Chapter 14

CHAPTER XIV: FREDERICK II;
ST. LEWIS OF FRANCE (AD 1220-1270) PART I

The popes still tried to stir up the Christians of the West for the
recovery of the Holy Land; and there were crusading attempts from
time to time, although without much effect. One of these crusades
was undertaken in 1228 by Frederick II, an emperor who was all his
life engaged in struggles against one pope after another. Frederick
had taken the cross when he was very young; but when once any one
had done so, the popes thought that they were entitled to call on
him to fulfil his promise at any time they pleased, no matter what
other business he might have on his hands. He was expected to set
off on a crusade whenever the pope might bid him, although it might
be ruinous to him to be called away from his own affairs at that
time.

In this way, then, the popes had got a hold on Frederick, and when
he answered their summons by saying that his affairs at home would
not just then allow him to go on a crusade, they treated this excuse
as if he had refused altogether to go; they held him up to the world
as a faithless man, and threatened to put his lands under an
interdict (p 219), and to take away his crown. And when at last
Frederick found himself able to go to the Holy Land, the pope and
his friends set themselves against him with all their might, saying
that he was not hearty in the cause, and even that he was not a
Christian at all. So that, although Frederick made a treaty with the
Mahometans by which a great deal was gained for the Christians, it
came to little or nothing, because the popes would not confirm it.

I need not say much more about Frederick II. There was very much in
him that we cannot approve of or excuse, but he met with hard usage
from the popes, and after his death (AD 1250) they pursued his
family with constant hatred, until the last heir, a spirited young
prince named Conradin, who boldly attempted to recover the dominions
of his family in Southern Italy, was made prisoner and executed at
Naples in 1268.

PART II

At the same time with Frederick lived a sovereign of a very
different kind, Lewis IX of France, who is commonly called St.
Lewis, and deserves the name of saint better than very many persons
to whom it is given. There was a great deal in the religion of Lewis
that we should call superstition; but he laboured very earnestly to
live up to the notions of Christian religion which were commonly
held in his time. He attended several services in church every day,
and when he was told that his nobles found fault with this, he
answered, that no one would have blamed him if he had spent twice as
much time in hunting or in playing at dice. He was diligent in all
other religious exercises, he refrained from all worldly sports and
pastimes, and, as far as could be, he shunned the pomp of royalty.
He was very careful never to use any words but such as were fit for
a Christian. He paid great respect to clergy and monks, and said
that if he could divide himself into two, he would give one half to
the Dominicans and the other half to the Franciscans. It is even
said that at one time he would himself have turned friar, if his
queen had not persuaded him that he would do better by remaining a
king and studying to govern well and to benefit the Church.

But with all this, Lewis took care that the popes should not get
more power over the French Church than he thought due to them. And
if any bishop had tried to play the same part in France which Becket
played in English history, we may be sure that St. Lewis would have
set himself steadily against him.

In 1244 Jerusalem was taken by the Mongols, a barbarous heathen
people, who had none of that respect which the Mahometans had shown
for the holy places of the Jewish and Christian religions; thus
these holy places were now profaned in a way which had not been
known before, and stories of outrages done by the new conquerors,
with cries for help from the Christians of the Holy Land, reached
the West.

Soon after this King Lewis had a dangerous illness, in which his
life was given over. He had been for some time speechless, and was
even supposed to be dead, when he asked that the cross might be
given to him, and as soon as he had thus engaged himself to the
crusade he began to recover. His wife, his mother, and others tried
to persuade him that he was not bound by his promise, because it had
been made at a time when he was not master of himself; but Lewis
would not listen to such excuses, and resolved to carry it out
faithfully. The way which he took to enlist companions seems very
curious. On the morning of Christmas-day, when a very solemn service
was to be held in the chapel of his palace (a chapel which is still
to be seen, and is among the most beautiful buildings in Paris), he
caused dresses to be given to the nobles as they were going in; for
this was then a common practice with kings at the great festivals of
the Church. But when the French lords, after having received their
new robes in a place which was nearly dark, went on into the chapel
which was bright with hundreds of lights, each of them found that
his dress was marked with a cross, so that, according to the notions
of the time, he was bound to go to the Holy Land.

PART III

The king did what he could to raise troops, and appointed his
mother, Queen Blanche, to govern the kingdom during his absence;
and, after having passed a winter in the island of Cyprus, he
reached Damietta, in Egypt, on the 5th of June, 1249. For a time all
went well with the Crusaders; but soon a change took place, and
everything seemed to turn against them. They lost some of their best
leaders; a plague broke out and carried off many of them; they
suffered from famine, so that they were even obliged to eat their
horses; and the enemy, by opening the sluices of the Nile, let loose
on them the waters of the river, which carried away a multitude.
Lewis himself was very ill, and at length he was obliged to
surrender to the enemy, and to make peace on terms far worse than
those which he had before refused.

But even although he was a prisoner, his saintly life made the
Mahometans look on him with reverence; so that when the Sultan to
whom he had become prisoner was murdered by his own people, they
thought of choosing the captive Christian king for their chief.
Lewis refused to make any treaty for his deliverance unless all his
companions might have a share in it; and, although he might have
been earlier set free, he refused to leave his captivity until all
the money was made up for the ransom of himself and his followers.
On being at length free to leave Egypt, he went into the Holy Land,
where he visited Nazareth with deep devotion. But, although he
eagerly desired to see Jerusalem, he denied himself this pleasure,
from a fear that the crusading spirit might die out if the first of
Christian kings should consent to visit the holy city without
delivering it from the unbelievers.

After an absence of six years, Lewis was called back to France by
tidings that his mother, whom he had left as regent of the kingdom,
was dead (AD 1254). But he did not think that his crusading vow was
yet fulfilled; and sixteen years later he set out on a second
attempt, which was still more unfortunate than the former. On
landing at Tunis, he found that the Arabs, instead of joining him,
as he had expected, attacked his force; but these were not his worst
enemies. At setting out, the king had been too weak to wear armour
or to sit on horseback; and after landing he found that the bad
climate, with the want of water and of wholesome food, spread death
among his troops. One of his own sons, Tristan, who had been born
during the king's captivity in Egypt, fell sick and died. Lewis
himself, whose weak state made him an easy victim to disease, died
on the 25th of August, 1270, after having shown in his last hours
the piety which had throughout marked his life. And, although his
eldest son, Philip, recovered from an attack which had seemed likely
to be fatal, the Crusaders were obliged to leave that deadly coast
with their number fearfully lessened, and without having gained any
success. Philip, on his return to France, had to carry with him the
remains of his father, of his brother, of one of his own children,
and of his brother-in-law, the king of Navarre. Such was the sad end
of an expedition undertaken by a saintly king for a noble purpose,
but without heeding those rules of prudence which, if they could not
have secured success, might at least have taught him to provide
against some of the dangers which were fatal to him.