Great Military Leaders in Medieval History: Charles Martel

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Charles Martel - Franks - Carolingians - Medieval France - Medieval History - Middle Ages - Medieval EuropeCharles Martel (b. 688 – d. 741) was the founder of the Carolingian dynasty and ruler of the Franks during the early 8th century. He was born near Liege around 688 to Pepin II of Heristal and Pepin’s mistress Alpaide. Tested militarily in his youth, Charles fought against his half-brothers after his father’s death, but he succeeded in defeating them and laying claim to the Frankish throne.

He united the three Merovingian kingdoms of Austrasia, Neustria, and Burgundy after defeating the Neustrians in 716, and in an effort to strengthen his power, he heavily employed the use of cavalry in his military strategy. As a reward for their service, Martel granted lands to these soldiers (or vassals), who would then hold these benefices for life.

In the most famous battle of his military career, Charles tested the strength of his cavalry against a Muslim invading force at the Battle of Poitiers on October 25, 732. This battle was significant in that it halted the Muslim advance into western Europe, and had Martel failed, the European landscape could have appeared very different today.

Charles died on October 22, 741. His supporters buried him in Saint Denis near Paris.


English, Edward D. “Charles Martel.” Encyclopedia of the Medieval World, vol. 1. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2005. Ancient and Medieval History Online. Facts On File, Inc.
ItemID=WE49&iPin=EMW0318&SingleRecord=True (accessed November 13, 2008).

*image shows the tomb of Charles Martel in St. Denis; retrieved from entry on “Charles Martel”

Additional Reading:

J. M. Wallace-Hadrill, ed., The Fourth Book of the Chronicle of Fredegar and Its Continuation (London: Nelson, 1960); Bernard S. Bachrach, Merovingian Military Organization, 481–751 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1972); Paul Fouracre, The Age of Charles Martel (New York: Longman, 2000); Edward James, The Origins of France: From Clovis to the Capetians, 500–1000 (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1982).

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