Today’s ancestor is “holy” royal

Titling this entry with a bad pun doesn’t seem very nice, does it? But today’s ancestor was a most interesting fellow. As I mentioned in a previous entry, my gateway ancestor to all of this historical goodness is Edward I. His second wife, Margaret of France, was the granddaughter of Louis IX, making this king of France my 23rd-great-grandfather. (As the father of eleven, Louis can claim a fair few million descendants today.) Louis was a king of the Capet dynasty, and the only king of France to be canonized as a saint. Yep, Louis IX is also Saint Louis–the one for whom the city in Missouri is named.

He was a crusader–in both interpretations of the word. He worked hard to eradicate blasphemy and prostitution; he introduced a presumption of innocence in criminal matters. He also participated in the Seventh and Eighth Crusades, both of which were failures from the perspective of the Christian kings of Europe. Louis was far more successful as a patron of the arts. He built Sainte-Chapelle, a glorious Gothic chapel commissioned as a home for the relics of the Crucifixion. (Purchased from the emperor of Constantinople, the relics cost twice as much as the exquisite chapel itself.)

On the negative side of the balance sheet, like most Christians of the era, he was anti-Semitic, burning thousands of Jewish books as well as interfering with the traditionally Jewish occupation of money-lending, and he was rabidly opposed to any reform within the Catholic church.

Because of his devout religious practices, he was held up by the pope as an example of a perfect Christian monarch and eventually canonized. His hair shirt and scourge are in the collection at Notre-Dame–in surprisingly good condition.

Perhaps the most human thing about Louis is his marriage. At the age of twenty he married the 13-year old Margaret of Provence, one of four beautiful daughters of the Count of Provence–all of whom made superb matches. (All four girls became queens. I’m descended from Margaret and her sister, Eleanor, Queen of England to Henry III.) King at the age of twelve, Louis had relied upon the regency of his mother, Blanche of Castile. His marriage coincided with his desire to take more responsibility onto his own shoulders, a development that wasn’t entirely to his mother’s liking. She interfered in the domestic arrangements, ensuring that the newlyweds were lodged far apart and it was said she preferred them to spend no time together except when the king needed to lie with the queen to get an heir.

In spite of his mother’s meddling, Louis was, for many years, devoted to his bride. For her part, Margaret used to rise from their marriage bed to put a robe around the cold shoulders of her devout husband as he knelt in prayer. In later years, tired of his wife’s involvement in politics, Louis expressed irritation with her attempts to dominate their son and heir. Perhaps it brought back too many memories of his own mother’s troublesome ways?

Louis died in his fifties in Tunis while on Crusade, possibly of plague although modern scholars seem to believe it was dysentery. His courtiers employed the method of mos Teutonicus after his death, stripping the flesh from his bones so that they could be returned to France. His remains, once housed in a splendid tomb, were lost during the French Wars of Religion. It is said that a single finger was recovered and is housed at Saint-Denis, the traditional resting place of French kings.

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2 Responses to Today’s ancestor is “holy” royal

  1. Lynne says:

    Thanks again for an interesting story about “the relatives”. As I love the history of the English royal family, this link to Louis and Margaret, Eleanor’s sister, is fascinating. Isn’t it neat that you can trace your roots back that far, and to such interesting (and sometimes very unusual) people?

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