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Mayor of the Palace of Austrasia (716) and Neustria (719), Charles Martel becomes the sole master of the Frankish kingdom (737-741). His nickname "Martel" (hammer) comes from the energy he deployed to impose his authority in the Merovingian kingdom. By his victory in Poitiers in October 732, he put an end to the progress of Arab Muslims in Europe and appeared in the eyes of the Christian world as the champion of the Cross. While pursuing a policy of secularization of ecclesiastical goods, he began a close collaboration with Rome, laying the foundations for an alliance with the Holy See which will last under the Carolingians.
Charles Martel, unifier of the Merovingian kingdom
Born around 668, the future Charles Martel is the illegitimate son of Pépin de Herstal and a woman named Alpaïde. He must first impose himself on the death of his father (714) against the children of the first legitimate wife, Plectrude. Imprisoned by the latter, he escaped, united part of the Austrasian aristocracy and won over the Neustrians the victories of Amblève (716) and Vincy (717). It thus definitively consecrates the triumph of Austrasia and unifies the Merovingian state. He ruled under the fictitious authority of the Merovingian kings, Chilpéric II then Clotaire IV and Thierry IV. He defeats the Saxons and the Frisians and subdues Thuringia as well as Bavaria, thus integrating a large part of Germania into the Frankish kingdom.
The victory of Poitiers
Charles Martel became famous for his victory at the Battle of Poitiers (October 25, 732) against the Arabs of Spain. Contrary to the finality that this battle left in the memories, however, the victory of Poitiers stops the advance of the Moslems but does not stop it. Charles had to return several times to drive the Arabs out of the Rhône valley, Provence and Septimania. In 737, he still fought fierce battles around Narbonne. The fighting lasted more than twenty years. After his victory at Poitiers, Charles firmly subdues Aquitaine and Provence.
Charles Martel, "viceroy" and ally of the pope
He secularizes the goods of the clergy and distributes certain areas of the Church to the leudes as a reward. At the same time, however, he supported the Pope in his policy of evangelization in Bavaria, Friesland and Saxony, notably protecting Saint Boniface. The missions follow the armies. Charles Martel understood that lasting pacification necessarily requires the Christianization of pagan populations. This alliance with the papacy will be continued by his successors, Pepin the Short, his son, and Charlemagne, his grandson.
On the death of King Thierry IV in 737, Charles Martel, who was only the mayor of the palace, gave striking proof of his power by not appointing a successor to the throne. He thus dismisses the ghost of Merovingian royalty without taking the risk of appropriating the title of king. This modesty does not deceive anyone: Pope Gregory III calls him the "viceroy". Ally with the Lombards against the Arabs, weakened by disease, he must give up helping Pope Gregory III, threatened by these same Lombards.
He died on October 22, 741, at his villa in Quierzy-sur-Oise and was buried in Saint-Denis, with the Merovingian kings. He had his half-brother write an unofficial chronicle, which continues the work of the pseudo-Frédégaire, a chronicle of the world until the year 660, one of the few written in the Merovingian period, and of which l The author remains questionable. He leaves power to his sons, Carloman and Pepin the Short.
- Charles Martel, biography of Georges Minois. Perrin, 2020.
- Charles Martel and the Battle of Poitiers: From History to Identity Myth, by William Blanc and Christophe Naudin. Libertalia, 2015.
- Charles Martel, biography of Jean Deviosse. Tallandier, 2006.