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St. Louis IX, King of France, was born in Poissy, France, in 1214. His father was Louis VIII, and his mother was Blanche, daughter of Alfonso VIII of Castille, surnamed the Conqueror.
Louis IX was the eldest surviving child out of 11 that were born to Louis VIII and Blanche. He was raised with particular care by his parents, especially his mother. Experienced horsemen taught him riding and the fine points of hunting. Tutors taught him biblical history, geography and ancient literature. His mother instructed him in religion and educated him as a sincere, unbigoted Christian. Louis was not a perfect adolescent. In fact, he was occasionally seized by fits of temper, which he made efforts to control.
At age 12, Louis lost his father, and his mother became regent of the kingdom. The queen mother’s first concern was to take Louis to Reims to be crowned. Many of the most powerful nobles refrained from participating in the ceremony, but Blanche was not a woman to be discouraged by adversity. While continuing her son’s education, she vigorously attacked the rebellious barons, particularly Hugh of Lusignan and Peter of Dreux (Pierre Mauclerc), duke of Brittany. The two were part of a coalition with Henry III of England. Fortunately for Louis and his mother, Henry had his hands full in his own country and without his support the barons could not prevail.
With his mother’s support, Louis was able to defeat enemies and heretics in the South of France and strengthened royal control of the University of Paris by temporarily closing it and dispersing militant students and professors.
In 1234, he married Margaret, the virtuous daughter of Raymond Berenger, Count of Provence, and two years later he took the reins of government into his own hands. In 1238, he headed a crusade against the sultan of Egypt, who had control of the Holy Lands and Damascus. Louis was taken prisoner among the Muslims, but a truce was concluded, and he was set free and he returned to France.
Louis enjoyed immense prestige throughout Western Christendom. He took advantage of this to open negotiations for a lasting peace with the English king, Henry III, who had become his brother-in-law. The discussions extended over several years, but the treaty was signed in Paris on May 28, 1258.
Louis’ reputation for impartiality was so great that he was often called upon to arbitrate disputes outside France, as he once did in a violent dispute between Henry III and his barons. The king devoted attention to the arts and to literature. He directed the construction of several buildings in Paris, Vincennes, Saint-Germain, and Corbeil (to house relics of the “True Cross”). He encouraged Vincent of Beauvais, his chaplain, to write the first great encyclopedia, “Speculum majus.” During his reign, foreign students and scholars flocked to the University of Paris.
In 1267, he again set out for the East at the head of a crusade, but he never again beheld his native land. In 1270, he was stricken by the pestilence at the siege of Tunis, and after receiving the Last Sacraments, he died. The Crusade dissolved, and Louis’s body was brought back to France. All along the way, through Italy, the Alps, Lyon and Cluny, crowds gathered and knelt as the procession passed. It reached Paris on the eve of Pentecost in 1271. The funeral rites were solemnly performed at Notre-Dame de Paris, and the coffin went to rest in the abbey of Saint-Denis, the tomb of the kings of France.
Without awaiting the judgment of the Roman Catholic Church, the people considered Louis IX to be a saint and prayed at his tomb. Pope Boniface VIII canonized Louis IX, the only king of France to be numbered by the Roman Catholic Church among its saints, in 1297.