In the person of Saint Lewis IX were eminently united the qualities which form a great king, and a perfect hero, no less than those which make up the character of a wonderful saint. Endowed with all qualifications for government, he excelled equally in the arts of peace and in those of war; and his courage, intrepidity, and greatness of mind received from his virtue the highest lustre; for ambition, or a view to his own glory, had no share in his great enterprises, his only motive in them being religion, zeal for the glory of God, or the good of his subjects. Though the two crusades in which he was engaged, were attended with ill success, he is certainly to be ranked among the most valiant princes, and understood war the best of any general of the age in which he lived; in the most dangerous battles which he fought he beat the enemy, how much soever superior to him in numbers and strength: and his afflictions set his piety and virtue in the brightest light.
This great king was son of Lewis VIII and was eight years old when the death of his grandfather Philip II. surnamed Augustus, put his father, who was then in the thirty-sixth year of his age, in possession of the crown of France, in 1223. The saint was born at Poïssy, in the diocess of Chartres, on the 25th of April 1215; and, because he had been there raised to the dignity of a Christian by the grace of baptism, he afterwards honoured this place above others, to show how much he esteemed this spiritual dignity above that of his temporal crown. He made this his favourite place, took singular pleasure in bestowing charities, and doing other good actions there: and in his familiar letters and private transactions, several copies whereof are still extant, he signed himself Lewis of Poïssy. His mother was Blanche, daughter to Alphonsus IX. or as some call him the VIII. king of Castile, the great conqueror, who in the battle of Muradal defeated Mahomet Emir, called the Green, with an army of above two hundred thousand Moors. She was a princess of extraordinary beauty and prudence, was endued with zeal for religion, and other virtues, and had great talents for government. Some have charged her with ambition and craft; but others call these accusations mere slanders, raised by her enemies during her regency. To her care and attention in the education of Saint Lewis, we are indebted, under God, for the great example of his virtues. From his birth she would never suffer him to suck any other breasts but her own, and gave all possible attention to every part of his education, and that of her other children. By her care he was perfectly master of the Latin tongue, learned to speak in public, and to write with elegance, grace, and dignity, and was instructed in the art of war, the wisest maxims of government, and all the accomplishments of a king. He was a good historian, and often read the works of the fathers. It was his mother’s first care to instil into his tender soul the highest esteem and awe for every thing that regarded the divine worship, the strongest sentiments of religion and virtue, and a particular love of holy chastity. She used often to say to him, when he was a child: “I love you my dear son, with all the tenderness a mother is capable of; but I would infinitely rather see you fall down dead at my feet, than that you should ever commit a mortal sin.” The king frequently said to others, that the strong impression which this important lesson made on his mind, was never effaced during his whole life, and that no day passed in which it did not recur, and excite him vigorously to arm himself afresh against all snares and dangers of surprise, He was placed very young on the throne.
Lewis VIII died on the 7th of November, 1226. Blanche, the queen mother, was declared regent for her son who was then only twelve years old. To prevent seditions, she hastened the ceremony of his coronation, which was performed at Rheims, on the first Sunday of Advent, by the bishop of Soissons, the archbishopric of Rheims being then vacant. The young king did not look upon this action as a mere ceremony, but prepared himself by the most fervent exercises of devotion, in order to move God to accompany the exterior unction which he then received, with the invisible anointing of his grace, by which he might be made truly the anointed of the Lord. He considered the pomp of that day with fear and humility, saying to God in his heart with David: To thee, O Lord, have I raised my soul; and in thee do I place my confidence. He trembled on taking the coronation oath, begging of God resolution, light, and strength, to employ his authority, according to his obligations, only for the divine honour, the defence of the church, and the good of his people. Several of the greatest lords of the kingdom, thinking to lay hold of the opportunity of the king’s minority, entered into a confederacy together, and made many extravagant demands. None of these princes would be present at the coronation, and they appeared in arms soon after it was over. The chief were Philip count of Boulogne, a natural son of Philip Augustus; Peter of Dreux, a prince of the royal blood, who was also count of Britanny, having married the daughter of Constantia countess of Britanny, after the death of count Arthur, whom our king John is accused of having murdered; Hugh of Lusignan, count of La Marche, who, after the death of king John, had married his widow, who had been queen of England, and was therefore called the countess queen; but the most powerful of all these lords was Theobald, or Thibault, count of Champagne, afterwards also king of Navarre. The queen regent put herself, with her son, at the head of his troops, and finding means to bring over the count of Champagne to his duty, struck the rest with such consternation, that they all retired. They were soon after again in arms, and would have seized the king’s person near Orleans, had not the count of Champagne given the regent notice, and the whole country taken arms to escort him hastily to Paris. The whole time of the king’s minority was disturbed by these rebels; but the regent, by several alliances and negotiations, and chiefly by her courage and diligence, by which she always prevented them in the field, continually dissipated their cabals. By her generals she pushed on the war against the Albigenses; and, in the third year of her regency, obliged Raymund count of Toulouse, and duke of Narbonne, to receive her conditions, these were, that he should marry his daughter Jane to Alphonsus the king’s brother, who should inherit the county of Toulouse, and that in case they should have no children by this marriage, that whole inheritance should revert to the crown; which accordingly happened. Henry III. king of England, had not taken advantage of these disturbances in France, to recover what his father had lost in Aquitain, which some attributed to his irresolution, and to the counsels of his favourite, Robert of Burgh or Burk. In 1230 he sailed into Brittany, to succour the count, who was pressed by the regent, but he undertook nothing; and being returned to London in 1231, he concluded a truce between the two crowns for three years, and Peter count of Brittany threw himself at the feet of king Lewis with a rope about his neck, and obtained his pardon, engaging to serve five years in Palestine at his own expense. Lewis rejoiced in his victories only because he saw he had procured by them the advantages of peace to his subjects. He was merciful even to rebels; and, by his readiness to receive any proposals of agreement, gave the most evident proofs that he neither sought revenge nor conquests by his arms. Never had any man a greater love for the church, or a greater veneration for its ministers than this good king; yet this was not blind; and he opposed the injustices of bishops, when he saw them betrayed into any, and he listened not to their complaints till he had given a full hearing to the other party, as he showed in the violent contests of the bishops of Beauvais and Metz with the corporations of those cities.
Pope Gregory IX (who had succeeded Honorius III) in the broils which the emperor Frederic II. had raised about the investitures of bishops, wrote to Saint Lewis, that he had deprived Frederic of the empire, and had proposed Robert, the king’s brother, in his place. But the king showed no other regard to those letters than to interest himself in procuring a reconciliation of the emperor to the holy see. Gregory IX. died in 1241, and Celestine IV. who succeeded him, filled the pontifical throne only eighteen days. After him cardinal Fieschi, a Genoese, was elected under the name of Innocent IV. in whose time these struggles were the most dangerous; with which Saint Lewis never interfered but to sue for peace.
This good king never thought himself so happy as when he enjoyed the conversation of some priests or religious men of eminent sanctity; and he often invited such to his royal table. He appeared at the foot of the altars more humble and recollected than the most devout hermit, and he allotted several hours in the day to prayer. When some people said of him, that he spent too much time in his usual devotions, he only answered, that if he employed that time in hunting, tournaments, gaming, or plays, they would not take so exact an account of the time which he lost at them. He hardly allowed himself any time for diversion, and so great was his temperance and mortification, that he had the art of practising it with great austerity, amidst the dainties of a royal table. Amongst other rules which for this purpose he privately prescribed to himself, it was observed that he never touched any fruit when it was first served in season, and was extremely ingenious in abstaining often from dainties, and in practising self-denials, without being taken notice of; by such means shunning the dangers of offending by intemperance, making the exercise of penance familiar and easy, and keeping his senses always docile to reason, and under government. Yet, how much Christian severity soever he exercised upon himself, his virtue never made him morose. He was extremely humane, and very agreeable in conversation. The inward peace of his mind, and the joy with which his pure soul overflowed from the presence of the Holy Ghost, enhanced the natural liveliness and cheerfulness of his temper. Coming from his closet, or from the church, he in a moment appeared conversing upon business; or at the head of an army with the countenance of a hero fighting battles, enduring the greatest fatigues, and daring the most alarming dangers. He knew how to observe seasons, but with a decent liberty. Once when a certain friar had started a grave religious subject at table, he agreeably turned the discourse to another subject, saying: “All things have their time.” His discourse at such times was cheerful without levity or impertinence, and instructive without stiffness or austerity. He celebrated feasts and rejoicings on the creation of knights, and other such public occasions, with great magnificence, some of which Joinville has given us a description of; but he banished from his court all diversions which are dangerous to morals. As for himself he gave the greater part of his time to the business of the state, and his devotion never in the least took off his care of the government. He was exact in holding councils, often gave both public and private audiences, and sometimes to people of the lowest rank; and was indefatigable in applying himself to the regulation of his army and kingdom. He was naturally bountiful. Nothing was more edifying than his sweetness, his moderation in dress and equipage, and the Christian humility in which he exercised himself more than in any other virtue, and which he practised more particularly towards the poor, often serving them at table, washing their feet, and visiting them in the hospitals. Such actions, when blended with certain faults, and degraded by an inconsistency, or meanness of conduct, would bring contempt upon persons of high rank; but they were done by our saint with so perfect and sincere humility and charity, and supported with such admirable dignity, that they had an opposite effect upon the minds of his nobles and people; and it is the remark of William de Nangis, that there never was seen more submission paid to a sovereign than this great king met with from all ranks after his subjects had experienced his virtue, and the happiness of his government; and that it continued all the rest of his reign.
Modesty, the most amiable of virtues, was not the least part of our saint’s character. It was such in him, that its awful sovereignty, which appeared in his very blushes, sufficed to check all loose thoughts in others. He was a lover of music and singing; but if any one in a song or otherwise, let slip the least indecent word before him, he was for ever banished his presence. When it was expedient for the king to marry, the most virtuous lady was his choice. This was Margaret, the eldest daughter of Raymund Berenger, count of Provence, of which sovereignty his ancestors had received the investiture from the emperors of Germany. They were descended from the counts of Barcelona, who were a younger family of the royal house of Arragon. This count’s second daughter, Eleanor, was married to Henry III. king of England; his third, Sancia, to his brother Richard, afterwards king of the Romans: and Beatrice, the fourth and youngest, to Charles, brother to Saint Lewis, to whom she brought for her dower the county of Provence. Margaret, the eldest, surpassed the rest in beauty, wit, and her extraordinary piety and virtue. Saint Lewis met her at Sens, where the marriage was celebrated on the 27th of May, 1234. God blessed it with a constant happy union of hearts, and an offspring which has given kings to France ever since. They imitated young Toby in their preparation for this state, and always observed continency in Lent, all other fast-days, all festivals, and in other seasons prescribed by the ancient canons, which Saint Charles Borromæo, and the Roman catechism order to be recommended, though by disuse they are not now esteemed as precepts, but counsels. King Lewis being before innured to government, took the reins into his own hands in April 1236, having completed the twenty-first year of his age. But he continued to show the greatest deference to his mother, and still to govern by her counsels which were always wise and virtuous. He had every day regular hours for reciting the divine office, and for his other devotions, in which he was constant and exact. He wore a hair-cloth, often used disciplines, and went to confession two or three times a week. The first monument of piety which he erected was the abbey of Royaumont. His father had ordered in his will, that the price of his jewels should be laid out in founding a monastery. Saint Lewis very much increased that sum, and made the foundation truly royal and magnificent. Out of devotion he sometimes worked with his own hands in building the church. This was afterwards one of those places to which he frequently retired to breathe the air of holy solitude, and to attend to God with more perfect recollection of soul. He founded the Chartreuse at Paris, to which he gave the palace of Vauvert: and he built many other religious places and hospitals.
Baldwin II the Latin emperor of Constantinople in 1239, made Saint Lewis (in gratitude for his great largesses to the Christians in Palestine, and other parts of the East) a present of the holy crown of thorns, which was formerly kept in the imperial palace, but was then put in the hands of the Venetians, as a pledge for a considerable loan of money borrowed of them, which the saint discharged. He sent two Dominican friars to bring this sacred treasure into France; and met it himself five leagues beyond Sens, attended with his whole court, and a numerous clergy. He and his brother Robert, walking barefoot, carried it into that city, and after the same manner into Paris, in a most pompous and devout procession, all the streets being magnificently adorned. The king deposited it in the old chapel of Saint Nicholas, in his own palace in Paris; but gave some thorns of it to the church of Toledo, to that of the Franciscans at Seez, and to the abbey of Saint Eloi, near Arras. The abbey of Saint Denis was possessed of some before this time, as Rigord, the physician and historian of Philip Augustus, testifies in his reign. In 1241 Saint Lewis received from Constantinople, with other precious relics, a very large piece of the true cross, probably the same which Saint Helen brought thither from Jerusalem. The year following he pulled down the chapel of Saint Nicholas in his palace, and built on the same spot that which is now called, from these relics, the Holy Chapel. It is justly admired for the elegance, correctness, and sumptuous finishings of the architecture, and cost in building forty thousand livres, which, according to the most probable estimation, would amount at this time, to the sum of eight hundred thousand livres, says F. Fontenai, that is, about forty thousand pounds sterling. The chapel was dedicated with great solemnity, and the holy king, when he resided at Paris, used to spend a considerable part of his time, and sometimes to pass whole nights in it in prayer, which he also frequently did in a favourite private chapel in the Chateau de Vincennes. In 1242 Queen Blanche founded the nunnery of Maubuisson, designing at the time to put on a habit of penance, and divest herself of her royal robes, before she should be stripped of them by death. Her son would needs contribute to this foundation, that he might have a share in her good work. His frugal manner of living, his economy, and his care to retrench every thing which he did not owe to the dignity of his crown, supplied him always with abundant resources when charity or religion called for any extraordinary expenses. When we consider his devotion, and take a view in detail of his religious exercises, we are not to imagine that on this account he forgot any part of the care which he owed to the state. He was too well apprized that piety must be false which neglects any duty which we owe to others, or to ourselves; and the same motive which animated him in the churches, made him most diligent in every branch of his high charge, and was not only the strongest spur to diligence, but also the greatest assistance and support in all his secular employments.
Several ordinances of this good prince, still extant, are so many monuments which show us how much he applied himself to see justice well administered. It is his eulogium, in this respect, that in succeeding reigns, whenever complaints were raised among the people, the cry of those who were dissatisfied was only to demand that abuses should be reformed, and justice impartially administered, as was done in the reign of Saint Lewis. In 1230, he, by severe laws, forbade all manner of usury, and restrained the Jews in particular from practising it, by many rigorous clauses. He afterwards compelled them to restore what they had exacted by that iniquitous oppression; and where the creditors could not be found, to give such gains towards the holy war, which Gregory IX. was endeavouring to set on foot. He published an ordinance, commanding all who should be guilty of blasphemy to be marked upon the lips, some say upon the forehead, with a red hot iron; and he caused this to be executed on a rich citizen of Paris, a person of great consideration; and to some of his courtiers who murmured at this severity, he said that he would rather undergo that punishment himself, than admit any thing that might put a stop to so horrible a crime, as William de Nangis tells us. Some moderns say, he ordered the tongues of blasphemers to be bored through; but this is not mentioned by contemporary writers. This king set himself to protect vassals from the oppression of the lords, and took such effectual methods, that they were delivered from the hardest part of their servitude. When Engueran de Coucy, one of the greatest lords in Flanders, had hanged three children for hunting rabbits in his woods, the king caused him to be imprisoned in the castle of the Louvre, and to be tried, not by his peers, as he demanded, but, as a flaw was found in his peerage, by the ordinary judges, who condemned him to death. He afterwards spared his life, at the earnest suit of the peers of his realm, but subjected him to an amercement which deprived him of the greater part of his estates. This money the king ordered to be employed partly in building and endowing two chapels, in which mass should be said for ever for the souls of the three children; partly in founding several hospitals, and two monasteries of the Franciscans and Dominicans in Paris. He forbade enfeoffed lords ever to make war upon one another, which custom had been the occasion of continual bloodshed and disorder. The scholars and doctors of the university of Paris, upon a complaint of an infraction of their privileges by the execution of certain students for murder, forsook the university for two years. When mutual animosities were worked up to the highest pitch, the prudence of Saint Lewis appeased them to the satisfaction of both parties. In like manner, when the count of La Marche and several other princes were set out with an armed force to lay the city of Orleans in ashes, in revenge for a sedition and the murder of some students, the king, by his admirable sweetness, wisdom, and justice, stopped their fury, and gave satisfaction to all parties. His scrupulous fidelity in inviolably keeping his word, and observing all treaties, gave him infinite advantages in all negotiations, and other affairs over his adversaries, who often, by frivolous evasions, eluded their most solemn oaths and engagements. The reputation of his impartial and inflexible integrity, made all parties and often foreign kings to rejoice to have him for their judge and arbitrator, and to put their affairs into his hands. Joinville assures us, that he was the wisest and best head in his council. Upon all sudden emergencies he resolved the most knotty difficulties readily and prudently.
During the minority of this good prince the kingdom was entangled in many domestic broils, and distracted with intestine seditions and wars in every part, insomuch, that it seems a miracle of providence that the queen, with all her prudence and diligence, should have been able to preserve the state entire, or that the king should be able afterwards to compose and settle it in the manner he did, reigning for some years with his sword always in his hand, yet almost without bloodshed. Frederic II, the impious and faithless emperor of Germany, though he often broke his engagements with Saint Lewis, as well as with other powers, could never provoke him to war; so dexterous was the saint in maintaining both his honour and his interests without it. Indeed, being exempt from those passions which usually blow the coals, he had an uncommon advantage in the pursuit of justice and necessary defence; and, whilst his magnanimity and foresight kept him always in readiness, his love of peace inclined him rather to sacrifice petty considerations than to see one drop of Christian blood spilt, if possible.
He was extremely careful, in his engagements with other princes, never to be drawn into their quarrels, though he used all possible good offices to reconcile their differences. In his wars to reduce rebels he caused the damages which innocent persons had received even by his enemy’s forces, to be diligently inquired into, and full restitution to be made for them. The Count of La Marche and Xaintogne, whose estates were a fief of Poitou, refused to pay homage to the Count of Poitiers, the brother of Saint Lewis; through the instigation of his wife, Isabel, the widow of the late King John, and mother of Henry III, then king of England, whom she called over to support his independency. The King of France marched against the Count of La Marche, and took Fontenai, in which he made the governor, who was the Count of La Marche’s son, prisoner, with forty knights. Some advised the king to hang them as rebels, or at least the governor; but this counsel he rejected with horror, saying, the son had been obliged to obey his father. He defeated King Henry III. (who was never born to be a soldier) at Taillebourg, upon the Charente, and the city of Saintes opened its gates to him in 1242. He again vanquished the Count of La Marche, who thereupon made his submission. Henry III. fled to Bourdeaux, and the next year returned to England, having made a truce with the French, for which he obliged himself to pay them five thousand pounds sterling in five years. The counsellors of Saint Lewis called it bad policy, that he neglected that opportunity of conquering Guienne, and driving the English out of all France. But his views were very opposite, as appeared after his first Crusade, when he concluded a peace with the English in 1258. On this occasion he yielded to England Limousin, Quercy, and Perigord, and the reversion of Agenois and Xaintogne; King Henry III. renouncing, on his side, all pretensions to Normandy, Anjou, Maine, Touraine, and Poitou. The French called the delicacy of their king’s conscience a scrupulosity which was contrary to good policy; but to satisfy them he answered, he did not doubt but King John had justly forfeited those dominions, for refusing to clear himself of the charge brought against him for the murder of his nephew, Arthur, count of Brittany; but that he hoped by this cession to cement a lasting peace between the two nations, and that it was very honourable to his crown to have so great a king for vassal. In like manner, to satisfy his conscience as to some territories in Languedoc, to which the kings of Arragon pretended a right, which they founded upon alliances by marriages, he came to an agreement with James I, king of Arragon, in 1254, by which that prince renounced for himself and his successors all pretensions to any territories situated in Languedoc and Provence, and Lewis made a like renunciation with regard to Barcelona, and many other lordships in Arragon, to which the French then laid claim.
At this time the barbarians raised great commotions in the East. A band of desperate Saracen ruffians in the mountains of Phœnicia obeyed one whose dignity was elective, and who was called the Ancient of the Mountain, or Prince of the Assassins. He had men among his banditti always ready to execute his orders in any part of the world, and to poison or stab whomsoever he should point out to them as obstructing the propagation of the Mahometan superstition. Hearing much of the power and zeal of Saint Lewis before he had taken the cross, he sent two resolute soldiers disguised into France, with an order to assassinate the king. Saint Lewis, by the special providence of God, was advertised of this hellish design, and the assassins being apprehended, he courteously sent them home to their master. This visible protection of heaven was a new motive to make him redouble his piety and fervour. The great conqueror in Great and Little Tartary, and the Indies, named Gingis Chan, or king of kings, after he had vanquished the famous Tartar prince called Ung Chan, who is thought to have been the Nestorian king who was surnamed Prester-jan, and was in priest’s orders, formed an extravagant design of subduing the whole world to his empire. Some of his successors pursued the same; and in this view, Octaï, one of them, sent out three numberless swarms of Tartar forces, which spread desolation through Hungary, Poland, and Bohemia, and filled all Europe with dread and consternation. Queen Blanche, and the whole French nation trembled; the king alone was undaunted, and said cheerfully to his mother, expressing the true motive of his confidence: “Madam, what have we to fear? If these barbarians come to us, we shall either be conquerors, or shall die martyrs?” By the resolution with which he spoke this, he calmed the alarms of his mother, and of the whole state. Whilst he was preparing for his first crusade, he received a haughty letter from this Octaï, who styled himself the Immortal, pretended that his Tartars were the sons of men to whom the whole earth was promised, and required that he should deliver up his kingdom into his hands, and receive laws from him. But of this insolence the good king took no notice. Our saint afterwards sent persons into Great Tartary to inform him of the true situation of religion in those vast countries, and hearing that a daughter of Prester-jan was a zealous Christian, with some others, he entreated the pope to confer episcopal orders on certain Dominican and Franciscan friars, and to send them with proper faculties into those parts; for which mission he furnished the expenses. But the progress of the arms of the Mahometans in the Holy Land was what chiefly drew the attention of this zealous king. An extraordinary accident gave occasion to his undertaking in person a holy war for the relief of the Christians in those parts.
In the year 1244 Saint Lewis was seized at Pontoise with a violent dysentery and fever, which soon seemed to have brought him to the very brink of the grave. The grief and consternation into which this accident cast the whole kingdom, and the ardour with which all persons solicited heaven by their vows, tears, and almsdeeds for the life of their good king, are not to be expressed. The distemper still increasing, he fell into convulsions, and afterwards into a coma, and a kind of trance, in which he lay some days in such a condition that he was judged already dead; and his face would have been covered, had not a lady prevented it, affirming she perceived him still to breathe a little. Then the piece of the true cross and other relics that had been sent him by the Emperor Baldwin, were brought to his bedside, and applied to his body. Soon after this he recovered from his insensibility, began to move his arms and legs, and spoke with some difficulty. By his first words he expressed his resolution to take the cross, as the badge of enrolling himself to serve in the holy war, and calling for William, the bishop of Paris, who was present, he desired him to receive his vow for that expedition, and to put the badge of the cross on his shoulder. At this the two queens, his mother and wife, fell at his feet weeping, and the Bishops of Paris and Meaux, by his bedside with others, conjured him that he would not entertain such a thought; but he was not by any means to be satisfied, and gave great signs of joy in receiving the cross, which the Bishop of Paris gave him with tears. The king continued still in a lingering state of health for some time, but in the beginning of the following year grew stronger than he had been before his illness. He then renewed his vow, and, by letters, assured the Christians in Palestine that he would make all possible haste to their assistance. But the preparations for such an expedition, and the settling of his kingdom obliged him to defer his departure for two years and a half. He built a new seaport at Aiguesmortes, upon the Mediterranean, made several donations to religious places, and commanded a diligent inquiry to be made over all his dominions into the grievances of particular persons, all complaints to be received, and ample restitution to be made to every one who should even seem to have suffered any injustice or prejudice through his officers, magistrates, or judges; and by this means much restitution was made through all the provinces of his kingdom.
At that time the king suffered a great loss by the death of William, the most learned, wise, and pious Bishop of Paris, who governed that see from 1228 to 1245. He had exceedingly promoted the studies in that university, and his works, which have been several times reprinted, in two volumes, are standing monuments of his great judgment, piety, and erudition. He had thoroughly read and digested the holy scriptures, and very well understood Aristotle and Plato, the latter of whom he often prefers to the former. In his writings, in a plain, intelligible style, he keeps close to what concerns morality, discipline, and piety, and does not run out upon metaphysical notions, like many divines of his time.
In 1245 Pope Innocent IV retired from Italy to Lyons, in France, which was at that time a free city, subject to its own archbishop, though held in fief of the emperor. This city seemed to him the most secure place, it being most remote from the arms of the Emperor Frederic II, from whom he had already suffered much, and had every thing to fear. Here he assembled that year the first general council of Lyons, in which he summoned Frederic to appear; and, upon his refusal, accused him of having often broken his word and his oath; of having arrested and imprisoned several bishops who were going to Rome to a council called by Gregory IX.; of having obstructed the regular elections of pastors, robbed the churches, invaded their possessions, and those of the holy see; of having made a league with the Saracens, and made use of them in his armies against Christians. For these irregularities, and because he refused to make satisfaction, the pope pronounced against him a sentence of excommunication and deposition. Saint Lewis, to whom strong application was made both by the emperor and pope, endeavoured to reconcile them; and as he, with many others, disapproved of the step which the latter had taken, so he very much condemned Frederic’s injustices and passionate behaviour. He was better pleased with the measures taken by the pope in this council for the holy war, to which his holiness allotted the twentieth part of all the revenues of benefices for three years, and the tenth of the revenues of the apostolic see and of the cardinals. Three of the king’s brothers took the cross to accompany him, Alphonsus, count of Poitiers; Robert, count of Artois, and Charles, count of Anjou and Provence; as did also Peter, count of Brittany; Hugh, duke of Burgundy; William of Dampierre, count of Flanders; Hugh of Lusignan, count of La Marche; the counts of Dreux, Bar, Soissons, Retel, Vendome, Montfort; and a great number of other lords. The king declared his mother, Blanche, regent of the kingdom; but the queen consort would absolutely bear him company. The king went to the abbey of Saint Denis to take the Oriflame, and set sail from Aiguesmortes, with his fleet, on the 27th of August, 1248, towards Cyprus, where he had caused large magazines to be laid up. He arrived there in three weeks, and held a great council concerning the operations of the expedition. The Christians had still in Palestine and Syria four principalities, namely, that of Acre or Ptolemais, that of Tripoli, that of Tyre, and that of Antioch. Saladin had dismantled the city of Jerusalem; from which time it had fallen again sometimes into the hands of the Christians, whenever they happened to be stronger in the field. At that time the Corasmins, the most fierce and warlike of all the Mahometan nations, were masters of it. They had been driven out of their own country, probably that of Coarsem, by an incursion of Tartars; and Saleh, sultan of Egypt, taking twenty thousand of them into his pay, promised them the plunder and lands they could win of the Christians in Palestine. They defeated and massacred them in many places, especially at Jerusalem, which city they found in the hands of the Christians, who had never since recovered it. These rapacious barbarians had spared nothing even in the churches, but had sent the richest vessels and ornaments to the tomb of their false prophet Mahomet. Saladin had been succeeded in Egypt by his eldest son, Eladel, and in Syria by his younger, called Elaziz, who was slain with his family by his uncle, Sephradin, who made himself sultan of Syria or Aleppo; but in the time of this expedition of Saint Lewis, Ismael was sultan of Aleppo, who, being alarmed at the great power of the Egyptian sultan, became an ally of the Christians. In Egypt, Eladel had been succeeded by Elchamul, and he by Melech-Saleh, in whose reign Saint Lewis arrived in Cyprus. The holy king passed the winter in that island, being honourably received by King Henry of Lusignan. He determined to attack the sultan of Egypt, who at that time threatened to swallow up all Palestine; he therefore sent him from Cyprus a declaration of war, unless he consented to restore the lands he had unjustly seized in Palestine. Saleh, who was sick with a sore in one of his legs which threatened a mortification, wept as he read this letter, but sent back a haughty answer, and made all preparations possible for war. He employed spies to poison the victualling-houses of the Christian army; but they were discovered, and confessed the fact. William, the valiant earl of Salisbury, surnamed Longsword, brought to Saint Lewis, in Cyprus, two hundred gallant knights. The lord of Joinville, his historian, joined him there with a fresh reinforcement from France. The king’s fleet consisted of one hundred and twenty great vessels, and one thousand six hundred and fifty small ones, carrying on board twelve thousand eight hundred French, English, and Cypriot knights, and above sixty thousand chosen soldiers.
After having waited eight months in Cyprus, the fleet put to sea on Trinity Sunday, and though a violent storm had dispersed several of the ships, they arrived in four days before Damiata, a strong fortress of Egypt, situated in an island formed by two of the mouths of the Nile, and built upon the eastern channel, on the shore opposite to the ruins of the ancient Pelusium. The sultan had filled the Nile with his fleet, and lined the shore with a numerous army, appearing himself at their head. At this sight of the Saracens Saint Lewis cried out: “Who am I but a wretched man, whose life belongs to God! He hath a sovereign right to dispose of it as it pleaseth him. Whether we are conquerors or martyrs we shall glorify him either by the prosperity of our arms, or by the sacrifice of our lives.” The fear of a storm rising in a place where they had no port to shelter them, determined the king to make a descent the next morning, which was Friday, though the vessels which had been dispersed were not yet come up. The next day the sultan, finding his sickness much increased, had ordered himself to be carried to a house of pleasure, a league above Damiata. The vessels in the centre, in which was Joinville, were carried the swiftest, and the men landed safe; then they covered themselves with their bucklers, and presented the point of their lances, which were in that age very long. The Saracen horse came upon the gallop towards them, but durst not attempt to break the kind of rampart which their lances formed. The left wing, commanded by the Count of Jaffe, and the right, in which the king was, being all prosperously got on shore, and in good order, the whole army marched towards the Saracens, who made a stand; but having lost the governor of Damiata, and two emirs, took to their heels, and their fleet sailed up the Nile. The inhabitants and garrison of Damiata were in the utmost consternation upon a report that the sultan was dead, and, setting fire to the place, fled. The French immediately took possession of that strong city, and put out the fire. The king, full of pious and religious sentiments, made his entry, not with the pomp of a conqueror, but with the humility of a truly Christian prince, walking barefoot with the queen, the princes, (his brothers,) the King of Cyprus, and other great lords, preceded by the legate, the patriarch of Jerusalem, the bishops, and all the clergy of the camp. Returning humble thanks to God, they went in this manner to the principal mosque, which the legate purified and consecrated with the usual ceremonies of the church, dedicating it under the name of the Mother of God. The sultan, though half dead, in his rage commanded fifty-four captains of the garrison to be hanged upon the spot; then was carried up the eastern channel of the Nile to Massour or Mazour, a city which his father had built in the midway between Damiata and Grand Cairo; and was followed by his army. The Nile begins to rise in May, from the rains which fall in the torrid zone on the north side of the equator, as the sun, which raises thick clouds under it, departs from that point of the zodiac; from the same cause the flood of this river continues from June to the middle of September. This, and the excessive heats, obliged the Christian army to stay till the end of summer at Damiata. The king, to prevent as much as possible all plunders and injustices, took all care possible that such crimes should be strictly inquired into and punished, and that ample restitution should be made for any such that should happen to be committed. Not content to have given this severe charge to the officers, he appointed certain religious men, in whom he could confide, to watch over the officers, and to receive all complaints. He forbade any infidel to be slain whom it was possible to make prisoner; and he took great care that all who desired to embrace the faith (as many did, moved by the pious example of this great king,) should be perfectly instructed and baptized. But, notwithstanding all his watchfulness, whilst the army staid about Damiata, many, to his extreme grief, gave themselves up to debauchery and outrageous acts of violence.
In November the king, leaving the queen and other princesses at Damiata with a strong garrison, set out with his army, intending to march to Grand Cairo, the capital. When he came to the place which separates the two arms of the Nile near Massour, he stopped, the Mahometan camp being on the other side of the river. In the meantime the sultan died on the 26th of November, 1249, leaving his son Almoadon very young; but he had appointed Facardin, who was the general of his army, and passed for the wisest and most valiant man in Egypt, regent of the kingdom, and his conduct justified the choice which his master had made of him. He constantly kept the Christians at bay, and often cut off their convoys at Damiata, and harassed all that stirred from their camp; in which he employed the Bedwins, or Bedouins, a tribe of Arabs, accustomed to live by plunder. The French were extremely perplexed how to pass this arm of the Nile called Thanis, in sight of the enemy. To do it in boats, or to throw any kind of bridges over, they found equally impossible, unless they could first clear the opposite shore. They endeavoured to fill up part of the channel by a new bank, but the Saracens widened it on the other side. They built several wooden towers to cover their workmen; but the Saracens destroyed them by throwing great stones upon them from sixteen large machines, or burnt them by throwing gregeois, or Greek fire, which was a kind of wildfire, made principally of naphtha, a bituminous liquid substance, easily inflammable, and not to be extinguished. The Greeks are sometimes mentioned to have used this wildfire in war, and its effects were dreadful. The Saracens had learned it from the Greeks, and Saint Lewis never heard the horrible noise of it flying in the air, but, falling on the ground, he besought God to have pity on those who fought for the glory of his holy name. Things stood thus for near three months, when a Bedwin came to one of the French commanders, and offered for five hundred besants of gold to show them a ford which might be passed on horseback. The price, though excessive, was readily paid him, and the ford was found, though a dangerous one, and false in one place, where the horses were forced to swim. In the frequent skirmishes which had been fought, the French had always been victorious, and in them the Counts of Anjou and Poitiers had gained a great deal of reputation. On this occasion the Count of Artois, by repeated instances, obtained leave of the king to pass the ford at the head of the vanguard. The king, fearing his warmth would draw him into some rash attempt, was unwilling, and only consented upon his solemn promise not to do any thing without his order. The army crossed the river on Shrove-Tuesday in 1250; the van easily repulsed a body of infidels which disputed the passage, and the whole army got safe over, formed itself on the other side, and attacked the camp of the infidels, who were routed, and Facardin himself, fighting like a desperado, was run through the body with a lance, and killed. But the rashness of Robert, Count of Artois, overturned all these glorious advantages. Having driven before him a body of Saracens, he too eagerly pursued them with two thousand men that were under his command, among whom were the Earl of Salisbury and the English knights. They entered Massour, intermixed with the fugitives, and became at once masters of the town. This success might in some degree have atoned for the count’s rashness, had he stopped here, as the Earl of Salisbury and others earnestly besought him; but he laughed at their prudence, and pursued the enemy a great way beyond the town, till they grew too numerous and strong for him. They then drove him back into Massour, and besieged him in their turn in a house. He defended himself with incredible valour, till, exhausted with fatigue and wounds, he fell upon a heap of infidels whom he had slain with his own hands. The great Earl of Salisbury, and the two hundred brave English knights were also cut off, and their loss was extremely regretted by Saint Lewis, though he said we ought to envy the glory and happiness of a death which he called equal to martyrdom. Being asked about the Count of Artois, he said, some tears beginning to run from his eyes: “He is in paradise; we ought to praise God for every thing, and adore his profound judgments.” The king had in the battle performed prodigies of valour and conduct. Joinville saw him once in the midst of six hardy Saracens, all aiming their blows to kill him; but he freed himself by his own valour, killing some of them, and putting the rest to flight. The most formidable body in the Saracens’ army was that of twenty thousand Mammelus, or Mammalukes, a savage people of Turkish extraction, whom the sultan had hired out of Turcomania, and of these was his body guard composed. Bondocdar, their general, after the slaughter of the Count of Artois, in Massour, assembled together this troop, and was soon joined by the rest of the Mahometans of Egypt, who unanimously put themselves under his banner, and chose him their general; though the regency, after the death of Facardin, was devolved on Sajareldor, Saleh’s widow, and mother-in-law to the young sultan.
The Christian army, after having been twice victorious, was worsted in an engagement with Bondocdar, chiefly by his wildfire, which took hold of their clothes and the caparisons of the horses, and strangely disconcerted the soldiers, who had never seen it used in battles. After this combat the Christians were almost all seized with a violent scurvy, which ate away their gums and jaws with incredible pain, and subjected them to terrible operations of surgeons; a grievous dysentery at length came on, and a bleeding of the nose was the symptom of approaching death. Great numbers died, and the king himself was sick, and his body reduced to a mere skeleton; yet he obliged his army to keep Lent. He led it over the ford to his old camp, repulsed the Saracens as often as they attacked him, and marched towards Damiata, till he arrived at a little town called by Joinville Cassal, by others Charmasach. Here the Christians, whilst they were treating with the sultan, who still offered them advantageous conditions, by a mistake of some of their leaders, threw down their arms, and surrendered themselves prisoners. The infidels massacred all the poorer sort that were sick, or wounded; but, by a certain drink, cured in a couple of days the prisoners who were persons of rank, though they were in the last stage of their fatal distemper; for only the Egyptians knew the remedy, which seems to have consisted in a decoction of certain herbs. Thus Joinville, the historian, and the king himself recovered their health by means of their captivity. The queen at Damiata, upon receiving this melancholy news, was brought to bed of her third son, who was named John, and from the sorrowful time of his birth was surnamed Tristan. The prisoners were conducted to Massour, and the king was treated with respect. His conduct, resolution, and behaviour filled the Mahometans with admiration and astonishment. Under his sickness and misfortunes, he never let fall one impatient or angry word.
As soon as he was taken he desired to be attended by his two chaplains, with whom he recited the breviary every day with as much sedateness as if he had been in perfect health in his palace. He had the prayers of the mass read to him every day, (except the words of consecration,) that he might the better join in spirit and desire with the church in her daily sacrifice. In the midst of the insults that were sometimes offered him by those that guarded him, he preserved a certain air of majesty and authority which kept them in awe. When he was threatened with the most ignominious treatment, and with the torture of the bernicles, (a wooden engine, by which every limb of the body was pressed and bruised, and the bones broken,) he beheld the terrible machine without so much as changing colour, and answered coolly, that they were masters of his body, and might do with it what they pleased; the sultan sent to him a proposal, by which he demanded a million of besants of gold, and the city of Damiata for his ransom, and that of the other prisoners. He answered, that a king of France ought not to redeem himself for money, but that he would give the city for his own releasement, and the million of besants for that of all the other prisoners. The sultan, charmed with his generosity and sincerity, said he had a noble soul, and sent him word, that out of the esteem he had for him he freely gave him his liberty, and remitted a fifth part of the sum demanded for the others. A truce was concluded for ten years, in which the Christians of Palestine were comprehended.
After this the king and the principal lords of the army were put on board four vessels to go down the river towards Damiata, and to have an interview with the sultan in the way. But all this was overturned by the murder of the sultan Moadan. He had treated some emirs of the Mammelus with severity, and threatened to displace others among them, when they should arrive at Damiata, and he was determined to set aside his mother-in-law Sajareldor. Hereupon a conspiracy was laid to take away his life in a public assembly of the emirs. Bondocdar first struck him on the hand with his sword. At this signal other emirs rushed towards him, whilst the whole army stood looking idly on. Moaden fled to a neighbouring tower; but it was set on fire. He then ran from one of his emirs to another, falling on his knees to entreat each of them; but every one pushed him violently from him. He therefore cried out: “What Mussulmans! is there not one man out of a hundred thousand that will defend me? I beg only my life. Let who will reign in Egypt.” Several arrows were let fly at him, and he threw himself into the Nile, hoping to escape by swimming; but was stabbed in the water by nine Mammelus. Octai, one of the principal emirs and murderers of the sultan, ran from this barbarous action to the tent in which king Lewis was, and showing him his dagger all bloody, told him he was now master of his person, and would kill him unless he created him knight, as the emperor Frederic had made Facardin. But the good king remembered how much that action had been condemned, and refused to do it, looking upon it that seeing an unbeliever is incapable of discharging the duties of the Christian knighthood, that honour could not be conferred on such a one. The barbarian was exceedingly moved by the king’s modest courage, and his fury was converted into admiration. Some of the emirs even suggested that he would be the most worthy person to be raised to the dignity of sultan, had he not been an enemy to their religion. They therefore set the crown on the head of the widow Sajareldor, and appointed a Mammelu, surnamed the Turcoman, to be her general and prime minister. The former treaty with the king was confirmed with a few alterations on the 4th of May. The infidels ratified it by various strong forms of oaths. Among those which they proposed to the king, this was one, that he would be regarded to have denied God, his baptism, and the divine law, and to have spit and trampled upon the cross, if he should ever violate the treaty. The good king was shocked at the recital of such an imprecation, and would by no means consent to repeat it, saying, that it implied a blasphemy. The barbarians hereupon threatened to cut off his head, or to crucify him with all his people, and held the points of their swords to his throat; yet he was inflexible, and they at length contented themselves with his oath in the usual form. Nevertheless, after the treaty was signed, the emirs debated among themselves whether they should not behead the king and all the Christians they had in their power. Many were of this opinion, but a spark of honour animated one of the emirs, and he spoke so handsomely on this subject, that he prevented the barbarous execution. The king was detained prisoner thirty-two days. At last, after having been perplexed with many cavils, treacheries, and alarms from the emirs, after having paid them a quarter of the ransom, and given his brother the earl of Poitiers as a hostage till the payment of the rest, (which was made in a few days,) having moreover surrendered Damiata, which he had held eleven months, he was set at liberty. He embarked at Damiata with his two brothers (who were released upon the payment of the ransom) and the Counts of Flanders and Brittany, the lord of Joinville, and the marshal of France. 14 The perfidious infidels, contrary to their treaty, confirmed by oath, murdered all the sick and wounded among the Christians in Damiata, and in many other things violated the articles of the agreement. Yet the king, when it was in his power, used no reprisals, and was most scrupulously faithful in fulfilling every point on his side, as he was in all his other treaties.
Out of a desire of comforting the Christians in Palestine, and of visiting the holy places, he sailed thither with the remains of his army, and in six days landed at Acre. In this voyage, hearing that his brother Charles was playing at tables upon deck, he went to him, and threw the dice overboard into the sea. The tears and entreaties of the Christians in those parts who saw themselves lost without resource if forsaken by the king in their present distress, moved him to stay some time among them. But he sent back his brothers Alphonsus and Charles into France to comfort his mother, and most of the French nobility went with them. In Palestine the saint acted the part of a zealous missionary, strengthening many in their faith, and inspiring them with courage and resolution to suffer torments and death rather than to offend God. He often told them that as they lived on the ground on which Christ had so long conversed with men, and had wrought all the wonderful mysteries of our redemption, their lives ought in a particular manner to be as much as possible the living copies of his holy conversation and spirit. The very sight of his devotion and piety was a moving sermon; forty Saracens at Acre were by it converted to the faith all at once, and others in other places; and among these several emirs. He visited Nazareth fasting and on foot. Not only France but all Europe had expressed the greatest affliction upon the news of his captivity. Pope Innocent IV. sent him a pathetic letter of comfort which the king received in Palestine. In it the pope, among other beautiful sentiments of condolence and piety wrote as follows: 15 “O Father of mercy, unfold to us the mystery of the severity with which thou hast treated the most Christian of princes, whilst animated with fervent zeal he generously sacrificed his own person, and the strength of his kingdom. If this disgrace was a trial to render thy servants worthy of heaven, what thanks do they not owe thee for such a favour! If it be a temporal chastisement to preserve sinners from the more dreadful punishments of thy justice in the other world, who will dare to call so advantageous a mercy severe?”
The king being in Palestine wrote a circular letter to all his subjects in France, full of excellent maxims of zeal, piety, patience, and Christian prudence. He speaks of the death of the count of Artois with the tenderness of a most affectionate brother; but expresses a holy joy that he was gone to take possession of the eternal recompence of martyrs. He discovers an entire but humble confidence in the divine mercy, and in the intercession of the martyrs; gives due praise to the actions of others; and is himself the only person of whom he says nothing. Not the least tittle savours of vain glory. In his afflictions he acknowledges the secret judgments of God, the punishment of his sins, and the holy order of providence, in whose will we are bound to acquiesce with perfect confidence and resignation; and in all advantages, he gives the whole glory to God. 16 This true martyr of Christ in spirit, far from blushing at his humiliation, caused his chains to be engraved in the stamp of his coin, and used to say that the highest honour which a Christian can receive is to suffer for Christ. He was rigorous in doing justice to all others; but seemed to forget himself; so much did he dissemble personal affronts. He seemed not to hear injurious words spoken against him in his presence, and heaped benefits on those who, by an extravagance of temper, had conceived an antipathy against him, and expressed it by the insolence of their carriage. When a page let burning wax drop from a candle on his leg, which was at that time inflamed and sore, he never complained of his negligence.
Moadan, the murdered sultan of Egypt, was the last of the race of Saladin who reigned in that country. Saphradin the Younger, surnamed Nazer, the sultan of Syria, was his cousin, and to revenge his death, declared war against the Mammelus in Egypt; and, in the beginning of the year 1251, sent an embassy to Saint Lewis, offering to make him master of the whole kingdom of Jerusalem, if he would join him against the Egyptians. Saint Lewis answered that he should be willing to treat with him if the emirs in Egypt continued to break the treaty which he had made with them. He sent John of Valence into Egypt, who spoke boldly to the emirs of the Mammelus, concerning their infractions of the treaty. The emirs promised to make amends, and to give the king the most favourable conditions he could desire if he would not make a league with the sultan of Syria; and they released upon the spot two hundred knights and other Christian prisoners whom they had detained. Saint Lewis took this opportunity to rebuild the walls of Cæsarea, to fortify the port of Jaffa or Joppe, and to put other places of defence in the best condition he was able. In the mean time queen Blanche being struck with a palsy, in the sixtieth year of her age, put on the Cistercian habit, and made her religious vows, having sent for the abbess of Maubuisson to receive them. From that time she would only be laid on a bed of straw, and would suffer no rich ornaments in her chamber; she expired, lying on ashes, upon the 1st day of December in 1252. The king when he received this melancholy news burst into floods of tears, and throwing himself on his knees at the foot of the altar in his chapel, addressed himself to God in these words: “Lord, I thank thee for having preserved to me so long the best of mothers. I confess there was nothing among creatures on earth that I loved with equal affection and tenderness. Thou takest her from me; and it is thy absolute will; may thy holy name for ever be blessed for it!” He showed his filial regard for her by having the sacrifice of the mass offered for her soul in his presence every day of his life afterwards. 17 He appointed his two brothers in France regents of the kingdom till he could arrive, and began to prepare for his departure; but was obliged to stay a year longer to finish the fortifications which he had begun. He visited Tyre, Sidon, and other places, and put them in a posture of defence; with his small army he put to flight the Mahometans of Syria, and took from them in a wonderful manner the strong city of Naplosa, the ancient Samaria. Nothing could be more tender than the last adieus of the Christians of those parts, who, with abundance of tears, testified their sincere gratitude, and called him their father. His gracious looks testified the regret with which he left them in the midst of enemies and dangers; he gave them strong assurances of his constant affection and attention for them, and pathetically exhorted them to be in their manners faithful imitators of their blessed Redeemer. He embarked at Acre with the queen, his little children, officers, and troops, in fourteen vessels, on the 24th of April, 1254.
Saint Lewis made each vessel of his fleet, especially his own ship, a kind of church. He obtained leave from the legate that the blessed eucharist should be carried in his vessel on a rich altar for the sick. The divine office was celebrated before it, at which and at mass he never failed to assist. Three sermons were preached every week, besides public catechism, and particular instructions of the sailors and soldiers; in which the king would have his part. He visited the sick every day, and exercised his zeal and charity all manner of ways, and with such success as gave him a great deal of comfort. They did not land at Cyprus, but only took in fresh water and some provisions. After a voyage of ten weeks the fleet arrived upon the 18th of July at the castle of Hieres, which belonged to the Duke of Anjou, count of Provence. After resting some days, the king left Hieres, visited La Ste. Baume, and other places of devotion on his road, and came to Vincennes on the 5th of September, in 1254. From thence he went to the abbey of Saint Denis to return thanks to God, after which he made his public entry into Paris, after an absence of almost six years.
Joinville relates, that in their voyage at sea, the king went to land at Lampedusa, a small uninhabited island lying between Malta and Africa, and was strongly affected at the sight of a beautiful grove and garden with a cave or hermitage marked with crosses. They found there the bones of two hermits who had lately lived there. One of the company chose to stay behind, and succeeded the hermits in their anchoretical life. In this same voyage a gentleman falling overboard, invoked the intercession of the Mother of God, and was preserved floating upon the waves, though he was not able to swim, till the king’s ship, which was half a league behind, came up, and the company finding him in that posture, took him in. Joinville, who was an eye-witness with all others on board the king’s vessel, afterwards had this miracle painted in his chapel, and in the windows of his church at Blecour. The holy king seemed to be little affected with the universal joy which the people expressed for his return. He had always before his eyes the dangerous condition of the Christians in the East, and he wore the cross upon his clothes, to show that he had not quitted his design of returning to their assistance; but his affliction, and the care which he took more than ever to sanctify himself by austerities and other good works, did not at all take off the application he owed to the good of his realm. He, in the manner related above, secured its tranquillity by a firm peace with England and Spain, with both which there was always danger of a sudden rupture.
In 1254, Henry III, king of England, visited the shrine of Saint Edmund of Canterbury, at Pontigni, and coming to Paris, passed there eight days with Saint Lewis. Interviews of kings usually produce quarrels, which spring from jealousy, pride, and other passions; but here nothing reigned but harmony and piety. Saint Lewis told Henry that he esteemed himself infinitely more happy that God had given him patience in suffering, than if he had conquered the world. Some time after this, King Henry and his barons in England, having exhausted the realm by an obstinate civil war, agreed on both sides to make Saint Lewis their judge, and signed a compromise, by which they engaged themselves to submit to his decision; so great was the universal opinion of his wisdom, equity, and uprightness. The King and Queen of England, Prince Edmund, and many bishops and lords of their party, and a great number of the confederate barons on the other side, came to Amiens. Saint Lewis repaired thither also; and after both parties had pleaded a long time, he, by a definitive absolute sentence, annulled all the articles granted by the king to the barons in the parliament or assembly at Oxford, 18 as being extorted by compulsion, and as innovations injurious to the royal majesty; but he confirmed to the barons their ancient privileges. 19 Though several of the confederates went over to the king upon this decision, yet the Earl of Leicester afterwards renewed the war against him with more fury than ever; and in the battle of Lewes took King Henry, Prince Edward, his eldest son, and his brother Richard, king of the Romans, prisoners; but young Prince Edward, having made his escape out of prison, raised a new army, defeated the confederate barons near Evesham, and killed the Earl of Leicester. 20 By this victory King Henry recovered his liberty and crown.
Saint Lewis had no share in the transactions of his brother in Naples and Sicily, making it a rule never to interfere in the concerns of others unless in works of religion or charity; but he never lost sight of the distressed Christians in the East, and the news of their calamities always made deep wounds in his heart. In 1262, Haalon, a Mahometan Tartar commander in Syria, slew the last descendant of Saladin’s brother, extinguished that Turkish branch, and made himself sultan of Damascus. In Egypt, Bondocdar, general of the Mammelus, after having embrued his hands in the blood of two sultans, he, in 1261, set the crown upon his own head. From this time the Mammelus reigned sultans in Egypt, though always elected out of their own body, till, in 1517, the last was defeated by Selim I, emperor of the Turks, and, after many insults, publicly strangled at Grand Cairo. This Bondocdar was one of the most perfidious and cruel of men, and a most implacable enemy of the Christians. He spent the two first years of his reign in settling his government; he encouraged learning, though himself an illiterate barbarian, and he is said to be the first who established regular posts for correspondence, though the ancient Persian kings had royal messengers placed at proper distances to succeed one another, and carry the king’s despatches with expedition to all parts of their empire. This tyrant, in the year 1266, the fifth of his reign, resolved to extirpate the Christians in the East. He took and demolished Tripoli, Cæsarea, Tyre, and other places in Syria and Palestine, and without having any regard to his capitulations and oaths, massacred all the captives who refused to embrace the Mahometan superstition. These calamities awakened the compassion and zeal of Saint Lewis, and he again took the cross with great solemnity, in a public assembly of princes and prelates, at Paris, on the 25th of March, 1267; but before he set out, he put the finishing hand to several pious establishments at home, among which we must reckon the house of Sorbon.
Robert Sorbon, a canon and learned doctor at Paris, whom Saint Lewis honoured with his particular friendship, and often made use of for his confessor, first began this community of Masters of Arts, who were the ablest students or professors in theology. The king was so pleased with the design, that he founded this college in the most magnificent manner in 1252, and obtained the confirmation of it by Pope Clement IV. 21 This house has long been the most renowned college in that university; and by raising the present magnificent building, Cardinal Richelieu has erected a monument to his own memory. Saint Lewis founded in Paris, for poor blind men, the hospital of Quinze Vingt, so called because he placed in it at the first foundation three hundred such patients. He likewise made provisions before his departure for the other poor, whom he maintained out of his private purse; for he had every day one hundred and twenty indigent persons at a table near his own palace, and in Lent and Advent all who presented themselves; and these he often served in person. He kept lists of decayed gentlemen, and distressed widows, and young women, whom he regularly relieved in every province of his dominions. The saint made his will, in which, having left legacies to almost all the great monasteries of his kingdom, he settled and regulated all the affairs of his own family, and those of the state. He brought the kings of England and Navarre to an accommodation upon some differences that were between them relating to the city of Bayonne; for he always applied himself to do justice, to preserve peace in his own dominions, and to prevent war among his neighbours. 22 Having one day stood godfather to a Jew who was baptized at Saint Denis, he said, with an affecting energy to the ambassador of the Mahometan king of Tunis, that to see his master receive that sacrament, he would consent with joy to pass the rest of his life in chains under the Saracens. To prepare himself for the crusade he made two retreats at Maubuisson. Towards the expenses of that expedition the pope granted him the tenth penny of all ecclesiastical revenues, and he levied a capitation upon his subjects. He nominated to the regency of the kingdom during his absence, Matthew, abbot of Saint Denis, a man of quality, of the family of the counts of Vendome, and Simon of Clermont, count of Nesle, both persons of known probity and singular prudence. The king’s three eldest sons, Philip; John, count of Nevers; and Peter, count of Alençon, took the cross to accompany him; as did also Theobald, king of Navarre; Robert, count of Artois, son to him who was killed at Massour; Guy, count of Flanders, and many other lords. Joinville excused himself to the king, urging the necessity of his staying at home to protect his vassals from the oppression of the Count of Champagne, lord paramount. He even endeavoured to dissuade the king from the expedition, but was not able to prevail. Saint Lewis and his brother, the King of Sicily, had privately concerted measures to begin the war by the conquest of Tunis, which seemed easy, and would exceedingly further the expedition in Egypt.
The king embarked with his army at Aiguesmortes upon the 1st of July, 1270; and when the fleet was over-against Cagliari, in Sardinia, a great council was held, in which it was resolved to attack Tunis. 23 The French fleet accordingly proceeded towards Africa and entered the gulf of Tunis, at the head of which that city stands, upon a lake which communicates with it. The Saracens, who lined the shore, immediately fled, and the descent being made without opposition, the French encamped upon an isthmus which separates the gulf of Tunis from another little gulf. They attacked the castle of Carthage, seated fifteen miles from Tunis, and carried it sword in hand. Tunis, Tripoli, Algiers, and many other principalities were erected in Barbary in the eleventh age; for till then that country had been subject to the sultan of Egypt. Muley Moztanza was at that time king of Tunis, and he prepared to make a vigorous defence; but his troops only showed themselves, and after slight skirmishes retired. The French waited for the arrival of the King of Sicily with his fleet, to lay siege to Tunis; and his delay was the cause of all their misfortunes; for the heats being excessive in those burning sands, the camp was soon filled with malignant fevers and other epidemical diseases, which were contagious like a pestilence. The king’s beloved son John Tristan, count of Nevers, a prince of admirable innocence and sanctity, was the first person of distinction that was attacked. He was born at Damiata, in Egypt, and was in the twenty-first year of his age when he died in Africa of a dysentery and fever. On the very day of his death, in the beginning of August, the king himself and his eldest son, Philip, were seized with the same disorder. The king’s delicate constitution, and weak emaciated body, made the distemper more dangerous to him. He continued, however, for some days to act, and to give all necessary orders; and particularly to treat with the ambassadors of the Greek emperor, Michael Palæologus, about the reunion of that church with the Latins; and by his pathetic exhortations he made both these ambassadors afterwards zealous advocates for the union. The principal person was Veccus, chancellor of the church of Constantinople, afterwards patriarch. When the fever and weakness confined him to his bed, he still caused his chaplains to come to his bed-side, and he recited with them the whole Church office as long as he was able. He had a great cross set near him, so that he could easily turn his eyes upon it. He communicated very often during his illness, which continued one-and-twenty days.
Finding his distemper increase he called for his eldest son Philip, and gave him certain pious instructions which he had drawn up in writing before he left Paris. Two copies hereof are still kept in the Chamber of Accounts at Paris under this title: Instructions of king Lewis the saint to Philip his eldest son. The dying admonitions of this great king to him are here inserted in abstract. “My son, before all things I recommend to you that you love God. Be always ready rather to suffer all manner of torments than to commit any mortal sin. When sickness or any other affliction befalls you, return thanks to God for it, and bear it courageously, being persuaded that you deserve to suffer much more for having served God ill, and that such tribulations will be your gain. In prosperity give thanks to God with humility, and fear lest by pride you abuse God’s benefits and so offend him by those very means by which you ought particularly to improve yourself in his service. Confess your sins frequently, and choose a wise and pious ghostly father, who will teach you what to follow and what to shun; let him be one who will boldly reprehend you, and make you understand the grievousness of your faults. Hear the divine office devoutly; meditate affectionately what you ask of God with your mouth; do this with more than ordinary application during the holy sacrifice of the mass, especially after the consecration. Be bountiful, compassionate, and courteous to the poor, and relieve and favour them as much as you can. If any thing trouble your mind, reveal it to your ghostly father, or to some other grave and discreet person; for by the comfort you will receive you will bear it more patiently. Love to converse with pious persons; never admit any among your familiar friends but such as are virtuous and of good reputation; shun and banish from you the vicious. Make it your delight to hear profitable sermons and discourses of piety. Endeavour to gain the benefit of indulgences, and to get the prayers of others. Love all good, and abhor all evil. Wherever you are, never suffer any one to detract or say any thing sinful in your presence. Punish all who speak ill of God or his saints. Give often thanks to God for all his benefits. In the administration of justice be upright and severe; hear patiently the complaints of the poor; and in all controversies where your interests are concerned, stand for your adversary against yourself, till the truth be certainly found out. Whatever you find not to belong to you, restore it without delay to the owner, if the case be clear; if doubtful, appoint prudent men to examine diligently into it. Endeavour to procure peace and justice to all your subjects. Protect the clergy and religious who pray for you and your kingdom. Follow the maxim of my grandfather king Philip, that it is sometimes better to dissemble certain things in ecclesiastics than to repress them with too great violence and scandal. Love and honour the queen your mother, and follow her counsels. Make no war, especially against Christians, without great cause and good advice. If necessity force you to it, let it be carried on without damage to those who are not in fault, and spare the innocent subjects of your enemy as much as possible. Use all your authority to hinder wars among your vassals. Be scrupulous in the choice of good judges and magistrates. Have always a great respect for the Roman church, and the pope, and honour him as your spiritual father. Hinder, to the utmost of your power, all blasphemies, rash oaths, games of chance, drunkenness, and impurity. Never make any extravagant expenses, and never lay on your subjects any heavy or unjust burdens. After my death take care to have a great many masses and prayers said for me in all churches and religious communities in France; and give me a share in all the good works which you shall do. I give you my blessing with the most tender affection that any father can give to a son; and I pray our Lord Jesus Christ to protect and strengthen you in his service, and always to increase his grace in you that you never do anything against his holy will, and that he may be ever faithfully honoured and served by you. I beg this same grace for myself, that we may together see, laud, and honour him for all eternity.”
The holy king gave other instructions to his daughter the queen of Navarre. Having settled his affairs and acquitted himself of his duties to others, he desired that no more mention should be made to him of temporal concerns, and applied himself wholly to think only of that great affair which was to be decided between himself and God alone. He scarcely spoke any more to any one but his confessor. He praised and thanked God for having placed him in his present situation; he prayed, with many tears, that he would enlighten and show mercy to infidels and sinners, and that his army might be conducted back into their own country without falling into the hands of the enemy, that none of them might be tempted through weakness to deny Christ. His charity, zeal, compunction, humility, and perfect resignation increased in his last moments, and in the fervent exercise of these virtues he prepared his soul to go forth and meet his judge and Redeemer. On the 24th of August, which was Sunday, he received first extreme unction, according to the discipline of that age, and afterwards the viaticum. It was his custom whilst in health, and as long as he was able in his sickness, to creep on his knees from his place in the church up to the altar when he went to communion; he was then too weak to do this; but he would needs get up, and he received the blessed sacrament kneeling by his bed-side. He again that day called for the Greek ambassadors, and renewed, in the most pathetic manner, his exhortations to union with the Roman church. He continued the rest of his time in ardent prayer, especially in acts of the divine love and praise. He lost his speech the next day from nine till twelve o’clock! then, recovering it again, and lifting up his eyes towards heaven, he repeated aloud those words of the psalmist: Lord, I will enter into thine house; I will adore in thy holy temple, and will give glory to thy name. He spoke again at three in the afternoon, but only said, “Into thy hands I commend my soul.” Immediately after which he breathed his last in his camp, on the 25th of August, in the year of Christ 1270, being fifty-five years and four months old, and having reigned forty-three years, nine months, and eighteen days.
His brother Charles, king of Sicily, whose delays had thrown this expedition into the heats, arrived with his fleet a few minutes after the death of Saint Lewis. The Christian army defeated again the Moors and the Saracens in two great battles, and on the 30th of October concluded a peace with the infidels on the following conditions: That all prisoners should be released, and the Christian slaves set at liberty; that Christians should be allowed to build churches, and to preach the faith in the territories of these Mahometans, and that the Mahometans should be allowed to embrace it; that the king of Tunis should pay a yearly tribute of five thousand crowns to the king of Sicily, and that the king of France and his barons should receive two hundred and ten thousand ounces of gold to defray their expenses in this war; which was a larger sum than Saint Lewis had paid for his ransom. Such was the issue of the eighth and last of the crusades which were undertaken for the recovery of Palestine, and which employed Europe for almost two hundred years. Many things were great obstacles to the success of these enterprises, as the distance of the countries, difference of climates, repeated treacheries of the Greeks: and in the Christian armies the feodal jurisdiction, the mixture of different nations, the opposite views of particulars, and consequently the want of military subordination and obedience. Nor can it be denied that some engaged in these expeditions to screen themselves from public justice, or from their creditors; and many of them were seduced by the passions of ambition, avarice, vanity, jealousy, and revenge, which have often so great a share in wars. The unwarrantable injustices and plunders that were committed by many of the crusards are a sufficient proof of this reproach and scandal; and Saint Bernard shows upon what motives many went on these expeditions from the tyranny and oppression which they exercised over their vassals immediately after their return. Such armies were not proper instruments to avert divine scourges from sinful nations; to persons engaged in them whose views were perfectly pure, and conduct holy, the temporal calamities which they suffered, and the contagion of vice over which they triumphed, were occasions of the most heroic virtues.
This praise no historian ever refused to Saint Lewis, whose views in war were exempt from the usual passions of ambition, avarice, and revenge, and whose martial dispositions were truly great because entirely subordinate to virtue and religion. Voltaire himself is the admirer and panegyrist of his courage, prudence, and piety in these expeditions. 24 This last crusade, notwithstanding it failed of success, was some check to the progress of Bondocdar’s arms; but his son and successor Seraf or Sait took Acre after an obstinate siege, and dispossessed the Christians of all the places which remained in their hands in Palestine: Prince Edward, who was their last support, being before returned to England upon the death of his father Henry III. in 1272. The body of Saint Lewis after his death was parboiled in water and wine to separate the flesh from the bones, the art of embalming bodies, so famous among the ancients, having been then lost by disuse. King Charles carried the bowels and the flesh to Sicily, and interred them under the stately monument in the great abbey of Monte-Reale, four miles from that city. This monastery was built by King William, and being made an archbishopric was called a cathedral abbey. The saint’s bones and heart were carried into France by his son Philip, and deposited in the church of Saint Denis. Many miracles wrought by the intercession of Saint Lewis, especially at both these sepulchral monuments, were juridically proved; and he was canonized by Boniface VIII. in 1297, in the reign of his grandson, Philip the Fair, by whose order one of his ribs was placed in the cathedral of Paris, and his head in the holy chapel, in 1305.
The heroic virtue of Saint Lewis shone brighter in his afflictions than it could have done amidst the greatest triumphs. He desired to see the faith of Christ and his holy love reign throughout the whole world, especially in that country which he had sanctified by his corporal presence on earth, and which was unjustly usurped by barbarous infidels; but God was pleased that he should rather glorify him by his sufferings. The saint found his comfort in the accomplishment of his holy will; and seeing his pious designs defeated, his army almost all destroyed, and himself in the hands of perfidious barbarians, he declared to his friends that he found more joy in his chains than he could have done in the conquest of the whole world. The sovereign will of God is the indispensable rule of the universe; resignation to it is the essential obligation of all creatures, and impatience is a crime of rebellion. It is also a base distrust in his goodness. His will is always most holy, tender, and merciful towards his servants; always guided by infinite love and wisdom. What can be more just and reasonable, than for us earnestly to commend ourselves to his mercy, and to acquiesce with thanksgiving and confidence in all his appointments. This conformity to his holy will, if it be courageous, constant, and universal, is the most perfect sacrifice of our will, of ourselves, and of all that we possess to him; it is the entire reign of his grace in our souls, 26 the victory over most dangerous spiritual enemies, the firm anchor of our souls amidst the inconstancy of human affairs, and a source of unalterable peace and secure joy, with which the heart rests in the sweet bosom of divine providence, and drowns in it all distrustful and disquieting fears which passions are so apt to raise.
- Father Alban Butler. “Saint Lewis, King of France”. , 1866. CatholicSaints.Info. 5 December 2013. Web. 5 August 2015. <>