LOUIS VI. placed the lilies (fleurs de lis)—emblems of purity of faith—on his coat of arms, and ever since his day, kings of France always used that flower as their distinctive symbol. He was very ambitious, and made many efforts to extend his power and increase his realm. He planned a marriage between his son and heir, Louis, and Eleanor of Aquitaine (ak-wĭ-tān'), the heiress of vast estates in southern France. Although the king died suddenly before this marriage could take place, his son, Louis VII, "the Younger," Dutifully carried out his wishes by marrying this lady.
With his own and his wife's estates, Louis VII. was richer and more influential than any French king of his race before him. He was brave, but not always wise, and his reign was troubled by wars against England and many difficulties with his barons. In one of these contests he rashly set fire to a large town, where thirteen hundred poor people had taken refuge in a church and perished in the flames. Thereupon, full of remorse, and wishing to do penance, he made a vow that he would go on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
Just about this time the Turks had been successful at last in their efforts to reconquer some of the places taken from them by the Christians in the first crusade. Stories of their successes and of their cruelty roused great indignation among all Christian people, so Pope Eugene III. sent St. Bernard—a monk famous for his piety, learning and visions—to preach the second crusade.
Like Peter the Hermit, St. Bernard preached to such good purpose that most of his hearers enlisted in the holy war. Among these were the King and Queen of France, and when Bernard went to Germany he induced the Emperor and his court to take the cross also. Thus, you see, the second crusade was not under French leaders only.
The Germans started first, encountered great hardships, and most of their forces were destroyed. The French were more fortunate; yet they were often in great danger, and on one occasion the king had to cling to a tree on the edge of a precipice with one hand, and defeated himself against a large force of enemies with the other. But, having almost by miracle escaped from this great peril, Louis VII. pressed on, and after making vain attempts to take Damas'cus, returned home, without having fulfilled his avowed purpose of visiting the Holy Sepulcher (1149).
During the king's long absence, his realm had been wisely governed by his former tutor, Sugar (su-zha'), abbot of St. Denis, a learned, hard-working, and patriotic Frenchman. Seeing that many of the most turbulent nobles soon became discouraged and returned home, this man wrote to the crusading king: "Those who trouble the public peace come home, while you remain abroad. What are you thinking of, my lord, to leave at the mercy of wolves the sheep intrusted to your care?"
It was after the receipt of this warning that Louis abandoned the crusade and returned to France, where he rewarded Suger for his good offices by bestowing upon him the title, "Father of his Country." As long as Suger lived, the king was guilded mainly be his counsels, but after his death Louis rashly divorced his wife, Eleanor (1152), who, being an heiress and a spoiled child, had not been an agreeable wife. But in divorcing this lady—by whom he had no children—Louis was obliged to let her take back the estates she had brought as a dowry. These she now bestowed with her hand upon Henry Plantagenet, who, two years later, became King Henry II. of England.
With his own and his wife's estates, this English monarch owned more land in France than the French king himself; still, he was Louis VII.'s vassal, and was bound to do homage to him for all this property. The English king, however, did not find Eleanor a more comfortable helpmate than did Louis VII.; for later on she encouraged their sons to rebel against him, and was always stirring up some trouble at his court.