What Were the Accomplishments of Charles Martel?

Benjamín Núñez González/CC BY-SA 4.0

Charles Martel (A.D. 688-741) consolidated Frankish power in his region, halted the advance of Muslim armies into Western Europe, laid the groundwork for a new Frankish dynasty and developed military concepts that would be important for hundreds of years. He is one of the most important figures in the early Middle Ages.

In what is now known as France, Frankish kings of the Merovingian dynasty had held power from the middle of the 5th century. However, since before the time of Charles Martel, the power of the king had been diminishing relative to that of the Mayor of the Palace. Men who held this position were the real power behind the throne, and Charles Martel, though an illegitimate child of the previous Mayor of the Palace, successfully attained the same position in 717. Now the effective ruler of Francia, Martel remade the army, incorporating heavy cavalry and recruiting a core standing army to replace the ad hoc forces of previous years. He expanded his power to Bavaria and Alemannia in the east, and he defeated the Muslim armies in the south, most famously at the Battle of Tours in 732. In recognition of his power, no new king was crowned when Theuderic IV died in 737. He lived his last few years as undisputed leader of the Franks. Though a new Merovingian king was crowned upon Martel’s death, the Pope deposed him in favor of Charles’s son Pepin the Short, who began the Carolingian dynasty.