St. Louis, King of France

"If God send thee adversity, receive it in patience and give thanks to our Saviour and bethink thee that thou hast deserved it, and that He will make it turn to thine advantage.  If He send thee prosperity, then thank Him humbly, so that thou becomest not worse from pride or any other cause, when thou oughtest to be better.  For we should not fight against God with his own gifts.  Have a kind and pitiful heart towards the poor and the unfortunate, and comfort and assist them as much as thou canst.  Keep up the good customs of thy kingdom, and put down all bad ones.  Love all that is good and hate all that is evil of any sort.  Suffer no ill word about God or Our Lady or the saints to be spoken in thy presence."  -- From Louis' last instructions to his son.     



At his coronation as king of France, Louis IX bound himself by oath to behave as God’s anointed, as the father of his people and feudal lord of the King of Peace.  Other kings had done the same, but Louis actually interpreted his kingly duties in the light of faith.  After the violence of two previous reigns, he brought peace and justice.


Louis was born on April 25, 1214, in Poissy, where he was also baptized.  Upon the death of his father in November 1226, he was anointed king at Rheims, where all French monarchs were anointed and crowned.  Later in his life, he was heard, on more than one occasion, to say that his baptism at Poissy was more important than his anointing at Rheims.


Because he was crowned king at the age of 12, his mother, Blanche of Castile, ruled the country while he was a minor.  At age 19, Louis married Marguerite of Provence (age 12), and they proceeded to have 11 children.


Louis “took the cross” for a Crusade when he was 30.  His army seized Damietta in Egypt, but not long after, weakened by dysentery and without support, they were surrounded and captured.  Louis obtained the release of the army by giving up the city of Damietta, in addition to paying a ransom.  He stayed in Syria for four years.


Louis extended justice in civil administration.  His regulations for royal officials became the first of a series of reform laws.  He replaced trial-by-battle with a form of examination of witnesses, and encouraged the use of written records in court.  Royal officials were prohibited from frequenting public drinking places and from gambling; usury was forbidden; prostitution was curbed; and homes were built for the rehabilitation of the women.  There were ordinances decreed against blasphemy, and a renewed effort was undertaken to “exterminate” heresy.  Because no “wall of separation” existed between throne and altar, Louis was also able to act against members of the clergy, including bishops, who abused the power of their offices for their own personal gain. 


Louis was devoted to his people, founding hospitals, visiting the sick and, like his patron St. Francis, caring even for people with leprosy. (He is one of the patrons of the Secular Franciscan Order.) Louis united France—lords and townsfolk, peasants and priests and knights—by the force of his personality and holiness.  For many years the nation was at peace.


Every day Louis had 13 special guests from among the poor to eat with him, and a large number of poor were served meals near his palace.  During Advent and Lent, all who presented themselves were given a meal, and Louis often served them in person.  He kept lists of needy people, whom he regularly relieved, in every province of his dominion.


Often he would send servants out to bring in unfortunates who could be found in the streets so that they might dine with him.  He would cut their bread, pour their drink, and serve them.  On Maundy Thursday, he would have his children join him in washing the feet of a dozen poor men to whom he would give large alms.  The poorest of the poor in those days were lepers.  Most persons were so afraid of them that the lepers were not allowed to approach even the vicinity of anyone who was healthy.  When Louis encountered them on his journeys around the kingdom, he would order that alms be given to them.  On several occasions, when members of his retinue were afraid to carry out this order, the King dismounted and did it himself.  During his journeys he regularly stopped at monasteries, where he would follow monastic regulations regarding prayer and meals, much to the chagrin of some of his courtiers, who would have preferred more comfortable quarters and richer food.


When, on Crusade, Louis was defeated, captured, and humiliated, he concluded that it must be on account of his sins, and he became deeply penitential.  He no longer wore silk, but rough cloth, and at home he slept on a board and cotton mattress, instead of in his feather bed.  Daily, he read his breviary and went to Mass, and sometimes spent entire nights in prayer.  He frequently fasted from all food and made pilgrimages to Chartres. 


Disturbed by new Muslim advances in Syria, Louis led his final crusade in 1267, at the age of 41.  His army was decimated by disease within a month, and he died on foreign soil at the age of 44.  As he was dying, he called on various saints to help him in his final hour, and then died at 3PM, the same hour as Our Lord’s death.  In May 1271, his remains were laid to rest at the Abbey of St. Denis, burial place of the Kings of France.  On August 9, 1297, he was canonized, after the Church examined 65 miracles attesting to his sanctity!  Because his actions were based on belief that a ruler must do all he can to assure the salvation of his subjects, as well as his own soul, he became known as “the most Christian king.”