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Famous Men of The Middle Ages|
Charles Martel and Pepin
by Haaren, John H. (LL.D.) and Poland, A. B. (Ph.D.)
After the death of Mohammed the Saracens, as Mohammedans are also
called, became great warriors. They conquered many countries and
established the Mohammedan religion in them. In 711 the Saracens
invaded and conquered a great part of Spain and founded a powerful
kingdom there, which lasted about seven hundred years.
They intended to conquer the land of the Franks next, and then all
They thought it would be easy to conquer the Franks, because the
Frankish king at that time was a very weak man. He was one of a
number of kings who were called the "Do-nothings." They reigned
from about 638 to 751. They spent all their time in amusements and
pleasures, leaving the affairs of the government to be managed by
persons called MAYORS OF THE PALACE.
The mayors of the palace were officers who at first managed the
king's household. Afterwards they were made guardians of kings
who came to the throne when very young. So long as the king was
under age the mayor of the palace acted as chief officer of the
government in his name. And as several of the young kings, even
when they were old enough to rule, gave less attention to business
than to pleasure, the mayors continued to do all the business,
until at last they did everything that the king ought to have done.
They made war, led armies in battle, raised money and spent it,
and carried on the government as they pleased, without consulting
The "Do-nothings" had the title of king, but nothing more. In
fact, they did not desire to have any business to do. The things
they cared for were dogs, horses and sport.
One of the most famous of the mayors was a man named Pepin (Pep'-in).
Once a year, it is said, Pepin had the king dressed in his finest
clothes and paraded through the city of Paris, where the court was
held. A splendid throng of nobles and courtiers accompanied the
king, and did him honor as he went along the streets in a gilded
chariot drawn by a long line of beautiful horses. The king was
cheered by the people, and he acknowledged their greetings most
After the parade the king was escorted to the great hall of the
palace, which was filled with nobles. Seated on a magnificent
throne, he saluted the assemblage and made a short speech. The
speech was prepared beforehand by Pepin, and committed to memory by
the king. At the close of the ceremony the royal "nobody" retired
to his country house and was not heard of again for a year.
Pepin died in 714 A.D., and his son Charles, who was twenty-five
years old at that time, succeeded him as mayor of the palace. This
Charles is known in history as Charles Martel. He was a brave
young man. He had fought in many of his father's battles and so
had become a skilled soldier. His men were devoted to him.
While he was mayor of the palace he led armies in several wars
against the enemies of the Franks. The most important of his
wars was one with the Saracens, who came across the Pyrenees from
Spain and invaded the land of the Franks, intending to establish
Mohammedanism there. Their army was led by Abd-er-Rahman
(Abd-er-Rah'-man), the Saracen governor of Spain.
On his march through the southern districts of the land of the
Franks Abd-er-Rahman destroyed many towns and villages, killed a
number of the people, and seized all the property he could carry
off. He plundered the city of Bordeaux (bor-do'), and, it is said,
obtained so many valuable things that every soldier "was loaded
with golden vases and cups and emeralds and other precious stones."
But meanwhile Charles Martel was not idle. As quickly as he could
he got together a great army of Franks and Germans and marched against
the Saracens. The two armies met between the cities of Tours and
Poitiers (pwaw-te-ay) in October, 732. For six days there was
nothing but an occasional skirmish between small parties from both
sides; but on the seventh day a great battle took place.
Both Christians and Mohammedans fought with terrible earnestness.
The fight went on all day, and the field was covered with the bodies
of the slain. But towards evening, during a resolute charge made
by the Franks, Abd-er-Rahman was killed. Then the Saracens gradually
retired to their camp.
It was not yet known, however, which side had won; and the Franks
expected that the fight would be renewed in the morning.
But when Charles Martel, with his Christian warriors, appeared on
the field at sunrise there was no enemy to fight. The Mohammedans
had fled in the silence and darkness of the night and had left behind
them all their valuable spoils. There was now no doubt which side
The battle of Tours, or Poitiers, as it should be called, is
regarded as one of the decisive battles of the world. It decided
that Christians, and not Moslems, should be the ruling power in
Charles Martel is especially celebrated as the hero of this battle.
It is said that the name MARTEL was given to him because of his
bravery during the fight. Marteau (mar-to') is the French word for
hammer, and one of the old French historians says that as a hammer
breaks and crushes iron and steel, so Charles broke and crushed
the power of his enemies in the battle of Tours.
But though the Saracens fled from the battlefield of Tours, they
did not leave the land of the Franks; and Charles had to fight
other battles with them, before they were finally defeated. At
last, however, he drove them across the Pyrenees, and they never
again attempted to invade Frankland.
After his defeat of the Saracens Charles Martel was looked upon as
the great champion of Christianity; and to the day of his death, in
741, he was in reality, though not in name, the king of the Franks.
Charles Martel had two sons, Pepin and Carloman. For a time they
ruled together, but Carloman wished to lead a religious life, so he
went to a monastery and became a monk. Then Pepin was sole ruler.
Pepin was quite low in stature, and therefore was called Pepin the
Short. But he had great strength and courage. A story is told of
him, which shows how fearless he was.
One day he went with a few of his nobles to a circus to see a fight
between a lion and a bull. Soon after the fight began, it looked
as though the bull was getting the worst of it. Pepin cried out
to his companions:
"Will one of you separate the beasts?"
But there was no answer. None of them had the courage to make the
attempt. Then Pepin jumped from his seat, rushed into the arena,
and with a thrust of his sword killed the lion.
In the early years of Pepin's rule as mayor of the palace the
throne was occupied by a king named Childeric (Chil'-der-ic) III.
Like his father and the other "do-nothing" kings, Childeric cared
more for pleasures and amusements than for affairs of government.
Pepin was the real ruler, and after a while he began to think that
he ought to have the title of king, as he had all the power and
did all the work of governing and defending the kingdom.
So he sent some friends to Rome to consult the Pope. They said to
"Holy father, who ought to be the king of France--the man who has
the title, or the man who has the power and does all the duties of
"Certainly," replied the Pope, "the man who has the power and does
"Then, surely," said they, "Pepin ought to be the king of the
Franks; for he has all the power."
The Pope gave his consent, and Pepin was crowned king of the Franks;
and thus the reign of Childeric ended and that of Pepin began.
During nearly his whole reign Pepin was engaged in war. Several
times he went to Italy to defend the Pope against the Lombards.
These people occupied certain parts of Italy, including the province
still called Lombardy.
Pepin conquered them and gave as a present to the Pope that part
of their possessions which extended for some distance around Rome.
This was called "Pepin's Donation." It was the beginning of what
is known as the "temporal power" of the Popes, that is, their power
as rulers of part of Italy.
Pepin died in 768.