Site Search

Like and Share Us!

Click Yellow Button below to Bookmark this Page!

Charles Martel

Charles Martel


Charles MartelWhen, in the early part of the eighth century, the wave of Mohammedan conquest was sweeping with irresistible force over Southern Europe, the Franks formed a firm rock in which it spent its fury in vain. And the central figure in this scene the man whois most prominently identified with this victory of the advancing civilization of the West,-was Charles Martel. His father, Pepin of Heristal, Duke of Austrasia and mayor of the
palace: of the Merovingian kings of the Franks, had two wives: Plectrude, by whom he had a son, Grimoald, and Alpaide, who had two sons, Charles (bam about 689 A. D.), and Childebrand. Grimoald was assassinated, and Charles was suspected of complicity in the murder. Pepin appointed Grimoold's son Theobald, a boy of six,is successor, setting aside the claims of Charles and Childebrand. On Pepin's death (714), Plectrude, the regent, lost no time in imprisoning Charles in the fortress of Cologne j but not long afterward, in 715, the Austrasians rose in revolt, liberated him, and proclaimed him Duke of Austrasia. From this time his life was a continual battle, a long struggle, the final outcome of which was, as Guizot puts it, "the re-establishment throllghout the whole of Gaul of the Franco-Gallo-Roman empire."


He took the first step towards extending his own authority and consolidating and strengthening the Frankish dominion by defeating the Neustrians, and installing a Merovingian puppet-king under the name of Clotaire IV., be himself adopting the title of mayor of the palace. While he was busy repulsing and attacking the Frisons and Saxons, on the other side of the Rhine (715-718), the Neustrians entered into an alliance with Eudes, Duke of Aquitania, and advanced towards Soissons, to meet a common defeat in 719, at the hands of Charles, who concluded a treaty with Elides. Chilperic II., the sluggard king (roi fainiant) of the Neustrians, was generously treated, and at his death was replaced by Theory (or Theodoric) IV., another Merovingian phantom, who posed as king for seventeen years, while Charles ruled over the country, repressing dissensions within and guarding it from invasion without, for the Franks were incessantly at war with their belligerent Germanic neighbors. But his importance in history is more directly due to his victories over the Saracens, which materially changed the course of

European history.



The Moslems, who, after their conquests in the Orient, had passed into Europe, overrunning Spain and conquering the Visigoths, now passed the Pyrenees aud threatened Gaul. In their first two expeditions they were severely defeated by Eudes, although they captured Narbonne, which they made their capital. Under the governor-general of Spain, Abdel-Rhaman (Abderame), preperations were made for a fresh invasion. Eudes, sorely pressed on the south, had to suffer also from the inroads, on the north, of Charles Martel, who accused him of not having fa ithfully observed the treaty coucluded by them in 720. Abdel-Rhaman advanced and forced the Duke of Aquitania back upon Bordeaux, where he defeated him totally and plundered the city. Elides now invoked the aid of Charles Martel against their common enemy,

which was readily granted 011 his oath of allegiance. The Arabs had meanwhile spread over the country between the Garonne and the Loire, and had carried their ravages beyond the latter river into Burguudy. The hostile forces met between Tours and Poictiers, and for a week they remained encamped opposite to each other. When the Arab cavalry finally attacked, it was received by the Franks in serried ranks, and disorder spreading through the Mussulman army gave Charles a further advantage. Both armies retired to their camps at nightfall; but when the Franks turned out in the morning to renew the struggle they found the enemy's tents deserted, the Arabs having acknowledged their total defeat by decamping precipitately during the night. Although the opinions of historians differ on this point, yet it is a popularly accepted tradition that it was his valor in this battle, fought in 732, which gained him the title of Martel, or the Hammer." Charles Martel defeated the Moslems once more in 738, but his assaults on their capital, Narbonne, were unsuccessful. In the following year, however, they were definitely driven from Provence, and all of Southern Gaul lying to the left of the Rhone was incorporated in the Frankish kingdom. But the security of the latter was sti ll threatened by Germanic iuvasion, and it was only after a long series of expeditions that the barbariaus beyond the Rhine were finally repulsed.


While Charles Martel was thus reconstituting the Frankishdomain in its entirety, Thierry IV. died, in 737; but the throne was left vacant, the mayor keeping is old title, but
ruling with absolute authority until his death, which overtook him on October 22, 74I, at Quiercy on the Oise, in the full vigor of manhood, ill the midst of his activity and his
projects. He It'ad seized many possessions of t be clergy, and used them to attract warriors to his flag, and th is offence was never forgiven him by the church. In spite of his great services,-the relief of Christianity from the fear of Moslem conquest, his effective support of missions ill Gennauy, his protection of the Pope at various times.- he was loaded with anathemas and maledictions by those whom he had despoiled of their lands. On his death, he divided his te rritory, which had been united with so much trouble, between his sons, Pepin and Carloman, the former receiving Ncustria. the latter Austrasia. But Carloman died, and Pepin gained possession of the entire kingdom, and assumed the title of king. Thus did this title of royalty, which had become a meaningless name under the last of the Merovingians, pass to the successor of the mayors of the palace, who ruled with the intelligence and energy wanting in those phantoms of regal power, the sluggard kings. And thus, also, were laid the foundations
of modern France.


The broad tract of champaign country which intervenes between the cities of Poictiers and Tours is principally composed of a successioll of rich pasture lands, which are traversed
and fertilized by the Cher, the Creuse, the Vienne, the Claine, the Indre, and other tributaries of the River Loire. Here and there the ground swells into picturesque eminences, and occasionally a belt of forest land, a brown heath, or a clustering series of vineyards breaks the monotony of the wide-spread meadows; but the general character of the laud is that of a grassy plain, and it seems naturally adapted for tlle evolutions of numerous armies, especially of those vast bodies of cavalry which principally decided the fate of nations during the cen· turies that followed the downfall of Rome, and preceded the consolidation of the modern European powers.


This region has been signalized by more than one memorable conflict; but it is principally interesting to the historian by having been the scene of the great victory won by Charles Martel over the Saracens, A. D. 732, which gave a decisive check to the career of Arab conquest in Western Europe, rescued Christendom from Islam, preserved the relics of ancient and the germs of modern civilization, and re-established the old superiority of the Indo.European over the Semitic family of mankind.


The monkish chroniclers, froUl whom we are obliged to glean a narrative of this memorable campaign, bear full evidence to the terror which the Saracen invasion inspired, and
to the agony of that great struggle. The Saracens, say they, and their king, who was called Abdirames, came out of Spain, with all their wives and their children, and their substance, in such great multitudes that no man could reckon or estimate them. They brought with them all their armor, and whatever they had, as if they were thenceforth always to dwell in France.


Then Abderrahman, seeing the land filled with the multitude of his army, pierces through the mountains, tramples over rough and level ground, plunders far into the
country of the Franks, aod smites all with the sword, in so much that when Eudo came to battle with him at the River Garonne, and Bed before him, God alone knows the number of the slain. Then Abderrahman pursued after Count Eudo, and while he strives to spoil and burn the holy shrine at Tours, he cncounters the chief of the Austrasian Franks, Charles, a man of war from his youth up, to whom Eudo had sent warning. There for nearly seven days they strive intensely, and at last they set themselves in battle array, and the nations of the North standing firm as a wall, and impenetrable as a zone of ice, utterly slay the Arabs with the edge of the sword.


The European writers all concur in speaking of the fall of Abderrahman as one of the principal causes of the defeat of the Arabs; who, according to one writer, after finding that
their leadcr was slain, dispersed in the night, to the agreeable surprise of the Christians, who expected the ncxt morning to see them issue from their tents and renew the combat. One monkish chronicler puts the loss of the Arabs at 375,000 men, while he says that only 1,007 Christians fell; a disparity of loss which he feels bound to account for by a special interposition of Providence. I have translated above some of the most spirited passages of these writers; but it is impossible to collect from them anything like a full authentic description of the great battle itself, or of the operations which preceded and followed it.


Though, however, we may have cause to regret the meagreness and doubtful character of these narratives, we have the great advantage of being able to compare the accounts
given of Abderrahman's expedition by the national writers of each side. This is a benefit which the inquirer into antiquity so seldom can obtain, that the fact of possessing
it, in the case of the battle of Tours, makes us think the historical testimony respecting that great event more certain and satisfactory than is the case in many other instances
where we possess abundant details respecting military exploit, but where those details come to us from the anualist of one nation only, and where we have, consequently, no safeguard against the exaggerations, the distortions, and the fictions which national vanity has so often put forth in the garb and under the title of history. The Arabian writers
who recorded the conquests and wars of their countrymen in Spain have narrated also the expedition into Gaul of their great emir, and his defea.t and death near Tours, in battle with the host of the Franks under King Caldus, thc name into which they metamorphose Charles Martel.


They tell us how there was war between the count of the Frankish frontier and the Moslems., and how the count gathered together all his people, and fought for a time with
doubtful success. "But," say the Arabian chroniclers, "Abderrahman drove them back; and the men of Abderahman were puffed up ill spirit by their repeated successes,
and they were full of trust in the valor and the practice in war of their emir. So the 1.foslcllls smote their enemies, and passed the River Garonne, and laid waste the couutry, and
took captives without number. And that army went through all places like a desolating storm. Prosperity made thes, warriors insatiable. At the passage of the river, Abderahman
overthrew the count, and the count retired into his stronghold ; but the Moslems fought against it, and entered it by force and slew the count; for every thing gave way to their
cimeters, which were the robbers of lives. All the nations of the Franks trembled at that terrible army, and they betook them to their king Caldus, and told him of the havoc made by the 'Moslem horsemen, and how they rode at their will through all the land of Narbonne, T oulou se, and Bordeaux, and they told the king of the death of their count. 'l'hen the king bade them be of good cheer, and offered to aid them. And in the IT4th year (of the H egira) hc mounted his horse, and he took with him a host that could not be numbered, and went against the Moslems. And he came upon them at the great city of Tours. And Abderrahman and other prudent cavaliers saw the disorder of the Moslem troops, who were loaded with spoil i but they did not venture to displease the soldiers by ordering them to abandon every thing except their arms and war-horses. And Abderrahman trusted in the valor of his soldiers, and in the good fortune which had ever attended him. But (the Arab writer remarks) snch defect of discipline always is fatal to armies. So Abderrahman and bis host attacked Tours to gain still more spoil, and they fought against it so fiercely that they stormed the city almost before the eyes of the army that came to &we it j and the fury and the cruelty of the Moslems toward the inhabitants of the city was like the fury and cruelty of raging tigers. It was manifest," adds the Arab, "that God's chastisement was sure to follow such excesses and Fortune thereupon turned her back upon the Moslems.


Near the River Owar (probably the Loire) the two great hosts of the two languages and the two creeds were set in array against each other. 'rhe hearts of Abderrahman, his captains, and his men, were filled with wrath and pride, and they were the first to begin the fight. The Moslem horsemen dashed fierce and frequent forward against the battalions of the Franks, who resisted manfully, and many fell dead on either side, until the going down of the Sun . Night parted the two armies i but in the gray of the morning the Moslems returned to the battle. Their cavaliers had soon hewn their way into the centre of the Christian host. But many of the Moslems were fearful for the safety of the spoil which they had stored in their tents, and a false cry arose in their ranks that some of the enemy were plundering the camp; where· upon several squadrons of the Moslem horsemen rode off to protect their tcnts. But it seemed as if they fled i and all the host was troubled. And while Abderahman strove to check their tumult, and to lead them back to battle, the warriors of the Franks came arollnd him, and he was pierced through with many spears, so that he died. then all the host fled before the enemy and many died in the flight. This deadly defeat of the Moslems, and the loss of the great leader and good cavalier Abderrahman, took place in the hundred andfifteenth year."


It would be difficult to expect from an adversary a more explicit confession of having been thoroughly vanquished than the Arabs here accord to the Europeans. The points
on which their narrative differs from those of the Christiansas to how many days the confiict lasted, whether the assailed city was actually rescued or not. and the like-are of little
moment compared with the admitted great fact that there was a decisive trial of strength between Frank and Saracen, inwhich the former conquered. The enduring importance of
the battle of T ours in the eyes of the Moslems is attested not only by the expressions of tC the deadly battle" and " the disgraceful overthrow" which their writers constantly employ when referriug to it, but also by the fact that no more serious attempts at conquest beyond the Pyrenees were made by the Saracens. Charles Martel, and his son and grandson, were left at leisure to consolidate and extend their power. The new Christian Roman empire of the West, which the genius of Charlemagne founded, and throughout which his iron will imposed peace on the old anarchy of creeds and races, did not indeed retain its integrity after its great ruler's death. Fresh troubles came over Europe; but Christendom, though disunited, was safe. The progress of civilization, and the development of the nationalities and governments of modern Europe, from that time forth went forward in not uninterrupted, but u.ltimately certain career. -SIR EDWARD S. CREASY.


Charles Martel

Would you like Affordable Service Repair Manuals as PDF download?

Starting from Only $1 to $9.95

Affordable PDF Download Shop Manuals Here!

Render time: 0.02 seconds
169,676 unique visits