quintessential Christian Prince, was born in Poissy, France on 25 April 1215
to King Louis VIII and Blanche of Castile. His father died when he was just
eleven years old, and he was crowned -- at Rheims, like almost all French
Kings -- on the First Sunday of Advent in 1226. His very strong and pious
mother acted as his regent, supressing various revolts to secure her son's
place. She acted as regent even after he reached the age of majority, and
guided his career with strong Christian advice, forming his character in
holiness. She would say to him, "Never forget that sin is the only great
evil in the world. No mother could love her son more than I love you. But
I would rather see you lying dead at my feet than know that you had offended
God by one mortal sin" -- sentiments that he took to heart and would later
pass on to his own successor (see below).
In 1230, he outlawed all forms of usury and compelled usurers to contribute
toward the Crusades when their debtors could not be found to be compensated
(later under his reign, in 1240, would come the famous disputation of the
Talmud in Paris, after rulers and churchmen discovered what blasphemies the
Talmud taught. Copies of the Talmud were burned in great fires in the streets
Louis married at age nineteen, in 1234, taking to wife Marguerite of Provence,
with whom he had eleven children -- five sons and six daughters. He went
on a Crusade in 1248, and fought nobly and with great honor, forbidding his
men to kill prisoners and always expecting them to act as Christians. But
he lost the battle and, weakened by dystentery, was captured in Mansoura,
Egypt. During his captivity, he sang the Divine Office every day
with two chaplains and conducted
himself with such honor as to impress his captors. When the Sultan was killed
by his own emirs, he was set free, but didn't immediately return to Europe;
instead, he went to the Holy Land, and remained there in order to help fortify
the Christian colonies, not returning until 1254, during which time his mother
Very dedicated to the cause of peace, he not only arbitrated and made treaties
with Henry VIII and James I of Aragon, but did much to curb a lot of the
petty, feudal warfare that caused so much harm. He was a great patron of
learning, the arts, and architecture, and under his patronage, the Sorbonne
was founded; abbeys built; the choir, apse, and nave of St. Denis Basilica
-- which contains the tombs of almost all French Kings -- were refurbished,
etc. His crowning architectural glory, though, is Ste. Chapelle, the beautiful
chapel with the walls of stained glass that sits on the tiny Ile de la Cité
right in the middle of Paris, in the Seine River (the same island where Notre
Dame Cathedral is found). This chapel was built to house a part of the Crown
of Thorns and a piece of the True Cross which he purchased from Emperor Baldwin
II in Constantinople, and it became St. Louis's personal royal chapel. To
stand in it is to seem to stand inside a luminous jewel box:
Glorious and fruitful
was his reign! Indeed, having dealt with economic woes by expelling the usurers
from France, King St. Louis ruled over a time that became known as "the golden
century of Saint Louis."
He was most famous, though, for his charity, humility, and concern for the
poor. He built many hospitals, among them the hospital known as "Quinze-vingt"
("Fifteen-Twenty") -- a hospital for the blind and whose name comes from
the fact that it could care for 300 patients. He built homes for reformed
prostitutes. Every day, he met with the poor personally and saw to it that
they were fed, inviting them to dine with him, and washing their feet in
imitation of Christ at the Last Supper. He gave special attention to the
indigent during Advent and Lent. All who knew him admired him; no one spoke
ill of him and he spoke ill of no one else. His biographer, Joinville, wrote,
"I was a good twenty-two years in the King's company and never once did I
hear him swear, either by God, or His Mother, or His saints. I did not even
hear him name the Devil, except if he met the word when reading aloud, or
when discussing what had been read."
He was also very devoted to the cause of Justice, and eliminated the feudal
method of conflict resolution through combat, replacing it with arbitration
and judicial process. He eradicated his ancestors' "King's Court" and established
popular courts in which he, himself, would hear his subjects' grievances.
In 1270, he went off on another Crusade, this time in an attempt to convert
the Emir of Tunis after being inspired by acting as godfather to a Jewish
convert. Again, his Crusade failed, and again he became sick with dysentery.
This time, though, he did not recover. He died at three in the afternoon
on 25 August 1270. His last words were those of Christ: "Into Thy hands I
commend my spirit." He was canonized in 1297, 27 years after his death, and
was succeeded by his son, Philip III (see Louis's letter to him below). His
line continued after him until the French Revolution, when King Louis XVI
was guillotined on 21 January 1703. At this act of regicide, the Abbe Edgeworth
said, "Son of St. Louis, ascend to Heaven!"
King Louis's remains were laid to rest, like those of almost all French Kings,
in the Basilica of St. Denis (now a northern suburb of Paris). The Basilica
was sacked during the infamous Revolution and its royal tombs were emptied
into a mass grave -- with some of the tombs themselves being destroyed, including
that of St. Louis (the tomb-smashing was stopped when an archaeologist of
urged the revolutionaries to consider them
"works of art"). In 1817, the mass grave was opened and all of the bones
were placed in a single ossuary, with the names of the monarchs recorded.
St. Louis is the patron of builders, kings, large families, and Crusaders
(and, of course, St. Louis, Missouri). He is represented in art by the Crown
of Thorns, crown, scepter, and the fleur-de-lis (the symbol of French monarchy,
most likely a stylized depiction of the Yellow Flag Iris -- Iris
pseudocorus. See picture at right).
Last Instructions to his Eldest Son, Philip III
1. To his dear
first-born son, Philip, greeting, and his father's love.
2. Dear son, since I desire with all my heart that you be well "instructed
in all things, it is in my thought to give you some advice this writing.
For I have heard you say, several times, that you remember my words better
than those of any one else.
3. Therefore, dear son, the first thing I advise is that you fix your whole
heart upon God, and love Him with all your strength, for without this no
one can be saved or be of any worth.
4. You should, with all your strength, shun everything which you believe
to be displeasing to Him. And you ought especially to be resolved not to
commit mortal sin, no matter what may happen and should permit all your limbs
to be hewn off, and suffer every manner of torment, rather than fall knowingly
into mortal sin.
5. If our Lord send you any adversity, whether illness or other in good patience,
and thank Him for it, thing, you should receive it in good patience and be
thankful for it, for you ought to believe that He will cause everthing to
turn out for your good; and likewise you should think that you have well
merited it, and more also, should He will it, because you have loved Him
but little, and served Him but little, and have done many things contrary
to His will.
6. If our Lord send you any prosperity, either health of body or other thing
you ought to thank Him humbly for it, and you ought to be careful that you
are not the worse for it, either through pride or anything else, for it is
a very great sin to fight against our Lord with His gifts.
7. Dear son, I advise you that you accustom yourself to frequent confession,
and that you choose always, as your confessors, men who are upright and
sufficiently learned, and who can teach you what you should do and what you
should avoid. You should so carry yourself that your confessors and other
friends may dare confidently to reprove you and show you your faults.
8. Dear son, I advise you that you listen willingly and devoutly the services
of Holy Church, and, when you are in church, avoid to frivolity and trifling,
and do not look here and there; but pray to God with lips and heart alike,
while entertaining sweet thoughts about Him, and especially at the mass,
when the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ are consecrated, and for
a little time before.
9. Dear son, have a tender pitiful heart for the poor, and for all those
whom you believe to be in misery of heart or body, and, according to your
ability, comfort and aid them with some alms.
10. Maintain the good customs of your realm, and put down the bad ones. Do
not oppress your people and do not burden them with tolls or tailles, except
under very great necessity.
11. If you have any unrest of heart, of such a nature that it may be told,
tell it to your confessor, or to some upright man who can keep your secret;
you will be able to carry more easily the thought of your heart.
12. See to it that those of your household are upright and loyal, and remember
the Scripture, which says: "Elige viros timentes Deum in quibus sit justicia
et qui oderint avariciam"; that is to say, "Love those who serve God and
who render strict justice and hate covetousness"; and you will profit, and
will govern your kingdom well.
13. Dear son, see to it that all your associates are upright, whether clerics
or laymen, and have frequent good converse with them; and flee the society
of the bad. And listen willingly to the word of God, both in open and in
secret; and purchase freely prayers and pardons.
14. Love all good, and hate all evil, in whomsoever it may be.
15. Let no one be so bold as to say, in your presence, words which attract
and lead to sin, and do not permit words of detraction to be spoken of another
behind his back.
!6. Suffer it not that any ill be spoken of God or His saints in your presence,
without taking prompt vengeance. But if the offender be a clerk or so great
a person that you ought not to try him, report the matter to him who is entitled
to judge it.
17. Dear son, give thanks to God often for all the good things He has done
for you, so that you may be worthy to receive more, in such a manner that
if it please the Lord that you come to the burden and honor of governing
the kingdom, you may be worthy to receive the sacred unction wherewith the
kings of France are consecrated.
18. Dear son, if you come to the throne, strive to have that which befits
a king, that is to say, that in justice and rectitude you hold yourself steadfast
and loyal toward your subjects and your vassals, without turning either to
the right or to the left, but always straight, whatever may happen. And if
a poor man have a quarrel with a rich man, sustain the poor rather than the
rich, until the truth is made clear, and when you know the truth, do justice
19. If any one have entered into a suit against you (for any injury or wrong
which he may believe that you have done to him), be always for him and against
yourself in the presence of your council, without showing that you think
much of your case (until the truth be made known concerning it); for those
of your council might be backward in speaking against you, and this you should
not wish; and command your judges that you be not in any way upheld more
than any others, for thus will your councillors judge more boldly according
to right and truth.
20. If you have anything belonging to another, either of yourself or through
your predecessors, if the matter is certain, give it up without delay, however
great it may be, either in land or money or otherwise. If the matter is doubtful,
have it inquired into by wise men, promptly and diligently. And if the affair
is so obscure that you cannot know the truth, make such a settlement, by
the counsel of s of upright men, that your soul, and the soul your predecessors,
may be wholly freed from the affair. And even if you hear some one say that
your predecessors made restitution, make diligent inquiry to learn if anything
remains to be restored; and if you find that such is the case, cause it to
be delivered over at once, for the liberation of your soul and the souls
of your predecessors.
21. You should seek earnestly how your vassals and your subjects may live
in peace and rectitude beneath your sway; likewise, the good towns and the
good cities of your kingdom. And preserve them in the estate and the liberty
in which your predecessors kept them, redress it, and if there be anything
to amend, amend and preserve their favor and their love. For it is by the
strength and the riches of your good cities and your good towns that the
native and the foreigner, especially your peers and your barons, are deterred
from doing ill to you. I will remember that Paris and the good towns of my
kingdom aided me against the barons, when I was newly crowned.
22. Honor and love all the people of Holy Church, and be careful that no
violence be done to them, and that their gifts and alms, which your predecessors
have bestowed upon them, be not taken away or diminished. And I wish here
to tell you what is related concerning King Philip, my ancestor, as one of
his council, who said he heard it, told it to me. The king, one day, was
with his privy council, and he was there who told me these words. And one
of the king's councillors said to him how much wrong and loss he suffered
from those of Holy Church, in that they took away his rights and lessened
the jurisdiction of his court; and they marveled greatly how he endured it.
And the good king answered: "I am quite certain that they do me much wrong,
but when I consider the goodnesses and kindnesses which God has done me,
I had rather that my rights should go, than have a contention or awaken a
quarrel with Holy Church." And this I tell to you that you may not lightly
believe anything against the people of Holy Church; so love them and honor
them and watch over them that they may in peace do the service of our Lord.
23. Moreover, I advise you to love dearly the clergy, and, so far as you
are able, do good to them in their necessities, and likewise love those by
whom God is most honored and served, and by whom the Faith is preached and
24. Dear son, I advise that you love and reverence your father and your mother,
willingly remember and keep their commandments, and be inclined to believe
their good counsels.
25. Love your brothers, and always wish their well-being and their good
advancement, and also be to them in the place of a father, to instruct them
in all good. But be watchful lest, for the love which you bear to one, you
turn aside from right doing, and do to the others that which is not meet.
26. Dear son, I advise you to bestow the benefices of Holy Church which you
have to give, upon good persons, of good and clean life, and that you bestow
them with the high counsel of upright men. And I am of the opinion that it
is preferable to give them to those who hold nothing of Holy Church, rather
than to others. For, if you inquire diligently, you will find enough of those
who have nothing who will use wisely that entrusted to them.
27. Dear son, I advise you that you try with all your strength to avoid warring
against any Christian man, unless he have done you too much ill. And if wrong
be done you, try several ways to see if you can find how you can secure your
rights, before you make war; and act thus in order to avoid the sins which
are committed in warfare.
28. And if it fall out that it is needful that you should make war (either
because some one of your vassals has failed to plead his case in your court,
or because he has done wrong to some church or to some poor person, or to
any other person whatsoever, and is unwilling to make amends out of regard
for you, or for any other reasonable cause), whatever the reason for which
it is necessary for you to make war, give diligent command that the poor
folk who have done no wrong or crime be protected from damage to their vines,
either through fire or otherwise, for it were more fitting that you should
constrain the wrongdoer by taking his own property (either towns or castles,
by force of siege), than that you should devastate the property of poor people.
And be careful not to start the war before you have good counsel that the
cause is most reasonable, and before you have summoned the offender to make
amends, and have waited as long as you should. And if he ask mercy, you ought
to pardon him, and accept his amende, so that God may be pleased with you.
29. Dear son, I advise you to appease wars and contentions, whether they
be yours or those of your subjects, just as quickly as may be, for it is
a thing most pleasing to our Lord. And Monsignore Martin gave us a very great
example of this. For, one time, when our Lord made it known to him that he
was about to die, he set out to make peace between certain clerks of his
archbishopric, and he was of the opinion that in so doing he was giving a
good end to life.
30. Seek diligently, most sweet son, to have good baillis and good prevots
in your land, and inquire frequently concerning their doings, and how they
conduct themselves, and if they administer justice well, and do no wrong
to any one, nor anything which they ought not do. Inquire more often concerning
those of your household if they be too covetous or too arrogant; for it is
natural that the members should seek to imitate their chief; that is, when
the master is wise and well-behaved, all those of his household follow his
example and prefer it. For however much you ought to hate evil in others,
you shoud have more hatred for the evil which comes from those who derive
their power from you, than you bear to the evil of others; and the more ought
you to be on your guard and prevent this from happening.
3!. Dear son, I advise you always to be devoted to the Church of Rome, and
to the sovereign pontiff, our father, and to bear him the the reverence and
honor which you owe to your spiritual father.
32. Dear son, freely give power to persons of good character, who know how
to use it well, and strive to have wickednesses expelled from your land,
that is to say, nasty oaths, and everything said or done against God or our
Lady or the saints. In a wise and proper manner put a stop, in your land,
to bodily sins, dicing, taverns, and other sins. Put down heresy so far as
you can, and hold in especial abhorrence Jews, and all sorts of people who
are hostile to the Faith, so that your land may be well purged of them, in
such manner as, by the sage counsel of good people, may appear to you advisable.
33. Further the right with all your strength. Moreover I admonish you you
that you strive most earnestly to show your gratitude for the benefits which
our Lord has bestowed upon you, and that you may know how to give Him thanks
34. Dear son, take care that the expenses of your household are reasonable
and moderate, and that its moneys are justly obtained. And there is one opinion
that I deeply wish you to entertain, that is to say, that you keep yourself
free from foolish expenses and evil exactions, and that your money should
be well expended and well acquired. And this opinion, together with other
opinions which are suitable and profitable, I pray that our Lord may teach
35. Finally, most sweet son, I conjure and require you that, if it please
our Lord that I should die before you, you have my soul succored with masses
and orisons, and that you send through the congregations of the kingdom of
France, and demand their prayers for my soul, and that you grant me a special
and full part in all the good deeds which you perform.
36. In conclusion, dear son, I give you all the blessings which a good and
tender father can give to a son, and I pray our Lord Jesus Christ, by His
mercy, by the prayers and merits of His blessed Mother, the Virgin Mary,
and of angels and archangels and of all the saints, to guard and protect
you from doing anything contrary to His will, and to give you grace to do
it always, so that He may be honored and served by you. And this may He do
to me as to you, by His great bounty, so that after this mortal life we may
be able to be together with Him in the eternal life, and see Him, love Him,
and praise Him without end. Amen. And glory, honor, and praise be to Him
who is one God with the Father and the Holy Spirit; without beginning and
without end. Amen.