems like a tenuous connection. Yet even this questionable evidence cannot be sustained.
Montfaucon, the monk quoted by Thomas, was born in 1655 only two years after the discovery of Childeric’s tomb. He was a learned scholar who knew Hebrew, Greek, Chaldean, Syriac, and Coptic. In life he made significant contributions to the study of ancient manuscripts, including the early church fathers.
When his considerable intellect was later focused on the origins of his own nation in Monumens de la Monarchie Francaise, his knowledge of antiquity was never far away. While astute for his time, a lack of access to the primary evidence relating to Childeric led to a mistake that was only spotted by later historians.
“…instead of going back to the actual treasure, which had been in the royal library in Paris since 1665, [Montfaucon] simply reproduced Chifflet’s plates. Along with the medals and coins found in the tomb, he included Egyptian scarabs which his predecessor had introduced for purposes of comparison. Montfaucon thought that these, too, were Merovingian. Far from suspecting his mistake, he felt that some great mystery underlay the presence of these objects. He was always on the look-out for traces of antiquity; so he wrote: “I am surprised to find a stag-beetle here–an object of Egyptian superstition . . . could these beetles have reached France from Egypt at this early period? In another oval there is a frog, which is also to be found fairly frequently on Egyptian monuments.””
Montfaucon was clearly surprised to see Egyptian motifs amongst the Frankish king’s treasure. While the astonishment was justified, he seems content to puzzle over its potential meaning rather than read Chifflet’s evidence in context.
“…Montfaucon made a blunder: he who certainly knew this treasure, the vestiges of which the King’s Library had collected in 1665, contented himself with having the plates of his predecessor reproduced, instead of resorting to the originals. So much so that he had engraved, next to the medals and coins collected in the tomb, Egyptian scarabs which Chifflet had represented by way of comparison, and which his copyist mistakenly took for Merovingian objects.”
It’s only when we go to Chifflet’s Anastasis Childerici that we understand what went wrong. In it, Chifflet states that twenty medals were found in Childeric’s tomb. Chifflet included two additional medals of the Egyptian scarab and frog in his documentary plate for purposes of comparison.
“I also exhibited the frog in the lower table, ex prominent japide holes, of different colors.”
When Montfaucon’s copyist made a drawing of Chifflet’s plate depicting the medals from Childeric’s tomb, the accompanying explanation that medals were added to the plate for purposes of comparison was omitted. Montfaucon was looking at a picture of twenty Frankish medals and two Egyptian ones, thinking they were all Frankish. His confusion was referenced in passing by Elliot in Horæ Apocalypticæ, presented in isolation by Thomas in Eureka, and stretched in fact by Mansfield in the Expositor.
All of which is to say: there was no frog medal in Childeric’s tomb.
Our investigation of the “French connection” to the frog-like spirits has taken us on an unexpected journey from Christadelphian pioneers to medieval heraldry, and French Arthurian legends to ancient archaeology.
So, are the French represented by the frog-like spirits of Revelation 16? Yes, but not in the sense that the Bible is alluding to the French! Instead, medieval heraldry used the Bible symbol of frogs to represent Satan and his devilish wiles, and particularly to depict the first Frankish king’s conversion from paganism to Christianity.
The evidence proffered by John Thomas to support the association of Frankish kings with frogs is anecdotal, mythic, or false. It is known that there are no coats of arms before 1130-1140; such depictions are “attributed arms”, and not historical. There is no contemporary evidence that Clovis or his mythical relatives used either frogs or even fleurs on their shields.
If there is any connection between France and the frog spirits of Revelation, it cannot be sustained from this evidence.
by Nathan Kitchen
 Thomas, J. (1849). Elpis Israel – An Exposition of the Kingdom of God (p. 381). CMPA, Birmingham, UK.
 See, for example, B. W. (1910). Three Unclean Spirits Like Frogs: A Criticism. The Christadelphian, p 257. CMPA, Birmingham, and the onward “The Old Arms of France” series.
 “This hanging, composed of ten tapestries, was commissioned by Robert de Lenoncourt, Archbishop of Reims and commendatory abbot of Saint-Remi Abbey, to decorate the adjoining basilica… Made during the first third of the 16th century, its iconography is characterized by elements of Gothic style, while being marked by the transition to Renaissance art.” Hernu, B. (2017). Museums de Reims: Digital Museum. Retrieved 2022-11-06.
 “Despite [some early] references, it is only from the mid-13th century that the evidence for plate armour becomes more widespread” – Dowen, K. (2017). The Introduction of Plate Armour in Medieval Western Europe. Fasciculi Archaeologiae Historicae 30, pp. 19-28. IAE PAN Journals. Łódź, Poland.
 Durant, J. (1573). Histoire du fort roy Clovis (6-piece tapestry series). Reims, France.
 “Although many questions remain that have ignited scholarly controversies and even most-unscholarly fist-fights, conservatively one can conclude that there is a kernel of truth in Homer’s story. A Trojan War did take place. Of the nine cities that lie one on top of another at the site of Troy, it is most likely the sixth city that belonged to Priam and which the Mycenaean Greeks besieged, although one cannot completely rule out the seventh city as being Priam’s Troy.” Cline, E. H. (2006). Archaeology and the Iliad: The Trojan War in Homer and History (p.56). Recorded Books. There may be a historical core to the Trojan Wars, but the consensus is that it was far exaggerated beyond our ability to discern “what really happened”. The characters and events they describe are not considered historical.
 Gaguini, R. (1433-1501) (1557). Rerum gallicarum annales. André Wechel, Frankfurt.
 Fabyan, R. (1516). Fabyan’s Chronicle: The new Chronicles of England and of France (first edition). Printed by Robert Pynson.
 The evolution of heraldry takes place in different areas at different times. A deeper explanation of the origins of heraldry can be found in: Neubecker, O., Brooke-Little, J. P., Tobler, R (1975). Heraldry: Sources, Symbols, and Meaning. Tiger Books, London.
 Ailes, A. (2002). Heraldry in Medieval England: Politics and Propaganda (p. 83). In Coss, P & Keen, M (Ed.) Heraldry, Pageantry, and Social Display in Medieval England. Boydell Press, Woodbridge.
 (1447-1455). Hyghalmen Roll. Cologne, Germany. Now at the English College of Arms in London.
 The tapestries of “Histoire du fort roy Clovis” are circa 1573CE, while The Hyghalmen Roll is circa 1450CE. The tapestries of “The History of St Remi” are somewhere in the middle, circa 1535CE.
 Dennys, R. (1975). The Heraldic Imagination (p. 112). Crown, New York.
 Brewer, E. C. (2018) . Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. Chambers (2018 ed). Citing Raoul de Prèsles: Grans Croniques de France (translated).
 Pastoureau, M. (1979) Traité d’Héraldique (French). Picard, Paris.
 “…a row of tall bronze figures, twenty-three in number, representing principally the most distinguished personages of the House of Austria; the armor and costumes being those chiefly of the 16th century, and the workmanship excellent. Among them is Clovis, king of France, and on his shield three fleur de Lys and three frogs, with the words underneath… Clovis the first Christian king of France.” (Emphasis mine).
 “These [tales of Faramund and the Trojan origin of the Franks] are obviously no more than legend, though they do contain some interesting elements.” Wood, I. (1994). The Merovingian Kingdoms, 450-751 (p. 36). Longman. Essex, England.
 Gregory of Tours (539-594) (1997) . Halsall, Paul (ed.). History of the Franks: Book II (Abridged). Translated by Earnest Brehaut. Medieval Sourcebook, Fordham University.
 Schlüpmann, M (Ed). (2007). Rundbrief zur Herpetofauna von Nordrhein-Westfalen, nr. 31. Deutsche Bibliothek.
 Chifflet, J. J. (1655). Anastasis Childerici. Balthasar Moreti, Antwerp.
 Thomas, J. (1997). Eureka: an exposition of the Apocalypse (electronic ed.). Logos Publications.
 Mansfield, H. P. (1980). The Christadelphian Expositor: The book of Revelation. Logos Publications.
 Elliott, E. B. (1862). Horœ Apocalypticœ; or, A Commentary on the Apocalypse, Critical and Historical (Fifth Edition, Vol. 3). Seeley, Jackson, and Halliday.
 Montfaucon, B. (1729-1733). Les Monumens de la Monarchie Françoise. Gandouin et Giffart, Paris.
 It was found in 1653: I think this is a typo by Thomas, or maybe a later editor. It’s correct in Monumens de la Monarchie Francaise.
 Original image from the Getty Research Institute, digitized by the Internet Archive.
 Vanuxem, J. (1957). The Theories of Mabillon and Montfaucon on French Sculpture of the Twelfth Century. Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes (Vol 20, No. 1/2, Jan-Jun, 1957), p. 55. The University of Chicago Press on behalf of The Warburg Institute. Link.