April 25, 1214
August 25, 1270
Tunis, North Africa
King of France
"The crusades of Louis IX mark both the culmination and the beginning of the end of the crusading movement. None of the earlier expeditions was as well organized or financed, none had a more inspiring leader, none had a better chance of success."
—Joseph R. Strayer, "The Crusades of Louis IX," in History of the Crusades. Vol. 2, The Later Crusades, 1189–1311.
Louis IX, who ruled as king of France throughout much of the thirteenth century, was a deeply religious and moral man, a legendary figure in French history who was so much admired by other leaders that he was asked to settle international disputes. As a youth he ruled jointly with his mother, Blanche of Castile (1188–1252). He came to the throne in 1236, governing one of the richest kingdoms in the Christian West. He used much of that wealth to fight two holy wars against the Muslims in Egypt and the Holy Land: the Seventh Crusade (1248–54) and another, shorter Crusade in North Africa in 1270, during which he died of fever. Beloved by the people of France, he was called a saint even before being formally canonized, or officially made a saint, by the Catholic Church in 1297. His Crusades marked the end of large-scale holy wars against Islam by the Christian West. Known for his sense of justice, his diplomacy (tact in political matters), and his deeply held religious beliefs, Louis IX became, during the Middle Ages, a positive symbol of how a king should govern.
A Youthful King
Louis IX was the fourth child of King Louis VIII of France and Blanche of Castile, who was the granddaughter of Eleanor of Aquitaine (see entry), queen of England. Married to Louis while she was still a child of eleven, Blanche proved to be a wonderful choice as a mate for a future king, being both intelligent and strong-willed, like her grandmother. Louis VIII became king in 1223, ruling a realm that had been enlarged by his own father, Philip II. The France that Louis VIII ruled was the largest ever, and when he died just three years later he passed this enlarged kingdom on to his son, Louis IX (his other three children having died). In 1226 Louis VIII died of an illness while returning from southern France after battling the Albigensians, a heretical, or nonconforming, religious group. As he lay dying, Louis VIII made his son the next king, with the heir's mother jointly ruling with him. Louis IX was crowned king of France on November 29, 1226, in the magnificent cathedral of Rheims, France. Blanche was to act as co-regent, or coruler, until the boy reached twenty-one years of age. The most influential person in the young boy's life was his mother, who transmitted her strength of character to her son. She taught him to be religious and to have a strong sense of right and wrong as well as a sense of duty toward his country and people. As a youth, Louis was also trained in the arts of warfare, learning to ride, fight, and lead men. Although he was not a true scholar, he was well educated in religious matters.
At this time France was still a feudal state—that is, one in which powerful noblemen pledged their loyalty to a king in return for large tracts of land. In return, the barons, or noblemen, supplied the king with knights and other fighting forces to protect the kingdom. They accumulated their wealth from the labor of peasants, the poor who rented their farmland for a share of the crops. Now that the kingship was held by a young boy and a woman, these barons thought that they could rebel and gain more power or even total independence from the crown. Blanche, however, was intelligent about using alliances to protect her realm. She first won the influential count of the region of Champagne to her and her son's side. The count helped Blanche protect the kingdom from powerful princes and barons in the north of France as well as from England's King Henry III, who wanted to win back lost territory from France.
Blanche was able to keep the monarchy and its lands together through these difficult years. In 1234 Louis IX married Margaret of Provence, helping to create further alliances among the nobles, and two years later he became the sole ruler, thus ending the stated reason for the rebellion of the barons. Now that there was a male king of mature age on the throne, the kingship was again secure. However, for the rest of her life, Louis IX continued to seek the counsel and advice of his mother.
Louis IX as Christian Monarch
Louis IX continued many of the policies of his father and grandfather in extending the power of the monarchy, or throne, and placing his close relatives in important administrative positions involving control of the provinces. For example, he named his brother Robert count, or chief noble, of Artois and his brother Alfonso count of Poitiers; a third brother, Charles, became count of Anjou. Louis IX also proved to be skilled in international affairs, staying out of the feud between the pope, the religious leader of the West, and his main rival, the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, also known as the German kingdom. Louis IX also showed that he was a true Christian by buying back relics (objects held in reverence because of their association with saints) from the time of Christ, including the crown of thorns that Jesus supposedly wore during his crucifixion. For this relic Louis IX constructed a beautiful chapel in Paris called Sainte-Chapelle.
One international situation Louis IX refused to stay out of, however, was the Crusades. These holy wars against the Muslims, whom the Christians called infidels, or unbelievers, in the Holy Land and Middle East were already 150 years old. Jerusalem and its Christian holy sites had been won and lost, bargained over and lost again. Six major Crusades had already been launched against Islam, the most recent ending in the peaceful handing over of Jerusalem to the Christians during the Sixth Crusade (1228–29), which was led by Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II (see entry). Since then, however, the Muslims had won the city back. As early as 1244 Louis IX answered the pope's call for a new Crusade, promising to raise an army and reconquer the Holy Land for Christianity.
Louis IX was a careful planner. During the next four years he raised money and a mostly French army. In 1248 he and his army were finally ready to set sail. Louis had decided he would first capture the Muslim strongholds in Egypt, now the center of power of the Islamic world, and then move on from there to Jerusalem. His was the first Crusade to be solely sponsored by a single king. Although Louis IX took his wife and two brothers along, he left his mother, Blanche, in France to run the government and keep the nobles in line.
The Crusaders spent the winter months of 1248 to 1249 on the island of Cyprus and then traveled on to Egypt that spring. Arriving off the coast of Egypt on June 4, he and his men quickly took the city of Damietta, at the head of the Nile River, defeating Fakhr al-Din, who was leading the Mamluk (slave) army of the Egyptian leader Sultan al-Salih Najm al-Din Ayyub; the latter was the last member of the Ayyubid dynasty, which had begun when the powerful Muslim leader Saladin (see entry) conquered Egypt in 1169. The sultan was deathly ill from tuberculosis (a disease of the lungs) and was in Cairo during this battle, but soon he left the capital to set up a defensive position near the small town of Mansurah, site of an earlier battle between Crusaders and Egyptians during the Fifth Crusade (1218–22). The sultan was accompanied by his favorite wife, Shajarat al-Durr (see entry), who took over command of his forces when her husband died in November 1249.
Although the news of the death of the sultan was kept from the Egyptians, Louis IX learned of it through his spies. In February 1250 he decided to launch a surprise attack, aided by another spy who showed the French where to cross a river separating them from the Muslim and Mamluk forces. Louis IX sent his brother, Robert of Artois, to lead this attack, carefully instructing him not to get too far ahead of his reinforcements. In the heat of battle Robert forgot these orders and chased the retreating Egyptians into the narrow streets of Mansurah, where the Crusaders were cut down by the Mamluk leader al-Zahir Baybars (see entry). Many of the Crusader's most important knights, including Robert of Artois, were killed, forcing the French to retreat.
Not long after this defeat, Turan Shah, the son of Sultan al-Salih, arrived in Egypt with a large force of fighters and finally captured Louis IX and his men even as his wife, Queen Margaret, was giving birth to a son in Damietta. Margaret, learning of her husband's capture, named the son John-Tristan (meaning "sadness" or "sorrow") and made sure to hold Damietta so that the French would have some bargaining power in negotiating the return of the king. The French situation was aided somewhat by the confusion resulting from a palace revolt in Cairo, in which the Mamluk general Baybars killed Turan Shah, the new sultan, and placed Shajarat al-Durr on the throne as sultana. Following payment for the release of Louis IX, he and his wife and newborn son sailed to the Crusader stronghold of Acre in the Holy Land, leaving behind many wounded Crusaders, who were slaughtered by the Mamluks once the French had left.
Louis IX remained in Acre from 1250 to 1254, becoming the leader of the Crusader states that had been left in the region since the time of the First Crusade (1095–99) and helping to unify and fortify (make strong) the states against a possible attack from both the Muslims and the Mongols, a new menace in the region. This warlike tribe came from the plains of Central Asia and, under Genghis Khan and his sons and grandsons, were pushing into Europe and the Middle East, battling Christians and Muslims alike. In the Middle East, Hulagu, a grandson of Genghis Khan, was fighting his way to the Mediterranean Sea. Although they were pagans—nonbelievers in the major religions who worshiped several gods—the Mongols considered Muslims even worse enemies than
The Pen and the Sword
While organizing and fighting in the Crusades, Louis IX also found the time to improve domestic life and to sponsor the arts in France. He built hospitals and institutions for the poor, as well as the glorious chapel at Sainte-Chapelle in Paris to house the crown of thorns worn by Christ.
Such sponsorship of scholarship and the arts was also a typical feature of Islamic courts, from Baghdad to Cairo. Although we generally do not associate the arts with the Mongols—those warring tribes from Central Asia who swept into Europe and the Middle East in the mid-thirteenth century—even they honored the skills of famous scholars. One such man of learning was Nasir al-Din (1201–1274), who served as a minister for the powerful Mongol leader Hulagu.
Fresh from his sacking (destruction) of Baghdad in 1258, in which it is estimated that at least one hundred thousand Muslims were slaughtered, Hulagu attacked the strongholds of the Assassins, an Islamic religious sect, or group, who used politically arranged murder to maintain their position in the Middle East. These Assassins had earlier kidnapped the famous scientist and philosopher Nasir al-Din. After freeing him, Hulagu became impressed with the man's learning and brought him to his court as an adviser.
Nasir al-Din was famous in his time as a philosopher, scientist, physician, mathematician, and writer. He made major advances in the mathematical field of trigonometry, and in science his work in astronomy helped move forward the study of the heavens. He built an observatory that contained many instruments the Mongols stole from Muslim cities they conquered. He was able to produce astronomical (of the solar system) tables, the Al-Zij-Ilkhani ("The Ilkhanic Tables"), that revealed the motion of the planets. Nasir al-Din thought this work would take thirty years to finish, but on orders from Hulagu he completed the monumental task in only twelve. In philosophy his Akhlaq-i-Nasri ("Nasirean Ethics") became one of the most famous writings on ethics, or moral living. He also wrote widely on religion and produced other scientific studies—all while in the service of the so-called barbarian Mongols.
Christians and planned to destroy Islam first. However, Louis IX could not help but see the ultimate threat to the Crusader states in these wild warriors from the steppes.
Louis IX Returns to France and Launches a Final Crusade
Louis IX was finally forced to return to France. His mother had died in late 1252, and the kingdom needed its king at home. He immediately set about enacting domestic reforms, sending royal commissioners, or representatives, to check on the running of the local administrations to make sure there was no abuse of power. He also established a fair tax system in France. Internationally, by signing the Treaty of Paris in 1259, he reached a settlement with England's Henry III over the regions of Normandy, Anjou, and Poitou, also making a similar agreement with the regions of northern Spain.
Louis IX, however, was restless. He never gave up the idea of a new Crusade to the Holy Land, where the situation had grown more desperate for the Crusader kingdoms. Under Baybars's leadership, the Mamluks had defeated the Mongols, but they now turned their attention to the Christians. In 1267 Louis IX decided to mount another Crusade. Preparations again took several years, and in 1270 he was ready to depart. For some reason he decided to set out first for Tunis, in North Africa, to establish a base for the Crusade, instead of heading directly for the Holy Land. Landing in Tunis in the height of summer, many of the Crusaders fell ill, including the king and his son. John died of fever on August 3, and his father followed him to the grave three weeks later, his death officially ending this Crusade.
Not long after the king's death, miracles were reported in connection with his burial and remains. As a result of these miracles and his devotion to the Crusades, in 1297 Louis IX was officially canonized (made a saint) by the Roman Catholic Church. As king, he strengthened the French monarchy, introduced administrative reforms, and generally made the position of king of France a respected one. However, his energetic support of both Crusades cost the kingdom dearly in terms of wealth and men; his losses forever changed the nature of the Crusader movement. As has been noted in "The Crusades of Louis IX,"
the very magnitude of [his Crusades] brought disillusion [disappointment] when [they] failed. If Louis, the richest and most powerful ruler in western Europe, could not conquer the Moslems and recover the holy places, who could? The failure of Louis contributed to the loss of confidence, the hesitations, and even the cynicism which weakened all later crusades.
For More Information
Labarge, Margaret Wade. Saint Louis: Louis IX, Most Christian King ofFrance. Boston: Little, Brown, 1968.
Maalouf, Amin. The Crusades through Arab Eyes. Translated by Jon Rothschild. New York: Schocken Books, 1984.
Strayer, Joseph R. "The Crusades of Louis IX." In History of the Crusades. Vol. 2, The Later Crusades, 1189–1311. Edited by Robert L. Wolff and Harry W. Hazard. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1969.
Lloyd, Simon. "The Crusades of St. Louis (King Louis IX of France)." History Today 47, no. 5 (May 1997): 37–43.
"Louis IX: Advice to His Son." Internet Medieval Sourcebook.http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/stlouis1.html (accessed on July 21, 2004).
"The Seventh Crusade." The ORB: On-line Reference Book for Medieval Studies.http://the-orb.net/textbooks/crusade/seventhcru.html (accessed on July 21, 2004).
"St. Louis IX." New Advent.http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09368a.htm (accessed on July 21, 2004).
Louis IX (1214-1270), or St. Louis, was king of France from 1226 to 1270. One of the greatest French kings, he consolidated the Crown's control over the great lords, proved his passion for justice, and went on two crusades.
Born on April 25, 1214, the oldest of the 12 children of Louis VIII and Blanche of Castile, the half-Spanish Louis IX grew up to be a tall, handsome, blond, and jovial prince. By temperament nervous and energetic, Louis disciplined himself with fasting. His deeply religious mother raised him to be a truly Christian king and, as such, he applied Christian principles to his public acts as well as his private life. Louis was only 12 when he became king; his Spanish mother, in France since she was 12, became regent until Louis could accept active rule at 21.
Louis IX accepted his responsibilities as king with dedication and detachment. He worked to make peace and justice prevail. His detachment came from his conviction that kingship was not an opportunity to conquer others, or to exploit them for personal enrichment, or to use power to satisfy one's vanity. He believed that his obligations were to serve the Church and to lead his people to eternal salvation.
In 1247 Louis sent investigators throughout his realm to hear complaints against royal officials. He then issued ordinances, which became a moral code to guide his officials. Louis banned prostitution, gambling, blasphemy, and judicial duels. In an age when coinage varied widely in value, he issued gold and silver coins which quickly became accepted and helped to establish a uniform coinage throughout the realm.
His efforts to assure justice and to be accessible to all made Louis not only widely loved but frequently asked by foreign princes to arbitrate their disputes. Thus Louis was called to arbitrate a quarrel between Henry III of England and his barons in 1264. He was firm with pope and emperor in defense of his royal rights. By identifying his passion for justice with the Crown, his subjects outside the royal domain appealed to him. This helped to extend royal authority throughout the realm and to make him the most powerful king in western Europe. His charity was as widely known as his sense of justice, for he founded abbeys, convents, hospitals, and almshouses for the poor. His interest in art can be seen in his building of the beautiful Gothic Ste-Chapelle in Paris for the Crown of Thorns.
Louis's foreign policy of peace with his neighbors enabled him to go on two crusades. After a serious illness in 1244 he decided to lead a crusade to recover Jerusalem. Divided by internal or foreign problems, other rulers did not participate. Louis's crusade was largely French, the best organized and financed of all crusades. His plan was to damage Egypt so much that it would surrender Jerusalem to him. His army captured Damietta on June 5, 1249, the day after landing in Egypt. The courageous king was one of the first off his ship to establish a beachhead. But he was persuaded by his brother Robert of Artois to head for Cairo rather than Alexandria, and his army of about 15, 000 was trapped on the way at EI Mansûra. Supplies coming up the Nile were cut off, and his army was weakened by death and sickness. Louis therefore had to fall back on Damietta. On the way Louis and his army were captured and held for ransom. Once freed, Louis spent 4 years in Palestine, where he built fortifications and tried to salvage the kingdom of Jerusalem. He returned to France in 1254.
The failure of the crusade prompted Louis to make another effort. The original plan of going to Syria or Egypt was diverted to an attack on Tunisia by Louis's brother Charles of Anjou, King of Sicily, who had interests in Tunisia. About 10, 000 crusaders landed in July 1270. When Louis took sick and died there in August, Charles of Anjou made a profitable peace and returned bearing the remains of the beloved king, who was universally mourned in Europe. He was canonized by Pope Boniface VIII in 1297.
The best and most famous life of Louis was written by Jean, Sire de Joinville, who accompanied the King on his first crusade, The Life of St. Louis (trans. 1955). One of the best modern biographies in English is Margaret Wade Labarge, Saint Louis: Louis IX, Most Christian King of France (1968). A summary of Louis's life is in The Cambridge Medieval History (8 vols., 1911-1936). Louis IX and the other rulers of the Capetian dynasty are covered in Robert Fawtier, The Capetian Kings of France: Monarchy and Nation, 987-1328 (trans. 1960). The best account of his two crusades is in Kenneth M. Setton, ed., A History of the Crusades, vol. 2 (1962).
King of France
Patron of the arts
Patron of the Gothic Style.
Born in 1214, Louis IX was king of France from 1226 until his death in 1270. During his minority he ruled under the regency of his mother Blanche of Castile (1226–1242) who even afterwards remained an influential counselor to the king in matters of politics, culture, and religion. Guided as a young man by his mother's interest in education, he later confirmed the foundation of the University of Paris (the Sorbonne, 1257), where significant theologians and intellectuals such as Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventure, and Roger Bacon came to teach and contribute to Paris's fertile intellectual climate. Louis also followed his mother in becoming a famous bibliophile, commissioning numerous illuminated manuscripts and thereby contributing to the development of a Parisian court style in painting. Among the many such works of which Louis oversaw the production and likely also the iconographic programs are a well-known psalter and a Bible Moralisée. Works such as these and the many architectural projects undertaken under Louis' patronage brought about a consolidation of the Gothic style. A devout Christian, Louis understood his royal mission to include evangelizing, the giving of charity, and the administration of justice, and he strove to make France a model Christian state. He participated in the seventh and eighth Crusades (during the second of which he contracted the plague), founded public hospitals, and presided over a court of justice, which later evolved into the Paris Parliement. Hence, during his reign, considered the Golden Age of French monarchy, Paris became a flourishing intellectual, administrative, and artistic capital, full of Gothic masterworks such as the flamboyant Sainte-Chapelle, built in the 1240s to house the relics of the Passion that Louis acquired from the East. His wisdom, magnanimity, and mediating prowess were recognized throughout Europe, and he was often solicited to intervene in conflicts outside of France. He was canonized by Pope Boniface VII in 1297, and his cult was especially honored thereafter at the court of France (the Office of St. Louis appears in some notable illuminated books of hours created for members of the royal court). Louis was a patron of the arts par excellence, and subsequent rulers sought to emulate him in this regard.
William Chester Jordan, Louis IX and the Challenge of the Crusade: A Study in Rulership (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1979).
French king and crusader, Louis was the son of King Louis VIII and his wife, Queen Blanche of Castille. Although fourth in line, the deaths of three of his brothers made Louis heir to the throne. When his father died in 1226, Louis IX became king at 12. Under the guidance of his mother, Louis set out to end the long struggle between France and the Plantagenets of England for control of French soil. At 15, he commanded French troops in a battle against Henry III, forcing the British ruler to withdraw. Louis led two crusades during his reign, the first, to the Holy Land, was an attempt to capture Jerusalem from the Muslims. After a valiant effort, his troops, wearied from battle and decimated by the plague, were forced to retreat. Louis's second crusade took him to Tunisia. After a series of victories, his troops again fell to disease. The ailing king did not survive the crusade, and passed on his kingdom to his son Philip before dying in August, 1270. Despite his defeats, Louis IX was renowned for his courage and wisdom, and was often asked by other monarchs to arbitrate disputes. He was canonized by Pope Boniface VIII in 1297, becoming the only French king to achieve sainthood.