37 November 1226. His reign, short as it was, brought gains both to the royal domains and to the power of the crown over the feudal lords. He had married in 1200 Blanche of Castile, daughter of Alphonso IX. of Castile and granddaughter of Henry II. of England, who bore him twelve children; his eldest surviving son was his successor, Louis IX.
See C. Petit-Dutaillis, Étude sur la vie et le règne de Louis VIII. (Paris, 1894); and E. Lavisse, Histoire de France, tome iii. (1901).
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LOUIS IX. king of France, known as Saint Louis, was born on the 25th of April 1214, and was baptized at Poissy. His father, Louis VIII., died in 1226, leaving the first minority since the accession of the Capetians, but his mother, Queen Blanche of Castile, proved more than a match for the feudal nobility. She secured her son’s coronation at Reims on the 29th of November 1226; and, mainly by the aid of the papal legate, Romano Bonaventura, bishop of Porto (d. 1243), and of Thibaut IV., count of Champagne, was able to thwart the rebellious plans of Pierre Mauclerc, duke of Brittany, and Philippe Hurepel, a natural son of Philip Augustus. Mauclerc’s opposition was not finally overcome, however, until 1234. Then in 1236 Thibaut, who had become king of Navarre, turned against the queen, formed an alliance with Brittany, marrying his daughter without royal consent to Jean le Roux, Mauclerc’s son, and attempted to make a new feudal league. The final triumph of the regent was shown when the king’s army assembled at Vincennes. His summons met with such general and prompt obedience as to awe Thibaut into submission without striking a blow. Thus the reign of Louis IX. began with royal prerogatives fully maintained; the kingdom was well under control, and Mauclerc and Thibaut were both obliged to go on crusade. But the influence of the strong-willed queen-mother continued to make itself felt to the close of her life. Louis IX. did not lack independence of character, but his confidence in his mother had been amply justified and he always acted in her presence like a child. This confidence he withheld from his wife, Margaret, daughter of Raymond Berenger, count of Provence, whom he married at Sens in May 1234. The reign was comparatively uneventful. A rising of the nobles of the south-west, stirred up by Isabella, widow of King John of England, and her husband, Hugh de Lusignan, count of the Marche, upon the occasion of the investment of Alphonse of Poitiers with the fiefs left him by Louis VIII. as a result of the Albigensian crusade, reached threatening dimensions in 1242, but the king’s armies easily overran Count Hugh’s territories, and defeated Henry III. of England, who had come to his aid, at Saintes. Isabella and her husband were forced to submit, and Raymond VII., count of Toulouse, yielded without resistance upon the advent of two royal armies, and accepted the peace of Lorris in January 1243. This was the last rising of the nobles in Louis’s reign.
At the end of 1244, during an illness, Louis took the cross. He had already been much distressed by the plight of John of Brienne, emperor at Constantinople, and bought from him the crown of thorns, parts of the true cross, the holy lance, and the holy sponge. The Sainte Chapelle in Paris still stands as a monument to the value of these relics to the saintly king. But the quarrel between the papacy and the emperor Frederick II., in which Louis maintained a watchful neutrality—only interfering to prevent the capture of Innocent IV. at Lyons—and the difficulties of preparation, delayed the embarkation until August 1248. His defeat and capture at Mansura, in February 1250, the next four years spent in Syria in captivity, in diplomatic intrigues, and finally in raising the fortifications of Caesarea and Joppa,—these events belong to the history of the crusades (q.v.). His return to France was urgently needed, as Blanche of Castile, whom he had left as regent, had died in November 1252, and upon the removal of her strong hand feudal turbulence had begun to show itself.
This period between his first and second crusades (1254-1269) is the real age of Saint Louis in the history of France. He imposed peace between warring factions of his nobility by mere moral force, backed up by something like an awakened public opinion. His nobles often chafed under his unrelenting justice but never dared rebel. The most famous of his settlements was the treaty of Paris, drawn up in May 1258 and ratified in December 1259, by which the claims of Henry III. of England were adjusted. Henry renounced absolutely Normandy, Anjou, Touraine, Maine and Poitou, and received, on condition of recognizing Louis as liege suzerain, all the fiefs and domains of the king of France in the dioceses of Limoges, Cahors and Perigueux, and the expectation of Saintonge south of the Charente, and Agenais, if they should fall to the crown of France by the death of Alphonse of Poitiers. In addition, Louis promised to provide Henry with sufficient money to maintain 500 knights for two years. This treaty was very unpopular in France, since the king surrendered a large part of France that Henry had not won; but Louis was satisfied that the absolute sovereignty over the northern provinces more than equalled the loss in the south. Historians still disagree as to its wisdom. Louis made a similar compromise with the king of Aragon in the treaty of Corbeil, 1258, whereby he gave up the claims of kings of France to Roussillon and Barcelona, which went back to the conquest of Charlemagne. The king of Aragon in his turn gave up his claims to part of Provence and Languedoc, with the exception of Narbonne. Louis’s position was strikingly shown in 1264 when the English barons submitted their attempt to bind Henry III. by the Provisions of Oxford to his arbitration. His reply in the “Dit” or Mise of Amiens was a flat denial of all the claims of the barons and failed to avert the civil war. Louis was more successful in preventing feuds between his own nobles: between the counts of Brittany and Champagne over the succession to Navarre; the dauphin of Vienne (Guigues VII.) and Charles of Anjou; the count of Burgundy and the count of Châlons; Henry of Luxemburg and the duke of Lorraine with the count of Bar. Upon the whole he maintained peace with his neighbours, although both Germany and England were torn with civil wars. He reluctantly consented to sanction the conquest of Naples by his brother, Charles, duke of Anjou, and it is possible that he yielded here in the belief that it was a step toward another crusade.
On the 24th of March 1267, Louis called to Paris such of his knights as were not with Charles of Anjou in Naples. No one knew why he had called them; but when the king in full assembly proclaimed his purpose of going on a second crusade, few ventured to refuse the cross. Three years of preparation followed; then on the 1st of July 1270 they sailed from Aigues Mortes for Tunis, whither the expedition seems to have been directed by the machinations of Charles of Anjou, who, it is claimed, persuaded his brother that the key to Egypt and to Jerusalem was that part of Africa which was his own most dangerous neighbour. After seventeen days’ voyage to Carthage, one month of the summer’s heat and plague decimated the army, and when Charles of Anjou arrived he found that Louis himself had died of the plague on the 25th of August 1270.
Saint Louis stands in history as the ideal king of the middle ages. An accomplished knight, physically strong in spite of his ascetic practices, fearless in battle, heroic in adversity, of imperious temperament, unyielding when sure of the justness of his cause, energetic and firm, he was indeed “every inch a king.” Joinville says that he was taller by a head than any of his knights. His devotions would have worn out a less robust saint. He fasted much, loved sermons, regularly heard two masses a day and all the offices, dressing at midnight for matins in his chapel, and surrounded even when he travelled by priests on horseback chanting the hours. After his return from the first crusade, he wore only grey woollens in winter, dark silks in summer. He built hospitals, visited and tended the sick himself, gave charity to over a hundred beggars daily. Yet he safeguarded the royal dignity by bringing them in at the back door of the palace, and by a courtly display greater than ever before in France. His naturally cold temperament was somewhat relieved by a sense of humour, which however did not prevent his making presents of haircloth shirts to his friends. He had no favourite, nor prime minister. Louis was canonized in 1297.