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The Story of Old France by  H. A. Guerber
Table of Contents




LOUIS IX. is noted for his love of justice. He abolished trial by combat, and arranged that any person not satisfied with the decree of the superior courts could appeal to him. Some of these cases were tried by this king himself, who often sat under a great oak tree in the forest of Vincennes (vin-sĕnz'), just outside of Paris, so that the poor and humble could approach him without [133] being intimidated by his officers or by the sight of unwonted splendor. When Louis could not settle the question himself, he referred it to an assembly of lawyers, known as the Parliament, where the evidence was carefully weighed. Louis also decreed that forty days should henceforth elapse between the proclamation and the beginning of any private war.

These laws, and many others which he made, are now known as the "Establishments of St. Louis." He arranged that the royal coin should be received throughout France, while the money minted by his nobles could be used only within the bounds of their estates. As the "king's money" in Louis IX.'s reign was always of the same weight and value, and could be used all over, it was soon preferred to any other, so little by little the nobles ceased to coin any themselves.

Louis is noted for his charity as well as for his justice. He founded several hospitals, and is famous for having built the first asylum for the blind (Quinze-Vingts, 1260), an institution which first afforded shelter to three hundred crusaders who had lost their sight in the Holy Land, where hot sand, glaring light, and lack of sufficient water for bathing often cause blindness.

Louis also encouraged one of his counselors, Robert de Sorbon (de sōr-bŏn'), to leave his fortune to found a school for poor students in theology. This institution is till known as the "Sorbonne" (sor-bon'), and is now the center of public instruction in France. Even in the thirteenth century, twenty thousand pupils were educated there, and such learned men as Thomas Aquinas, Roger Bacon, and Albertus Magnus came there to study. Louis himself [134] contributed about one thousand volumes for the library of this institution, a gift of great value in those days.

Having purchased the crown of thorns,—the most precious of all Chrstian relics,—Louis built, near his palace in Paris, a beautiful little shrine, known as the Holy Chapel (Sainte Chapelle), to serve as its place of deposit.

During all these years Louis tried to live in peace with his neighbors. He made favorable treaties with Spain (1258) and with the English. In fact, such was his fairness that he insisted upon giving back to the English some lands which he thought be had no claim. Because he deemed honesty the best policy, he was often chosen umpire in quarrels, not only among his fellow-countrymen, but even by the English barons, when they once got into difficulties with their monarch, Henry III. Louis IX. decided in favor of the English king, but also insisted that this monarch should obey the Great Charter, and thus respect the rights of the barons.

After spending sixteen years at home, devoting all his [135] energies to the good of his people, Louis decided to go on a second crusade (the eighth, 1270), although by this time his health was so poor that he had to be carried on board the ship. Urged by one of his brothers, Louis directed his forces against Tunis, then in the hands of the Turks; but he had no sooner landed, than he fell victim to the plague, which also killed many men in his army. After a very few days' illness, the dying king made his last arrangements, and after directing that he should be laid on a bed of ashes, so he might die as a penitent, he passed away, murmuring the word "Jerusalem."

Many tributes have been paid to the beauty of Louis IX.'s character, the greatest of all being that of a famous French philosopher (Voltaire), who said, "It is not given man to carry virtue to a higher point." This king was canonized—made a saint—twelve years after hi death, and is the only one in France's long list popularly known by the title of Saint.

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