THE VOW OF ST. LOUIS
 "THE Hammer," "the Fat," "the Young," "the Wide-awake "—these
are some of the names by which the French people called their kings, and they may at times have made you smile.
But now you have come to a king whom his people named "the Saint," and that is a title so great that you will
hold in reverence the king to whom it was given. As you
read of the reign of Louis IX., you will find that the
name became him well.
Louis IX., or St. Louis, lost his father, as you know,
when he was only twelve years old. But his mother,
Blanche of Castile, trained him so wisely, that when he
became a man he was well able to be a king of men.
Blanche taught her son to be kind, "unselfish, true,
and as soon as he was able to understand, he knew that
his mother would rather have him die than that he
should say words or do deeds that were unworthy of a
The mother of Louis was a brave woman, and she had need
of all her courage while her boy was young. For the
nobles banded themselves together against the young
king and his mother, thinking that now was the time,
while the government was in the hands of a woman, to
win back the lands and the privileges that had been
wrested from them by Philip Augustus.
So when the barons were summoned to Rheims in 1226 to
attend the coronation of the little prince, only a few
of them obeyed the call. The others assembled an army,
 hoping to subdue the queen and get possession of
the young king.
But Blanche was a clever woman, and she determined to
win to her side Theobald, Count of Champagne, the
leader of the rebel lords. And so successful was she
that before long he became her staunch friend. "By my
faith, madame," she had the joy of hearing the count
say, "my heart, my body, my life and all my lands are
at your command, and there is nothing to please you
which I would not do, and against you and yours, please
God, I will never go." This was a victory for Queen
Blanche greater than the victory of a pitched battle.
Two years after he had been crowned the rebel lords
still hoped to seize King Louis. For when Blanche had
halted with her son at the town of Montlhery on their
way to Paris, she found that the rebel troops were
between her and the capital. Undismayed, the
queen-mother despatched messengers to the citizens of
Paris to ask for help, and right royally did they
answer her appeal.
For they went forth all under arms and took the road to
Montlhery, where they found the king and escorted him
to Paris, all in their ranks and in order of battle.'
Indeed, the road to Paris was lined with men-at-arms,
'who besought the Lord that He would grant the king
long life and prosperity, and that He would defend him
against all his enemies. And this God did.'
As Louis grew older, the people learned to love their
king, so gentle he was and kind, yet at the same time
so brave and strong. Of his love for his people there
was no doubt.
When Louis was twenty years old his mother found him a
little bride. Her name was Margaret, and she was only
twelve years of age.
Good as Queen Blanche was, her love for her son was so
great that she forgot that Margaret would sometimes
like to be alone with her lord.
 Even when the little bride was ill, the
queen-mother made so many demands on Louis's time that
at length Margaret rebelled, crying indignantly,
"Alas, madame, neither dead nor alive will you let me
see my lord." After that the king refused to leave the
little queen until she was well.
In 1242 Henry III., King of England, came to France with
a small army, hoping to win Normandy once again for
England. He was joined by Count de la Marche, one of
the French king's rebel lords.
But Louis showed the mettle of which he was made. He
gathered together a large army, and entering Poitou he
took town after town before Henry was ready to fight.
He then marched to Taillebourg on the river Charente.
The English, with Count de la Marche, were on the
opposite bank, but they had left the bridge across the
river unguarded. The French at once began to cross it,
and to attack the English. But the enemy was too strong
for them, and their ranks began to waver. King Louis,
seeing just where he was needed, dashed into the
forefront of the fight. The English were forced to give
way and retreat to Saintes. Here another battle was
fought, and the English were totally defeated. The
rebel Count de la Marche surrendered to King Louis, who
pardoned him, but kept all the lands which he had won
from the Count in battle.
Henry III. fled to Bordeaux, and there he spent his
time in pleasure, until in 1243 he made peace with
Louis, and returned to England "with as much bravery
as if he had conquered France."
But there had been sickness in the French camp, and
Louis went back to Paris ill, smitten by the fever
which had carried off many of his soldiers.
Day after day the king grew worse, until all over
France the people wept, lest they should lose the king
they loved so well.
Louis himself believed that he was dying, and said
fare-  well to his household, bidding them be good
servants of God.
His wife, his mother, his brothers lingered m his room,
praying that God would spare him whom they loved. But
the king lay so still that one of his nurses thought he
Soon, however, he rallied, and asked to see the Bishop
of Paris. When the holy man arrived, Louis, in a feeble
voice, begged him to place on his shoulder "the Cross
of the voyage over the sea." This could only mean that
Louis had made a vow to go as a crusader to the Holy
In vain did Queen Margaret and Queen Blanche entreat
the king to make no vow until he was stronger, in vain
did the bishop plead with him to wait.
"I will neither eat nor drink," said the king, "until
the Cross is laid upon my shoulder." Then the bishop,
not daring to refuse, did as the king desired, while
his mother, seeing that he had taken the Cross,
sorrowed as though her son were dead.
From that day Louis grew better, and there was joy and
thanksgiving throughout France.
For three years the king stayed at home, his barons
doing all they could to shake his purpose to go to
Palestine. But Louis was still determined to go.
The bishop and his mother made one last effort to shake
the king's resolve. "My lord king," said the bishop,
"bethink you that when you received the Cross you were
so weak you scarce knew what you did."
"My son," said the queen-mother, "remember that God
loves obedient children." Then, as the king was silent,
she added that she would herself send troops to
Palestine if he would but stay at home and rule his
So quietly did the king listen that for a moment his
mother and the bishop believed that they had won the
day. Even when he spoke they were not at first
"You say that weakness of mind was the cause of my
 taking the Cross," said Louis, smiling. "So,
then, since you desire it, here I lay down the Cross
and resign it to you," and
tearing the sign from his shoulder he handed it to the
Then before either his mother or the holy man could
speak, Louis continued, his face grave, his voice firm:
" My friends, now I lack not sense and reason, I am
neither weak nor wandering of mind. Give me back, then,
my Cross. For He who knows all things knows that no
food shall pass my lips until my Cross is restored to
From that day no one ever again dared to plead with
King Louis to give up the crusade.
Some of Louis's knights also took the Cross, but the
number was not large enough to content the king, and he
determined that many more should follow him to
Palestine. If others would not take it of their own
will, then they must be persuaded by one means or
Grave as King Louis was, I think he must have smiled to
himself as he planned to entrap his laggard knights.
It was the custom in those days for each courtier to
receive a new cloak at Christmastide. On Christmas Eve,
therefore, the king bade them be present next morning
at early mass.
As each knight entered the chapel on Christmas morning,
his new cloak was thrown around his shoulders by one of
the king's officers.
There was nothing unusual in this, and it was only when
the service was over, and the knights came out of the
dimly lighted chapel into the dawning light of day,
that each saw on the new cloak of his neighbour the
Cross, the sign of the Holy War.
"At first the knights laughed, seeing that their lord
king had taken them piously, preaching by deeds not
words," but they soon grew grave, knowing well that
they could not tear off the sacred sign which the king
had fastened to their cloaks. They must even follow him
to the Holy Land.