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THE SIXTH CRUSADE
IN 1244 Louis fell very ill, and made a vow that if he
recovered, he would go to the Holy Land on a pilgrimage
and crusade. His mother and counselors vainly tried to
dissuade him from undertaking this perilous expedition,
which they dreaded on account of his delicate health;
but Louis insisted upon taking part in the sixth
crusade, and persuaded many of his noble to join him.
Leaving his mother officially regent of the realm
during his absence, he sailed from a port in southern
France, accompanied by his wife, his brother, and most
of his court.
Believing that Jerusalem could best be taken by first
conquering Egypt, Louis directed his course thither,
 landed at Damietta. The Saracens, drawn up on shore
and waiting for him, were so amazed at the impetuosity
of this king—who sprang overboard and waded ashore to
encounter them sooner—that they turned and fled.
Their panic enabled the crusaders to secure the city of
Damietta, where they found great stores and much
The French army remained here nearly five months
without pursuing its advantage, thereby giving the
enemy plenty of time to rally and make preparations for
defense. Starting out then to capture Cairo, the French
were hindered by the overflowing fo the Nile, and at
the Ford of Mansura (1250) suffered a great defeat.
Such was the number of dead that the air became
infected, and the army, vainly trying to retreat, was
attacked by a plague.
The king himself, weakened by illness, was overtaken
 by the enemy who slew most of his followers and made
him prisoner. He now began to bargain with the Saracens
for his release, offering a large sum to free his men
at arms, and the town of Damietta for his own ransom.
While these negotiations were taking place, Queen
Margaret had remained in Damietta, where the news of
her husband's defeat captivity reached her just as she
had given birth to a little prince. Fearing lest the
enemy might take possession of the city before she was
able to leave it, she called an aged knight to her
bedside, and bade him keep guard over her, saying, "Sir
knight, I request on the oath you have sworn, that,
should the Saracens storm this town and take it, you
will cut off my head before you will allow them to
seize my person." The loyal knight simply answered,
"Madam, I had already decided to do so." He kept guard
over her so faithfully that no harm came to her.
After recovering his freedom, Louis IX. embarked with
the remnant of his army for the maritime cities in the
Holy Land, which he now placed in a good state of
defense. There he remained four years, doing all he
could to protect the Christians in the East, although
his mother kept constantly writing, begging him to come
During his absence, Queen Blanche had many troubles to
contend against. Not only were the noblemen restive,
but the peasants, hearing that their beloved king was
in danger, took it into their heads to fly to his
rescue. Forming what is known as the "Crusade of the
Shepherds," they started out without means, and without
any knowledge of the difficulties of the journey.
 Queen Blanche took prompt measures to stop them, she
succeeded only after great numbers had perished.
Only the news of Queen Blanche's death could determine
Louis to leave Palestine. On his way home his ship ran
against a rock; and it seemed for a while as if all on
board would perish. The king was urged to leave the
vessel with his family, but nobly replied that the
lives of the five hundred people with him were as
precious in the sight of the Lord as his own, and that
if he left, a panic would surely seize the remainder of
the passengers, while if he remained everything would
be done to save them all. Thanks to his steadfastness,
the ship was saved from its perilous position, and all
on board were rescued.
During another storm, which threatened to sink the
vessel, Queen Margaret, who was as brave as her
husband, was asked whether the royal children should be
awakened, and answered firmly, "No, let them go to God
sleeping." In spite of these and many other perils, the
royal family reached home safely, where the king now
turned all his attention to governing his kingdom in
the wisest way.