King Louis IX was the only French king ever to be made a saint. He was a very popular monarch, noted for his kindness and fair dealings with his people. Louis led the Seventh Crusade in the mid-thirteenth century, and died on another crusade 20 years later.
Louis was the fourth child of Louis VIII, but the eldest to survive the early years, and he enjoyed a privileged childhood. He learned hunting, history, geography and literature from the finest tutors. His mother, Blanche of Castile, raised him to be a thoughtful and enthusiastic Christian. He was known to have a temper, which he strived to control.
Upon the death of his father in 1226, twelve-year-old Louis became king with his mother as regent. Blanche saw to it that he was crowned at Reims, even though many powerful nobles did not attend, and she successfully kept the nobles from rebelling. Continuing her late husband's efforts, she put an end to the Albigensian revolt. With Blanche's guidance, Louis successfully imposed a treaty on Raymond, the count of Tolouse, to settle a dispute over the Languedoc, and strengthened royal authority by temporarily shutting down the University of Paris to stop a student revolt. At age 15, Louis personally led troops to meet the invading Henry III, but the English king withdrew and truces were renewed.
Blanche turned over governmental control to Louis in 1234. By this time he had developed a reputation as a chivalrous knight, a just king and a pious protector of the Church. His mother chose his bride: Margaret, daughter of the count of Provence, and Louis married in May. Louis was evidently devoted to Margaret--they had 11 children. Unfortunately, Blanche was jealous of the attention her son paid to his wife.
In 1242 another rebellion flared up. Hugh of Lusignan, who had married the widowed mother of Henry III, was causing problems in Aquitaine. King Henry returned to France with a powerful force and most of the nobles in western France joined him; but Louis managed a nearly bloodless meeting at the bridge of Taillebourg and negotiated another truce. Not long after this victory, Louis came down with a form of malaria.
It was while he was still recovering in December of 1244 that Louis decided to go on Crusade. His own kingdom was at peace and the Holy Land was in jeopardy, with Jersualem in Muslim hands and Damascus recently seized by the Sultan of Egypt. It took more than three years of preparation, but when he set off in August of 1248 he took along 100 ships, 35,000 men, and his wife and children, leaving his mother to serve as regent once more.
The Crusade started off well with the capture of Damietta, Egypt, but when Louis moved on to Cairo the flooding Nile made his next conquest, the capture of the citadel of al-Mansurah, a long-fought siege that exhausted his army. With most of his men struck by plague, Louis ordered a retreat to Damietta, a march during which the Egyptian forces harrassed the ill crusaders and ultimately captured them in April, 1250.
King Louis eventually negotiated his freedom and that of his barons for a costly ransom and, much to the chagrin of his Crusaders, he decided to remain in the Holy Land. There he was able to overcome the stigma of his military defeat by forging advantageous alliances. He stayed there four more years and only returned home when he learned of Blanche's death.
Back in France, Louis had some work to do to correct the abuses made by officials in his absence. He appointed investigators and passed two famous ordinances that outlined the responsibilities and duties of royal officials. He also outlawed prostitution, ordeal by battle and judicial duels, and he imposed penalties on counterfeiting. His measures strengthened royal authority and justice and stabilized the currency, assisting in increased commerce and trade.
Louis also took an interest in art, architecture and literature, sponsoring the construction of buildings and literary endeavors. He encouraged his chaplain, Vincent of Beauvais, to write an encyclopedia (the Speculum majus). While Louis was king, the University of Paris was an unparalleled magnet for students from throughout Europe. His court was lively with pleasant conversation encouraged by the vivacious monarch.
But though he led a happy and exemplary life, Louis was haunted by the situation in the Holy Land. In 1269 he decided to return to Africa, and chose Tunisia as the point to strike a serious blow against the Muslims. This would prove a dreadful mistake. After landing at Tunis at the beginning of July 1270 he scored a series of easy victories, taking Carthage in the process. But as on his previous expedition, his forces were struck by plague.
Louis died in August at the age of 56. It is said that when his body was brought back to France, all along the way crowds gathered and knelt as the procession passed. His funeral was held at Notre-Dame de Paris, and he is buried in the tomb of the kings of France at the abbey of Saint-Denis.