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The Life of Charles Martel: Battle of Tours (Fall 2012)

            Who is Charles Martel? When you ask someone that question the most common response is “I do not know.” I would have answered the same way if I had been asked the same question a little more than 4 months before now. He is one of the unknown heroes; one of the men throughout history who made a huge difference in the way events played out but who does not receive any recognition from people alive today. He was very important in stopping the crusades being made by the Muslims during the early 8th century to the middle of the 8th century. This saw the Muslims attempt to come through the Iberian Peninsula and invade European lands while spreading Islam. A big battle which defined Charles and his life was the Battle of Tours which determined the fate of Christianity and Islam in Europe. There are multiple history forces that can be used to describe the life and deeds of Charles Martel and the ones I will be looking at are religion and technology. 

            Charles Martel was born during the late 7th century in what is now modern day Belgium. His father Pippin the Middle served as Mayor to the Palace of the King of the Franks and had an affair with a mistress which produced one of his bastard children, Charles. Instead of the King having power in the court they were essentially a figurehead and at the same time the Mayor of the Palace was really the king or the commander in chief of the army so Charles’ father Pippin was very powerful. Charles started out life at a disadvantage because just before Pippin’s death he was forced to disown any of the bastard children he had created which included Charles. Therefore Charles was no longer in line to become the next Mayor of the Palace and he lost all political standing while one of Pippin’s grandsons, Theudoald, was named Pippin’s successor. This was unusual for the succession to jump a whole generation but that was what was wanted by Charles’ step-mother Plectrude. Instead of Charles growing up with a great life and being the next Mayor of the Palace, he was imprisoned so as to not cause a revolt and an overthrow of Theudoald. However, Charles escaped and wanted to get revenge for being imprisoned and upon his escape he was proclaimed the Mayor of the Palace by those living in the area of Austrasia. The original nobility from when Charles’ father Pippin was Mayor were angry about Charles being imprisoned by his step-mother Plectrude so they immediately decided to side with Charles upon his escape from captivity. This showed how the nobility felt about what was done and how Charles was treated as a young child and was the first really good thing that happened to him.

            The Battle of Tours was a major turning point in the history of the world as we know it. This was the battle that got Charles Martel his nickname Martel which means “The Hammer” (Haaren). Leading up to the Battle of Tours the Moors were working their way throughout the Middle East and Southeast Asia ransacking all of the villages and tribes and taking the spoils of war that they earned. They were interested in expanding from their lands in Arabia where nothing was fertile into lands which were green and plentiful with natural resources. After conquering the Middle East and Southeast Asia they moved on into Africa and then into Spain with none of the native peoples putting up much of a fight. Once done conquering the peoples of Spain the Moorish leader Abd ar Rahman he decided to move up into France to try and conquer the Franks who were at that point disorganized. He conquered parts of Gaul and then into northern Gaul, the Moors participated in a battle at Bordeaux showing what their intent was and that was to continue moving up into northern Gaul conquering and looting along the way. 

            Charles was sought out by the Duke Odo after he was defeated by the Moorish army and they created an alliance. When Abd ar Rahman decided to go to Tours and raid the city with his Moorish army Charles and Odo made the choice to stop him at Tours but they were too late arriving to the city as Abd ar Rahman had many cavalry with him and they got to the city much faster than the infantry of the Frankish army led by Charles. So the choice was made by Charles to try and find the Moorish Army and defeat them as they basked in their plunder from war. They had moved onto the city of Poitiers where they would attempt to loot that city as well and this was where Charles caught up to the Moorish army. The two sides tested the waters looking for weaknesses and eventually Abd ar Rahman told his cavalry to charge the Frankish line and this proved to be very difficult, described by William Weir “few horses, though, can be made to charge a line of spears.” The Moors attempted and failed to break through the Frankish lines, “the men of the north stood as motionless as a wall” described a monk (Weir). This continued until both sides had suffered heavy casualties and then the first day of the battle was over. According to those on the Frankish side the second morning came and the Franks were ready to continue the battle but the Moors did not show up to fight. The Moors found their leader Abd ar Rahman dead and decided to retreat and take with them the loot and treasure they had accumulated along the way. However, instead of taking it with them they fled south back into Spain. This began the beginning of a new era in terms of power and influence throughout Europe. With the withdrawal and retreat of the Moors from France and Spain Charles decided to go on the offensive and never again did the Moors attempt to take over any part of the Iberian Peninsula or France. This signaled the beginning of the Carolingian Dynasty of the Kings of France as Charles Martel’s family would continue to rule for centuries to come.

            One history force that can be described as having a large effect on the outcome of the Battle of Tours would be technology. Charles was outnumbered and he also had the disadvantage of not having any cavalry to fight with while the Moorish army was loaded with cavalry. However, the Frankish army did have a couple things going for them so they were not completely at a disadvantage when it came time for the battle to occur. The Franks had the advantage of being much more heavily armored than the Moorish invaders as they were equipped with a large shield and most of the infantry had the benefit of chain mail and metal helmets. On the other hand the Moors had barely anything to cover themselves up with as they only had smaller shields and most of them did not have shields at all. The weapon of choice for the Franks was their signature weapon the “Francisca” which was a short of axe that when thrown would cause shields to break in half and was able to cut through the armor of the Moors as if they were not wearing any (Weir). What could have been a massacre of the Franks by the Moors instead turned into the first time in military history where an army with little to no cavalry defeated one that had many horses. So even though the Franks were outnumbered and they had the disadvantage of not having any cavalry, they had the superior technology which helped lead them to victory in this battle.

            The Battle of Tours is said to be one of the most important battle in human history. One of the history forces and reasons why it is so important is religion. Only 100 years earlier the prophet Muhammad walked the earth and ever since then the Moors had been campaigning throughout neighboring lands trying to spread Islam and loot in its’ name. This was a battle between Christianity in Europe (Franks) and Islam in the Middle East and Africa (Moors). There had been fights between the two sides previously and there was always animosity between the two religions but it does not have a bigger impact in a battle then in the Battle of Tours. What Charles Martel essentially did when he defeated the Moorish army at the Battle of Tours was he stopped the progress of Islam into Europe and showed that Europe would be a place for Christianity to thrive and be the sole religion. Before the Battle of Tours the Moors believed it was their divine right that they should expand and rule because they kept winning battles and thought Allah (God) was on their side. After the Battle of Tours the Moorish conquests north and into Europe all but ended and with it started the advancement of those in Europe and the strengthening of Christianity as the only religion. After this no Muslims tried to attack the European continent until the Ottoman Empire did in the late 1400’s to early 1500’s while we saw Charles begin to push into Spain which eventually led to the Christian crusades. This contributed to the animosity between the two religions despite how both Muhammad and Jesus wanted the Christians and Muslims to be peaceful people. It continues to this day as Muslims and Christians still fight about their beliefs and about whose religion is the right one.

            Seeing the facts from this battle and the life of Charles Martel as he grew up tells me two things about him and the impact he had on the world. It tells me that without Charles there may have been a very different course to human history assuming no one else would have stopped the Moors from advancing further north and conquering all of France and the rest of Europe. The other thing it tells me is that Charles Martel was a very driven person and brilliant strategist the likes of which had never been seen before. Even though he was given opportunities in life such as being born into a fortunate family position and given loyalty from those of Austrasia following his escape from prison, he also knew what to do with those opportunities. There may have been someone else who could have done the same thing as Charles but he chose to take a stand and go after the Moors and it proved fruitful for him and his men, not to mention the lives of all Christians in Europe. Charles should be remembered by those of us today and I’m glad I did my Historpedia paper on him and the Battle of Tours. Even though the Battle of Tours is remembered as one of the most important battles in history not many people know of its’ consequences and how it effects most everyone who now lives in the Western World. More importantly who knows if Christianity would have survived at all if Charles did not stop the Moors at Tours, considering how early in history the battle took place and how both Christianity and Islam were growing at the time. Given that I learned a lot about Charles Martel and about the Frankish people as well as how history forces contribute to almost if not all of the major things that have happened throughout history. More than one of each are usually involved and knowing about them have really helped me better understand why certain things throughout history have happened and why they happened the way that they did.


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