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The defeat of the Saracen invaders of Frankish lands at the Battle of Poitiers in 732 A.D. was a turning point in history. Charles Martel's (Charles the Hammer, 688?-741) defeat of the Muslims prevented them from seizing southern Gaul and opening a route which, in all probability, would have led to the defeat of the Christian powers of Italy.

It was also a turning point in European military history. Although Charles relied primarily on infantry both at Poitiers and as he drove the Muslims south of the Pyrenees, the effectiveness of their cavalry led him to begin the transformation of his army to one dominated by cavalry. By time his grandson, Charlemagne, was creating his empire, the transformation was complete and soon spread throughout Western Europe. The armored knight and his specially bred “great horse,” now with the benefit of the additional stability provided by the stirrup, would dominate the European battlefield for the next 500 years and issue in the age of chivalry.

Charlemagne, 742-814 – Greatness on Horseback

Charlemagne (Charles the Great), relying increasingly on heavy cavalry, molded the Holy Roman Empire out of what had been largely a continent of illiterate, feuding tribes. Over 30 years, his cavalry, infantry and archers defeated the Lombards, Saxons, Bavarians and fought in Spain and Hungary. In the Christian lands of Western Europe, only the Kingdom of Asturias in Spain, southern Italy, and the British Isles remained outside his control.

The arms carried by Charlemagne's cavalry is mentioned in two texts. The Capitulare Missorum (792-793) refers to church officials and office holders who were able to possess horses and armor, as well as a shield, lance, long-sword and sax (short sword). In a Charlemagne letter in 806, cavalrymen were ordered to have a bow with several quivers of arrows, a shield, lance, sword and sax.

Horseshoe, Doors, and Devils…The Legend of St. Dunstan, 925-988 AD

Why do many people place a horseshoe over their door to ward off evil? One legend states that in England in the tenth century, there lived a blacksmith named Dunstan. One day the Devil came to Dunstan’s forge to have his cloven hooves shod. Dunstan agreed to make the Devil’s shoes, but instead he lashed the Devil to the anvil and furiously beat him with his hammer. The Devil begged for mercy. Dunstan made the Devil promise never to visit a door where a horseshoe hung. The Devil quickly agreed; and since then, blacksmiths and others have placed a horseshoe over their doors. The horseshoe must be placed with the toe down so that it can catch goodness from heaven. And what of the noble Dunstan? He became the Archbishop of Canterbury (961 – 980 AD) and was made a saint after his death.