Gateway to the Classics: The Story of France by Mary Macgregor
The Story of France by  Mary Macgregor

Louis the Good-Natured

The new king had begun to reign over one of his father's provinces when he was a little child of three years old. At least, if he did not reign, he had really been anointed with holy oil just as a grown-up king would have been.

After he had been anointed, the little boy was carried in his cradle to the entrance of his kingdom. Here his courtiers halted. They did not wish their baby-king to enter his dominions in a cradle. So they clad the little king in a tiny suit of armour and gave him tiny arms, that looked more like toys than weapons. Then these gallant courtiers brought a horse and put his little Highness, on its back and held him there, safe and sound and perhaps crowing with delight, until he had entered his royal province amid the cheers of the people.

But that was long ago, when Charlemagne's strong arm could reach to the kingdom of his little son and keep order and peace for him during his boyhood's days. After his father's long reign was ended, it was this same son, grown now to be a man, who ruled over Charlemagne's great empire.

Louis was not strong and wise as his father had been. He was indeed so gentle and so easily pleased, that his people called him Louis the Good-natured.

King Louis had been taught by priests when he was a little boy, and when he grew older he followed their teaching better than they did themselves. He determined that when he was king, the priests should live more simply than they had done in his father's time.

The priests had arms, for in those days they were to be seen on the battlefield as well as in the church. But King Louis bade them lay down their arms. They must not fight with swords and spears as other men, but with gentleness and kindly words and deeds.

The priests had horses, for in those days they rode on as noble war-steeds as did the bravest knights. But King Louis bade them put away their horses. It was not meet for them to ride on noble steeds, for their Master was lowly and had ridden on an ass.

Many of the monks were greedy and selfish, and had used their power to wring money from the people. Louis cared for the poor and forbade the monks to oppress them.

You can imagine, then, that King Louis was no favourite with the bishops and priests, but if they were displeased, the people were loud in their praise of Louis the Good-natured.

Now King Louis had four sons, and as they grew up they were quick to take advantage of their father's good-nature. Again and again they rebelled against him. At last even Louis was roused, and took away from Pippin, the most troublesome of his sons, the province over which he ruled, and gave it to his youngest son, Charles the Bald.

The three eldest sons then assembled an army to fight against their father. The king also gathered his soldiers together, but when the two armies met on a field called the Field of Red, many of King Louis's soldiers left him and joined themselves to the rebels. For this reason the battlefield was ever after called "The Field of Falsehood."

Louis, when he saw that he was left with only a few followers, bade them also go away, for he was unwilling that any one should "lose life or limb" for his sake. Then he surrendered himself to his sons, who treated him very badly, for they forced him to confess in church, before his people, a long list of crimes which he had never committed.

King Louis's good-nature had turned into weakness, and he obediently read aloud the list of crimes of which he was guiltless. Then, laying aside his royal robes, he allowed himself to be clad in sackcloth, and walked bare-footed through the streets of the city, no longer a king but a prisoner.

But now that they had got their father out of the way, the four sons quarrelled so fiercely among themselves, that their subjects grew discontented, and began to wish that Louis the Good-natured was still upon the throne. And at length they actually revolted, and set Louis free and made him king once more.

You would expect Louis to punish his sons for their bad behaviour, but he never seemed to dream of such a thing. So, when the chance came, they again took up arms against their father. King Louis was ill and worn out with the troubles of his reign, yet he went at the head of his army to put down the rebellion, and this time his sons were forced to submit to him.

But the effort had been too much for the king. He took fever and died on a little island in the river Rhine.

His last words were words of forgiveness to the son who was named after him. "I forgive my son," he said, "but let him remember that he has brought his father's grey hairs in sorrow to the grave."

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