King Louis IX of France is one of the few monarchs in history to have been declared a saint by the church. Instead of staying at home and ruling his kingdom, Louis went off on crusade in the Middle East. An intensely pious man, sometimes referred to as a “monk king”, he spent years tramping around Egypt in particular with a large army. While on crusade, he famously managed to get his hands on the Crown of Thorns worn by Jesus before his crucifixion – which he brought back to his capital, Paris.
You can still see where Louis kept the Crown of Thorns, a chapel he had purpose built with floor to ceiling stained glass windows. The so-called Sainte-Chapelle (pictured below from my 2019 visit) – or holy chapel – was completed by the year 1248. Louis spent eye watering sums buying the Crown of Thorns and building the chapel. His kingdom also had to pay a massive ransom to free Louis after he was captured by the Egyptians.
To any sober analysis, this saintly king’s crusading could be viewed as a very expensive waste of time. But we have to think in a totally different way. We’re in the Middle Ages now! The holy war that Louis took to the east was seen as a glorious and sacred endeavour. King Louis was held up as the model prince of his time – just, fair, prayerful and brave.
Jerusalem was already lost to the Saracens. So, Louis took his crusade to the Ayyubid empire, centred on modern Egypt. He also made stops in the fortress citadels of Jaffa, Acre and Caesarea – in modern Israel – still held by the crusaders with a strong Templar presence. In order to try and half the further advance of the enemy, Louis reached out to the Mongol forces that had overrun much of the region and even menaced Europe. But this attempt to create a crusader-Mongol alliance against Islam came to nothing.
It’s normally claimed King Louis IX died of dysentery while on crusade. But analysis of his viscera (intestines and other body parts buried separately) in the recent past suggest he may have had malaria or plague. But analysis of his jawbone – which is held at Notre Dame cathedral in Paris – indicates scurvy. The 2019 theory One theory publicised in 2019 was that Louis succumbed to scurvy due to a chronic lack of vitamins because he wouldn’t eat the local food in Egypt. However, references at the time to “flows of belly” do point strongly to the unfortunate side-effects of dysentery.
King Louis IX was made a saint in 1297, a quarter of a century after his death. Pope Boniface VIII made Louis a saint and it’s widely regarded he did so under pressure from King Philip the Fair of France, the grandson of the saint king.
Yes – Templar watchers – the same King Philip who would round up, imprison and execute the Knights Templar. And this is the same Pope Boniface beaten up by agents of King Philip led by the infamous William de Nogaret – adviser to the king and the man who drafted the Templar arrest warrants.
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However, while agreeing to make Louis IX a saint – Pope Boniface outlined the reasons in a veiled attack on his grandson, King Philip. Up until then, Louis was seen as a man who had rejected kingship to be a holy crusader. But Boniface now spun that story to say Louis had in fact been the perfect king – brackets, unlike his wicked grandson.