In Louis IX of France were united the qualities of a just and upright sovereign, a fearless warrior, and a saint. This crusading king was a living embodiment of the Christianity of the time: he lived for the welfare of his subjects and the glory of God. His father was Louis VIII, of the Capet line, and his mother was the redoubtable Queen Blanche, daughter of King Alfonso of Castile and Eleanor of England. Louis, the oldest son,* was born at Poissy on the Seine, a little below Paris, on April 25,1214, and there was christened. Much of his virtue is attributed to his mother’s care, for the Queen devoted herself to her children’s education. Louis had tutors who made him a master of Latin, taught him to speak easily in public and write with dignity and grace. He was instructed in the arts of war and government and all other kingly accomplishments. But Blanche’s primary concern was to implant in him a deep regard and awe for everything related to religion. She used often to say to him as he was growing up, “I love you my dear son, as much as a mother can love her child; but I would rather see you dead at my feet than that you should commit a mortal sin.”
Louis sailed with his forces from Aigues-Mortes, at the mouth of the Rhone, on July 1, 1270, heading for Tunis, where, he had been told, the emir was ready to be converted and join the expedition to win back the Holy Places. The crusade was a dismal failure. On landing at Carthage, Louis learned to his dismay that the information about the emir was false. He decided to wait there for reinforcements from the King of Sicily. Dysentery and other diseases broke out among the crusaders, and Louis’ second son, who had been born at Damietta during the earlier crusade, died. That same day the King and his eldest son, Philip, sickened, and it was soon apparent that Louis would not recover. He was speechless all the next morning, but at three in the afternoon he said, “Into Thy hands I commend my spirit,” and quickly breathed his last. His bones and heart were taken back to France and kept enshrined in the abbey-church of St. Denis, until they were scattered at the time of the Revolution. Louis was strong, idealistic, austere, just; his charities and foundations were notable, and he went on two crusades. Little wonder that a quarter of a century after his death the process of canonization was started and quickly completed the man who was “every inch a king” became a saint of the Church in 1297, twenty-seven years after his death.