Saint Louis, the height of chivalry

March 21, 2011

Unlike [Frederick II of Germany], Louis frequently ignored a practical course of action that would derive a benefit for himself and chose instead one that entailed suffering for the benefit of the Church and Christendom. Of all the problems that beset Christian life, the continual harassment by the Saracens of the Holy Places, the pilgrims and the few hundred knights that protected them troubled Louis the most.

In 1248 he embarked on an extremely well planned crusade against the Sultan of Egypt since Palestine at that time was under his control. Once again the crusaders stormed and captured Damietta on the eastern branch of the Nile. Proceeding up the river on the right bank towards Cairo, they arrived at the fortress of Mansourah. Robert of Artois, the King’s oldest brother, crossed the protecting channel, routed a detachment of guards and rode on to an enemy encampment outside the wall where they killed everyone they found. Instead of returning to guard the bridgehead and allow the main body of Louis’ army to cross and reinforce him, Robert impetuously invaded the fortress. That blundering imprudence cost him and 280 knights, most of them Templars, their lives.

St. Louis in battle

The advance had been stopped. The Christians lost control of the river and when they attempted to retreat were picked off in small groups. Louis, who became quite ill, was captured along with his two surviving brothers. With the threat of torture and death hanging over his head, the embattled saint carried himself with such dignity that the impressed Moslems agreed to release him and many other prisoners upon the surrender of Damietta and the payment of a large ransom.

The Life of King St. Louis by Alexandre Cabanel

After his release, Louis went to the Holy Land where he directed the fortifications of several coastal fortress cities and returned to France in 1254 at the death of his mother who had been regent for the second time. There he inaugurated a period of justice and peace not only in his own realm but also among his once-hostile neighbors for which he is justly renowned.

Jeremias Wells, History of Western Civilization (n.p., n.d.), pp. 269-270.


Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 59


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