Charles Martel, duke of Austrasia and mayor of the palace of the Frankish kings, born about 690, died in 741. He was the natural son of Pepin of Heristal, by his mistress Alpaida, and seemed at first doomed to an inferior rank on account of his illegitimate birth, as well as the dislike shown to him by his father and the hatred of Plectruda, his father's lawful wife. The second son of the latter, Grimoald, having been assassinated at Liege, Charles was charged with being the murderer and consequently thrown into a dungeon, while Plectruda was intrusted with the government and the guardianship of her grandson, who, although still a child, had been declared mayor of the palace of the young king Dagobert III. The Franks were thus ruled by a woman in the name of two children. This could not be endured; and the Neustrians first rebelled against Plectruda, and the Austrasians liberated Charles from prison, and proclaimed him their duke. Under his command they invaded Neustria, gained several victories, and obliged their western brothers to acknowledge the authority of their leader.
Thus Charles became sole lord of both kingdoms, permitting however the nominal reign of Dagobert III., Chilperic II., Clo-taire IV., and Thierry IV. to continue to 737. But on the death of the last named Charles appointed no successor and retained the supreme power, although not assuming any higher title than that of duke of the Franks. His energetic government at home caused the powerful Austrasian aristocracy to submit, as well as the prelates of Neustria and Burgundy, while his valor enlarged the extent of the Frankish kingdom. He waged successful wars against several German nations; but his brightest laurel was won in his struggle with the Moslems, who after the conquest of Spain had crossed the Pyrenees and attempted to conquer Gaul also. The southern part of this country had been first successfully protected by the gallant Eudes, duke of Aquita-nia, who had even routed the Moslems in 721 in a great battle under the walls of Toulouse; but, overpowered by the immense forces of the invaders, he was eventually compelled to call upon the duke of the Franks for assistance. The Moslems had already penetrated as far as Poitiers, when Charles at the head of his Frankish and German warriors met them a few miles N. E. of that city.
Both armies stopped and passed six days in desultory skirmishes before engaging in a decisive battle. At last, on Oct. 3, 732, the Christian infantry received the charge of the Arabian cavalry, and withstood unbroken its repeated assaults, until at sunset the Saracens retired to their camp. In the contusion and despair of the night the various tribes of the Orient, Africa, and Spain were provoked to attack each other, and the remains of the host were suddenly dissolved, every emir seeking safety by a precipitate flight. At sunrise the Franks, to their unbounded astonishment, perceived that the enemy had left their camp and were retreating in haste toward the south. The Moslems had not dared to renew the battle. This victory, which took place 100 years after the death of Mohammed, checked the power of his adherents and saved western Europe from their further invasions. Charles, from his conduct on this great occasion and the vigor of his arm, received the surname of Martel, "hammer." His prudence prevented him from pursuing the retreating army; but he subsequently renewed the war, and forced the Arabian emirs who had maintained their power over several cities of southern Gaul to return to Spain. The whole of Aquitania was annexed to the Frankish empire, which was ruled by Charles, and after his death divided between his two sons, Austrasia being given to Carloman and Neustria to Pepin. The latter soon became possessed of the whole, and afterward assumed the title of king, the first of the Carlovingian dynasty.