Charles Martel

From Academic Kids

See also: Charles Martel d'Anjou (1271-1295).


Charles Martel (Charles "the Hammer", German: Karl Martell) (August 23, 686October 22 741) was born in Herstal, in what is now Wallonia, Belgium, the illegitimate son of Pepin II (635 or 640 - December 16 714) and his concubine Alpaida or Chalpaida.

Although he was Mayor of the Palace of the kingdom of the Franks, Martel (Martel means "the Hammer") is best remembered for winning the Battle of Tours in 732, which has been characterized as the salvation of Europe from the Arabs spreading their empire further than the Iberian Peninsula. Martel's Frankish army defeated an Arab army, which had swept through southern Asia and north Africa, before conquering most of the Iberian peninsula and much of southern France. Martel achieved lasting greatness by inspiring his Franks to do what was thought to be impossible.

It was this battle that earned Charles the surname "Martel," for the merciless way he smote his enemies. Most historians believe that had he failed at Tours, Islam would probably have overrun Europe.

The Battle of Tours probably took place somewhere between Tours and Poitiers. The Frankish army, under Charles Martel, consisted of veteran infantry, somewhere between 15,000 and 75,000. Responding to the Muslim invasion, the Franks had marched over the mountains and avoided the old Roman roads, hoping to take the invaders by surprise. From the old Arab accounts of the battle, the Muslims were indeed taken by surprise to find a large force opposing their sack of Tours, and waited for six days, scouting the enemy. On the seventh day, the Muslim army, consisting of between 60-400,000 horsemen and led by Emir Abd er Rahman, attacked. During the battle, the Franks defeated the Islamic army and Emir Abd er Rahman was killed. While western accounts are sketchy, Arab accounts are fairly detailed that the Franks formed a large square and fought a brilliant defensive battle. Rahman had doubts before the battle that his men were ready for such a struggle, and should have had them abandon the loot which hindered them, but instead decided to trust his horsemen, who had never failed him. Indeed, as previously noted, it was thought impossible for infantry of that age to withstand armoured mounted warriors. Martel managed to inspire his men to stand firm against a force which must have seemed invincible to them, huge armoured horsemen, who in addition probably badly outnumbered the Franks. But Rahman's death led to bickering between the surviving generals, and the Arabs abandoned the battlefield the day after his death, leaving Martel a unique place in history as the savior of Europe, and the only man to ever manage such a victory between such disparate forces.

Although it took another two generations for the Franks to drive all the Arab garrisons out of what is now France and across the Pyrenees, Charles Martel's halt of the invasion of French soil turned the tide of Islamic advance, and the unification of the Frankish kingdom under Charles Martel, his son Pepin the Short, and his grandson Charlemagne prevented the Umayyad kingdom from expanding over the Pyrenees.

On Pepin II's death in 714, the succession passed to an infant grandson, Theodoald. The faction of Austrasian nobles who supported Theodoald was led by his stepmother, Pepin's widow, Plectrude. Charles, who was already an adult, led a rival faction and prevailed in a series of battles against both invading Neustrian Franks and the forces of Plectrude. Between 718 and 723, Charles secured his power through a series of victories and by winning the loyalty of several important clerics. This he accomplished in part by donating lands and money for the foundations of abbeys such as Echternach.

In the subsequent decade, Charles led the Frankish army against the eastern duchies, Bavaria and Alemannia, and the southern duchies, Aquitaine and Provence (in Avignon, Nîmes, Montfrin (736), ...). He dealt with the ongoing conflict with the Saxons to his northeast with some success, but full conquest of the Saxons and their incorporation into the Frankish empire would wait for his grandson Charlemagne.

Charles Martel married:

  1. Chrotrud or Rotrude (690-724), with children:
  2. Swanachild

Charles Martel died on October 22 741 at Quierzy in what is today the Aisne département in the Picardy region of France. He was buried at Saint Denis Basilica in Paris. He was succeeded by his sons, Carloman, Pepin the Short, and Martell fr:Charles Martel la:Carolus Martellus nl:Karel Martel pl:Karol Młot fi:Kaarle Martel


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