His legacy earned him the unique title of saint king. Louis IX was born on April 25, 1214 in Poissy, France. His parents were Prince Louis and Blanche of Castile. As the couple’s fourth child, Louis wasn’t expected to inherit the throne. However, after the deaths of his older siblings, Louis became the heir.
As heir, Louis’s parents sought to raise their son right. Blanche wanted Louis to receive a well-rounded education. The prince learned about history, geography, literature, and the bible. His mother personally instructed Louis in religion. She didn’t want him to become a bigoted Christian. Due to Blanche’s influence, this early education influenced Louis throughout his life.
In 1223, King Philip II died. Upon his death, Louis’s father became Louis VIII. During Louis’s short reign, France and England were engaged in conflict over French territory. However, England wasn’t able to continue fighting, and the situation remained unresolved. Meanwhile, in southern France, Albigensian heretics were in open revolt. Seeing an opportunity, French nobles also began to threaten to revolt.
Louis VIII would make a valiant effort to deal with these threats. After neutralizing England, the king would bring his nobles to heel. Louis next attempted to deal with the Albigensian heretics. The pope had condemned their teachings, and the king sought to extinguish them. However, he died before he could do so. As a result, the 12-year-old Prince Louis succeeded him as King Louis IX.
Since Louis IX was a young king, he couldn’t rule independently. Because of this, his mother acted as his regent. At the time of Louis’s ascension, the monarchy was in a vulnerable state. Blanche recognized that with a young king on the throne and a woman in charge, there would be a higher chance of revolts. Her suspicion would soon be proven correct.
At the encouragement of King Henry III of England, French nobles began to rebel against Louis IX. In response, Blanche swiftly retaliated. Henry provided little support to the rebels, and they were easily defeated. Afterward, the nobles submitted to Louis after signing a peace treaty. With the nobles subjugated, Blanche turned her attention south.
Louis IX’s troops next traveled to Languedoc to confront the heretics. Their leader, Raymond VII, Count of Toulouse, eventually surrendered. The monarchy capitalized on this victory by having Raymond sign the Treaty of Paris. In it, Raymond’s daughter would marry Louis’s brother. As a result, the count’s territory would be brought under the royal family’s control. The treaty proved to be an early political victory for Louis.
Henry III of England
Although his efforts had previously failed, Henry III remained determined. The king desperately desired to reclaim lost English territory in France. To this end, Henry invaded Brittany. In response, 15-year-old Louis IX led his troops against Henry. However, a battle would never occur. The English king instead lost his nerve and retreated to England.
In 1234, Blanche handed control of the government over to Louis IX. Under her leadership, France was a secure and peaceful kingdom. During her regency, Blanche’s tutelage had prepared Louis to rule. As a result, the king demonstrated a devotion to God, a peaceful disposition, and a commitment to justice. Since he remained unmarried, Louis wanted to find a wife.
On May 29, 1234, Louis IX married Margaret of Provence. Blanche had arranged the union. Despite this, Louis felt passionate about Margaret and became a devoted husband. Blanche would become jealous of her son’s attention towards Margaret. Because of this, she would attempt to keep them apart. However, they would see each other often enough to produce eleven kids.
The Seventh Crusade
After fending off another invasion attempt by Henry III, Louis IX became ill in December 1244. During his illness, the king had a dream about the Holy Land. After recovering, Louis believed that God had called upon him to participate in a crusade. At the time, Jerusalem had been assaulted by Muslim forces in August 1244. If Europe didn’t provide support, then the Christian kingdom would fall. As an ardent Christian, Louis sought to prevent this.
Against the wishes of his mother, Louis IX departed from France on August 25, 1248. The king left Blanche in charge and took his immediate family with him. He knew better than to leave both his wife and mother behind. Louis’s forces sailed to Egypt to take pressure off of Jerusalem. He hoped to capture enough towns to force the Muslims to negotiate.
Louis IX’s expedition started off promising but would quickly go awry. The king’s forces captured Damietta and moved toward Al-Mansurah. On February 8, 1250, a prolonged battle took place that cost Louis’s brother, Robert of Artois, his life. The French ultimately won the battle, but the royal army was exhausted.
Despite their victory, the French army lacked the strength to continue their journey. An outbreak of plague ravaged the troops and infected Louis IX. In return, the sick king ordered his troops to retreat to Damietta. As the French army retreated, Egyptian forces followed closely behind. Eventually, the Egyptians overwhelmed the French on April 7, 1250, capturing Louis in the process.
After hearing of Louis IX’s capture, Blanche began negotiating with the Egyptians for his release. The ransom was steep but allowed Louis and his nobles to walk free. The king’s troops wanted to return to France; however, Louis refused. Instead, Louis and his army stayed in Egypt for another four years. During this time, he would turn a military defeat into diplomatic success.
Death of Blanche
As Louis IX made new alliances and fortified Christian cities abroad, Blanche’s health began to worsen. On November 27, 1252, the dowager queen died. Upon learning of his beloved mother’s passing, Louis was inconsolable. He deeply mourned the death of his greatest supporter and advocate. Shortly after, the king and his family returned to France.
During the final decades of his reign, Louis IX committed himself to peace, justice, and reforming his kingdom. When the king returned from the crusades, he had gained widespread acclaim throughout Europe. Louis used this prestige to his advantage by making a lasting peace with Henry III. On May 28, 1258, both men signed a treaty.
Although Louis IX could’ve confiscated Henry III’s French lands as punishment for his earlier actions, the king refused to do so. Instead, Louis insisted on generous terms to build a better relationship. As a result, a grateful Henry accepted his role as Louis’s vassal. The French king hoped that this goodwill would extend to their respective children as well.
Louis IX became renowned throughout Europe for his ability to be fair and impartial. When Henry III and his nobles were engaged in conflict, the French king was asked to arbitrate. Louis listened to both sides and passed a fair judgment. In France, the king’s approachability allowed his citizens to present their cases to him publicly. Louis took particular interest in those concerning the poor. Due to this, his actions endeared him to his citizens and earned the king respect throughout Europe.
When Louis IX returned to France after crusading, he discovered that government officials had become corrupt during his absence. Disturbed by what he saw, the king ordered an extensive investigation. By 1254, the first of many new laws were introduced to curb abuses of power. The court and taxation systems would also be reformed. To ensure that these changes were successful, Louis began to monitor his official’s actions personally. As a result, the monarchy gained more authority and, the justice system improved.
During the last decade of his life, Louis IX began to fixate on the Holy Land. The kingdom of Jerusalem had been withering away from Muslim attacks. By 1269, Louis felt that he needed to crusade again. This time, the French traveled to Tunisia. However, this decision proved fatal.
In early July 1270, Louis IX and his troops landed in Tunis. Although the French had initial success, plague soon infected the army. Louis again suffered from the disease but couldn’t overcome it as he did before. Realizing that his end was near, the king spoke with his heir, Philip, one last time. After imparting his advice to Philip, Louis soon after died on August 25, 1270.
After Louis IX’s death, his body returned to France. Throughout its trip back, people across Europe paid their respects to the king. Years after his death, Louis would be remembered fondly. His commitments to religion, peace, and justice were admired by many in Europe. In 1297, Pope Boniface VIII canonized Louis as a saint. To this day, he remains the only person to hold the title of saint king.
Bradbury, J. (2010). The Capetians: Kings of France, 987-1328. London: Hambledon Continuum.
Delmore, E. L. (n.d.). Biography of Saint Louis IX, King of France (1214-1270). Retrieved January 8, 2020, from https://www.stlouiskingoffrance.org/our-church/saint-louis-ix/.
Levron, J. (2019, August 21). Louis IX. Retrieved January 5, 2020, from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Louis-IX.