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Louis IX of France
Louis IX
Biographical information



April 25, 1214

Birth place

Poissy, France


August 25, 1270

Died at

Tunis, North Africa


Saint Denis Basilica

Personal information

November 8, 1226August 25, 1270


November 29, 1226, Reims


Count of Artois (12261237)


Louis VIII


Philip III


Marguerite of Provence

Political and chronological information
Royal House

House of Capet

Principal Crusade

Louis IX (25 April 121425 August 1270), commonly Saint Louis, was King of France from 1226 to his death. He was also Count of Artois (as Louis II) from 1226 to 1237. Born at Poissy, near Paris, he was a member of the House of Capet and the son of King Louis VIII and Blanche of Castile. He is the only canonised king of France and consequently there are many places named after him, most notably St. Louis, Missouri in the United States. He established the Parlement of Paris.


Much of what is known of Louis's life comes from Jean de Joinville's famous biography of Louis, Life of Saint Louis. Joinville was a close friend, confidant, and counsellor to the king, and also participated as a witness in the papal inquest into Louis' life that ended with his canonization in 1297 by Pope Boniface VIII.

Two other important biographies were written by the king's confessor, Geoffrey of Beaulieu, and his chaplain, William of Chartres. The fourth important source of information is William of Saint-Pathus' biography, which he wrote using the papal inquest mentioned above. While several individuals wrote biographies in the decades following the king's death, only Jean of Joinville, Geoffrey of Beaulieu, and William of Chartres wrote from personal knowledge of the king.

Early life[]

Louis was born in 1214 at Poissy, near Paris, the son of King Louis VIII and Blanche of Castile. A member of the House of Capet, Louis was twelve years old when his father died on November 8, 1226. He was crowned king the same year in the cathedral at Reims. Because of Louis's youth, his mother ruled France as regent during his minority.

His younger brother Charles I of Sicily (122785) was created count of Anjou, thus founding the second Angevin dynasty. The horrific fate of that dynasty in Sicily as a result of the Sicilian Vespers evidently did not tarnish Louis's credentials for sainthood.

No date is given for the beginning of Louis's personal rule. His contemporaries viewed his reign as co-rule between the king and his mother, though historians generally view the year 1234 as the year in which Louis began ruling personally, with his mother assuming a more advisory role. She continued as an important counselor to the king until her death in 1252.

On May 27, 1234 Louis married Marguerite of Provence (1221December 21, 1295), whose sister Eleanor was the wife of Henry III of England.


At the age of 15, Louis brought an end to the Albigensian Crusade in 1229 after signing an agreement with Count Raymond VII of Toulouse that cleared his father of wrong-doing. Raymond VI had been suspected of murdering a preacher on a mission to convert the Cathars.

Louis's piety and kindness towards the poor was much celebrated. He went on crusade twice, in his mid-30s in 1248 (Seventh Crusade) and then again in his mid-50s in 1270 (Eighth Crusade). Both crusades were complete disasters; after initial success in his first attempt, Louis's army of 15,000 men was met by overwhelming resistance from the Egyptian army and people.

He had begun with the rapid capture of the port of Damietta in June 1249,[1] an attack which did cause some disruption in the Muslim Ayyubid empire, especially as the current sultan was on his deathbed. But the march from Damietta towards Cairo through the Nile River Delta went slowly. During this time, the Ayyubid sultan died, and a sudden power shift took place, as the sultan's slave wife Shajar al-Durr set events in motion which were to make her Queen, and eventually place the Egyptians' slave army of the Mamluks in power. On April 13, 1250 Louis lost his army at the Battle of al Mansurah and was captured by the Egyptians. His release was eventually negotiated, in return for a ransom of 400,000 livres tournois (at the time France's annual revenue was only about 250,000 livres tournois, so it was necessary to obtain a loan from the Templars), and the surrender of the city of Damietta.[2]

Following his release from Egyptian captivity, Louis spent four years in the crusader Kingdoms of Acre, Caesarea, and Jaffe. Louis used his wealth to assist the crusaders in rebuilding their defenses and conducting diplomacy with the Islamic powers of Syria and Egypt. Upon his departure from the Middle East, Louis left a significant garrison in the city of Acre for its defense against Islamic attacks. The historic presence of this French garrison in the Middle East was later used as a justification for the French Mandate following the end of the First World War.

Attempted alliances[]

Template:See also Louis exchanged multiple letters and emissaries with Mongol rulers of the period. After Louis left France on his first Crusade and disembarked at Nicosia in Cyprus, he was met on December 20, 1248, in Nicosia by two Mongol envoys, Nestorians from Mossul named David and Marc, who bore a letter from Eljigidei, the Mongol ruler of Armenia and Persia.[3] The envoys communicated a proposal to form an alliance against the Muslim Abbasids, whose Caliphate was based in Baghdad.[4] Eljigidei suggested that King Louis should land in Egypt, while Eljigidei attacked Baghdad, in order to prevent the Saracens of Egypt and those of Syria from joining forces.

Though at least one historian has criticized Louis as being "naive" in trusting the ambassadors, and Louis himself later admitted that he regretted the decision,[5] Louis sent André de Longjumeau, a Dominican priest, as an emissary to the Great Khan Güyük in Mongolia. However, Güyük died, from drink, before the emissary arrived at his court, and his widow Oghul Ghaimish simply gave the emissary a gift and a condescending letter to take back to King Louis,[6] demanding that the king pay tribute to the Mongols.[7]

In 1252, Louis attempted an alliance with the Egyptians, for the return of Jerusalem if the French assisted with the subduing of Damascus.

In 1253, Louis tried to seek allies from among both the Ismailian Assassins and the Mongols.[8] Louis had received word that the the Mongol leader of the Golden Horde, Sartaq, had converted to Christianity,[9] While in Cyprus, Louis also saw a letter from Sempad, brother of the Armenian ruler Hetoum I, who, on an embassy to the Mongol court in Karakorum, described a Central Asian realm of oasis with many Christians, generally of the Nestorian rite.[10]

Louis dispatched another envoy to the Mongol court in the person of the Franciscan William of Rubruck, who went to visit the Great Khan Möngke in Mongolia. William entered into a famous competition at the Mongol court, as the Khan encouraged a formal debate between the Christians, Buddhists, and Muslims, to determine which faith was correct, as determined by three judges, one from each faith. The debate drew a large crowd, and as with most Mongol events, a great deal of alcohol was involved. As described by Jack Weatherford in his book Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World:

"No side seemed to convince the other of anything. Finally, as the effects of the alcohol became stronger, the Christians gave up trying to persuade anyone with logical arguments, and resorted to singing. The Muslims, who did not sing, responded by loudly reciting the Koran in an effort to drown out the Christians, and the Buddhists retreated into silent mediation. At the end of the debate, unable to convert or kill one another, they concluded the way most Mongol celebrations concluded, with everyone simply too drunk to continue."
―Jack Weatherford[src]

But even after the competition, Möngke replied only with a letter via William in 1254, asking for the King's submission to Mongol authority.[11]

Patron of arts and arbiter of Europe[]

Louis' patronage of the arts drove much innovation in Gothic art and architecture, and the style of his court radiated throughout Europe by both the purchase of art objects from Parisian masters for export and by the marriage of the king's daughters and female relatives to foreign husbands and their subsequent introduction of Parisian models elsewhere. Louis' personal chapel, the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris, was copied more than once by his descendants elsewhere. Louis most likely ordered the production of the Morgan Bible, a masterpiece of medieval painting.

Saint Louis ruled during the so-called "golden century of Saint Louis", when the kingdom of France was at its height in Europe, both politically and economically. The king of France was regarded as a primus inter pares among the kings and rulers of the continent. He commanded the largest army, and ruled the largest and most wealthy kingdom of Europe, a kingdom which was the European center of arts and intellectual thought (La Sorbonne) at the time. The prestige and respect felt in Europe for King Louis IX was due more to the attraction that his benevolent personality created rather than to military domination. For his contemporaries, he was the quintessential example of the Christian prince, and embodied the whole of Christendom in his person. His reputation of saintliness and fairness was already well established while he was alive, and on many occasions he was chosen as an arbiter in the quarrels opposing the rulers of Europe.

Religious zeal[]

The perception of Louis IX as the exemplary Christian prince was reinforced by his religious zeal. Louis was a devout Catholic, and he built the Sainte Chapelle ("Holy Chapel"), located within the royal palace complex (now the Paris Hall of Justice), on the Île de la Cité in the centre of Paris. The Sainte Chapelle, a perfect example of the Rayonnant style of Gothic architecture, was erected as a shrine for the Crown of Thorns and a fragment of the True Cross, precious relics of the Passion of Jesus. Louis purchased these in 123941 from Emperor Baldwin II of the Latin Empire of Constantinople, for the exorbitant sum of 135,000 livres (the chapel, on the other hand, cost only 60,000 livres to build). This purchase should be understood in the context of the extreme religious fervor that existed in Europe in the 13th century. The purchase contributed greatly to reinforcing the central position of the king of France in western Christendom, as well as to increasing the renown of Paris, then the largest city of western Europe. During a time when cities and rulers vied for relics, trying to increase their reputation and fame, Louis IX had succeeded in securing the most prized of all relics in his capital. The purchase was thus not only an act of devotion, but also a political gesture: the French monarchy was trying to establish the kingdom of France as the "new Jerusalem."

Louis IX took very seriously his mission as "lieutenant of God on Earth," with which he had been invested when he was crowned in Rheims. Thus, in order to fulfill his duty, he conducted two crusades, and even though they were unsuccessful, they contributed to his prestige. Contemporaries would not have understood if the king of France did not lead a crusade to the Holy Land. In order to finance his first crusade Louis ordered the expulsion of all Jews engaged in usury. This action enabled Louis to confiscate the property of expelled Jews for use in his crusade. However, he did not eliminate the debts incurred by Christians. One-third of the debt was forgiven, but the other two-thirds was to be remitted to the royal treasury. Louis also ordered, at the urging of Pope Gregory IX, the burning of some 12,000 copies of the Talmud in Paris in 1243. Such legislation against the Talmud, not uncommon in the history of Christendom, was due to medieval courts' concerns that its production and circulation might weaken the faith of Christian individuals and threaten the Christian basis of society, the protection of which was the duty of any Christian monarch.

In addition to Louis's legislation against Jews and usury, he expanded the scope of the Inquisition in France. The area most affected by this expansion was southern France where the Cathar heresy had been strongest. The rate of these confiscations reached its highest levels in the years prior to his first crusade, and slowed upon his return to France in 1254.

In all these deeds, Louis IX tried to fulfill the duty of France, which was seen as "the eldest daughter of the Church" (la fille aînée de l'Église), a tradition of protector of the Church going back to the Franks and Charlemagne, who had been crowned by the Pope in Rome in 800. Indeed, the official Latin title of the kings of France was Rex Francorum, i.e. "king of the Franks," and the kings of France were also known by the title "most Christian king" (Rex Christianissimus). The relationship between France and the papacy was at its peak in the 12th and 13th centuries, and most of the crusades were actually called by the popes from French soil. Eventually, in 1309, Pope Clement V even left Rome and relocated to the French city of Avignon, beginning the era known as the Avignon Papacy (or, more disparagingly, the "Babylonian captivity").

Death and legacy[]

During his second crusade, Louis died at Tunis, August 25, 1270, and was succeeded by his son, Philip III. Louis was traditionally believed to have died from bubonic plague but is thought by modern scholars to be dysentery. The local tradition of Sidi Bou Said claims that the future Saint Louis did not die in 1270, but converted to Islam under the name of Sidi Bou Said, died at the end of the 13th century, and was buried as a saint of Islam in Djebel-Marsa.

Christian tradition states that some of his entrails were buried directly on the spot in Tunisia, where a Tomb of Saint-Louis can still be visited today, whereas other parts of his entrails were sealed in an urn and placed in the Basilica of Monreale, Palermo, where they still remain. His corpse was taken, after a short stay at the Basilica of Saint Dominic in Bologna, to the French royal necropolis at Saint-Denis, resting in Lyon on the way. His tomb at Saint-Denis was a magnificent gilt brass monument designed in the late 14th century. It was melted down during the French Wars of Religion, at which time the body of the king disappeared. Only one finger was rescued and is kept at Saint-Denis.

Veneration as a saint[]

Pope Boniface VIII proclaimed the canonization of Louis in 1297; he is one of the few royals in French history to have been declared a saint.

Louis IX is often considered the model of the ideal Christian monarch. Because of the aura of holiness attached to his memory, many Kings of France were called Louis, especially in the Bourbon dynasty, who directly descended from one of his younger sons.

The Congregation of the Sisters of Saint Louis is a Roman Catholic religious order founded in 1842 and named in his honour.

Places named after Saint Louis[]

The cities of San Luis Potosí in Mexico, Saint Louis, Missouri, Saint-Louis du Sénégal in Senegal, Saint-Louis in Alsace, as well as Lake Saint-Louis in Quebec, and the Mission San Luis Rey de Francia in California are among the many places named after the king.

The Cathedral Saint-Louis in Versailles, Basilica of St. Louis, King of France in St. Louis, Missouri, the Cathedral-Basilica of St. Louis in St. Louis, Missouri, and the French royal Order of Saint Louis (16931790 and 181430) were also created after the king. The Saint Louis Cathedral in New Orleans is named after him.

Many places in Brazil called São Luís in Portuguese are named after Saint Louis.

Sidi Bou Said in Tunisia is said to have been named for this very Catholic French king.[12] Tunisian legend tells the story of King Louis falling in love with a Berber princess, changing his name to Abou Said ibn Khalef ibn Yahia Ettamini el Beji (nicknamed "Sidi Bou Said") for which a quaint town on the Tunisian coast is named. He became, according to this legend, an Islamic saint.

Famous portraits[]

A portrait of St. Louis hangs in the chamber of the United States House of Representatives.

Saint Louis is also portrayed on a frieze depicting a timeline of important lawgivers throughout world history in the Courtroom at the Supreme Court of the United States.


  1. Tyerman, p. 787
  2. Tyerman, pp. 789-798
  3. Template:Cite journal
  4. Grousset, p.523
  5. Tyerman, p. 786
  6. Runciman, p.260
  7. Tyerman, p. 798. "Louis's embassy under Andrew of Longjumeau had returned in 1251 carrying a demand from the Mongol regent, Oghul Qaimush, for annual tribute, not at all what the king had anticipated.
  8. Runciman, pp. 279-280
  9. Runciman, p.380
  10. Jean Richard, “Histoire des Croissades”, p. 376
  11. J. Richard, 1970, p. 202., Encyclopedia Iranica, [1]

External links[]