Many kings and queens have been called great. Few have attained the title "saint." Louis IX of France was that rarity.
Although in his earlier years he was considered a flirt and "dandy," fond of luxury and hunting, he settled down and grew increasingly simple in tastes and devoted to piety. His fidelity to his wife was unassailable, his concern for his children's upbringing real. So in love with Christ his savior did he become, that he doted on the mass, hymns and prayers. Only his duty to the kingdom prevented him taking monastic vows. Jovial and easy of manner he did not hold his religious opinions with gloom. He did, however, exhibit a character rare in any age.
Has there been a modern French king who did not exchange blows with England? Louis IX won a victory over his island foes, a victory which he followed with such mild terms (such as restoring English lands seized earlier by France), that he was accused of selling out his own country. The peace was long-lasting. For 27 years no European nation attacked France. Louis, himself endeavored to reconcile warring neighbors in Christian peace.
Louis brought justice to France. When, for example, a baron hanged three students for poaching rabbits, the King's response was firm. He forced the Baron to cede his forest, imprisoned him for a time, fined him heavily, made him build a chapel in memory of each student and ordered him to crusade for three years in Palestine. The rights of the weak were not to be trampled. In fact, he caused the elderly poor to be fed by his agents and himself fed 120 a day, placing three at his own table and washing their feet with his own hands.
All that he might have gained for France was thrown away on two crusades. Louis motives for venturing into Egypt were not ignoble, however mistaken they appear to us today. He wanted to bring Christianity to Islam. To attempt to do so by force seemed natural even to such godly thinkers as St. Bernard of Clairvaux.
Louis assembled a fleet at Aigues-Mortes and sailed to Egypt. His army was beaten and fled. The Egyptians overtook him, probably on this day, April 6, 1250. (Scholars disagree about this date, some placing it in 1249 others giving the date as the 5th or 7th.)
Louis was threatened with torture. The Muslims brought forward "the boot," designed to slowly pulverize leg bones. The King bravely prepared for the ordeal. His boldness moved his captors. They allowed him to buy his freedom. Louis shocked both Christian and Muslim alike when he insisted on paying 10,000 livres of ransom money which had been overlooked. A Christian must keep his word, he said. Louis died in Tunisia of dysentery on his next campaign. The worst blot on his record was his persecution of the Albigensians.
- Butler, Alban. Lives of the Saints. Various editions.
- Goyau, Georges. "St. Louis IX." The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton, 1914.
- Joinville, Jean, sire de. The Life of St. Louis. Translated by René Hague from the text edited by Natalis de Wailly. London, New York, Sheed and Ward, 1955.
- "Louis IX, St." The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. Edited by F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone. Oxford, 1997.
- Sepet, Marius Cyrille Alphonse. Saint Louis. London: Duckworth, 1899.
Last updated April, 2007.