15.02.04, Field, Gaposchkin, and Field, eds., The Sanctity of Louis IX

Main Article Content

Amy Livingstone

The Medieval Review 15.02.04

Field, Larry F., M. Cecilia Gaposchkin, and Sean L. Field. The Sanctity of Louis IX: Early Lives of Saint Louis by Geoffrey of Beaulieu and William of Chartres. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2013. Pp. 216. ISBN: 9780801478185 (paperback).

Reviewed by:
Amy Livingstone
Wittenberg University

King Louis IX of France is one of the iconic figures of the Middle Ages. An English translation of early accounts of his life is therefore a welcome addition to the scholarship on this intriguing monarch. The Sanctity of Louis IX contains critical translations of letters surrounding Louis's sanctity, two lives of Louis's life by Geoffrey of Beaulieu and William of Chartres, and Pope Boniface VIII's bull establishing Louis's sainthood. The great strength of this collection is that it will be of use to both the expert and the novice. An introduction to Louis's life and an appendix examining the technical aspects of the translated documents start and end the volume.

The introduction frames Louis's life well and contains many useful visual aids (including a nice map of Louis IX's Paris). Following the chronology of his life, the introduction covers important events in his life, such as his governmental reforms, support of new forms of spirituality and two crusades. The information is pitched to give those familiar with Louis a refresher while at the same time furnishing an engaging and comprehensive narrative for students who may be encountering Louis for the first time. Particularly useful for those adopting this text for classroom use is the information on the authors of the two early lives, Geoffrey of Beaulieu and William of Chartres, and the historical and religious context that led to the creation of these two accounts of Louis's life. Moreover, as both lives were penned by Dominicans, these sources provide insight into Dominican involvement in Louis's canonization. For teaching purposes, it would have been useful to have a short timeline of Louis life for handy reference as the reader makes their way through the letters and lives.

Moving from the introduction to the sources themselves, the first collection of texts encountered is early letters concerning Louis's sanctity. These include Philip III's letter informing the French clergy of Louis's death (12 September 1270), a letter of Pope Gregory X to Geoffrey of Beaulieu (4 March 1272), and a letter from the French Dominican Provincial Chapter to the cardinals (September 1275). The campaign to recognize Louis's sanctity started virtually upon his death in 1270 and took until 1297. This collection of letters sets out the criteria that would provide the foundation for the case for canonization. As such, they provide a solid introduction to the themes that will be developed more completely in the lives by Geoffrey and William.

As the earliest narrative account of Louis's life, Geoffrey of Beaulieu's Life and Saintly Comportment of Louis, Former King of the Franks, of Pious Memory (1272) comes next. Geoffrey was a Dominican on the rise when he was asked by Pope Gregory X to write a hagiography of King Louis. As confessor and companion to Louis IX, Geoffrey was well placed to do so. Geoffrey framed his discussion of Louis around the Old Testament King Josias to show how his faith informed how he ruled. Here it becomes apparent how Louis used Christian concepts to rule France. For instance, he became concerned about blasphemy and swearing by his subjects, which led him to issue an edict to try to curb these abuses. Geoffrey emphasizes the king's piety but also how he was transformed by his experience on his first crusade of 1248. Although Geoffrey's account is clearly centered on Louis, his discussion of royal piety reflects many late medieval spiritual trends. This text is thus doubly valuable as it traces not only the development of Louis' personal spirituality but also how Christian piety was evolving in the thirteenth century as charity and modesty became the hallmarks of the pious Christian. Of interest to medieval scholars will be the consultation of a manuscript (Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS lat. 18335) that had not been incorporated into earlier translations of Geoffrey's life, as well as chapters discussing the parallels between Louis and the Old Testament King Josias that been omitted in earlier French translations.

William of Chartres's On the Life and Deeds of Louis, King of the Franks of Famous Memory, and on the Miracles that Declare his Sanctity (1274/75) was commissioned to take up where Geoffrey's life left off and follows Geoffrey's life of Louis in the volume. This provides the opportunity for both student and scholar to see these sources in dialogue. Like Geoffrey, William was also a Dominican and well situated to observe Louis's life as he traveled with the king on his crusades and was part of his court. In contrast to Geoffrey's rendering, William spends more time on Louis as a Christian monarch. Specifically, he focuses on the king's modesty and piety, which he suggests should be a model for his subjects to follow. The life is packed with information on late medieval piety that would serve well as an introduction to this topic to undergraduates. While William touches upon Louis's crusades, which were deemed critical as demonstration of his sanctity, he provides more information about the miracles that Louis was reported to perform posthumously.

The last source in the volume is Pope Boniface VIII's bull, Gloria Laus. This bull is an apt conclusion to the lives as it sums up the reasons why Louis IX was canonized. As Field and Gaposchkin point out in the introduction, there was some resistance to canonizing kings by the thirteenth century. Hence a strong case had to be made for Louis's sainthood. The lives themselves record the life of a remarkable king and Boniface's bull pulls the information presented by Geoffrey, William and the letters, into a coherent summary--but also a persuasive case for sainthood. The volume concludes with an appendix that covers the history of the various manuscripts that record the life of Louis IX and the printing of these texts.

This is a remarkable volume. Field, Gaposchkin, and Field are to be commended for producing such a lively translation and lucid introduction. For students, these are engaging texts that trace the sanctity of one of the most famous of medieval French kings, as well as capturing the spirituality of his era. The Sanctity of Louis IX could be adopted in any course, introductory to advanced. At the same time, the expert seeking insight or nuance into the life of St. Louis will find this collection useful. This volume is a welcome and important contribution to scholarship as it provides access to sources that previously have been out of reach for many interested in Louis or his time. Gathering sources that argue for Louis's sanctity in one volume also allows the reader the unique opportunity to glance over the shoulder of those who developed the case for Louis's canonization.

The Sanctity of Louis IX should find a place on any medievalist's bookshelf. It is a unique collection of sources that will give the scholar much to consider about Louis himself, but also about medieval piety and sanctity. This volume also creates many unique teaching opportunities to engage any student in the life and times of this compelling medieval monarch.

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Author Biography

Amy Livingstone

Wittenberg University