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Helene A. Guerber

Regency of Blanche of Castile

PHILIP II. AUGUSTUS died 1223. During his wise reign the crowned lands were greatly increased in extent, the capital was surrounded with new ramparts,—fragments of which still exist,—the Louvre (loo'vr') was begun, and work on the cathedral Notre Dame (started under Louis VII, 1163), was concluded.

We are told that the king, standing at his palace window, was one day so offended by the stench arising from the muddy streets that he decreed that they should henceforth be paved. Philip Augustus also built the public markets, and founded the French University, a continuation of the Paris schools made famous by Abélard.

Although a good king, Philip Augustus proved a faithless husband, for he divorced one wife merely for the pleasure of marrying another, a high-handed proceeding for which he was duly punished by being excommunicated. Then, having been forced to take back the discarded wife, he proved so unkind to her that she cannot have regretted him greatly when he died.

Philip's son, Louis VIII., called the Lion, or the Fat, had a brief reign of three years, during which he had to fight the English, and to carry on the war against the Albigenses. He, too, won some territory, so that when he died, all of the lands which the English had once owned in France, they had nothing left but the province of Guienne (gee-ĕn'; see second map on page 163).

Early in life Louis VIII. had married Blanche of Castile, an unusually intelligent and capable woman. She gave him several children, and when he died she became regent in fact, though not in title, for her eleven-year-old son Louis IX. The wise queen brought up this prince with the untmost care, and as she was a firm and pious woman, she made a very good man of him. We are informed that she taught him to be charitable, and was in the habit of saying, "Know, my son, though I am devoted to you, and feel all a mother's love for you, I should prefer to see you dead rather than have you become guilty of any mortal sin."

Besides being good, Blanche was brave; it was said that she had the courage of a man in a woman's heart. The nobles, thinking it a fine chance to rebel, with a child king and a foreign woman at the head of affairs, soon banded together. But Blanche acted with such decision and skill that she managed to detach the Count of Champagne (shăm-pān') from their ranks, and, having secured him as an ally, got the better of the rest of her foes, with whom she made a treaty.

It was at this time that the war of the Albigenses, begun so long before, was brought to an end, and in this same treaty it was settled that the main part of southern France—now known as the Languedoc (län g-dōc')—should belong to the king, the remainder coming to the royal house a little later by the marriage of one of the king's brothers with the noblewoman whose dowry it formed. The name of Languedoc (language of oc) is due to the fact that the people in southern France then used the word oc  for "yes." Those in northern France used oil  (o-eel'), in the inhabitants of Germany ja  (ya), and those of Italy si  (sē). So, in talking of the various nations in those days, it was customary to speak of the people of si, and of those of ja, instead of Italians and Germans.

Before ending her regency, Blanche also arranged an advantageous marriage for her son with Margaret of Province, heiress of that province, and thus secured for the crown another great increase of territory.

The personal rule of Louis IX. begins in 1236, when he came of age, but throughout his life he often consulted his mother, and was always much influenced by her advice. Young as he was, Louis proved a very able king; and although he was noted for his gentleness and piety, he was not lacking in spirit or decision; for when the Emperor of Germany once tried to take advantage of him, he announced very plainly that France was not so weak but that it could resent an insult!

The noblemen having again rebelled,—being upheld this time by the English,—Louis IX. met them in battle (Taillebourg, 1242) and, although the enemy were twenty against one, succeeded in winning a brilliant victory. Then, the Englishmen having retreated, the rebellious Frenchmen fell at the king's feet, humbly begging his pardon, which was immediately granted.