When King Clovis died, his four sons divided the kingdom among them much as if it had been a farm. Then they quarrelled, and a quarrel in those days led to savage fighting. Each ruler intended to get as much as he could, and if any one stood in the way the first thought was, "Kill him." For instance, one of Clovis's sons died, leaving three boys. Queen Clotilda tried to protect the rights of her grandchildren, but two of her sons sent her a sword and a pair of scissors. That meant, "Should you rather have the boys slain or have them lose their long hair?" To lose their long hair would shut them out of the royal family, and Clotilda replied that she would rather see them dead than disgraced. Two of the boys were at once murdered by their uncle.
For more than a century, the Frankish kingdom was full of quarrels and fighting. During the following century, a king was always on the throne, but he never ruled; and these sovereigns have been nicknamed the "do-nothing kings." The real rulers were officers called mayors of the palace. The "mayor" was at first only a sort of royal attendant, but several of the kings were children when they came to the throne; and the mayors acted as their guardians but without all the regal powers. Some of the kings were stupid, and some cared only for amusement, and hardly any of them were strong and manly enough to govern. The mayors of the palace were rulers in peace, and as the "do-nothing kings" were of course unable to lead armies, the mayors became also commanders in war. This arrangement suited the Frankish nobles. They were always afraid that their kings would get too much power over them; but as a mayor was chosen from among themselves, they were not jealous of his power.
One of these mayors was named Pepin. He treated the king with the utmost respect, permitted him to live on one of the royal estates, and sent servants to wait on him. When some national festival was to be held, the king was brought to court dressed in most elegant robes and with his long hair floating over his shoulders. He rode in a heavy wagon drawn by oxen and driven by a cowherd. This was according to the ancient custom, and the people would have been displeased to have it altered. He was escorted into the palace and seated upon the throne, and the nobles came to do him honour. He recited a little speech, composed for him beforehand, urging the army to be valiant and to be always ready for service. If ambassadors were to be received, he met them graciously, and said what Mayor Pepin told him to say. Then with all deference he was led to the cart and driven back to the estate upon which he lived. He was free to go on hunting or raising doves or combing his long hair until a figurehead was needed again.
When Pepin died, his son Charles became mayor. It was fortunate that he was a good fighter, for there was a great deal of fighting to be done. There were hostile tribes on the north and east to be subdued. Then, too, there were rumors of trouble coming from another people, the Mohammedans. It was essential that Charles should have an army ready to set out at a moment's notice. But he could not keep an army without the help of the nobles, and for such help he must pay, and pay well. The churches owned a vast amount of land and money; and when Charles needed either to reward the nobles, he took it. It is probable that he did not give away the land, but only lent it to his nobles by what is called a feudal tenure; that is, so long as a noble provided a certain number of men for the mayor's army, he might hold the land and get as much gain from it as he could. This was all very well for the nobles, but it is no wonder that the bishops were not pleased. And the army so maintained was to be used to defend them against the Mohammedans.
The history of these people is interesting. About one hundred and sixty years before that time, a man named Mohammed was born in Mecca in Arabia, and he became so famous when a man that the people who knew him as a child fancied that many wonderful things had happened to him when he was small. It was said that the sheep bowed to him as he passed by, and that even the moon stooped from her place in the heavens to do him honour. While he was in the house of his nurse, so the legend says, her well never dried and her pastures were always fresh and green.
The little boy soon lost both father and mother, and was brought up in the house of his uncle. He must have been a most lovable boy, for every one seems to have been kind to him. This uncle held an office of great honor,—he was guardian of a certain black stone which, it was said, the angel Gabriel had given to Abraham. The stone was built into the outer wall of the Kaaba, a little square temple which the Arabians looked upon as especially holy. Most of them were worshipers of idols, and the Kaaba was the home of enough idols to provide a different one for every day in the year. Throngs of pilgrims journeyed to Mecca to kiss the stone and worship in the Kaaba; and the boy must have heard marvellous tales of the strange places from which they came. His uncle was a merchant and used to go with caravans to Syria and elsewhere to buy and sell goods. When Mohammed was twelve years old, he begged earnestly to be allowed to go with him. The uncle said "No." Then the boy pleaded, "But, my uncle, who will take care of me when you are gone?" The tender-hearted man could not refuse any longer, and Mohammed went on his first journey.
After this, he always travelled with his uncle, and when the uncle went out to help his tribe fight another, he became the uncle's armour-bearer. He learned about life in a caravan, and about buying and selling goods, and while he was hardly more than a boy, he was often employed by merchants to go on such trips as their agent. At length he was engaged by a wealthy widow named Kadijah to manage the large business which the death of her husband had left in her charge. She became more and more pleased with the young man, and after a while she sent a trusty slave to offer him her hand. He was surprised, but not at all unwilling, and soon there was a generous wedding feast with music and dancing. The house was open to all who chose to come, and a camel was killed that its flesh might be given to the poor.
Mohammed thought much about religious questions. He came to believe that his people were wrong in worshipping idols, and that there was only one true God. He used to go to a cavern a few miles from Mecca to pray and meditate. One month in every year he gave up entirely to this. After a while, he began to have strange dreams and visions. In one of these he thought the angel Gabriel held before him a silken cloth on which there was golden writing and bade him read it. "But I do not know how to read," replied Mohammed. "Read, in the name of the Most High," said the angel; and suddenly the power to read the letters came to him, and he found the writings were commands of God. Then the angel declared, "Thou art the prophet of God."
Mohammed told Kadijah of his vision, and she believed that the angel had really come to him. After a little, he began to preach wherever people would listen. A few believed in him, but most people only laughed at his story. Still he kept on preaching, and after a while, although he had but few followers in Mecca, there were many in Medina who had come to believe that he was the prophet of God. He decided that it was best for him to go to them, and in the year 622 he and a few friends escaped from their enemies in Mecca and went to Medina. This is called the Hegira, or flight. To this day Mohammedans do not count the years from the birth of Christ, but from the Hegira.
As soon as the prophet was in Medina, his followers began to build a mosque, or place for prayer, in which he might preach. They made the walls of earth and brick. The pillars were the trunks of palm trees, and the roof was formed of their branches with a thatch of leaves. He decided that his disciples should be called to prayer five times a day, and after all these centuries the call, or muezzin, is still heard in the East from some minaret of each mosque,— "God is great. There is no God but God. Mohammed is the apostle of God. Come to prayers. Come to prayers." At dawn the crier adds, "Prayer is better than sleep." Every true Mussulman, as followers of Mohammed are called, is bound to obey this rule of prayer, and as he prays, he must turn his face toward Mecca. He is also commanded to make at least one pilgrimage to Mecca before he dies, and to kiss the sacred black stone. It is still in the wall of the Kaaba, but the Kaaba itself is now within a mosque so large that it will hold 35,000 persons.
It is probable that Mohammed never learned to read or write, but his followers jotted down his words on bits of palm leaves or skins or even the shoulder-blades of animals, and many of them they learned by heart. After the death of the prophet, the caliphs, as his successors were called, collected these sayings and arranged them in a book called the Koran, which is the sacred volume of the Mussulmans.
For a long while, Mohammed preached peace and gentleness and charity, and he won many followers. Then he came to believe that if people would not obey his teachings, it was right to make war upon them. He marched against Mecca with a large army of his disciples, and soon captured it. After a time, either by preaching or by fighting, the Mohammedans, or Mussulmans, became the rulers of all Arabia. After the death of their prophet, they continued their conquests. They overcame Syria, Persia, Egypt, northern Africa, and Spain. A little later they swarmed over the Pyrenees, and pushed on as far north as Tours. In 732, just one hundred years after the death of Mohammed, the Mohammedans met the Frankish army of Charles on the plain of Tours, and after a terrible combat the Mohammedans were so completely overwhelmed that they retreated toward Spain and never again tried to conquer the land of the Franks.
It was fortunate for all Europe that the Frankish troops were led by so valiant a warrior as Charles. He not only led, but he fought with his own hands; and he swung his mighty battle-axe with such crushing blows that after this battle he was known as Charles the Hammer, or Charles Martel. It was no wonder that when the long-haired Merovingian died who was then called king of the Franks, none saw need of putting another on the throne while Charles lived.
When Charles Martel died, his son Pepin became mayor. He is known as Pepin the Short. By this time, the Pope had become so powerful that kings liked to have his sanction to whatever they proposed to do. Before long, Pepin sent an embassy to him to say, "Who ought to be king, the man who has the name or the man who has the power?" The Pope thought it reasonable that the man who was really king should also be king in name; and so it came to pass that no more Merovingians drove up from their farms once a year to sit on the throne for a day. Pepin was made king, and soon the Pope travelled all the way from Rome to St. Denis near Paris, to crown the new sovereign and anoint him with the sacred oil. He was the first king of the Carolingian Line.