Louis IX of France
Louis IX (25 April 1214 – 25 August 1270), commonly known as Saint Louis or Louis the Saint, is the only king of France to be canonized in the Catholic Church. Louis was crowned in Reims at the age of 12, following the death of his father Louis VIII; his mother, Blanche of Castile, ruled the kingdom as regent until he reached maturity, and then remained his valued adviser until her death. During Louis' childhood, Blanche dealt with the opposition of rebellious vassals and obtained a definitive victory in the Albigensian Crusade, which had started 20 years earlier.
As an adult, Louis IX faced recurring conflicts with some of his realm's most powerful nobles, such as Hugh X of Lusignan and Peter of Dreux. Simultaneously, Henry III of England attempted to restore the Angevin continental possessions, but was promptly routed at the Battle of Taillebourg. Louis annexed several provinces, notably parts of Aquitaine, Maine and Provence.
Louis IX is one of the most notable European monarchs of the Middle Ages. His reign is remembered as a medieval golden age in which the Kingdom of France reached an economic as well as political peak. His fellow European rulers esteemed him highly, not only for his pre-eminence in arms or the unmatched wealth of his kingdom, but also for his reputation of fairness and moral integrity: he was often asked to arbitrate their disputes.
He was a reformer and developed French royal justice, in which the king was the supreme judge to whom anyone could in theory appeal for the amendment of a judgment. He banned trials by ordeal, tried to end the scourge of private wars, and introduced the presumption of innocence in criminal procedure. To enforce his new legal system, Louis IX created provosts and bailiffs.
Honoring a vow he had made while praying for recovery during a serious illness, Louis IX led the Seventh and Eighth crusades against the Ayyubids, Bahriyya Mamluks and Hafsid Kingdom. He was captured in the first and ransomed, and he died from dysentery during the latter. He was succeeded by his son Philip III.
His admirers through the centuries have regarded Louis IX as the ideal Christian ruler, though contemporaries occasionally rebuked him as a "monk king". He is seen as inspired by Christian zeal and Catholic devotion. Valuing Catholic orthodoxy, his laws punished blasphemy by mutilation of the tongue and lips, and he ordered the burning of some 12,000 manuscript copies of the Talmud and other Jewish books. He is the only canonized king of France, and there are consequently many places named after him.
Much of what is known of Louis's life comes from Jean de Joinville's famous Life of Saint Louis. Joinville was a close friend, confidant, and counselor to the king. He participated as a witness in the papal inquest into Louis's life that resulted in his canonisation in 1297 by Pope Boniface VIII.
Two other important biographies were written by the king's confessor, Geoffrey of Beaulieu, and his chaplain, William of Chartres. While several individuals wrote biographies in the decades following the king's death, only Jean of Joinville, Geoffrey of Beaulieu, and William of Chartres wrote from personal knowledge of the king and of the events they describe, and all three are biased favorably to the king. The fourth important source of information is William of Saint-Parthus's 19th-century biography, which he wrote using material from the papal inquest mentioned above.
Louis was born on 25 April 1214 at Poissy, near Paris, the son of Louis the Lion and Blanche of Castile, and was baptised there in La Collégiale Notre-Dame church. His grandfather on his father's side was Philip II, king of France; while his grandfather on his mother's side was Alfonso VIII, king of Castile. Tutors of Blanche's choosing taught him most of what a king must know—Latin, public speaking, writing, military arts, and government. He was nine years old when his grandfather Philip II died and his father ascended as Louis VIII.
Louis was 12 years old when his father died on 8 November 1226. He was crowned king within the month at Reims Cathedral. Because of Louis's youth, his mother ruled France as regent during his minority. Louis's mother trained him to be a great leader and a good Christian. She used to say:
I love you, my dear son, as much as a mother can love her child; but I would rather see you dead at my feet than that you should ever commit a mortal sin.
No date is given for the beginning of Louis's personal rule. His contemporaries viewed his reign as co-rule between the king and his mother, though historians generally view the year 1234 as the year in which Louis began ruling personally, with his mother assuming a more advisory role. She continued to have a strong influence on the king until her death in 1252.
On 27 May 1234, Louis married Margaret of Provence (1221 – 21 December 1295); she was crowned in the cathedral of Sens the next day. Louis's marriage had political connections, as his wife was sister to Eleanor, who later married Henry III of England. The new queen's religious zeal made her a well-suited partner for the king. He enjoyed her company, and was pleased to show her the many public works he was making in Paris, both for its defence and for its health. They enjoyed riding together, reading, and listening to music. His attention to Margaret aroused a certain amount of jealousy in his mother, who tried to keep the couple apart as much as she could.
When Louis was 15, his mother brought an end to the Albigensian Crusade in 1229. She signed an agreement with Count Raymond VII, Count of Toulouse, which cleared the latter's father of wrongdoing. Raymond VI, Count of Toulouse had been suspected of murdering a preacher on a mission to convert the Cathars.
In 1248 Louis decided that his obligations as a son of the Church outweighed those of his throne, and he left his kingdom to participate in a Crusade, what for him was a disastrous six-year adventure. Since the base of Muslim power had shifted to Egypt, Louis did not march on the Holy Land. Any war against Islam was considered to fit the definition of a Crusade.
Louis and his followers landed in Egypt on 4 or 5 June 1249 and began his campaign with the rapid capture of the port of Damietta. This attack caused some disruption in the Muslim Ayyubid empire, especially as the current sultan, Al-Malik as-Salih Najm al-Din Ayyub, was on his deathbed. However, the march of Europeans from Damietta toward Cairo through the Nile River Delta went slowly. The seasonal rising of the Nile and the summer heat made it impossible for them to advance and follow up on their success. During this time, the Ayyubid sultan died, and the sultan's wife Shajar al-Durr set in motion a sudden power shift that would make her Queen and eventually place the Egyptian army of the Mamluks in power.
On 8 February 1250 Louis lost his army at the Battle of Al Mansurah and was captured by the Egyptians. His release was eventually negotiated in return for a ransom of 400,000 livres tournois (at the time France's annual revenue was only about 1,250,000 livres tournois) and the surrender of the city of Damietta.
Following his release from Egyptian captivity, Louis spent four years in the Latin kingdoms of Acre, Caesarea, and Jaffa. He used his wealth to assist the Crusaders in rebuilding their defences and conducted diplomacy with the Islamic powers of Syria and Egypt. In the spring of 1254 he and his surviving army returned to France.
Louis exchanged multiple letters and emissaries with Mongol rulers of the period. During his first crusade in 1248, Louis was approached by envoys from Eljigidei, the Mongol military commander stationed in Armenia and Persia. Eljigidei suggested that King Louis should land in Egypt, while Eljigidei attacked Baghdad, to prevent the Saracens of Egypt and those of Syria from joining forces. Louis sent André de Longjumeau, a Dominican priest, as an emissary to the Great Khan Güyük Khan (r. 1246–48) in Mongolia. Güyük died before the emissary arrived at his court, however, and no action was taken by the two parties. Instead Güyük's queen and now regent, Oghul Qaimish, politely turned down the diplomatic offer.
Louis dispatched another envoy to the Mongol court, the Franciscan William of Rubruck, who visited the Great Khan Möngke (1251–1259) in Mongolia. He spent several years at the Mongol court. In 1259, Berke, the ruler of the Golden Horde, westernmost part of the Mongolian Empire, demanded the submission of Louis. By contrast, Mongolian emperors Möngke and Khubilai's brother, the Ilkhan Hulegu, sent a letter to the king of France seeking his military assistance, but the letter never reached France.
In a parliament held at Paris, 24 March 1267, Louis and his three sons "took the cross." On hearing the reports of the missionaries, Louis resolved to land at Tunis, and he ordered his younger brother, Charles of Anjou, to join him there. The crusaders, among whom was the English prince Edward Longshanks, landed at Carthage 17 July 1270, but disease broke out in the camp. Many died of dysentery, and on 25 August, Louis himself died.
Louis's patronage of the arts inspired much innovation in Gothic art and architecture. The style of his court was influential throughout Europe, both because of artwork purchased from Parisian masters for export, and by the marriage of the king's daughters and female relatives to foreign husbands. They became emissaries of Parisian models and styles elsewhere. Louis's personal chapel, the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris, which was known for its intricate stained-glass windows, was copied more than once by his descendants elsewhere. Louis is believed to have ordered the production of the Morgan Bible, a masterpiece of medieval painting.
During the so-called "golden century of Saint Louis", the kingdom of France was at its height in Europe, both politically and economically. Saint Louis was regarded as "primus inter pares", first among equals, among the kings and rulers of the continent. He commanded the largest army and ruled the largest and wealthiest kingdom, the European centre of arts and intellectual thought at the time. The foundations for the notable college of theology, later known as the Sorbonne, were laid in Paris about the year 1257.
The prestige and respect felt by Europeans for King Louis IX were due more to the appeal of his personality than to military domination. For his contemporaries, he was the quintessential example of the Christian prince and embodied the whole of Christendom in his person. His reputation for fairness and even saintliness was already well established while he was alive, and on many occasions he was chosen as an arbiter in quarrels among the rulers of Europe.
Shortly before 1256, Enguerrand IV, Lord of Coucy, arrested and without trial hanged three young squires of Laon, whom he accused of poaching in his forest. In 1256 Louis had the lord arrested and brought to the Louvre by his sergeants. Enguerrand demanded judgment by his peers and trial by battle, which the king refused because he thought it obsolete. Enguerrand was tried, sentenced, and ordered to pay 12,000 livres. Part of the money was to pay for masses to be said in perpetuity for the souls of the men he had hanged.
In 1258, Louis and James I of Aragon signed the Treaty of Corbeil to end areas of contention between them. By this treaty, Louis renounced his feudal overlordship over the County of Barcelona and Roussillon, which was held by the King of Aragon. James in turn renounced his feudal overlordship over several counties in southern France, including Provence and Languedoc. In 1259 Louis signed the Treaty of Paris, by which Henry III of England was confirmed in his possession of territories in southwestern France, and Louis received the provinces of Anjou, Normandy (Normandie), Poitou, Maine, and Touraine.
The perception of Louis IX by his contemporaries as the exemplary Christian prince was reinforced by his religious zeal. Louis was an extremely devout Catholic, and he built the Sainte-Chapelle ("Holy Chapel"), located within the royal palace complex (now the Paris Hall of Justice), on the Île de la Cité in the centre of Paris. The Sainte Chapelle, a prime example of the Rayonnant style of Gothic architecture, was erected as a shrine for what Louis believed to be the Crown of Thorns and a fragment of the True Cross, supposed precious relics of the Passion of Christ. He acquired these in 1239–41 from Emperor Baldwin II of the Latin Empire of Constantinople by agreeing to pay off to Niccolo Quirino, a wealthy Venetian merchant, the imperial debt for which Baldwin had pledged the Crown of Thorns as collateral. Louis IX paid the exorbitant sum of 135,000 livres to clear this debt (the construction of the chapel, for comparison, cost only 60,000 livres).
Louis IX took very seriously his mission as "lieutenant of God on Earth", with which he had been invested when he was crowned in Reims. To fulfill this duty, he conducted two crusades. They contributed to his prestige, even though both ended disastrously. Everything he did was for what he saw as the glory of God and the good of his people. He protected the poor and was never heard to speak ill of anyone. He excelled in penance, leaving a hair shirt and a scourge which he had used in private practice. He had a great love for the Church. He was merciful even to rebels. When he was urged to execute a prince who had followed his father in rebellion, he refused, saying: "A son cannot refuse to obey his father."
In 1230 the King forbade all forms of usury, defined at the time as any taking of interest and therefore covering most banking activities. When the original borrowers from Jewish and Lombard lenders could not be found, Louis exacted from those lenders a contribution toward the crusade which Pope Gregory was trying to launch. At the urging of Pope Gregory IX, following the Disputation of Paris in 1240, Louis ordered in 1243 the burning in Paris of some 12,000 manuscript copies of the Talmud and other Jewish books. Eventually, the edict against the Talmud was overturned by Gregory IX's successor, Innocent IV.
Louis also expanded the scope of the Inquisition in France. He set the punishment for blasphemy to mutilation of the tongue and lips. The area most affected by this expansion was southern France, where the Cathar sect had been strongest. The rate of confiscation of property from the Cathars and others reached its highest levels in the years before his first crusade, and slowed upon his return to France in 1254.
In 1250, Louis headed a crusade to Egypt and was taken prisoner. During his captivity, he recited the Divine Office every day. After his release against ransom, he visited the Holy Land before returning to France. In these deeds, Louis IX tried to fulfill what he believed was the duty of France as "the eldest daughter of the Church" (la fille aînée de l'Église), a tradition of protector of the Church going back to the Franks and Charlemagne, who had been crowned by Pope Leo III in Rome in 800. The kings of France were known in the Church by the title "most Christian king" (Rex Christianissimus). The relationship between France and the papacy was at its peak in the 12th and 13th centuries. The popes called for most of the crusades from French soil.
Louis was renowned for his charity. Beggars were fed from his table: he ate their leavings; washed their feet; ministered to the wants of lepers, who were generally ostracized; and daily fed over one hundred poor. He founded many hospitals and houses: the House of the Filles-Dieu for reformed prostitutes; the Quinze-Vingt for 300 blind men (1254), and hospitals at Pontoise, Vernon, and Compiégne.
St. Louis installed a house of the Trinitarian Order at Fontainebleau, his chateau and estate near Paris. He chose Trinitarians as his chaplains, and was accompanied by them on his crusades. In his spiritual testament he wrote: "My dearest son, you should permit yourself to be tormented by every kind of martyrdom before you would allow yourself to commit a mortal sin."
Louis authored and sent the Enseignements, or teachings, to his son Philip III. The letter outlined how Philip should be a moral person and leader, following Christ's example. The letter is estimated to have been written in 1267, 3 years before his death.
During his second crusade, Louis died at Tunis on 25 August 1270, in an epidemic of dysentery that swept through his army. According to European custom, his body was subjected to the process known as mos Teutonicus prior to his remains being returned to France. (This was a postmortem funerary custom used in medieval Europe whereby the flesh was boiled from the body, so that the bones of the deceased could be transported hygienically from distant lands back home). This was not the common practice for Muslim burials.  Louis was succeeded by his son, Philip III.
Louis's younger brother, Charles I of Naples, preserved his heart and intestines, and conveyed them for burial in the cathedral of Monreale near Palermo. Louis's bones were carried overland in a lengthy processional across Sicily, Italy, the Alps, and France, until they were interred in the royal necropolis at Saint-Denis in May 1271. Charles and Philip II later dispersed a number of relics to promote his veneration.
Pope Boniface VIII proclaimed the canonisation of Louis in 1297; he is the only French king to be declared a saint. Louis IX is often considered the model of the ideal Christian monarch. The influence of his canonization was so great that many of his successors were named Louis after him.
Named in his honour, the Sisters of Charity of St. Louis is a Roman Catholic religious order founded in Vannes, France, in 1803. A similar order, the Sisters of St Louis, was founded in Juilly in 1842.
He is honoured as co-patron of the Third Order of St. Francis, which claims him as a member of the Order. Even in childhood, his compassion for the poor and suffering people was known to those who were close to him. When he became king, over a hundred poor people were served meals in his house on ordinary days. Often the king served these guests himself. Such acts of charity, coupled with Louis's devout religious practices, gave rise to the legend that he joined the Third Order of St. Francis. Though it is unlikely that Louis did join the order, his life and actions proclaimed him as one of them in spirit.
Many countries in which French speakers and Catholicism were prevalent named places after King Louis: