Front Matter Gauls Defeat Romans Vercingetorix Saints of France Attila, Scourge of God Story of Clovis Sons of Clovis Mayors of the Palace Charles the Hammer Pepin the Short Charlemagne in Lombardy Defeat at Roncesvalles Emperor of the West Louis the Pious War of Three Brothers Louis the Stammerer Paris defies the Sea Kings Rollo the Viking Hugh Capet Becomes King Bishop Betrays the Duke Robert the Pious The Peace of God Harold Visits Duke William William Sails to England The Battle of Hastings Peter the Hermit First War of the Cross Louis the Fat and Laon King Fights his Vassal Second War of the Cross French Queen of England How Normandy Was Lost Albigenses War Battle of Bouvines Story of Hugh de La Marche Reign of St. Louis St. Louis's last Crusade Peter the Barber Knights vs. Weavers Pope vs. Philip the Fair Sons of Philip the Fair Philip VI vs. Flanders Battle and Plague King vs. Charles the Bad The Jacquerie Stephen Marcel Betrays Paris Charles V and du Guesclin Du Guesclin Fights for France The Madness of Charles VI The Battle of Agincourt The Maid of Orleans End of Hundred Years' War King vs. Charles the Bold Troubles of Duchess Mary Charles the Affable Knight Without Reproach Battle of the Spurs Francis I, Gentleman King King Taken Prisoner Duke of Guise Defends Metz Calais Returns to France The Riot of Amboise Huguenot and Catholic St. Bartholomew Massacre War of the Three Henries The Protestant King Edict of Nantes Reign of Favorites Taking of La Rochelle Power of the Cardinal-King Reign of Louis XIV The Man in the Iron Mask The Height of Power Edict of Nantes Revoked War of Spanish Succession

History of France - H. E. Marshall

How the King Took the Cross 'Over The Sea'
Louis IX (the Saint) [1226-1270]

Some time after this war with England King Louis became very ill. It was thought that he would die. He lay so still and quiet that one of the ladies who watched by his side thought that he was dead. The other thought he still lived. As they whispered about it, the King suddenly sighed softly. Then he stretched out his arms and in a weak, low voice he murmured: "He who cometh from on high hath visited me and recalled me from among the dead."

As soon as he could speak well, he sent for two Bishops and bade them place upon his shoulder "the Cross of the voyage over the sea."

The two Bishops tried to make him give up the idea. His wife and his mother begged him on their knees to wait at least until he was well. But he would listen to none of them. At length the Bishops dared refuse no longer and with tears in their eyes they gave the Cross to the King. With great joy Louis took it, kissed it and laid it gently upon his breast. But when the Queen, his mother, saw it there, she wept as bitterly as if he had died.

The King got better. But three years passed, during which Louis found so much to do in ruling his kingdom that he was not able to keep his vow and go on a Crusade. No one wished him to go. His wise mother, his gentle, loving wife, all his friends and counsellors begged him to give it up.

"My lord King," said the Bishop of Paris, "remember when you took the Cross you were ill. To say truth you were not in your senses. God will forgive your words spoken unadvisedly. Stay with us. Look around and see the dangers you leave us to. England, Germany, Italy, are our enemies. Stay then and guard and rule your kingdom."

Queen Blanche too begged him to remain. "Dearest son," she said, "stay in your kingdom and the Holy Land will not suffer. God is just; He will forgive your oath by reason of your illness."

But Louis was deaf to all pleading. He looked from one to the other with unmoved face.

"You think I knew not what I did when I took the Cross?" he said. "You think I was out of my senses? Then I lay it aside. I give it up to you."

Then raising his hand to his shoulder he tore away the Cross. He held it out to the Bishop. "My lord Bishop," he said, "here is the Cross which I took. I give it back to you willingly."

When they heard this all around were filled with joy. Then again the King spoke.

"My friends," he said, "I am not now out of my senses. I am not ill. Therefore I ask you to give me back my Cross. For the Lord who knoweth everything knoweth that I shall neither eat nor drink until I wear it again."

Seeing how steadfast the King was in his desire, the Bishop returned the Cross and no one dared try to dissuade him more.

But times were changing. Knights and nobles were no longer so eager to forsake their own land to fight in a far-off country and Louis found it hard to gather an army. He fell upon many ways to gain his end. He even played pranks on his courtiers.

At Christmas time it was the custom of the King to give a new suit of clothes to the gentlemen of his court. The King asked all the gentlemen of his household and the barons who had gathered to spend Christmas with him to come to mass before dawn in the beautiful new chapel which he had built. So all the lords and gentlemen gathered, dressed in the new clothes which the King had given them

When the first rays of sunshine came through the painted windows each man saw with astonishment the sign of the Cross on his neighbor's shoulder. For the King had secretly caused a Cross to be sewn on each. The knights felt that it would not be respectful to the King nor honorable in them to tear off the Crosses. So they took it in good part and laughed at the King's jest until the tears came.

At length Louis set forth upon his long hoped for journey. He left his mother as Regent and she took leave of him sadly and tenderly. "Most sweet, fair son," she said, "fair, tender son, I shall never see you more. Full well my heart tells me so." She was right. Louis held his mother in his arms for the last time, for she died before he returned. His wife, Queen Margaret, went with him.

King Louis turned his Crusade, not toward Palestine, but toward Egypt, for he believed if he conquered the ruler of Egypt he could easily take possession of Palestine. After a long delay in the island of Cyprus the Crusaders at length landed at Damietta at the mouth the Nile.

Here a battle was fought in which the Saracens were defeated and Damietta was taken. But instead of marching on at once and fighting the Saracens again the Crusaders wasted five months at Damietta, giving the Saracens time to get over their first terror and prepare to fight again.

At length the Crusaders moved on, and a second battle was fought. This, too, the Crusaders won. But the victory was of little use to them. Food was growing scarce, sickness and death were thinning their ranks. King Louis saw they could do no more, and he tried to make peace with the Saracens. But they would listen to no terms unless the King was given up to them as a hostage. To this the Crusaders would not listen. "Rather let the Turks kill us all," cried a knight, "than that we should endure the reproach of having pawned our King."

There was nothing then to do but turn homeward as speedily as might be. The retreat began. Part of the army, chiefly the sick and wounded, went by boat on the Nile. They fell almost at once into the hands of the Saracens, who killed them nearly all. The rest, the King among them, although he too was very ill, went by land.

As they marched they were attacked again and again by small parties of Saracens, so that many a knight fell by the way, and was left to die on the burning sand beneath the pitiless blazing sun.

Soon the King became so ill that the army was forced to halt at the first village to which they came. Here the Saracens surrounded them and a fight began. But the French were weak and worn with hunger and sickness. They could scarcely defend themselves.

Then one of the French knights, with the King's leave, went to the Saracen leader to beg for a truce. The Saracens consented. But before the truce could be made known a French herald, either through fear or treachery, cried out, "My lords and knights, yield, yield! The King commands it so that you may not all be slain."

At once the French laid down their arms and yielded. When the Saracen leader saw this he turned to the knight, saying: "You see a truce is no longer needful. Your people are already our prisoners."

It was too true. Even the King was a captive.

A terrible slaughter then began. The Saracens had no pity or mercy. They killed all the sick and wounded and all the common soldiers. To the knights they offered the choice of becoming Mohammedan or having their heads cut off. Many chose rather to die than deny their faith. Only the King and a few of the greatest nobles who could afford to buy their lives were spared.

The King himself was threatened with torture and death. But nothing could shake his calm dignity. "I am your prisoner," he said; "do with me what you will," and his firm courage made even his cruel captors admire him.

At length the Sultan offered to set Louis free if he would give up Damietta and pay a large sum of money. To this Louis consented at once. It was such a huge sum that the Sultan had never expected it to be paid, and he was greatly astonished. "By the law of the prophet," he cried, "the Frank is truly frank and free. He does not bargain over so great a sum as if he were a pedlar or merchant. Tell him that I abate one fifth of the sum."

A truce of ten years was made and King Louis set sail, but not for home. He had done nothing for the Holy Land. He had not even seen it, and he felt it impossible thus to return home. So although, because of the truce he had made, he could not fight, he sailed for Palestine. There he remained for four years, rebuilding and strengthening the fortifications of some of the cities along the seashore which were still in the hands of the Christians. Yet, dearly as he longed for it, he never even saw Jerusalem.