The Second Crusade
Louis vii. was called "the Young," because he was only eighteen when he began to reign, but the name clung to him until he died at the age of sixty.
Suger, the Abbot of St. Denis, who had been the friend and minister of Louis vi. , had also been the tutor of the young king.
When Louis the Young was grown to be a man, Suger still had great influence over him, and it was really the abbot who ruled the kingdom.
But though Suger had great power, he lived quite quietly and simply in a tiny cell in the abbey of St. Denis. His bed was of straw, his bedclothes only a rough woollen counterpane. If any one visited the abbot in his cell, he would not have seen the rough couch upon which Suger slept, for through the day it was carefully covered with a carpet.
By his father's wish Louis the Young had married Eleanor, a rich princess whose father ruled Aquitaine in the south of France, as well as many other wealthy provinces. As her dowry she brought both her lands and wealth to the young king.
But though the princess was rich, she was so different in character from Louis, that it was not easy for either of them to live happily together.
Queen Eleanor was gay, ambitious, selfish; while Louis, trained by the devout Abbot of St. Denis, was grave, humble and unselfish.
About five years after he began to reign, Louis the Young went to war with one of his barons. The king's soldiers set fire to Vitry, the town which they were besieging. As it was built of wood the flames spread to the church, in which the inhabitants of the town had taken refuge. When the poor people saw that they would be burned to death, they uttered piercing cries, and these cries reached the ear of the king.
Had it been possible Louis would even then have saved the people, but the flames had spread so quickly that it was too late to do anything, and they all perished.
The king could never forget the cries he had heard, and blamed himself for what had happened. He determined to do penance for this and all his other sins by going on a pilgrimage.
At this very time St. Bernard, the great and holy Abbot of Clairvaux, was going from city to city throughout France rousing the people, even as Peter the Hermit had done, to go on a crusade against the Turks.
Edessa, one of the great strongholds of the Christians in the east, had been captured by the Turks, who had then cruelly massacred the inhabitants. These tidings reached France while St. Bernard was preaching the Second Crusade. It added to the power of his words as he cried, "Christian warriors, He who gave His life for you to-day demandeth yours."
King Louis heard, and believed that this was the penance for which he had been seeking. The multitude, too, who listened shouted the old battle-cry of the crusaders, "God willeth it! God willeth it!"
Then Louis, kneeling at the feet of St. Bernard, took from his hand the Cross, the badge of the Holy War. Knight after knight followed the king's example. The people also clamoured for "Crosses, Crosses," until St. Bernard tore up his garments that the pieces might be made into badges for the eager multitude.
From France the abbot, still preaching the crusade, journeyed into Germany.
The Emperor, Conrad iii ., was not as easily persuaded to join the movement as St. Bernard wished. Conrad believed, and perhaps truly, that his own kingdom needed his presence.
Then one day, when the emperor was present in church, St. Bernard drew a picture of Jesus bearing His cross and reproaching Conrad because he had not helped Him to carry it.
The emperor, as he listened, was strangely moved. He interrupted the preacher, crying, "I know what I owe to Jesus Christ, and I swear to go whither it pleaseth Him to call me."
And so in 1147, when the second crusade set out for Palestine, Louis vii. and Conrad iii. were each at the head of a large army.
Conrad reached Asia Minor first. Before Louis could join him the-Turks had fallen upon the German army and utterly defeated it. Those who escaped joined the French army, and together they began to march across Asia Minor. But Conrad went back to Constantinople.
King Louis gained a great victory over the Turks close to the river Meander, but soon after his army got scattered and lost among the narrow passes of the mountains in Pisidia.
The Turks had foreseen that this would happen, and were awaiting the scattered army as it struggled in small companies out of the narrow mountain passes.
Louis's bodyguard was slain before his eyes. The king, left alone, placed himself against a rock, and fought with his sword so desperately, that at length the Turks who had attacked him turned and fled. Had they known it was the king, they might have been less ready to leave their prize.
When the Turks had fled, Louis, glancing round, saw close at hand a riderless horse. He lost not a moment in mounting it, and galloping off he soon rejoined his advanced guard, who had feared that their king was slain.
The army now continued its march until it arrived at a small seaport on the Mediterranean. King Louis had hoped to reach Antioch by land. But to march there would still take forty days, and food was scarce, while to go by sea would take only three days.
Unfortunately it was impossible to provide ships for the whole army. At first King Louis refused to desert those who had followed him so far, but before long he was persuaded to embark with as many knights as the ships would hold, and the army was left to its fate.
Before he sailed the king gave all the money and provisions he had to the soldiers to help them on their long and dangerous march to Antioch. But only a remnant of the army ever set out on that march. For no sooner had the king and his nobles sailed than the Turks fell upon the forsaken soldiers, and many of them were slain or taken prisoners.
When Louis reached Antioch in March 1148, he heard of the terrible fate that had overtaken his army; and again, as when the people of Vitry were burned, he felt that he was responsible for the terrible disaster.
In April King Louis reached Jerusalem, where the Emperor Conrad, disguised as a pilgrim, also arrived accompanied by only a few knights. Soon afterward the remnant of the French and German armies joined their kings, who at once determined to lay siege to Damascus.
But the town was too strong to be taken by the feeble force which was now all that was left of the united armies. The siege was raised, and the king and the emperor went back to Jerusalem. Conrad, discouraged and disappointed, returned to Germany soon after the siege of Damascus had been raised.
Louis could not make up his mind to go home. He had done so little, and lost so large a part of his army, that he was ashamed to face his faithful minister Suger. Gradually many of the knights went back to France, but Louis lingered in Jerusalem.
At length the entreaties of Suger, who had sent messengers to beg the king to come home, were successful, and in the autumn of 1149 Louis was once more in France. Of the great army with which he had set out for Palestine, only two or three hundred knights were left to journey home with the king.
Suger, who had been regent during the king's absence, welcomed him with joy, and, having given Louis an account of his work, retired to St. Denis. Here he spent the rest of his life, ruling his abbey as wisely as he had ruled the kingdom of France.
Three years after Louis's return from the crusade Suger died. The king missed his minister sorely, but perhaps the kingdom missed his strong hand even more. Louis had called Suger the Father of the Country, and in the years to come it was by this name that he was long remembered.
A few months after Suger's death Queen Eleanor left Louis to marry Henry Plantagenet, Count of Anjou. She brought to her new husband the rich provinces of Aquitaine and Poitou.
A chronicler who lived in Anjou at this time, and ought to have known the count, tells us that he was "vigorous in war, marvellous in prudence of reply, frugal in habits, munificent to others, sober, kindly, peaceable. He bore himself so wisely, defended himself so manfully, that all men, even his foes, praised him."
It was this worthy count who became Henry ii. , King of England. And you can easily understand that Louis was not at all pleased that so powerful a ruler as the King of England should also possess so many rich provinces in France.
From 1154, when Henry Plantagenet became King of England, the struggle between him and Louis never ended. And long after Henry ii. and Louis vii. had ceased to reign, the struggle between the two countries was continued, until at length an English king laid claim to the throne of France.
Meanwhile Louis, forsaken by Eleanor, married again. His second wife, however, died in 1160. Then Louis married a third time, and in 1165 a son was born, heir to the throne of France.
The little prince was named Philip, but the people in their gladness called him Dieu donné, the Gift of God.
When Philip was fifteen years old the king wished his son to be crowned. The day before the coronation, however, Philip went out to hunt and lost himself in a forest. Cold and bewildered, he wandered about all night, and only in the morning did he find his way back to the palace.
Unfortunately the prince had caught cold during the night in the forest, and soon he grew so ill, Louis feared that his son would die.
Then the king did a strange thing. He left the prince lying ill in bed, and went to England on a pilgrimage to the tomb of Thomas à Becket.
When Thomas à Becket had been archbishop. King Louis had befriended him. Perhaps he hoped that now the archbishop had become a saint he would plead with God that the little sick Prince of France might get well.
At the end of five days, so quickly had Louis journeyed, he was back at the bedside of his son, who was already much better.
But the king himself, worn out with anxiety and the haste of the journey, took ill, and was unable to be present at the coronation of the prince.
During his illness he begged that all his money and his garments might be brought to him. Then with his own royal hands he divided both money and clothes among the poor, who by his request had been brought into the room where he lay.
In September 1180, a few months after the coronation of his son, Louis vii . died.