Saint Louis

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© Bob Denton 2014

Saint Louis   1226-1270

Louis VIII of France died in 1226, leaving his six-year old son to succeed him as Louis IX, aka Saint Louis (the Saint).

Louis was his father’s fourth son, the three ahead of him all died young; he would have seven younger brothers and sisters. His mother Blanche of Castile, as his regent. She faced early hostility from leading nobles; notably from Pierre Mauclerc in Brittany and Philip Hurepel in the Île de France. The papal legate Frangipani assisted her to defeat them and The Treaty of Vendôme ended these.

Blanche also brought the Albigensian Crusade to an end by defeating Raymond VII in the Languedoc. Frangipani had established tithes to be paid by the dioceses and chapters in France, apt then that it was he who accepted Raymond’s surrender. This was concluded with the 1229 Treaty of Paris.

So Louis’ reign started in relative calm.

Though as early as 1227 Henry III of England, at twenty-years old, had started his preparations to recover his French territories that his grandfather and namesake Henry II had amassed in the 13th century. But his invasion was tardy, it took until 1230 to depart.

He by-passed Normandy and went instead to Poitou where he achieved little. Louis IX at just fifteen years old led his troops in response but they never engaged. Henry safely carried on to Gascony where he signed a truce with Louis until 1234. His mission had cost a great deal but achieved very little.

It was that same year that Blanche passed the reins over to her son. But not before she had selected Margaret, daughter of Raymond Berenger IV, the count of Provence to be wife to Louis. They would have eleven chidren.

In 1236 Henry III married Eleanor of Provence and they would have five children. Her move to England prompted an influx of Savoyards to also settle there.

In 1241 the nobles in Poitou rebelled against Saint Louis and Henry raised an army to go to their aid. Again he was tardy and when he arrived gained little local support. His army was encircled at Taillebourg. His brother, Richard, kept the French talking while Henry escaped. But once again he had wasted a great deal of money for little return.

As Poitou was overrun by the French, Henry invited his relatives to England where he granted them large estates. The large numbers who arrived, added to the earlier Savoyard immigration did start a wave of xenophobia in England, these immigrants’ cavalier and sometimes illegal actions did nothing to calm matters down.

From this point on, having realised his resources and capabilities could not match that of the French, Henry III put his energy in to diplomatic solutions rather than military, to try to recover his lands in France and elsewhere in Europe.

Following his action in Poitou Louis became very ill with some form of malarial sickness. It was apparently this event that had him decide he would pursue a crusade to the Holy Land, though his nobles showed little enthusiasm for the idea. In 1244 Jerusalem fell to the Muslims to give his idea more traction.

In 1248 Louis made a new truce with England and had the Pope agree to protect his lands, he appointed his mother as Regent, then with these assurances in place he joined the Seventh Crusade.

He departed with his family accompanied by 100 ships and some 35,000 men. They wintered in Cyprus then as he had planned decided to seize some Egyptian cities as the first step of his campaign. They successfully took the fortified port of Damietta.

But his move towards Cairo was bogged down by a swollen River Nile in early 1250. Their first target was to be the citadel of Al Mansurah. They set about building a pontoon over the flood water only to make little progress in their siege. Many died in the attempt, including his brother Robert of Artois, more died of a plague and he had little choice but to retreat back to Damietta.

The Egyptians harried his retreating force and eventually captured it. His nobles had to gather funds to ransom him and other leading nobles. Louis joined his family in Acre and over the next four years he negotiated alliances and fortified the crusader cities of Syria. He only returned to France when he learned of his mother’s death in 1253.

Henry III might have joined the seventh crusade but the personal animosity between he and Louis would not allow this. Henry suggested he might send his own crusade but his attention was instead taken by problems in Gascony with a local uprising that was supported by the king of Castile. He needed to send another expensive force to quell things. The Gascony issue was solved in 1254 by his awarding Gascony to his son Edmund, who agreed to marry King Alfonso X of Castile’s half-sister Eleanor.

Henry also became inspired with the notion of adding the kingdom of Sicily to Edmund’s territories when Frederick II the Holy Roman Emperor died in 1250; he had ruled the island-state for a period. Pope Innocent IV and Frederick II had been long-term opponents, so it was Innocent who part-funded and inspired Henry to send Edmund to the island to seize its control.

But Pope Innocent died and his successor Alexander IV found himself under pressure from the Holy Roman Empire and so he demanded that Henry return Innocent’s past funding and of course stopped any further support. Henry had difficulty getting parliament’s support for the repayment and was threatened with excommunication if he did not. He extorted monies from senior clergy to try to meet the payment.

However Henry had seen a new opportunity and he started to become political within the Holy Roman Empire and successfully lobbied for his brother Richard to become the new Holy Roman Emperor. He was elected to be the successor to the emperor in 1257 having bribed four of the seven delegates, but this only served to enflame those at home, who had indirectly paid for his election, and his goal was never to be realised.

Louis used a period of relative calm in his reign to reorganise the administration of his state. One of his new ordinances establish that royal officials were not allowed to gamble or to visit taverns. A royal official’s dealings in property or marriages of daughters needed prior Royal approval. He forbid prostitution and banned duelling. He also raised the penalties for counterfeiting his currency.

During his reign he founded many hospitals and encouraged the arts. His reign saw the University of Paris grow in importance throughout Europe. His reign saw the building the Sorbonne College as the theological faculty for Paris, and of Sainte Chappelle.

Sainte-Chapelle (Holy Chapel) – is one of the surviving constructions from the Capetian period and is considered a gem of the Rayonnant period of Gothic architecture.

It was built to hold Louis IX’s collection of relics of the Passion, including what was claimed as Christ’s Crown of Thorns. These thirty items had been purchased for 135,000 livres from Baldwin II, then the emperor of Constantinople. Though the payment was made to Venetians who had pawned it for Baldwin.

These relics were transported to Paris by two Dominican friars. Though Louis joined them for the final part of the journey to Paris. He carried them barefoot and attired as a penitent. He then paid out a further 100,000 livres to construct a silver reliquary, the Grand-Chasse.

The whole chapel cost only 40,000 livres which included one of the best collections of 13th century stained glass windows, most of them survived the damage done to it during the French Revolution.

The two monarchs signed the Treaty of Albeville (aka Treaty of Paris) in 1258. This brought to an end a century of strife between the Capetians and the Angevins/Plantagenets (not to be confused with the next century’s 100-years’-war).

Louis agreed to remove his support for the English rebels. Henry agreed that he had lost the Duchy of Normandy, though retained the Channel Islands. Henry, as a vassal to Louis, retained the Duchy of Aquitaine and much of Gascony, though relinquished any control of Anjou, Maine. Poitou and Touraine. In return Henry was awarded Cahors, Limoges and Périgueux, plus Poitiers if the incumbent died without heir.

In 1258 he also signed the Treaty of Corbeil with the king of Aragon, removing his interference in Languedoc and Provence, though he was allowed to retain Montpelier.

Corps de Métiers (guilds) – the notion of trade guilds to protect the interests of their craft or occupation arrived early in France. In 630 CE, during Dagobert’s reign, there are records of a bakers’ guild. French kings began to seriously grant guilds the power to run their trades from the 12th century.

Étienne Boileau was appointed Provost of Paris by Saint Louis in 1261. He listed around one hundred separate guilds and their rules – armourers, chain-makers, cobblers, cutlers, escutcheon-makers, farriers, harness-makers, helmet-makers, locksmiths, metal-workers, nail-makers…

This was by no means a comprehensive list, for example the significant guilds of butchers, glaziers and tanners failed to register with Boileau and so were not included in his enquiries. He also did not address a select group of crafts that had united as The Corps of Merchants bodies – these included the drapers, furriers, goldsmiths, grocers, hatters, mercers…

He met with the registered organisations and committed their customs, rules and usages, in most cases recorded in writing for the very first time. For example defining three levels of members – masters, assistants and apprentices. This was all assembled in to his Livre des Métiers (Book of Trades). This soon prompted more trades to seek royal grants and to organise themselves more formally.

By the 14th century all guilds required a royal licence and the number of licenced guilds had risen to over three hundred and fifty. These would organise commercial life right through the medieval period, though would be abolished early by the French Revolution.

By 1264 he intervened between Henry and his English Barons and annulled the Provisions of Oxford that the Barons had used to limit the king’s power.

The treaty was unusual in that it was signed by two kings, each all-powerful in his own realm, but defined one as junior to the other, albeit only in his French possessions. Many sources attribute this then as a first step towards the Hundred Years’ War.

In 1270 Louis was disturbed to see the Muslim advance in the Holy Land and decided that he would land a force at Tunis to split the Muslim territories in two (aka the Eighth Crusade). He left his son, Philip, in charge of France. They enjoyed some early success but again a plague struck among his force, Louis contracted it and died.

His body was brought back to France, it attracted crowds as it passed up through Italy, across the Alps and through Lyon and Cluny, His funeral was performed at Notre-Dame de Paris and then committed to the Basilica of Saint-Denis. The people of France concluded that he was a saint and pursued pilgrimages and said prayers at his tomb. He was formally canonised twenty-seven years after his death, the only king of France to become a saint.

Forward to Philip III and IV – Back to Philip II Augustus
Back to 1789 and all that!
© Bob Denton 2014