Charles Martel and the Battle of Poitiers (W. Blanc, C. Naudin)

Charles Martel and the Battle of Poitiers (W. Blanc, C. Naudin)

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Since the 2000s, the figure of Charles Martel and the battle of Poitiers where in 732, he pushes back with his Frankish army the Arab-Berber troops of Abd al-Rahmân, have become an issue of memory and instrumentalization of the past, in particular on the part of the French or even European far right. Let us remember the “Je suis Charlie Martel” pronounced by Jean-Marie Le Pen the day after the Charlie Hebdo massacre. Two historians, William blanc and Christophe Naudin, review the history of this battle and analyze its political use from its origins to today. They deliver a complete and necessary historical essay showing how an a priori modest, if not minor, event in the history of France has become a historiographical and identity myth.

From Medina to Poitiers

This book is divided into two main parts. If the second is interested in the memory and the myth of the battle of Poitiers, the first part deals with its history and its unfolding. As such, the two authors offer us a rigorous exercise of synthesis on this event. Because this battle remains very little known today until its date and its location. Indeed, if the date commonly retained is that of 732, the doubt remains between 731 and 734. As for its location, let us never forget that English historians traditionally speak of "The Battle of Tours". What then to say about current knowledge on its exact development?

However, Blanc and Naudin did not seek to provide a new historical approach to the battle but to make us understand its nature in the light of the latest research and to enable us to apprehend its true importance. This could only be done by placing it in a broader context, that of relations between Islam and the Christian, Byzantine, Frankish or Persian worlds. Their essay thus began more than a century before the battle of Poitiers, when the prophet of Islam, Muhammad, died in Medina in 632 and the “Islamic” conquests began. And it doesn't stop at the end of said battle either. Because far from having stopped an invasion, Charles Martel would only have pushed back a simple army that had come to plunder Gaul. The mayor of the palace also does not stop these looting then directed towards Provence. Finally, the demonstration of the two authors show that beyond this confrontation with the impact today incontestably fantasized, the relations between Islam, Franks and local populations in the 8th century are not those of a permanent conflict. Alliances, whether political, diplomatic or commercial, are forged and endure without the religious fact - and therefore a so-called forced Islamization - intervening making Samuel Huntington's famous Clash of Civilizations published in 1996 irrelevant.

The instrumentalization of the past: an ancient practice

If the battle of Poitiers certainly did not have the aura and importance that we give it today; if Charles Martel did not, as we often hear, "arrested the Arabs in Poitiers", the fact remains that his recent instrumentalisation by the extreme right is anything but a recent fact. On the contrary, the use of the past for political ends (among others) is an old practice to which the battle of Poitiers and Charles Martel are no exception. However, it remains to be seen how and in what proportion. The two authors have focused on these questions in order to deliver an in-depth study, not neglecting any source and analyzing them objectively. As a result, Charles Martel has always been the object since the Middle Ages of political instrumentalisation. However, this instrumentalisation turns out to be discreet, fluctuating, often forgetting the battle of Poitiers. Finally, far from being the prerogative of the extreme right, the figure of the mayor of the palace has not stopped waltzing according to the political and religious interests of the time.

It is thus with great care that Blanc and Naudin expose and comment on the memory of Charles Martel and the battle of Poitiers through the ages. It is therefore extremely interesting and fascinating to observe that during the medieval period, the battle of Poitiers, far from being a major event, founder or decisive of our history, was quite simply almost forgotten or confused with others. battles which sometimes do not concern the Saracens - and therefore a clash between Islam and Christians - but peoples from the East, from present-day Germany. And that for many centuries, Charles Martel was persona non grata in our history with the kings of France. Worst ! Among some clerics, the mayor of the palace is doomed to hell for spoiling Church property. He can therefore appear as a savior of Christendom and of the West or on the contrary as a tyrant and a usurper. During the modern period, he can alternately become a defender of absolute monarchy or a protector of the nobility fighting against this absolute monarchy. He can become, under the pen of Chateaubriand, one of the champions of Christianity, a rampart against slavery just like a pagan with Michelet, having prevented civilization from developing with Voltaire. And these are just a few small examples of the various fluctuations of Charles Martel in history and with him of the battle of Poitiers that Blanc and Naudin evoke, not ignoring any of the possible representations: literature, sculpture, painting , the cinema and even the stamps without naturally forgetting the school books where the battle of Poitiers shines by its quasi-absence since always.

The identity myth

Whatever the instrumentalization of Charles Martel throughout history, it remained modest until the end of the 19th century when a turning point took place with its recovery and use by the far right. However, the mayor of the palace and the battle of Poitiers are still far from being symbols of the ramparts against the “Great Replacement” as we can see today. They are above all symbols to fight sometimes against Judaism, sometimes against communism, finally against Americanism when the United States takes up the cause for the Albanian and Muslim populations during the war in Kosovo in 1999. And to Charles Martel to penetrate more strongly the national novel as being the savior of Europe in the face of Islam as we can see it appear in the writings or speeches of politicians like Jean-Marie Le Pen, Bruno Mégret or of personalities like Lorànt Deutsch and Éric Zemmour. These personalities denounce in this regard a certain ostracism of the winner of the Battle of Poitiers on the part of the current left government and the so-called single thought going hand in hand. And it is at this moment that the book of Blanc et Naudin takes all its meaning by explaining that precisely, the battle of Poitiers is not a founding event in the history of France and it has hardly ever been regarded as such.

Our opinion to conclude

Sometimes dense, sometimes too picky, the book by William Blanc and Christophe Naudin is nonetheless perfectly conducted and completed by rich annexes (iconography, maps, etc.). Useful and necessary, this work bends against received ideas making the Battle of Poitiers a real "shock" of civilizations and of Charles Martel a national hero who repulsed the Muslim invader. But better still, the two historians demonstrate that this event has never been considered important in our history with a few exceptions, strongly political exceptions such as the one used by the Generation Identity group with its slogan “Je suis Charlie Martel” at the continuation of the Charlie Hebdo massacre. And if the two authors' previous work - Les Historiens de garde, co-authored with Aurore Chéry, Éditions Inculte, 2013 - could sometimes give way to controversy and political orientations, this is never the case here. This historical essay remains neutral and objective. And isn't this the best way to combat the political manipulations of which history is tirelessly the object?

William Blanc and Christophe Naudin, Charles Martel and the Battle of Poitiers, from history to identity myth, Éditions Libertalia, Paris, 2015.

Video: Battle of Tours 732 - Could Europe Have Been Muslim? History Mini-Documentary