Charles Martel (688-741) was mayor of the palace from 715 to 741, during the reign of Theudoric IV, king of the Merovingian Franks, a Germanic tribe that had conquered the Gaul (France) at the Fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century. Mayor of the palace was the highest military and political position in the Frankish kingdom. It was a title that he had inherited from his father Pepin of Herstal, mayor of the palace under Theudebert II. Upon his father death, however, Charles did not become mayor of the palace right away, for he was born out of wedlock, being the illegitimate son of Pepin of Herstal and his concubine Alpaida. Pepin’s legal wife, Plectrude, appointed his grandson Theudoald as mayor. Since Pepin’s grandson was only eight years old, many noblemen did not support him, siding wtih Charles, who had been arrested by Plectrude. Having escaped from prison, Charles Martel was finally recognized mayor by the noblemen the following year, in 715. With the full support of the nobility, Charles Martel carried out a military campaign to consolidate his position as mayor, fighting against Plectrude’s forces. He captured her stronghold, which was the city of Cologne, completely defeating Plectrude, but he spared her life, by sending her to a monastery.
The kingdom of the Franks consisted of three regions: Austrasia, Neustria, and Burgundy, which, until 715, had been ruled by Dogobert III. The death of this king in 715, plunged the kingdom into an anarchy. Chilperic II was acclaimed king in Neustria and immediately tried to establish himself as sovereign in Austriasia, too. However, Charles Martel opposed him right away, defeating him in the battles of Ambleve and Vincy. Having routed his enemy, Charles proclaimed Clothar IV as the new king of Austrasia. As the mayor of the palace of Austrasia, Charles Martel continued his military campaign and in time completely defeated Chilperic II and his mayor of palace, Ragenfrid, unifying the Frankish kingdom under Theudoric IV in 721 (Clothar IV had died that year) and proclaiming himself as the only mayor of the palace in the whole kingdom. To secure its borders, Charles Martel began a military campaign in the east against the Saxons, pushing them back into their territory. He also conquered Bavaria and other regions in Germany. In 732, Charles Martel thrashed a large Islamic army, under Abdul Rahman Al-Ghafiqi, at the Battle of Tours, in central France. This Muslim army had poured into France from Spain, which had also been invaded by the Islamic forces from Northern Africa in 711.
When Charles Martel died in 741, he was succeeded by his son, Pepin the Short, as mayor of the palace. In 752, Pepin would depose the king Childeric III and crown himself as the new king of the Franks, ushering in a new dynasty,the Carolingian dynasty. Charles Martel’s grandson, Charlemagne, would establish an empire, which stretched from northern Spain to Germany, the Carolingian Empire.