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Louis IX

(1214—1270)


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(1214–70),

king of France. Born at Poissy, the son of Louis VIII and the half-English Blanche of Castile, Louis reigned from his father's death in 1226, but his mother was regent during his minority. In 1234 he married Margaret of Provence and thus became brother-in-law to King Henry III of England. In many respects Louis was a model Christian king, but his lively biographer the Sieur de Joinville (a soldier, not a cleric) portrays him as a human being with faults as well as virtues. His long reign was not an unqualified success: his crusading expeditions were both disastrous, while his arbitrations between Henry III and his barons were not always efficacious. But he ruled France at a time of great cultural achievement, revealed by the building of Gothic cathedrals and the development of universities. Thomas Aquinas and other friars were guests at his table; the founder of the Sorbonne was a personal friend. Louis was also prominent in almsgiving, in founding a hospital for the poor and blind, called Quinze-Vingts (for 300 inmates), while his justice was famous for its impartiality. He also forbade private wars of feudal lords and was well known for keeping his word in treaties and other undertakings. The most famous church he founded was the Sainte-Chapelle at Paris, built to house what was believed to be the relic of Christ's Crown of Thorns, a present from Baldwin, the crusading Latin emperor at Constantinople. His monastic foundations included Royaumont, Vauvert, and Maubuisson.

In 1244 after a serious illness he decided to take the Crusader's cross, but the expedition could not start until 1248 after ecclesiastical benefices had been taxed at the rate of five per cent for three years. Louis sailed to Cyprus with his army (joined there by 200 English knights); in 1249 they took Damietta, but Louis was unable to control the violence and injustice which followed. Disease struck the crusading army which has heavily defeated at Marsuna (1250), when Louis was taken prisoner. He obtained his own release and that of other prisoners, in return for the surrender of Damietta and a large sum of money. He then sailed to Palestine (without the sick and wounded crusaders, who had been massacred), visited those few of the Holy Places which were accessible, fortified the Christians in Syria, and returned to France in 1254. The next fifteen years were notable both for internal reforms and for various political activities concerning England.

From 1267 another crusade was planned. It got under way in 1270 and a landing was made near Tunis. But this expedition also ended in almost total disaster. Louis and his son Philip caught typhoid fever soon after landing; Louis died on 24 August, after strongly urging the Greek ambassadors to seek reunion with the Church of Rome. He was canonized by Pope Boniface VIII in 1297. It is difficult to detect any ancient cult of St Louis in England, partly no doubt because his political activities were sometimes hostile to English interests, but his feast is in the Roman calendar. In France he is traditionally regarded as the patron and example of the monarchy, although it seems regrettable that some French royalists looked for inspiration to the reign of Louis XIV rather than to his. Feast: 25 August.

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Subjects: History — Christianity.


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