Thursday, December 2, 2010

Is King Louis a Saint?

Joinville's Life of Saint Louis is separated into two sections, the latter being “Louis's Sanctity in Deed,” which describes in detail Louis's knightly and kingly deeds as a crusaders. The former part, “Louis's Sanctity in Word” is Joinville's testimony about all of Louis's qualities and actions that constitute him to be a Saint. The second section differs from the first a great deal, for it appears to be more of a tribute, or a eulogy of listing all the “Saintly” attributes that Louis held. It was almost like a summary of the second part with many bullet points of Saintly contributions. While the second part is more of a history of Louis's life, but also included portions of Joinville's life as well (it is also a detailed record of their relationship as chronicler and king or simply between friends). Both of these two sections combined show a brave and loyal knight who through piety and faithfulness lead many into battle in the name of Christianity. However, in comparison to other saints lives written in the Middle Ages, such as those by Gregory of Tours, Joinville paints a very different picture of a saint. Gregory of Tours shows saints as performing more “miraculous” and “mystical” actions, such as healing the sick and stopping and controlling fires, but these types of miracles seem to be absent in the life of Louis XI. Thus, the question that keeps coming to mind throughout my reading of Joinville's account is- do all of the accomplishments, deeds, and personal traits that Joinville attributes to Louis equate to Louis being a saint in the Medieval standard?

In his chapter “Louis's Sanctity in Word, ” and the prologue, Joinville praises Louis, and reflects his life as Saintly king of France, but it can be argued that he may be stretching and reaching to far when it comes to call all of these deeds Saintly. As I read them many of them seem similar to the life choices and personal characteristics that an true Christian would encompass. Louis did lead many people into battle during the crusades, but so did many other people, and they were not canonized. Joinville does argue that Louis was a martyr for Christianity because “just as God died on account of his love for his people, the king put his own life at risk on several occasions because of his love for his people. He could easily have avoided doing this so if he had wished too,”1 Joinville argues that although Louis was not officially deemed a martyr, “the great suffering he endured on the pilgrimage of the cross” does ultimately make him a martyr. 2 In his accounts, Joinville outlines four specific occasions where Louis “martyrs” himself or puts himself “in mortal peril in order to save his people from harm...”3 In the first instance, Louis “leaps” from his ship and went onto land in Damietta with the first line of men, instead of waiting for it to be safe. Joinville's second occasion where Louis “martyred” himself for the cross was when he found sailed and fought with his men even though he was severely ill, and was instructed not too. The last two occasions involve Louis staying for four extra years in the Holy Land to help save the people there, and not abandoning a grounded ship of 800 people to ensure they went home alive.4 Although, I agree these are noble and courageous deeds that Louis completed in the name of Christianity and his people from France, but I do not see how they are saintly or even the actions of a martyr. To me they seem just like the actions of righteous, loyal, and brave king and Christian, but not a martyr or a saint. There were many kings during this time who went to battle with their people, and there were many nobleman who went on the crusades as well, but what differentiates Louis from them?

After listing the four occasions that made Louis a martyr, Joinville offered a large list of attributes of Louis's character that made him a saint. These attributes included:

  • Louis was honest (even to the Saracens)5

  • He was not a picky eater (he will eat any food that is placed in front of him)6

  • Louis did not speak ill of others7

  • Louis never spoke the Devil's name8

  • He diluted his wine (he is not a drinker)9

  • Hedid not spend money on vain objects (such as embellishments on his clothing)10

  • Louis spoke against mortal sins (and never did one himself)11

  • He also washed the feet of the poor, and told Joinville that he should too 12

  • He even loved foreigners (made Giles le Brun constable of France even though he was not from France)13

Although these traits are admirable and pious, do they themselves create a saint? Joinville's accounts were the bulk of the evidence for Louis's canonization, but do they do him justice? My answer would be no, but I know Joinville would disagree with me. He sees Louis's moral dignity and desire for just rulings and actions of kings and his crusaders as being saintly. I see it as more being a good king and Christian. However, he was canonization in a short period of time after his death, which shows how devoted people were to his contributions to the crusade, as well as his role as king. In fact, Louis is the only reigning monarch in France to be given sainthood, therefore I do agree that his actions for both France and the Christianity cannot be overlook. Louis was able to balance both his religious zeal and devotions with his duties as king of France, which I do agree shows his dedication to both realms- the Holy and the worldly one. However, I am still in deliberation on whether those traits and actions are valid and great enough to deem him a saint.

1Jean de Joinville and Geoffrey of Villehardouin Chronicles of the Crusades (London: Penguin Classics, 2008), 147.

2Ibid., 142.

3Ibid., 142.

4Ibid., 142-3.

5Ibid., 147.

6Ibid., 147.

7Ibid., 147.

8Ibid., 147.

9Ibid., 148.

10Ibid., 148.

11Ibid., 149.

12Ibid., 149.

13Ibid., 149.

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