Rise to Power
When Charles Martel’s father died in 714, his stepmother wanted her son Theudoald to take over the entire reign. In order to achieve this without unrest, she imprisoned Charles in Cologne. This led to an uprising is some parts of the kingdom and later, the Civil War of 715-718.
With Neustrians’s support, Charles escaped the prison and was accepted as the Mayor by many nobles. However, the power was reasserted by Plectrude and her army when they defeated Charles in the Battle of Cologne in 716.
Charles decided to prepare himself better for the next battle and started training his troops at Eifel. In April 716, he embarked on a fight with the opposite army near Ambleve and took them by surprise when he attacked them from various corners. His reputation soared after this victory, and he continued this warfare technique for the remainder of his life.
Charles was supported by Bishop Pepo and Willibrord, who was the founder of Abbey of Echternach. With support and adequate preparation, Charles entered the Battle of Vincy in March 717 and emerged victorious. He conquered Cologne, banished Plectrude to a convent, and dethroned Theudoald.
Since winning Cologne, Charles Martel entered several strategic battles and won them all to secure his hold on the kingdom. He also earned the respect of many Bishops and devoted his time to ensuring his kingdom’s absolute authority over others. He continued to be the de facto ruler of the kingdom until 732.
Charles’s growing worry was the army built by the Emir of Cordoba to take over Aquitaine. In 730, Abdul Rahman Al Ghafiqi, the Emir, was raising his defenses and constantly attacked Aquitaine. It constantly diverted Charles’s attention from his other responsibilities.
Charles began training an army that he could employ full time during any war, but mostly to withstand the cavalry of the Arab forces. Since troops were only available during certain months of the year, he had to pay them in advance so that they would be available to him at all times.
To raise funds, Charles started taking back the land he had donated to the Bishops, thus earning their discredit. Many speculated that he would be excommunicated for this, but the war took precedence. In the end, he managed to build a strong and disciplined army.
The Arabs in 731 had looted Aquitaine and had begun their expedition to Tours, a town full of wealth and generous treasures. Charles was warned of their movement, and he employed his full army to defeat the opposition forces.
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Charles subsequently won against the Arabs and earned the title of ‘Martellus’, meaning ‘the hammer’. In the coming years, when invading forces attacked his kingdom, he stood tall and managed to hold on to his territory by winning all the battles. Today, he is credited for halting the spread of Islamic expansion in Europe.
The reputed historian, Edward Gibbons, saw the Battle of Tours as the most important one that Charles Martel fought. He credits him for saving and preserving Christianity in Europe. Many other historians argue that Charles merely wanted to keep the wealth of Tours to himself and had no altruistic motives whatsoever.
After the Battle of Tours, Charles established the might of Frankish governance across Europe. He successfully warded off the Islamic invasion many times by forging alliances and expanding his army. Eventually, he took over the towns held by the Arabs and started ruling them.
The several wars that he fought from 732 to 737 saw a remarkable difference in campaigns. Charles managed to establish a full cavalry in less than five years, shocking Rahman’s army. The Umayyad Caliphates finally bowed down to Charles and accepted defeat after many years of failing.
When King Theuderic IV died in 737, Charles took over his duties but did not appoint any king during the regime. He spent more time concentrating on administration during this period. While the position of the king was empty, nobody came forward to take over the throne.
Charles, despite not being the king, held the strongest power in all of Europe. He controlled the entire kingdom and successfully expanded his territories without sitting on any throne.
Towards the end of his reign, Charles had achieved the necessary peace and harmony required of a good leader. He spent his final years governing a kingdom that faced no uprisings or troubles.
Family & Personal Life
Charles Martel entered two marriages in his lifetime, according to several records. His first wife was Rotrude of Treves, a count’s daughter. They had five children together: Hiltrud, Carloman, Landrade/Landres, Auda/Aldana/Alane, and Pepin the Short/Pippin.
His second wife was Swanhild, a Bavarian princess, whom he married in 725. The couple had only one child together: Grifo.
It has also been recorded that Charles had a well-known mistress, Roudhaid. The couple had three children: Bernard, Hieronymus and Remigius.
He died on October 22, 741 in Quierzy-sur-Oise and was buried at Saint Denis Basilica, Paris. He is said to have died peacefully in his sleep. He had already divided his territories among his sons earlier, and no fights happened after his death over territories.
His legacy continues to be cherished even today as many call him the warrior of Christianity who withstood Islamic forces. Charles is also credited for infusing new energy and forming unique tactics in warfare by introducing cavalry, a tactic that has successfully been used for hundreds of years.