Louis IX, St. King of France
LOUIS IX, ST. KING OF FRANCE
Reigned Nov. 29, 1226, to Aug. 25, 1270; son of Louis VIII and Blanche of Castile; b. Poissy, April 25, 1214; d. Tunis. He married Marguerite of Provence in May 1234; they had ten children. Until her death in 1252, his mother dominated the King and the government, quickly quelling the baronial opposition during his minority and ruling alone during his absence on his first crusade. Louis's personal government between 1254 and 1270 gave him a deserved reputation for promoting peace and doing right. He became a model to his successors. His sense of duty made him punctilious in the assertion
of his rights, and his piety and benevolence were a source of strength and not of weakness to the monarchy.
The Crusades. Louis is best known for his crusades, on the first of which he was accompanied by the Sire de Joinville, who has left a memoir of those years, the earliest intimate picture of a French king. Louis took the cross during an illness in 1244 and carefully prepared his campaign. He tried to reconcile innocent iv and frederick ii, excommunicated in 1245, in order to help the crusade, but Innocent refused. Louis left in August 1248. The difficulties of the Hohenstaufen Emperor in Italy had a profound influence on the whole episode. After wintering in Cyprus, the crusaders surprised the city of Damietta in June 1249 and awaited there the arrival of further troops. Louis then advanced on Cairo, but the army, weakened by dysentery, was cut off from Damietta when the Egyptian fleet regained control of the Nile. The crusaders were surrounded and captured at Mansura, April 6, 1250. A palace revolution made Louis's situation very dangerous, but he finally negotiated the release of his whole army in return for the surrender of Damietta and the payment of a ransom. He went to Acre to await the completion of the treaty and remained in Syria four years. He encouraged the Christians there by building elaborate fortifications, by attempting to exploit the rivalries of Cairo and Damascus, by hoping to convert the Mongols, and by sending for more men and money from the West. His brothers returned to France for this purpose, but they were unable to do much. Finally Louis himself recognized that he, unaided, could achieve nothing more; so he returned to France, arriving in July of 1254.
France had remained relatively tranquil, in spite of the Pastoureaux movement. However, the ambitions of King Henry III to recover his father's lost French possessions; involved Louis in difficult diplomatic negotiations in Spain, Italy, Germany, and Flanders, while his Hohenstaufen alliance was no help to him. He first arbitrated in the Flemish dispute, but Henry III did not agree to terms of peace until his brother Richard became—nominally— king of Germany in 1257. By the treaty of Paris (1259) Henry renounced his claims to the lost provinces, did homage for Gascony, secured the conditional reversion of disputed lands, and obtained a subsidy from Louis. The treaty was unpopular in France and the cause of much later discord. Louis thought that it would promote family concord (the two kings had married sisters); actually it put an end to the immediate danger of English hostility. Louis continued to support Henry III, this time by his arbitration of 1264 against the English barons. He arranged a similar treaty with James I of Aragon at Corbeil (1258), renouncing his claim to the Spanish March in return for James's homage for his French fiefs.
During the 1260s, Louis became increasingly disturbed by Moslem advances in Syria and announced his intention to lead a second crusade in 1267. By the time the crusaders were ready, Louis's brother, Charles of Anjou, had become sole master of Italy, and there was a papal interregnum. Charles is therefore held responsible for the diversion of Louis's crusade to Tunis, to attack Charles' enemy, the emir of Tunis, as a preliminary maneuver. The army was depleted by disease within a month of landing, and Louis himself died. The crusaders promptly returned to France, carrying Louis's bones.
Domestic Policy. Despite the personal example Louis set by his devotion to the crusades, it is arguable that a greater claim to respect was his interpretation of his responsibilities as king, in the light of his faith. After the violence of the two previous reigns, Louis brought peace and promised justice. The greatest troubles were those of the south, where the problem of heresy continued to cause social unrest. Louis's domains in the south were confined to the senéchausées of Carcassonne and Beaucaire, but his brother Alphonse became count of Toulouse in 1249, and the two administrations, if not identical, provided similar advantages for each area. Louis had ordered enquêtes into abuses in the new provinces in 1247, and on his return from crusade he received numerous petitions for justice. In the light of these, he drew up new regulations for his officials that became the first of a series of reforming ordonnances, designed to improve administration, eradicate corruption, and improve the law of his dominions. The latter part of Louis's reign is remarkable for a growing interest in legal affairs. Several attempts were made to write down customary law, and cases coming before the king's court or Parlement were formally recorded after 1254. Louis tried to modify legal procedure by replacing trial by battle with a form of examination of witnesses, a procedure that encouraged the use of written records in the courts. He commissioned several handbooks of political wisdom and composed for his successor his own maxims, the enseignements.
His sense of responsibility made him keen to learn from his clergy, but he did not automatically support his bishops, claiming that he had to make his own decisions. Notably, in the important case of Frederick II, Louis refused to recognize Innocent IV's sentence of deposition. Louis was always respectful of the papacy, but he defended royal interests against the popes during episcopal vacancies and protested against papal expectative provisions. Although his "pragmatic sanction" is not now considered genuine, Louis did in fact defend what he considered the legitimate interests of the Gallican Church. From his youth he showed a deep and sincere piety. He built the Sainte Chapelle in Paris as a shrine for the crown of thorns; he was a friend and patron of the cistercians and of the new franciscan and dominican orders, from which he selected his confessors; he founded hospitals and patronized learning; he was notable for his humility and his personal examples of Christian service. Many miracles of healing were performed at his tomb at saint-denis, and after several inquiries, he was canonized in 1297.
Feast: Aug. 25.
Bibliography: j. de joinville, The History of St. Louis, ed. n. de wailly, tr. j. evans (New York 1938). c. petit-dutaillis, The Feudal Monarchy in France and England from the Tenth to the Thirteenth Century, tr. e. d. hunt (London 1936). l. buisson, König Ludwig IX, der Heilige, und das Recht (Freiburg 1954). j. r. strayer, "The Crusades of Louis IX," in A History of the Crusades, ed. k. m. setton (Philadelphia 1955) v. 2. d. o'connell, The instructions of St Louis: A Critical Text (Chapel Hill, NC 1979). w.c. jordan, Louis IX and the Challenge of the Crusade: a Study in Rulership (Princeton, NJ 1979). l. carolus-barre, Le proces de canonisation de Saint Louis (1272-1297): essai de reconstitution (Rome 1994). j. le goff, Saint Louis (Paris 1996). d. h. weiss Art and Crusade in the age of St. Louis (Cambridge and New York 1998).
[d. j. a. matthew]