Born about 688; died at Quierzy on the Oise, 21 October, 741.
He was the natural son of Pepin of Herstal and a woman named Alpaïde or Chalpaïde. Pepin, who died in 714, had outlived his two legitimate sons, Drogon and Grimoald, and to Theodoald, a son of the latter and then only six years old, fell the burdensome inheritance of the French monarchy.
Charles, who was then twenty-six, was not excluded from the succession on account of his birth, Theodoald himself being the son of a concubine, but through the influence of Plectrude, Theodoald’s grandmother, who wished the power invested in her own descendants exclusively. To prevent any opposition from Charles she had him cast into prison and, having established herself at Cologne, assumed the guardianship of her grandson. But the different nations whom the strong hand of Pepin of Herstal had held in subjection, shook off the yoke of oppression as soon as they saw that it was with a woman they had to deal.
Neustria gave the signal for revolt (715), Theodoald was beaten in the forest of Cuise and, led by Raginfrid, mayor of the palace, the enemy advanced as far as the Meuse. The Frisians flew to arms and, headed by their duke, Ratbod, destroyed the Christian mission and entered into a confederacy with the Neustrians. The Saxons came and devastated the country of the Hattuarians, and even in Austrasia there was a certain faction that chafed under the government of a woman and child.
national party of Austrasia. At first he was unfortunate. He was defeated by Ratbod near Cologne in 716, and the Neustrians forced Plectrude to acknowledge as king Chilperic, the son of Childeric II, having taken this Merovingian from the seclusion of the cloister, where he lived by the name of Daniel. But Charles was quick to take revenge. He surprised and conquered the Neustrians at Amblève near Malmédy (716), defeated them a second time at Vincy near Cambrai (21 March, 717), and pursued them as far as Paris. Then retracing his steps, he came to Cologne and compelled Plectrude to surrender her power and turn over to him the wealth of his father, Pepin.
In order to give his recently acquired authority a semblance of legitimacy, he proclaimed the Merovingian Clotaire IV King of Austrasia, reserving for himself the title of Mayor of the Palace. It was about this time that Charles banished Rigobert, the Bishop of Reims, who had opposed him, appointing in his stead the warlike and unpriestly Milon, who was already Archbishop of Trier.
The next six years were devoted almost exclusively to the confirming of the Frankish authority over the dependent Germanic tribes. In 725 and 728 Charles went into Bavaria, where the Agilolfing dukes had gradually rendered themselves independent, and re-established Frankish suzerainty. He also brought thence the Princess Suanehilde, who seems to have become his mistress. In 730 he marched against Lantfrid, Duke of the Alemanna, whom he likewise brought into subjection, and thus Southern Germany once more became part of the Frankish Empire, as had Northern Germany during the first years of the reign.
But at the extremity of the empire a dreadful storm was gathering. For several years the Moslems of Spain had been threatening Gaul. Banished thence in 721 by Duke Eudes, they had returned in 725 and penetrated as far as Burgundy, where they had destroyed Autun. Duke Eudes, unable to resist them, at length contented himself by negotiating with them, and to Othmar, one of their chiefs, he gave the hand of his daughter. But this compromising alliance brought him into disfavor with Charles, who defeated him in 731, and the death of Othmar that same year again left Eudes at the mercy of the Moslem enterprise.
The remainder of Charles Martel’s reign was an uninterrupted series of triumphant combats. In 733-734 he suppressed the rebellion instigated by the Frisian duke, Bobo, who was slain in battle, and definitively subdued Friesland, which finally adopted Christianity. In 735, after the death of Eudes, Charles entered Aquitaine, quelled the revolt of Hatto and Hunold, sons of the deceased duke, and left the duchy to Hunold, to be held in fief (736). He then banished the Moslems from Arles and Avignon, defeated their army on the River Berre near Narbonne, and in 739 checked an uprising in Provence, the rebels being under the leadership of Maurontus.
So great was Charles’ power during the last years of his reign that he did not take the trouble to appoint a successor to King Thierry IV, who died in 737, but assumed full authority himself, governing without legal right. About a year before Charles died, Pope Gregory III, threatened by Luitprand, King of Lombardy, asked his help. Now Charles was Luitprand’s ally because the latter had promised to assist him in the late war against the Moslems of Provence, and, moreover, the Frankish king may have already suffered from the malady that was to carry him off – two reasons that are surely sufficient to account for the fact that the pope’s envoys departed without gaining the object of their errand. However, it would seem that, according to the terms of a public act published by Charlemagne, Charles had, at least in principle, agreed to defend the Roman Church, and death alone must have prevented him from fulfilling this agreement.
[adapted from the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia article by Godofroid Kurth]