Little Lives of the Great Saints – Saint Louis, King of France

detail of a stained glass window of Saint Louis IX, date and artist unknown; Saint Edward's Hall Chapel, University of Notre Dame, South Bend, Indiana; photographed on 5 April 2016 by Eccekevin; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsArticle

Died A.D. 1270.

Saint Louis is one of the very few names in history that recall the great saint, the perfect hero, the able statesman, the skillful general, and the illustrious monarch. Such a noble combination of rare qualities we find in the beautiful character of this king of France.

Louis was born at Polssey on the 25th of April, 1215. His father was Louis VIII and his mother, Blanche, a princess of Castile. She was a woman of extraordinary beauty, virtue, and ability.

This good mother never allowed the Saint to suckle any other breasts than her own. With the most careful care she attended to every part of his education. She taught him to be pure in thought, word, and action.

“My dear son,” she would often say to the little Louis, “I love you with all the tenderness of a mother; but I would rather a thousand times see you fall down dead at my feet than that you should ever be guilty of one mortal sin.”

These golden words as the King himself relates, made a deep and lasting impression on his mind.

Louis was an excellent student. He became a perfect master of the Latin tongue, a good public speaker, and a writer of grace and dignity. He was thoroughly instructed in the art of war, the best maxims of government, and all the accomplishments of one destined to rule a great kingdom He was also a good historian, and often read the Fathers and Doctors of the Church.

He came to the throne while a mere boy. His father, Louis VIII, died in 1226; and Queen Blanche was declared regent for her son, then only twelve years old. Fearing seditions, she hastened the coronation of Louis. The ceremony was performed at Rheims by the Bishop of Soisson.

The toscin of rebellion now sounded in various parts of. the kingdom; but the rebels soon found they had made a mistake. Queen Blanche and the young Saint headed the army of France, and the leaders of revolt were speedily brought to terms. The whole period of the king’s minority, however, was disturbed by some form of rebellion.

Modesty, the most amiable of virtues, diffused its radiance over the royal Saint’s character. He loved music and singing. But if any one, in song or speech, let slip a word in the least indecent before him, he was for ever banished from the king’s presence.

When the time came to choose a fair companion, he sought the most worthy, and was rewarded with the hand of Margaret, eldest daughter of the Count of Provence. She was a lady of surpassing wit, beauty, and virtue. Louis met her at Sens, where they were married in May, 1234. God blessed the Saint and his lovely bride with a constant union of hearts and a family of noble, virtuous children.

This good King never thought himself so happy as when enjoying the conversation of learned and religious men. But he knew how to observe times and seasons with 8a becoming liberty. Once when a certain monk started a grave religious subject at table, he gently turned the discourse to another topic, saying: “All things have their time.” On such occasions his words were cheerful without levity or impertinence, and instructive without stiffness or austerity.

His piety was admirable. He allotted several hours in the day to the recitation of the divine office and other prayers, and when he appeared at the foot of the altar it was with surpassing humility and recollection. But his devotions never made him forget any part of the care which he owed to the state. He knew well that the piety must be false which neglects any duty that we owe to others or to ourselves. The same lofty motive that animated him in the churches made him most diligent in every branch of his high charge. It was his greatest support in all secular employments.

He scarcely allowed himself any time for amusement. His temperance and mortification were such that he practised both with extreme austerity, amid the dainties of a royal table. It was observed, that he never touched any fruit when it was first served in season. He had the happy ingenuity of often abstaining from delicacies and of practising many self-denials without attracting notice. He wore a hair-shirt, often used disciplines, and went to confession two or three times a week.

Thus this great king made the exercise of penance easy and familiar, and kept his senses and inclinations ever under the rule of reason and good government. “There is no king,” said an ancient saint,” like him who is king of himself.”

But his severity was all towards himself. Virtue did not make him morose. He was the soul of kindness, and very agreeable in conversation. The inward peace of his mind, and the joy which overflowed his pure heart from the continued thought of God’s holy presence, enhanced the natural sweetness and liveliness of his temper. Coming from his closet or from the church, he appeared in a moment conversing upon business, or at the head of his army, with the countenance of a hero fighting battles, enduring the greatest fatigues and daring the most trying dangers.

He was scrupulously faithful in keeping his word and in observing all treaties. In negotiations this gave Louis vast advantage over his adversaries, who often by frivolous evasions eluded their most solemn oaths and engagements. The reputation of his rare and inflexible integrity soon made all parties rejoice to put their affairs into his hands and to have him for their arbiter. Joinville assures us that the king’s head was the best and wisest in his council. In sudden emergencies his clear, powerful mind readily resolved the most knotty difficulties.

Frederick II, the wicked and faithless Emperor of Germany, though he often broke his engagements with Louis, as well as with other powers, could never provoke him to war, so dexterous was the Saint in maintaining both his honor and his interests without appealing to the sword.

In truth, being exempt from those passions which commonly blow the coals, he had a happy advantage in the pursuit of justice and necessary defence. While his foresight and magnanimity kept him ever in readiness, his love of peace and the nobility of his nature inclined him rather to sacrifice some petty consideration than to see the spilling of one drop of Christian blood.

Saint Louis was the author of several excellent laws; justice flourished in his reign, and the people loved him as a wise and tender father. He forbade usury, and restrained the Jews from its practice. He ordered that every one convicted of blasphemy should be marked upon the lips – some say on the forehead – with a red-hot iron. He even caused this sentence to be carried out on a wealthy citizen of Paris, a man of great consideration; and when some of the courtiers murmured at this seeming severity, he said that he would rather undergo the punishment himself than omit anything which might put a stop to a crime so horrible.

The father of our Saint had ordered in his will that the price of his jewels should be laid out in founding a monastery. Saint Louis very much increased the sum, and the structure was truly royal and magnificent. It was the Abbey of Royaumont. Out of devotion, he sometimes worked with his own hands in building the church. This was afterwards one of the places to which he often retired to breathe the air of holy solitude.

He founded the Chartreuse at Paris, and built many other religious houses and hospitals.

In 1239 Saint Louis received a remarkable present from the Emperor of Constantinople. It was the crown of thorns that had pressed the sacred head of Jesus Christ. He sent two Dominican Fathers to bring this precious treasure into France. He met it himself five leagues beyond Sens, attended by his whole court and a great number of clergy. He and his brother Robert, walking in their bare feet, carried it into Sens, and afterwards in the same manner into Paris. This holy crown was deposited by the king in the royal chapel of Saint Nicholas.

Saint Louis was obliged to declare war against Henry III of England, whom he defeated in 1242. The English king concluded a peace by promising to pay a stated sum of money in five years.

At this time the restless barbarians of Asia were raising a great commotion. A band of Saracen desperadoes, in the mountains of Phoenicia, was under the command of a leader called the “Old Man of the Mountains.” These ruffians were sworn to take the life of all who opposed the spread of Mahometanism

The chiefs word was their sole law, and they carried out his will with reckless energy in any part of the world. The “Old Man” fixed his evil eye on Saint Louis, and sent two resolute soldiers disguised into France. They had strict orders to assassinate the Saint. But the Almighty watched over His servant. The king was warned of the diabolical scheme, had the fanatical wretches arrested, and courteously sent them back to their master in the mountains.

Hordes of Tartars, under the fierce and roving successors of Genghis-Khan, spread desolation through Hungary, Poland, and Bohemia. Europe was filled with terror. Queen Blanche expressed her fears; but Saint Louis calmly viewed the situation. “Madame,” said he, “what have we to fear? It these barbarians come to us, we shall either conquer or shall die martyrs.” The haughty leader of the Tartars went so far as to send a letter to the Saint commanding him to deliver up his kingdom But the brave ruler of France took no notice of such insolence.

A violent illness brought the King to the very brink of the grave in the year 1244. In vain, it seemed, was Heaven solicited for the preservation of his life. For some days he lay as one dead. Then a piece of the true Cross and other relics were applied to his person. He slowly recovered. By his first words he expressed his resolution to take the cross as a Crusader, and, calling for the Bishop of Paris, who was present, Louis desired him to receive his vow and put the badge of the cross on his shoulder.

His wife and his mother fell weeping at his feet, and conjured him not to think of such a vast and perilous enterprise. But it was all to no purpose: he received the red cross. He wrote to the sadly-oppressed Christians of Palestine that he would make all haste to their assistance.

Four years, however, were required to complete the preparations for this expedition. He proclaimed his mother, Blanche, regent of the kingdom Queen Margaret declared that she would accompany her husband, and bravely she kept her word. Accompanied by the flower of his nobility, Louis sailed for Cyprus in the summer of 1248. Thus, in brief, began the sixth Crusade.

Louis invaded Egypt, and took the strong city of Damietta. But calamity soon frowned. Disease seized his hardy veterans. The French gallantly advanced from the sea-coast towards the capital of Egypt, and strove to surmount the unseasonable inundation of the Nile which opposed their progress.

It was in vain the fearless king did all that a hero and great commander could accomplish. Disease, the waters of the Nile, and the hosts of Mahomet conquered. Louis was made prisoner and loaded with chains. The greater part of his nobles were captured. All who could not redeem their lives by service or ransom were inhumanly massacred, and a circle of Christian heads decorated the worse than pagan walls of Cairo.

The true hero is at all times a hero. It was so with our Saint. Though in chains and battling with disease, he every day recited the Breviary with his two chaplains. Daily he had the prayers of Mass – except the words of consecration – read to him, that he might the better join in spirit with the Church in her Sacrifice.

In the midst of insults he preserved an air of calm, majestic dignity which awed the rude infidels by whom he was surrounded. Never did he appear so great as in those dark days of trial and adversity.

The sultan demanded $450,000 for the king’s ransom and that of the other prisoners. Louis answered that a ruler of France ought not to redeem himself for money; but he agreed to give the city for his own freedom, and the sum of money for the ransom of all the other prisoners. The sultan, charmed with such noble generosity, at once gave him his freedom, and remitted a fifth part of the amount demanded. A truce was concluded for ten years. It comprehended the Christians of Palestine.

After many perils the Saint journeyed to Palestine. The very sight of his piety was a moving sermon. On one occasion he converted forty Mahometans to the true faith. Fasting, and on foot, he visited Nazareth. He adored the secret judgments of God and referred all to his greater glory.

While rebuilding Caesarea, and strengthening some strongholds still in the hands of the Christians, Louis received the sad news that his mother, the noble Queen Blanche, was no longer in this world. He burst into tears. “O Lord!” he exclaimed, throwing himself at the foot of the altar in his chapel, “I thank Thee for having preserved to me so long the best of mothers. Truly there was nothing among creatures on earth that I loved with such tenderness. Thou takest her from me. It is Thy almighty will. May Thy holy name be for ever blessed!”

The great King showed his deep affection for his mother by having the holy sacrifice of the Mass offered up in his presence every day to the end of his life for the eternal repose of her soul.

Taking on board his queen, family, and officers, the Saint now sailed for France. After an absence of almost six years he made his public entry into Paris.

Shortly after Henry III of England visited Saint Louis. The English monarch was deeply edified. The Saint assured this royal friend that he felt infinitely more happy that God had given him patience in suffering than if he had conquered the whole world.

Saint Louis was a man of unceasing labor. Every hour and every action of life were for the honor and glory of God. He founded the celebrated college of the Sorbonne. He established a large hospital for poor blind men. Every day one hundred and twenty paupers dined at a table provided for them near his own palace. He often served them in person. He kept lists of reduced gentlemen, distressed widows and young women, whom he regularly relieved in all parts of his dominions.

Sixteen years had passed away since he had last battled for the tomb of Christ, and again the cries of the oppressed Christians in the East found a willing echo in the kind, heroic heart of Louis. He made two spiritual retreats as a preparation, and with a splendidly-equipped force sailed for Africa in the summer of 1270. It was his design to begin the war by taking Tunis. The siege proved disastrous. The French, scorched by oppressive heat and decimated by deadly fevers, fought and died like brave men in the burning sands of a foreign climate.

The pestilence seized the king. He called his eldest son, Philip, to his bedside. He gave him instructions wise and beautiful. Among other things he said: “My son,” I recommend you above all to love God. Be ready to suffer everything rather than commit a mortal sin. When you are sick or afflicted return thanks to Heaven. Bear it bravely. Be persuaded that you deserve to suffer much for having so poorly served God, and that all tribulation will be your gain.

“Confess your sins often. Choose a wise and pious spiritual father. Be bountiful. Be compassionate. Be kind to the poor. Punish all who speak ill of God or His saints. In the administration of justice be upright and severe. Ever have a great respect for the Church and the Pope.

“To the utmost of your power oppose all blasphemy, oaths, games of chance, impurity, and drunkenness. Never lay any heavy burdens on your people. Take care to have many Masses said for the repose of my soul. Give me a share in all your good works. I bless you, and may Jesus Christ ever bless and protect you, my beloved son!”

The great King had a majestic cross erected so that he might keep his eyes fixed on it in his sufferings. “Into thy hands, O Lord! I commend my spirit,” he whispered, and expired in his camp at the age of fifty-five, on the 25th of August, in the year of 1250. Twenty-five years after he was solemnly canonized by Pope Boniface VIII.

Saint Louis was the last and greatest in the line of glorious heroes that drew the sword in defence of the tomb of Jesus Christ. He possessed a rare combination of personal accomplishments, and even of apparently opposite qualities, which made him not only superior to his age, but in truth one of the most extraordinary men that ever wore a crown. His heroic virtue shone brighter in his afflictions than it could have done amidst the most splendid triumphs. A fearless knight, a resolute warrior, and a true Catholic, he was as willing to risk his life as to bow his head to the will of Almighty God. He was a lover of danger, and penance, and humiliation. He was the indefatigable champion of justice, of the weak and the oppressed. He was the sublime personification of Christian chivalry in all its purity and grandeur.

MLA Citation

  • John O’Kane Murray, M.A., M.D. “Saint Louis, King of France”. Little Lives of the Great Saints, 1879. CatholicSaints.Info. 25 September 2018. Web. 21 November 2018. <>