Home  |  Authors  |  Books  |  Stories  |  What's New  |  How to Get Involved 
   T h e   B a l d w i n   P r o j e c t
     Bringing Yesterday's Classics to Today's Children                 @mainlesson.com
Search This Site Only
 
 
The Book of Saints and Heroes by  Mrs. Lang


 

 

SAINT AND KING

[215] THE man whose story I am now going to tell you stands, in some ways, alone among saints. Not because he was a king; for many kings have borne the title; not because he was a wise ruler, for wise rulers could not always claim to be considered saints; not even because he was good and charitable to his people; but because, not only in his own day but in ours, he was held by all men to be wiser and better and more fitted for his place than any king before or since; and in the words of Voltaire, the philosopher, who hated kings and did not set much store on goodness, "it was hardly possible for any man to reach greater excellence."

And who was this king whose memory still lived in the France of the eighteenth century, which had almost forgotten how to look up to anything higher than its own cleverness?

It was a king of France itself: Louis IX, Saint Louis.


He was only twelve years old when his father died, in 1226, within a few months of the death of St. Francis of Assisi. Louis VIII was only ill a few days. He had left Paris six months before, to fight against some of his vassals in the south, the heretics called Albigenses, and on his way home he caught fever. It was quite clear to the king that he could never reach Paris, so he summoned to his presence the nobles and bishops to be found in his camp, and one by one they knelt at his [216] bedside and swore that they would be faithful to his eldest son, and give help and support to the queen, Blanche of Castile, who would govern France till Prince Louis came of age. Afterwards, those who could not write—and they were many—set their marks to a deed, and then the king's mind was at rest, and he died peacefully.

The queen's grief was great when the Bishop of Senlis begged for a special audience with her, and told her the terrible news. She was the grand-daughter of Henry II of England, and had married the French prince when she was only twelve. But girls, and especially princesses, grew up quickly in those days, and Blanche was soon allowed to be present at the State councils, and even sometimes to give her opinion. She loved her husband dearly, and as often as possible followed him in his various wars, and shared his hardships. Yet she was a good mother to her children, and is said to have taught her eldest boy herself till he was twelve years old.

Though like most of the race of Plantagenets, from whom she sprang on her mother's side, Blanche had a hot temper, she had also plenty of tact, and. much wisdom. She had done her best to help her husband, and the experience of State affairs, which she had gained since her marriage enabled her to help her son. She had sensible advisers, too, whom she could trust, and was wise enough to make use of them. But clearly her first duty was to have the young king crowned, so that he might at once receive the homage of his nobles.

King Louis VIII had died on November 8, and the barons of the kingdom were ordered to appear at Rheims on the 29th. This step took by surprise—as the regent intended it should—some of the discontented nobles, who would have formed themselves into a strong party had time been given them to do so. But Blanche was [217] too quick for them; and twenty-one days after the death of his father, Louis IX was crowned by the Bishop of Soissons, after receiving knighthood the day before, and watching alone in the cathedral till the dawn broke.

It is wonderful how in those days and in that short space the queen-regent managed to make such splendid preparations; but though her heart was aching with sorrow for her husband, she put aside her grief and thought only of the danger of delay for her son. And she had her reward, for, according to the chronicler Joinville, who was with the king in his crusade, "it would be difficult to express how great was the effect of the coronation on the mind of the people, who beheld a child, fair of face and dignified of manner, called to a throne threatened by intriguing men, with no support but his mother." Blanche was right. The discontented nobles dared not stay away, and, during the ceremony itself, the Countess of Champagne broke into a violent quarrel with the Countess of Flanders as to who should carry the sword of State before the king on returning from the ceremony. Queen Blanche, however, wisely decided to give the honour to neither, and the sword was borne by the Count de Boulogne, Louis' uncle, one of the sharpest thorns in the side of the crown.


Though Louis was carefully trained by his mother in the business of governing the kingdom, and in learning all he could about the state of the people, and the country—the crops that were grown in certain parts, the horses which were the pride of some provinces, the trade which supported the inhabitants of other towns—he still had friends of his own age besides his brothers, with whom he could wrestle and play in his spare time. As was the custom in those days, the nobles and even foreign princes sent their sons to Court as pages to be [218] taught good manners and knightly accomplishments. The queen was known all over Europe as the sovereign who was most strict in these matters, and she was never lacking in boys of all ages to attend on her. Indeed, if she had listened to the requests that poured in upon her, the Court would have been over-run with them. She was sitting one day in the great hall, when amidst the corps of pages her eyes fell on a fresh face, fair and golden-haired as the king's own.

"Who is that?" she asked of an officer standing near her, and he answered that the tall boy was Herman, the son of Elizabeth of Hungary, and Duke Ludwig of Thuringia. On hearing his name Blanche rose and went to the spot where he stood.

"Good youth," she said, "you had a blessed mother. Where did she last kiss you?"


[Illustration]

"BLANCHE THE QUEEN-MOTHER KISSES HERMAN."

Blushing to the roots of his hair at the notice taken of him, Herman pointed to a spot between his eyes. "I would kiss you there too," said the queen, and stooped and kissed him. The rest of the pages looked on in wonder. They had never seen their mistress in this mood before; they were rather afraid of her, for she seldom spoke to them, and had more than once ordered them a whipping, when they had been disobedient or unruly. Louis shared the whippings if he was idle, and, instead of translating his Latin books to his tutor, gazed out of the narrow openings in the walls which were the windows of those times, and longed for a good gallop over the plain. But after all, the whippings bore fruit, and almost alone among the sovereigns of his day he could understand Latin nearly as well as if he had been a priest. Of her seven children Louis was his mother's favourite, but she did not think that was any reason for giving him his own way. She taught him to make rules for his own conduct, and to keep them, and to turn a deaf ear to the voice of flatterers who came [221] about him speaking smooth things, and trying to make him think himself greater and better than other men, while they would accuse him behind his back of all sorts of wickedness. His enemies were of course, not slow to spread the reports and to take advantage of them. Religious and honest people were grieved at what they heard of the king, and at last a monk made his way into the queen's presence, and reproached her for the manner in which she was bringing up her son.

Blanche listened quietly till he had finished, and then she said: "You did right to come, and I thank you for your courage; but know that though the king, my son, is the dearest thing I have on earth, yet if, to save his life, it was necessary that he should commit sin, far rather would I see him fall dead before me."

The monk bowed his head and answered nothing. It was true, of that he felt sure; and Louis, who was present also, laid his mother's words to heart and in after days repeated them to his children.

The years between his coronation and coming of age were spent by the king and his mother in trying to keep the powerful barons in order, and in putting down a rebellion in the south, where the Albigenses were still fighting under Raymond, Count of Toulouse. The war on both sides was carried on with what we should now consider great cruelty. But peace was at last made and Queen Blanche was able to turn her attention to a pleasanter subject—the marriage of the king.

The first bride she thought of for him was Jeanne, the daughter of that very Count of Toulouse, with whom she had just been fighting. The child could be brought up under her own eye, and she would be able to train her as she ought to be trained; but after all, would the marriage be happy for Louis? He was only fifteen himself, of course, but Jeanne was such a baby it would be years before she could be a companion to him such as [222] she herself had been to her husband, for, unlike most of the women of her time, Blanche held marriage to be more than a matter of business. No; Jeanne should marry one of the younger ones—Alphonse, for instance, when he grew older, and so she did; and, in her right, Alphonse became Count of Toulouse as well as of Poitiers.

One after another the great heiresses of France passed before her mind, and one by one they were rejected. The inquiry occupied some years, but the matter was very important, and the queen did not hurry. At length she decided on one against whom nothing could be said—Marguerite, the eldest daughter of the Count of Provence, pretty, gentle, and well brought up, fourteen years old, but showing already a promise of the good sense and firmness, which Blanche knew to be necessary to the Queen of France. Last, but not the least, Marguerite had, like herself, Spanish blood in her veins.

The queen-regent, as we have seen, never wasted time. No sooner had she talked the matter over with Louis, and he had accepted the bride proposed for him, than she sent ambassadors to the Court of Provence which was always filled with minstrels and wandering troubadours, to ask for the hand of Marguerite. The count was only too delighted at the brilliant marriage offered for his daughter, and made no difficulties. "Their orders" said the ambassadors, "were to bring the young countess back with them," and in a very few weeks Marguerite bade her parents and sisters farewell, and travelled northwards along the Rhone. Louis met her at the gates of the town of Sens, and next day she was married by the archbishop in the great cathedral and crowned immediately afterwards.

It had been the wise policy of the regent to show her son to his subjects by taking him with her in her journeys through the kingdom, when she was trying to make peace between the nobles or listening to the grievances [223] of humbler people. At every place where they halted the poor were sought out, and money given to them where they needed it, with a gentle politeness to which they were quite unused. Yet they soon felt that it was vain to deceive the king with long pitiful stories. A few grave questions speedily got to the truth of the matter, and the false beggar was sent away with some stern words which he did not easily forget. The sight of their king on his way to church on the feast days induced several of his courtiers and citizens to go likewise, and a few of them might even have been seen helping the king to mix mortar and carry stones to build the famous Abbey of Royaumont, which was at that time rising from the ground. Still anxious though he was about doing his duty, Louis was a boy in many ways, and was ready to amuse himself, as is shown by the bills for horses, hounds, falcons, and, strange to say, for lions and porcupines, found among his accounts, as well as those for the payment of minstrels and for fine clothes for himself and his brothers.

The first act of Louis, after coming of age, and taking the government into his own hands, is very remarkable, when we remember what a religious man he was, and how his mother had brought him up to be a true son of the church and a hater of heresy. It was to protest against the manner in which the clergy had grown to disregard the laws of the kingdom and declined to obey the verdict of the law courts. This way of thinking was brought to his notice by the behaviour of the Archbishop of Rheims, who had a quarrel with the citizens, and cut them off from the services of the church. The king refused to support the archbishop without first examining the affair, and seeing who was in the right. He even refused to be guided by the pope, and the archbishop had to submit, like any other man, to a fair trial, which was decided in his favour. [224] This showed the French nation, if they had not known it before, of what stuff their king was made, and that he had the two qualities necessary to every great sovereign, a sense of justice and courage to carry out what was right; and the world outside watched the struggle also, and later, when the rulers of other lands disputed with their vassals or with each other, it was to the King of France that they turned as judge. Even the Jews, so hated and persecuted through all the Middle Ages, were safe in France from torture and death, though severe laws were passed forbidding them to lend money upon high interest or usury.


In 1244, at the close of a war with Henry III of England, the king fell ill of fever, and the fear of his death brought out all the love which his subjects felt for him. At the news of his danger, prayers were offered for his recovery, and every church in Paris was filled to overflowing. The Crown of Thorns—said to be the one worn by our Lord, and bought by Louis from the Venetians—was brought by his mother from the beautiful Sainte Chapelle, built to receive it, and laid upon his unconscious body; while Queen Blanche made a vow on his behalf that if her son's life was saved he should take the cross, and go to the rescue of the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem. But all her tears and prayers and vows seemed useless, and at length, the bishops who were present, convinced that he had ceased to breathe, gently forced both queens to leave the room. Two ladies remained, and one of them brought a cloth, with which to cover his face as was the custom. But the other snatched the cloth from her.

"No, no," she cried, "it is impossible! I will not believe it! He is alive still!" and as she spoke the king opened his eyes and looked at her.

"By the grace of the Lord the light from the East [226] has shone upon me, and has called me from the dead," he whispered. The cry of joy uttered by the ladies brought his wife and mother back to his bedside, but they stopped in surprise on the threshold, on hearing him bid the Bishop of Paris to be fetched from the antechamber.

"Give me the cross," he said faintly, when the bishop entered.

"Oh, not yet! Wait till you are cured," exclaimed Queen Blanche, throwing herself on her knees before him.

"I will take no food till the cross is on my breast," he repeated, and the bishop gave it to him.

The state of the Christians in Palestine at that time was worse than ever. The Sultan of Egypt, anxious to get possession of the country, summoned a great host of wandering, half-savage Asiatic tribes to besiege Jerusalem from the north, and at the first rumours of their approach the Christians, who had been allowed by the Sultan of Damascus to occupy the city, fled to the fortified towns on the coast. Here, at least, the sea was before them, and they could escape if necessary. But it seemed that it was not Jerusalem alone that the invaders wanted, but Christian blood, and when they found an empty town they invented a plan to entice the fugitives back to their ruin. To this end, they hung over the walls all the Christian banners which had been left behind in the hurry of flight, in the hope that they might be seen by some stragglers. Unfortunately this wicked project succeeded. Some of the Christians who had taken refuge in the hills saw the flags, and, knowing that a few of their brethren had declared their intention of dying in defence of the Holy Sepulchre, imagined, very foolishly, that they had driven back the invading army. Without pausing to consider that this was nearly impossible for a handful of men to do, [226] they sent messengers to the flying multitude, telling them they could return in safety. The news was received with shouts of joy, and the people seemed almost mad with delight. In vain a few of the wiser tried to show them how unlikely it was that the besiegers had retreated: their excited countrymen refused to listen, and would not lose a moment in retracing their steps. As soon as they were within the walls, the enemy who had hidden themselves in the surrounding hills entered the city, and killed every creature. Not content with this, they tore down the altars of the churches, and heaped all the insults they could imagine on the places that the Christians held sacred, and even the Saracens had left untouched. All this had happened during the king's illness, and when the pope heard of it, he lost no time in calling a council and bidding the princes of Europe take the cross and fly to avenge Jerusalem. His quarrel with the Emperor Frederick II—the Wonder of the World—delayed matters for awhile, but in France at any rate all were eager for the crusade. Only a few young nobles, lazy and pleasure-loving, hung back, and for these a trap was laid by Louis.

It had long been the practice in France that every Christmas the king should give his courtiers rich mantles, or tunics beautifully embroidered, and in this particular year it was arranged that the ceremony should take place in the great hall, after the midnight mass of Christmas Eve. The flickering torches, fixed along the walls, gave but little light, and only the glitter of the golden trimmings could be seen. However, the mantles seemed more splendid than usual, and the young men wrapped themselves proudly in them before they went to the little dark rooms in which they slept. Being, like most Frenchmen, fond of dress, the first thing they did in the morning was to carry [227] the mantles to the windows, and see how they looked in daylight.

On the shoulder of each was embroidered a cross—the mark of a Crusader. "The king has been too much for us," they said with a laugh, and no better fighters were found among the Crusaders than these idle young nobles.


But, of course, a king could not go off to the wars at once as if he was a common knight, and it took Louis nearly two years to make his preparations. He had to see that his kingdom would be properly governed during his absence, and once more Queen Blanche was appointed regent, with a council to help her. Then money had to be collected, which was a very difficult matter, and the well-being of the army to be provided for, as, like Hannibal, Louis was very careful for the comfort of his men. But at length everything was ready, and on June 12, 1248, the king, accompanied by his brothers, rode to the Abbey of Saint-Denis, where the pope's legate, or envoy, delivered to him the staff and wallet of a pilgrim, and the standard of France.

Queen Margaret had refused to be left behind, and the king's two brothers—Robert, Count of Artois, and Charles, Count of Anjou, both unlucky, violent and reckless—had taken the cross with the king. Near Corbeil he bade farewell to his mother, who knew full well she would see him no more, and started on the road south.

Two months later he entered the little town of Aigues-Mortes, hardly bigger to-day than when the army of seven thousand men marched through its narrow streets and down the narrow spit of land jutting out into the sea, known as the Grau Louis, where the fleet awaited them. They sailed first to Cyprus, where they were forced to spend nine months, [228] for, as always happened in the crusades, quarrels broke out between the different princes, and it required all Louis' tact and firmness to reconcile them. They were also disagreed as to the best point of attack on the enemy, but at length Louis decided that as the assault on Jerusalem had been made by the Turcoman tribes, under the orders of the Sultan of Egypt, and that he was the real master of the city, it would be wiser to begin by subduing Egypt, and with this purpose the army crossed the sea and landed at Damietta.

After one victory, everything seemed to go against the Crusaders. They had forgotten that Egypt was a country quite unlike every other, and that the rise of the Nile would interfere with the movement of troops. When they understood this, they determined to pass the summer in Damietta, a resolve which, perhaps more than anything else, led to the failure of the expedition. The troops, overcome by the heat, grew lazy, and declined to obey orders, or submit to discipline. They robbed the peasants, extorted money from them, and, encouraged by the example of their leaders, spent their days in eating and drinking. They neglected, too, their military duties, and many a sentry was killed by the enemy as he slept at his post. Louis did all he could to stop the state of things, and at first punished the wrongdoers severely, especially his own countrymen. But very soon he saw that he was powerless to restore discipline; the offenders were too numerous, and, under the Feudal System, were only responsible each to his own leader. Then the king's brothers gave him bad advice and caused serious mischief. At the battle of Mansourah, forced on by the rashness of the Count of Artois, the young man himself was killed as well as the flower of the nobility. Louis himself was in the thickest of the mélée  and fought desperately, and by the end of the day the Crusaders had beaten back the Saracens [229] and had the victory—a barren one—in their hands. But instead of returning at once to Damietta, where all their provisions were stored, the king, most imprudently, stayed where he was, and suffered the enemy to lie between him and the town. Their supplies were cut off and soon famine broke out, while plague followed. In every place where lay the sick and the dying, the king might be seen, tending them himself and praying with them.

"I cannot die till I have beheld my holy master," said his valet, and when Louis heard of it he ran to the man's bedside, and took him in his arms.

As the weeks went on, things grew worse and food more scarce. You had to pay 30l. for a sheep, and 80l. for a cow. Crowds of soldiers, rendered desperate by hunger, went over to the Saracen camp, and those of them who were ready to give up their religion and become Mohammedans were sure for the future to lead an easy life. At last, just when the king had issued orders for a retreat to Damietta, he was himself struck down with the plague.

"Leave the king as a hostage, and we will exchange Jerusalem for Damietta," so ran a message which the Saracens sent into the Christian camp. The French barons rejected the terms with horror, but there was a large part of the army who would have thankfully agreed to the proposal had they been consulted. Murmurs were heard in the tents, and the men went sullenly about their work. The generals saw that the move to Damietta must be made at once or there would be a revolt, and wished to send Louis with the rest of the sick by boat down the Nile. But the king would not listen to them.

"My soldiers have risked their lives for the service of God and for me," he said, "and I will lead them back to France or die a prisoner with them."

[230] That night the army, hardly more than skin and bone, began the retreat—the king, as weak as any of them, riding in the rear, in the most dangerous place of all. At daybreak the Saracens fell on them, and feeble as they were, the Crusaders were instantly put to the rout. The Royal Standard of France, the Oriflamme, and many other famous banners, were taken, and Louis and his brothers, the Counts of Poitiers and Anjou, obliged to surrender.

Whether from pity, or from dread lest death should deprive him of the king's ransom, the Sultan gave orders that the skilful Saracen doctors should nurse him carefully, and slowly he began to mend. He bore the harsh treatment that he suffered without one complaint, and devoted his thoughts to arranging a truce which should include the ransoming of the entire army. "The poor should be set free, as well as the rich," he said, "and I will never leave my prison till the money needed is obtained."

Thanks to Queen Margaret at Damietta, brave and energetic as Louis himself, the ransom was found. The news of her husband's captivity was a terrible blow to her and to his mother in France. But Margaret kept her sorrows to herself, and went about the streets of Damietta with a calm face, seeing that the fortifications were in good order, and managing to enlist for the defence a number of Genoese and Pisan soldiers, who were excellent fighters.

"If the Saracens should take the town, I command you to kill me. I will never fall into their hands," she said to the knight eighty years old, who was her only bodyguard. However, Damietta was not taken, but surrendered, and Queen Margaret set sail for Acre, carrying with her the little son who had been born a few days before, and was called Tristan or "sorrow."

[231] There are many stories which show that Louis' truth and justice, and still more his patience, made a deep impression on his captors; and gradually led them to treat him with more kindness than in the beginning. He was careless whether he lived or died himself; it was entirely, as they saw, of his people that he was thinking.

"The Frankish  king," they said to each other, "discusses the terms of peace as if we were in his power and not he in ours;" and they looked on him as a creature they could not understand, when he refused to take advantage of a mistake of the Saracens in counting out the ransom, and paid the ten thousand pounds needed to complete the sum agreed upon. Surely a man must be mad to act thus!

Nor was he less indifferent when an ignoble death at the hands of a common soldier threatened him.

"Dub me a knight or I will kill you," a Mameluke or Turkish guard, said to him one day.

"Become a Christian, and I will knight you, but not till then," answered Louis, and the man held his peace and let him go.


The king and his army did not go back to France after the truce was made, but set sail for the Holy Land, accompanied very reluctantly by the nobles who broke out into open rebellion when they reached Acre. Only Joinville, the Seneschal and chronicler, who was one of Louis' closest friends for twenty-two years, urged him not to leave Palestine, for the various Mohammedan States both in Egypt and Syria, were divided among themselves, and there was a chance that Jerusalem might yet fall into the hands of the Crusaders. At any rate, the presence of an army would be a help to their own people. This was the king's opinion also, but he could not prevail on the barons to stay, and in August [232] they departed to France, the king's brothers sailing with them.

During four years Louis maintained his position in the Holy Land, in spite of a lack both of men and money, for all the European sovereigns and powerful cities, such as Venice and Genoa, were too busy with their own affairs to give him help. His mother alone was faithful, and sent him all the supplies she could raise. Patiently he went from place to place, building walls and towers for defence, many of which may still be seen. As in the days of his boyhood at Royaumont he mixed mortar and fixed stones. He also encouraged other workers by his example, tended those who fell ill, visiting them constantly, and ransoming as far as he could the Christian slaves in Egypt and Syria. He even succeeded, so strong was the force of his goodness, in converting some of the Saracens whom he had taken captive, and he always protected the women and children. More surprising still, he never suffered the Mohammedans who later returned to their own faith, to be mocked at or ill-treated.


[Illustration]

ST. LOUIS THREATENED BY A SARACEN SOLDIER.

In the midst of these labours, a new sorrow fell upon him in the death of his mother, and there was no one to take her place in France or to keep down the turbulent nobles. Louis felt that his country needed him and the Christians in Palestine did not, for he had done the work he had set himself, and for the present they were in safety.

So amidst the tears and blessings of the people he started from Acre at Easter 1254, and made straight for Cyprus.

Once again he was pursued by misfortune, for during a fog the ship struck on a sand bank and was in danger of sinking. The sailors and passengers gave way to panic, but the king quietly went to the bridge of the vessel and knelt in prayer till the captain ordered a [235] sounding to be taken, and found that though they could not move, yet they were in deep water, and for the present were safe. Next day divers went down, and discovered that the keel was broken, and it was very doubtful if the ship could weather a heavy sea.

"You must leave the ship, sire," said they, "for she will never stand the waves."

"And suppose that the ship belonged to you and was full of cargo, would you abandon her?" asked the king.

"No, indeed," they all cried at once. "We should stick by her."

"Then why do you advise me to go."

"Ah, sire, it is very different for you! And besides, there are the queen and your three children to think of."

But Louis shook his head. "If I go," said he, "every man that is on board—and there are five hundred of them—will land in Cyprus, and, perhaps, be afraid to enter a ship again, and so be lost to France. I would rather put myself and the queen and my children in peril than have that upon my conscience."

In this way it was decided: the ship was patched up and spread its sails once more, only to encounter a heavy gale, which, as the divers had foretold, nearly wrecked them. And when that subsided, they came face to face with a yet more terrible death, for one of the queen's maids left her mistress' veil hanging in the cabin near a taper, and it caught fire, fragments of it being blown on to the sheets. Margaret, who was asleep at the time, was awakened by the smell of burning, and awoke. With the presence of mind that never failed her, she leapt out of bed and flung the veil into the sea, crushing the sheets in her hands.

For the rest of the voyage the king went round himself every night to see that all the fires were put out.

[236] Altogether it took them between two and three months to reach French soil, and from the town of Hyères they travelled slowly to Paris. But, however joyful was the welcome given to him, Louis himself was very sad. Not only had he failed in the work he had undertaken, but he had lost many men, and brought pain and suffering upon more. As to all he had suffered himself, and his patience and courage in trying to repair his mistakes, he never gave that a thought. Happily, there was much business waiting for him in Paris, and not having any time to brood upon his troubles he soon became as sensible and cheerful as usual.

Louis' first act was to put an end to the war with Flanders, and then he turned his attention to the struggle with England for the possession of the southern part of France which had come into the hands of Henry II, as the inheritance of his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine. Now, Eleanor's grandson, Henry III, was on the throne, and he had married another Eleanor, daughter of the Count of Provence, and sister of Queen Margaret. In this year (1254) Henry had been obliged to visit his French dominions to quell a revolt, and he took the queen with him. When all was quiet again he wrote to his brother-in-law, King Louis, saying that he greatly wished to see Paris and the wonders of the Sainte-Chapelle, of whose beauty he had heard from travellers, and he entreated permission to pass a short time at the Court. He would bring with him, he added, Queen Eleanor, her mother, the old Countess of Provence, and her two sisters Sanchia, wife of his brother Richard of Cornwall, and Beatrice, Countess of Anjou. This proposal pleased everybody.

It was rare, indeed, in those times for a whole family to meet when once they had married and left their early home, and Queen Margaret was rejoiced to see them all again, and to show them her children. The [237] citizens of Paris, who had so long lived in gloom and anxiety, were delighted at the chance of being gay once more, and gave the visitors a splendid welcome. Garlands of flowers wreathed the houses, and multitudes of torches lit up the streets at night—not the long wide streets that we know, of course, but narrow, crooked ones, with towers and pointed roofs and arched doorways. And while the princesses were sitting in their bower, chattering fast over all that had happened since one by one they had left the castle in Provence, the two kings were riding through Paris, and Henry saw, as he wished, the Sainte-Chapelle and the glorious windows which we also may see, and beheld the Crown of Thorns that many years before the king had carried barefoot from the town of Sens, to lay it for awhile in the Cathedral of Notre-Dame.

Then they all, ladies as well as gentlemen, dined at a banquet in the Temple, and the King of England made presents to the French nobles, and everyone was merry and happy. Yet, if they could have looked forward down the centuries, they would have seen a sight to bring tears to the eyes of the most hardened. From the prison, built on the very spot where they were then sitting, the King of France, Louis XVI, was led to his execution. At the foot of the guillotine, mingling with the hooting mob, stood the Abbé Edgworth, and his eyes met the king's.

"Son of Saint-Louis ascend to heaven," said the Abbé, as the knife fell.

But that scene was five hundred and fifty years distant.


The result of the King of England's visit was a peace, granting favourable terms to France, with the cession of Normandy and some other provinces, in exchange for territories north of the river Garonne, not half so [238] valuable. Besides which, Henry swore to do homage for the whole of his possessions, and Louis was quite satisfied though his barons were not, thinking he might have got more.

The remaining years of Louis' reign were occupied in establishing law and order throughout France, and in constantly acting as peace-maker in foreign quarrels. He, as many other kings have done, forbade duels, though not with much success, and was at all times ready to listen to his people. Anyone had liberty to come to him as he sat under an oak in the wood of Vincennes or in his own garden, and either he would judge the case or listen to his counsellors doing so, as Joinville, himself one of those chosen, describes to us. The king's dress on these occasions was very simple, consisting of a loose cloth coat without sleeves, a tunic or sort of waistcoat, and a cap with a white peacock's feather. Unlike most judges of that day he was more merciful to the poor than to the rich and noble, and with his own brother, Charles of Anjou, he was most severe of all. Charles gave him much trouble all through his life, owing to his violence and rashness. It seems strange that Queen Blanche, who brought up Louis so well, and was so strict with him, should have suffered the younger ones to grow up so unruly. But she was a great deal away from Paris, and may have been obliged to leave them to other people who, from laziness or a desire to make themselves liked, allowed them to do as they pleased.

After Louis' return from the crusade, men noticed that he was even more spare in his way of living than before. Except on great occasions he was seen no more in the scarlet gowns and furs in which, as a young man, he had taken pride, and his food was of the plainest. He fed the poor with his own hands during Lent, and often went the round of the hospitals in Paris, bathing the wounds of the patients and not shrinking even from [239] the lepers. Yet, he could still laugh and enjoy a good story, and he encouraged his friends to talk as freely before him as when he was not present. As for swearing he never practised it himself, and, when he could, punished it severely in others. Hunting he had long given up; "dicing"—Charles of Anjou's favourite game—he disliked; but he watched with the deepest interest the progress of the magnificent cathedrals of Amiens, Rheims, and others, which were then rising throughout France. He collected books, and welcomed scholars to his palace. In addition, he was very particular about his children's education, and had them with him whenever it was possible. He insisted that his sons should go to mass with him, and keep the fasts and feasts of the church; and though he left his daughters chiefly to their mother's direction he wrote to them after their marriages as often as he could, begging them not to forget their duty both to God and their people.

It was a sad day for France when the king publicly took the cross, an example which was followed by his three elder sons and a few of the great nobles. The citizens and most of the barons strongly disapproved, but during the three years of preparation many were won over. At length in 1270, all was ready. Two of the king's most trusted counsellors were appointed regents, and a second time he received the Oriflamme  at Saint-Denis, and the pilgrim's wallet and staff from the legate. Now it was his wife and not his mother who was to be left behind, and bitter was the parting, for he was worn out with a life's hard work, and well she knew that she would see his face no more.

It was the middle of July when the army, which had sailed from Aigues-Mortes, landed near Tunis and at once formed camp on the ruins of Carthage. But what had occurred at Damietta was repeated here. The enemy would not give a pitched battle, but cut [240] off their supplies till illness broke out, Prince John being one of the first victims. The grief at his son's death gave the final blow to the king, and he had no strength to resist when the disease laid hold of him also. He knew the end was at hand, and for himself he welcomed it. His affairs he had set in order before he left France, but he managed to write down a few directions for his eldest son Philip, who was to succeed him. Then he begged that the last sacraments might be given him, and said aloud the seven Penitential Psalms, after which he was laid on a bed of ashes, with his hands crossed on his breast, and remained speechless till the hour of three, when he gave up his soul. Nine months later his bones were carried to France, and buried in the Abbey of Saint-Denis.

"A piteous thing and worthy of tears is the death of this holy prince," said one who loved him.


 Table of Contents  |  Index  | Previous: St. Elizabeth of Hungary  |  Next: The Preacher to the Birds
Copyright (c) 2000-2017 Yesterday's Classics, LLC. All Rights Reserved.