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Louis IX-King of France, Crusader, confessor

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Feast Day : August 25

 

 

Patronage: barbers; builders; buttonmakers; construction workers; Crusaders; death of children; difficult marriages; distillers; embroiderers; French monarchs; grooms; haberdashers; hairdressers; kings; masons; needleworkers; parents of large families; prisoners; sculptors; the sick;soldiers; stonemasons; tertiaries ; Archdiocese of St. Louis, Missouri

 

 

Name meaning: Famous warrior

 

 

Also known as: Louis Capet

 

 

Louis IX represented the ideal medieval monarch: a devout Christian, a Crusader, a willing warrior but an eager peacemaker, just, fair, chaste, intelligent, capable. He was born in Poissy on April 25, 1214, the eldest son of King Louis VIII and Queen Blanche of Castile. Blanche was the granddaughter of King Henry II of England and Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, while Louis VIII was the grandson of King Louis VII of France, Eleanor of Aquitaine’s first husband. Louis was only eight when his grandfather, Philip II, died, elevating his father, Louis VIII, to the throne, and 12 when his father died in November 1226, making the young boy king. His mother, Queen Blanche, pressed for an immediate coronation to forestall an uprising by the restless nobles, and Louis IX was crowned at Reims by the end of November. Queen Blanche acted as regent for the next eight years during her son’s minority and was an extremely capable ruler. In her son’s name she quashed several revolts by the nobility, including a campaign in Languedoc by Raymond VII of Toulouse, an uprising by Pierre Mauclerc, known as Peter I of Brittany, another by Philip Hurepel in the Île de France (the only land really designated the nation of France, encompassing the city of Paris and environs) and various campaigns by King Henry III of England, who supported the activities of the warring French nobles. England still claimed huge territories of what is now France, based on the inheritances of Eleanor of Aquitaine. Blanche skillfully won the sympathies of Pope Gregory IX, who had earlier supported Henry III, due to the efforts of her friend and papal legate Frangipani. Frangipani personally accepted the surrender of Raymond VII in front of Notre Dame Cathedral, paving the way for annexation of the southern provinces to France in the Treaty of Paris, 1229. When Louis IX began ruling on his own behalf in 1235, his nation was stronger and at peace. In May 1234, Louis married Margaret, a noble woman of Provence, France. Margaret’s younger sister, Eleanor, was the wife of King Henry III of England (making the two kings brothers-in-law), and the next sister, Sanchia, was the wife of Henry III’s brother, Richard of Cornwall. Louis IX’s brother Charles was married to another of Margaret’s sisters, Beatrice. Louis and Margaret had 11 children: five sons and six daughters. Louis’s reign was marked by peace, diplomacy and Christian virtue. One of his first royal acts was building the Royaumont monastery with funds left by Louis VIII for that purpose. He gave great sums from the treasury and personal support to various religious orders, including the establishment of the Carthusians at Vauvert in Paris and the founding, along with Queen Blanche, of the convent of Maubuisson. The king promoted a codification of the laws and worked to eliminate trial by combat in favor of jury trials. Louis protected the weak from oppressive nobles, reformed taxation, outlawed usury and even ordered branding as punishment for blasphemy, an edict lessened to fines on the advice of Pope Clement IV. The king also sent money to the Latin princes ruling the Crusader kingdoms in the Holy Land. In gratitude, in 1239 King Baldwin I of Jerusalem offered to sell Louis—an avid collector of sacred relics—a piece of what Baldwin claimed was Christ’s Crown of Thorns from the Crucifixion. Unfortunately, Baldwin had pawned the relic to Venetian moneylenders, but Louis delightedly paid an exorbitant sum for the relic and sent two Dominican friars to Venice to retrieve it. He and his entire court met the Dominican delegation at Sens and accompanied the treasure to France. In 1241, Louis purchased pieces reported to be from the True Cross. To house these divine objects Louis demolished the chapel of St. Nicholas in Paris and built Sainte- Chapelle, one of the most beautiful examples of Gothic architecture still standing. The walls of the second floor, which was used for worship and veneration of the relics, are made almost entirely of stained glass panels illustrating Bible stories and events from Louis’s reign. In one, Louis and Margaret are depicted holding the Crown of Thorns on a pillow. Interestingly, several of the windows illustrate stories of women from the Bible as an homage to the king’s mother. The relics were lost during the French Revolution. In 1242, Louis quelled a rebellion led by Hugh of Lusignan, count de la Marche. The count was married to Isabel, the widow of King John I of England and the mother of Henry III. Louis defeated Henry III at Taillebourg, establishing the Peace of Bordeaux and the annexation of a part of the province of Saintonge to France. In 1259, Louis settled with Henry III by signing the Treaty of Paris, in which Henry agreed to relinquish claims to the provinces of Normandy, Anjou, Maine, Touraine and Poitou, and Louis ceded the Limousin, Quercy and Perigord to Henry III along with compensation. Most historians believe that if Louis had pressed his advantage with Henry III the later Hundred Years’ War between the two nations might have been averted. Nevertheless, peace lasted for 24 years. After surviving a deadly fever in 1244, Louis declared his intention to lead a Crusade upon learning that the Turcoman Muslims had invaded Jerusalem. Before he could leave, however, affairs of state delayed his departure for three years; during that time all benefices were taxed a 20th of their income to finance the Crusade. Louis, Queen Margaret and three of the king’s brothers finally left for Cyprus in June 1248, where they spent the winter accompanied by William Longsword, earl of Salisbury, and 200 English knights. The Crusaders’ objective was Egypt, whose sultan, Melek Selah, had been attacking Palestine. Louis’s troops easily took the port city of Damietta, in the Nile Delta, in early 1249, but could not continue their success. To the king’s horror, the soldiers engaged in debauchery and looting, occasionally interrupted by desultory fighting, for about a year until, weak from dysentery, Louis himself was captured in April 1250. Queen Blanche, again serving as regent for her son, began raising a huge ransom. Upon learning of the king’s capture, peasants, called the “Pastoureaux” and led by someone called the Hungarian Master, banded together in the “crusade of the shepherds” to try to rescue Louis. But when the peasants took up arms against the clergy, Blanche engaged them in battle near Villeneuve in June 1251, routing the rebellion. By late 1250, the Mamluk emirs had overthrown Sultan Melek, and the emirs accepted the city of Damietta as ransom for Louis and a million bezants for the other prisoners. Louis and the remnant of his forces sailed for Palestine, where he remained, visiting holy places, until 1254, when he learned of Blanche’s death two years before. For the next 13 years, Louis pursued philanthropy and diplomacy. He arranged the above-mentioned Treaty of Paris with Henry III in 1259, and in 1263 arbitrated on behalf of Henry against the English barons who sought to limit Henry’s authority. In 1258, Louis imposed the Treaty of Corbeil upon the king of Aragon, who agreed to relinquish all claims to Provence and Languedoc, except Montpellier, in return for French concessions to claims for Roussillon and Barcelona. A patron of architecture and academics, he helped his friend and confessor, Robert de Sorbon, establish the College de la Sorbonne as the theological school of the University of Paris in 1257. In 1254, Louis established the House of the Felles-Dieu for reformed prostitutes and the Hospital Quinze-Vingt for 300 blind men (“quinze-vingt”: 15 score, or 300). He personally tended the poor and sick. Eschewing royal raiment for plain clothing, he often met with churchmen, including St. Thomas Aquinas, and continued to wear the Crusader’s cross as a pledge. He became a Franciscan tertiary. Consequently, no one was surprised—nor were they pleased—when Louis announced his second crusade in 1267. Organizing the Crusade again took three years, during which time the pope granted Louis one-tenth of all Church revenues. In addition, the king levied a toll tax on his French subjects. After naming the abbot of St. Denis and Simon de Clermont as co-regents, Louis and his three eldest sons—Philip, John and Peter—sailed from Aigues-Mortes at the mouth of the Rhone in southern France on July 1, 1270. He landed at Tunis in North Africa, awaiting reinforcements from his brother Charles of Anjou, king of Sicily, and was crushed to learn that rumors of the Mamluk emir’s conversion to Christianity were false. Shortly thereafter typhus and dysentery broke out; Louis’s second son, John, died, and the king and his eldest son, Philip, came down with typhus. Louis declined rapidly, and he gave detailed instructions to his children about ruling the kingdom and remaining faithful to God. On August 24, the king received the last rites and then called for the Greek ambassadors, whom he urged to reunite with the Roman Church. The next day Louis lay unable to speak until noon, then repeated Psalm 5:7. Speaking again at 3:00 in the afternoon, he commended his soul to God and died. Louis’s bones and heart were returned to France and enshrined in the Abbey of St. Denis until they were vandalized and scattered during the Revolution.

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