Feast of St. Louis

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:SaintLouisSainteChapelle.jpgGaudete! Today is the feast day of St. Louis, often called the “crusader king.” During his age (and by many scholars today), he was considered by many to be the ideal Christian king—he was best known for his wisdom, piety, and kindness. The most-read source for information on his life is Jean de Joinville’s memoirs of the crusades, which you can read here on Google Books.

All medievalists should have at least cursory knowledge of Louis IX. Modern history, stereotypes, and the popularity of stories about bad rulers can make it difficult to figure out just what a good medieval king would have been like. Louis IX exemplifies this role. Thomas F. Madden, in his history of the crusades, says simply that much was written on St. Louis during his lifetime, and all of it is good. It is perhaps a tribute to his goodness that, just as Christian myth says that Saladin eventually became a Christian, Muslim myth says that Louis IX eventually became a Muslim.

I had hoped to write short biography of St. Louis today, but I’m too busy preparing for the coming semester (and frankly, many of you are probably too busy to read it even if I wrote it). My favorite medieval historian, Régine Pernoud, has written a biography of St. Louis. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been translated yet, and I haven’t learned French yet. If you speak French, read it! If not, start with her chapter on St. Louis in The Crusaders.


Feast of St. Louis — 5 Comments

  1. Ah Louis IX, certainly the most, if not the only, pious Crusader. I wonder how much, if any, influence he had on Mallory’s Arthur? The ideal Christian king must be hard to write about if one doesn’t have many options from which to choose.

    • It’d be fair to call Louis IX the most pious crusader, but he’s far from the only one. I’d start giving examples, but that’s another post.

      The crusades in general had a great impact on Arthurian myth because they brought the idea that knights should be holy men. The Arthurian myths from this time, particularly the French ones, emphasize goodness and loyalty to God as part of an exemplary knight’s qualities. They don’t often depict personal prayer, but they do depict characters giving alms, showing kindness to the poor or the clergy, conducting themselves with highest politeness even when insulted, and refusing to kill enemies unless they have clearly displayed evil actions and refused to yield. Much of this gets lost by Malory’s time since the agenda had changed.

      Hmm…maybe this should be another post.

        • That sounds like a great topic. Crusaders in general would take a huge amount of research in a small amount of time (but then, so would the King Arthur half of that idea). You might want to stick to a single aspect of Arthurian myth–for example, only the Grail quest, or only a certain character.

          • Yeah I was thinking it through and considering that one might be able to draw an easy comparison between St. Louis and Galahad, the only major difference I can see off the top of my head is Galahad got his grail, whereas Louis never made it to Jerusalem. Anyways I’m still thinking on whether to attend or not. Will let you know

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