Medieval Monday: Charles in Charge

Infidels vs. Moors

Islam was founded by Muhammad in 610, and it quickly spread through the tribal regions of the Middle East. The Muslim world began uniting politically under a single religion and a number of empires rose and fell during the medieval period.

By 711, the Berbers were winning territory in present-day Spain and Portugal in the name of the Prophet. By 732, two-thirds of the Iberian peninsula was under Muslim control. It was only at the Battle of Tours in 732 that Charles Martel was able to halt the Muslim advance into France and the rest of Western Europe.

Spain would not be completely under the control of Christian rulers again until Isabella and Ferdinand reclaimed Grenada in 1492.

Strap Me to My Horse: In the late 11th century, El Cid fought against the Moors (reconquering parts of Spain) and became a Spanish hero and symbol of chivalric virtue.

Frankly My Dear…

Charles I of the Franks—better known as Charlemagne—really kicked off the middle ages in Western Europe. His grandfather, Charles Martel, and his father, Pepin the Short, began consolidating the power of the Franks (Franks = French), but it was Charlemagne who added to their gains until almost all of Western Europe was either directly or indirectly (via vassalage) under his power.

In 800, Pope Leo III crowned him Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire—the first emperor in Europe since 476.

Charlemagne encouraged the arts, reading, and writing. Original Latin texts were copied for posterity’s sake (if not for him, we would likely have no surviving Classical works) and a new, more legible script was invented. He also brought back a standard coinage, which made it easier to trade (after all, it’s easier to carry coins in your pocket than livestock and produce).

By the time of his death in 814, Europe was more stable, divided into regions which would eventually become countries, and slowly but surely reclaiming classical knowledge.

Oh, Say Can You Hear: The Song of Roland is set during one of Charlemagne’s battles against the Spanish Moors.

Useless Early Medieval Trivia: Most modern European monarchs are descended from El Cid, while almost all modern Europeans are descended from Charlemagne.

Charlemagne is the King of Hearts in the modern deck of playing cards.

Charlemagne established the old English system of coinage: a pound sterling/livre, 20 shillings/sous to the pound, and 240 pence/deniers to the pound.

Suggested Reading:

Charlemagne
El Cid
Chronicle of the Cid (oldest surviving Castilian poem)
The Song of Roland (oldest surviving French poem)
Old English Money

Misc.

HowDoYouSay.net (this is what I use when I need to translate something for my books; it’s more accurate than Babelfish.)
Pixlr Photo Editor (this is what I’ve started using for my drawings. It’s actually a decent–and free–clone of Photoshop.)

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