In 610 Mohammed received his call. He began to preach and after many hardships developed a significant following. Within a hundred years Islam had grown into a mighty empire. It conquered much of the Middle East, North Africa, Spain and Southern Italy. The Mediterranean became an Islamic lake. This had tremendous implications for Christianity, because those areas had formerly been Christian.
That Islam did not capture all of Europe and wipe out Christianity is owing in part to the Franks' Mayor of the Palace, Charles Martel, his sturdy Merovingian knights and a courageous infantry. On this day, October 10, 732* Charles met the Islamic invaders between Poiters and Tours in a battle that lasted either two days (Arab sources) or seven (French sources). The Muslims were mounted and their cavalry employed an innovation--the stirrup. The Franks were on foot. Yet the Franks stood like a wall and the Muslims withdrew defeated. Their leader, Abd-ar-Rahman was killed. In their rout, the Arabs suffered heavy losses of men. Europe would remain Christian territory.
At that time, Europe was not wholly Christian. The great mission work which brought it into the Christian fold was still in process. The church appreciated Charles Martel because he supported Christian expansion among the German races, protecting the notable missionaries Boniface and Willibrord. The church also appreciated his willingness to challenge the Islamic invaders. The church gladly loaned the Carolignian leader church lands to help defray the costs of the resistance against the Muslims.
After his victory, however, Charles incurred ecclesiastical wrath. He required his knights to provide themselves with horses, saddles and spurs; in order that they might pay for these costly innovations, Charles presented them with church lands. Even more exasperating to the church, he awarded its positions to ungodly, untrained laymen. Church discipline declined as is the recurring pattern when it is made into a branch of the civil service.
At one time it seemed unlikely Charles would ever amount to anything. He was an illegitimate son, not entitled to authority. When his father died he was even imprisoned, but managed to escape and build his power base in four short years. He solidified his holdings with unceasing effort, battling the Frisians, Saxons, Alamanni, Bavarians and Aquitanians until the most of modern France was brought under his control. After beating the Muslims at Poiters, Charles also conquered Burgundy. Later the title "Martel" was added to his name. Martellus means "hammer." Charles' prowess won him that name. Charles' descendants had great influence on European history. Pepin the Short, his son, aided the popes at crucial moments. His grandson was the famous emperor Charlemagne.
As for Islam, for centuries it continued its assaults on Europe through the East.
*This is the date usually given, although consensus is not universal.
- Adapted from an earlier Christian History Institute story.
- Arnold-Baker, C. and Dent, Anthony. Everyman's Dictionary of Dates. London : Dent, 1954.
- "Battle of Tours." http://campus.northpark.edu/history/
- Dowling, Tim. Eerdman's Handbook to Church History. Carmel, New York: Guideposts, 1977.
- Fremantle, Anne and the editors of Time-Life. Great Ages of Man. Age of Faith. Time Incorporated, 1965.
- Harbottle, Thomas Benfield. Dictionary of Battles. New York, Stein and Day, 1971.
- Kurth, Godefroid. "Charles Martel" in the Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton, 1914.
- "Arabs, Franks, and the Battle of Tours, 732: Three Accounts." Medieval Sourcebook: http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/732tours.html
- Various histories and encyclopedia and internet articles.
Last updated July, 2007