“I have a hammer, I'll hammer you in the morning. I hammer in the evening, all over Frank Land.”
“What was I drinking last night? I feel hammered.”
Now here is a name to make you wish you were an 8th century Frank: Charles Martel (c. 688 – 22 October 741), Hammer time conqueror of the Arabs and Western Europe's first he-man monarch since the days of Clovis the Frank and Theodoric the Great back in the 5th century. Built like a French front row rugby player but with the grace of a male ballerina, Charles Martel was the man who saved Europe from Islam and hot spicy food for a millennium. His victory at the Battle of Tours in 732 was so famous that today no is actually sure where it happened or if 732 is the correct year.
Yet this mighty warrior was never a king. His official title was Mayor of the Palace which doesn't sound so heroic and reminds you more of fat corrupt politician rubbing his stomach and dealing in drugs. The victories were in the name of the Frankish king at the time, a member of the long haired, pothead pixies from the Merovingian dynasty King Theudric IV. They had ruled France (or Frankie Lane) since the fall of the Roman Empire but now spent most of their time in bed. Martel preferred it that way. Only later on would his son Pepin the Short decide this wasn't acceptable and become king himself whilst Martel's grandson Charlemagne would go one better and become an emperor.
I Have a Hammer
Charles Martel was born the bastard son of Pepin of Herstal and a concubine called Alopecia. He also had an elder brother called Childrebrand who would later become the Dux-de-Luxe of Burgundy. Martel was a Frank, a Germanic tribe who had settled in Gaul during the 5th century. Whether Charles spoke German, French or Latin isn't very clear but he is said to have hated brie and white wine.
His father Pepin was hereditary Mayor of the Palace, a job that once meant you got it on merit but had become a title to pass down the family. The reason this happened was the general all round inbred uselessness of the Merovingians. If they were supposed to be an advert for their supposed divine descent from Jesus and Mary Magdalene (see Dan Brown) then they were a very poor representation. Long ago their kings had abdicated responsibility of ruling the France and had retreated into a haze of waccy baccy, flared leggings and Pink Floyd.
With no family help, Charles learnt a trade. He became a skilled craftsman and could knock out a chest of draws in a day. His constant banging away with a hammer gave him the nickname 'The Hammer'. Translated into Latin this became 'Martel' and Charles liked that very much and adopted it as his family name.
A Family At War
Pepin died in 714. Charles and Childebrand were left out of the will.Their half siblings, the 'Pippinids' (Pepin could also be spelt Pippin at this time) claimed the family inheritance. Charles and Chilblains tried to argue their case in court but France was still Gaul at this time for all legal purposes and no one could understand Latin anymore. Charles tried out the new 'Romance' language of French but received puzzled looks from the judge.
Pepin's widow Plectrude tried to secure all the pensions and the company car space for her eight year old grandson Theudoald. Oddly, he was a bastard too but his granny overlooked that. She was also supported by the Frankish king Childeric but this was 8th century Europe where those who could swing the broadsword won the arguments. Martel beat Plectrude's army and locked her inside a nunnery. Theudoald was spared but chained to a wall for the next 25 years. He was later murdered by Martel's sons on the legal grounds that this was their father's mercy deal and not theirs.
Dark Ages Get a Little Murkier
Martel's victories now secured him the job of Mayor of All France. Since the Pippinids had rejected him, Charles didn't want to carry on their family name. His friends and supporters called Martel's dynasty "The House of Charlie's" but when rendered into Latin, it came out the more impressive Carolingians. Indeed so famous were this dynasty that every royal and imperial dynasty in Europe would claim descent from Charles. Now there is recognition for you. Yet Charles didn't go for the ultimate job of king himself. He left that to the Merovingians, enjoying moving them around and proclaiming and deposing their kings at whim.
Whilst France had gone through its turmoils, there was a new danger on the other side of the Pyrenees. In 711 the Visigoths had lost in a battle against an expeditionary/raiding force from Morocco and their monarch, King Roderick (El Rodders) killed. Spain had then collapsed and within 10 years all but a few mountains in Asturias in the north of the peninsular had been taken by arab armies under the command of the Umayyad Caliphate. Mohammed had died just a scant 90 years before but the Islamic armies had conquered Persia, North Africa and most of the Middle East. Only the Byzantine Empire had survived and they were under constant threat and taunts about their masculinity. In Europe, with the Visigoths gone — the only major power left were the Franks. The English were still bashing lumps out of each other and/or with the Celts in Britain. Germany was still worshipping Christmas Trees and in Italy, the Lombards were patchwork of mafia gangs and crime syndicates. The Pope in Rome was supposed to be an ally of the Byzantines but the two sides had fallen out about icons. The Catholics wanted to keep them whilst the Orthodox were in a spasm of computer language fundamentalism and preferred a Unix version of Christianity. Europe spoke with no voice and seemed destined to be annexed to the Caliphate.
In 732, a large raiding party from Spain entered France and looked around for their usual loot — gold, church silver and slaves. Charles had expected his deputy in the south, Count Eudes of Aquitaine to resist but he meet on the road fleeing like a scared hen. Charles told Eudes to stop and fight. Out came Charles toy hammer and he said 'we fight here or we die here or..we can do both.'
Hammer House of Horror
The Arab army — though it is likely it was an allsorts — collection had already grabbed a huge booty and were struggling to load it on to their carts when Charles and his Frankish army arrived. The Franks fought on horse back with huge balloon pants. The Muslim army had never seen such strange clothes and many ran away. However a sizable portion stuck around. It was now 100 years since Mohammed died and they wanted to win against the Franks to prove that God was still on their side. OK, they had been eventually beaten away from Constantinople by the Byzantines but the defences in France looked a lot weaker. The country wasn't so as attractive as Spain and the weather was appalling, as was the food then.
The eventual battle fought is called either the Battle of Tours, the Battle of Poitiers or the Great Clash of Civilizations. When writing Decline and Very Big Fail of the Roman Empire. Edward Gibbon wrote ..if Charles Martel hadn't won that battle in France then the streets of Oxford would have heard the cry to prayer and we would all have been circumcised. Our stockings and frock coats would have been different and I could have lived as a professor with four wives...actually...shame 'we won' then.. The leader of the Arabic army, Sheik Abdul Rahman Al Ghafiqi was killed by Charles and his hammer and his head was then cut off and nailed to Charles's victory banner. The war booty was kept by Charles (no notion of restitution then) as expenses for saving Christendom. At the time, the victory seemed nothing special and Charles made no request for a pay rise from his nominal overlord King Theuderic IV 'the Layabout'.
Only later was the victory appreciated. The strange baggy trousers of the Franks were sent back to the Umayyad capital in Damascus to see if they had some special significance. It said from this time the 'Frankish trousers' would later become the ancestor of the dress we associate with Aladdin but that is not so clear.
Who are Mattel?
In 737 King Theuderic IV died. Charles said there were no more Merovingians to crown but he didn't look hard enough. He could have become 'King Charles' but Martel saw that as a wimpy title to take. Moreover, he hated alternative medicine, talking to plants or marrying old trouts. Well, no not quite true. Charles had married twice and two sons (Pepin and Carloman) by Rotund of Trier and then by Swinehund of Bavaria, a irritating teenage whinger called Grifo. When his sons asked him 'who do you from which one of us to inherit all your stuff', Martel is reported to have chuckled and pointed to his favourite sword hanging on the bedroom wall.
Martel died in 741 and was buried in St.Denis. He had founded a dynasty, developed a lot of muscles and had used a lot of hammering to get his way. Many years later Charles's hammer would be later preserved by a forward thinking toy manufacturer in America. By a quirk of a dodgy typewriter, the company was accidently registered as Mattel instead of Martel. So in a way, the fame of Charles Martel carries on as Furryville, boy dollies and Barbie. What an impressive legacy.