Front Matter Gauls Defeat Romans Vercingetorix Saints of France Attila, Scourge of God Story of Clovis Sons of Clovis Mayors of the Palace Charles the Hammer Pepin the Short Charlemagne in Lombardy Defeat at Roncesvalles Emperor of the West Louis the Pious War of Three Brothers Louis the Stammerer Paris defies the Sea Kings Rollo the Viking Hugh Capet Becomes King Bishop Betrays the Duke Robert the Pious The Peace of God Harold Visits Duke William William Sails to England The Battle of Hastings Peter the Hermit First War of the Cross Louis the Fat and Laon King Fights his Vassal Second War of the Cross French Queen of England How Normandy Was Lost Albigenses War Battle of Bouvines Story of Hugh de La Marche Reign of St. Louis St. Louis's last Crusade Peter the Barber Knights vs. Weavers Pope vs. Philip the Fair Sons of Philip the Fair Philip VI vs. Flanders Battle and Plague King vs. Charles the Bad The Jacquerie Stephen Marcel Betrays Paris Charles V and du Guesclin Du Guesclin Fights for France The Madness of Charles VI The Battle of Agincourt The Maid of Orleans End of Hundred Years' War King vs. Charles the Bold Troubles of Duchess Mary Charles the Affable Knight Without Reproach Battle of the Spurs Francis I, Gentleman King King Taken Prisoner Duke of Guise Defends Metz Calais Returns to France The Riot of Amboise Huguenot and Catholic St. Bartholomew Massacre War of the Three Henries The Protestant King Edict of Nantes Reign of Favorites Taking of La Rochelle Power of the Cardinal-King Reign of Louis XIV The Man in the Iron Mask The Height of Power Edict of Nantes Revoked War of Spanish Succession

History of France - H. E. Marshall

Charles the Hammer
Mayor of the Palace [718-741]

And now a new danger began to threaten France, to threaten, indeed, all Europe. About the year 570, a boy called Mohammed was born at Mecca. This boy, when he grew up, believed himself to be the last and greatest of the prophets. He taught a new religion which has since been called by his name. 'There is but one God, and Mohammed is his prophet," he said, and he taught his followers that all the world must be brought to that faith by the sword.

So his followers set out to conquer the world, their book of faith in one hand, the sword in the other. Very quickly the new faith spread all over the East. Almost all the known world in Asia and Africa yielded to it; and then the Saracens, as we often call them, crossed the sea into Europe.

The Mohammedans first attacked and conquered all Spain. Then they turned their swords on France. Never since the time of Attila had there been such an invasion. Like the waves of a mighty ocean they rolled over the fair plains of France. They came with their wives and children and all their goods as if they meant to make France their home. And wherever they passed they slew the people, burned the churches, and destroyed the land. They were like hungry wolves among a flock of sheep.

It was against this vast horde that Charles now gathered all the strength of his army. From the farthest corners of his dominion he called men to fight for their faith. And they came from such distant countries that the mighty host which gathered together formed an European rather than a Prankish army.

It was near the town of Poitiers that the two armies met. There for seven days they lay opposite each other. On the one side were the tall, broad-shouldered men of the North, with fair faces and golden hair. They were clad in coats of steel, shining helmets covered their heads, and they carried long swords and heavy battle axes. On the other side were the brown-faced, dark-eyed men of the South, wearing white turbans and robes, mounted upon swift horses, and carrying small round shields and light spears and bows.

One by one the October days slid by. The Saracen horsemen dashed over the plain upon their prancing horses, raising clouds of dust, but never attacking the steel-clad warriors who watched them in silent waiting. At length one Sunday, toward the end of October, in the gray of morning, the Mohammedan call to prayer was heard. Soon the plain was covered with white-robed warriors praying for victory. When the prayer was over, the signal for battle was given.

"God is great! God is great!" they shouted as they dashed upon the enemy. But under the fearful onslaught the Franks stood unmoved. Again and again from the glittering wall of steel the white-robed warriors were thrown back like the foam of waves which beat upon a rocky shore. In vain the javelins and arrows of the Saracens rained upon the Christian host. "The Franks stood like a wall of iron as if frozen to blocks of ice," said a writer of the time. "They stood locked to one another like men of marble."

Twenty times the Mohammedans returned to the attack. Twenty times their furious charge was broken against the immovable wall, till hundreds lay dead upon the field, and riderless horses rushed madly over the plain.

Hour after hour the battle lasted. The sun had begun to sink toward the west when a great cry of distress rose from behind the Saracens. Part of the Frankish army had quietly crept round the enemy, and were now attacking the camp. Then Charles ordered the body of his troops, which had stood until now immovable as a wall of steel, to advance. And thus, taken on both sides, the Saracen army broke and fled in unutterable confusion. Night at last put an end to the slaughter and pursuit, and silence fell upon the field which, from dawn till dark, had rung with battle cries and clash of steel on steel.

When day dawned once more the Franks again made ready for battle. But all was still and silent in the gleaming white tents of the enemy. In vain the Franks listened and watched for any sign of life. None came. Then Charles sent a company of soldiers to discover what this might mean. Across the plain, strewn with thousands of dead, they rode, and at length reached the camp of the Saracens. One after another they entered the tents. Each one was empty. Not a living man was left in all the vast camp. In the night the Saracens had fled, taking only their horses and arms and leaving all their rich spoils and booty behind.

This battle of Poitiers, which was fought in 732, is one of the great battles of ancient times. For on it hung the fate of the Christian world. Between the infidel Saracens and the wild heathen people of the North there was only the empire of the Franks. Had Christianity been crushed out there, the fate of Europe would have been changed.

It was after this battle that Charles received the Charles surname of Martel or Hammer; "for as a hammer breaks iron and steel and all metals so he broke by his blows in battle all his enemies and all strange nations." The power of the Saracens was broken, but they were not utterly crushed. Charles fought them again and yet again, and in time they were driven out of France altogether.

Toward the end of his life Charles was greatly honored by the Pope Gregory III, who sent him many and great presents such as he had never before sent to any king. Among these were said to be the "Keys of the Holy Sepulchre," and the chains with which St. Peter was bound. The Pope called Charles the Illustrious Viceroy of France, and begged his help to drive the Lombards, who were attacking him, out of Italy.

"Our tears flow day and night from our eyes," he said, "when we see the Church forsaken on all sides by those of her children, from whom she most hoped for defence and protection. I implore your good-will before God that you may hasten to soothe our sorrows, or, at the least, to send us an answer in which we may rejoice." He offered, also, to make Charles Consul of Rome. This was, in fact, to make him Emperor of the West in place of the old, long-dead Caesars.

Charles the Hammer received the Pope's messengers with great honor, and sent them back to Rome laden with presents. But he himself never went to Italy to be made Emperor, and never fought the Lombards. For soon after this he fell ill and died. He was buried in the Church of St. Denis in Paris. Charles the Hammer had ruled for twenty-five years. He had vastly enlarged the borders of France, and left the kingdom in great peace and prosperity. A few years before he died the King Do-nothing had died. But so much of a pretence had he become that Charles did not think it worthwhile to crown another. So, in 741, when Charles the Hammer died, the throne was empty.