The Crusade of St Louis
MATTHEW ARNOLD: A Southern Night.
A HUNDRED years earlier, the news of the destruction of Jerusalem would have stricken all Europe with horror and roused her to action. It was not so now. That earlier fervour of religion which had sent pilgrims rejoicing to an almost certain death had died away, and had been replaced by a more practical form of faith which found its outlet in a zeal for converting the souls of men, and healing their bodies, rather than in a thirst for the blood of infidels.
In the narrow dirty lanes of cities the inspired monk or eager friar was still to be found; but the followers of St Francis of Assisi or St Dominic were soldiers of the Cross in a more Christ-like, if a less military, spirit than Peter the Hermit or Bernard of Clairvaux, and stirred up the people rather to cleaner and healthier lives than to take arms for the Holy War.
Amongst the sovereigns of Europe at this time, of whom Frederick II. was a fair example, there yet remained one of the old type, one who was filled with the purest zeal for religion mingled with the desire to win glory as became a true knight.
This was Louis IX. of France—the St Louis of the Eighth Crusade—who, if he accomplished nothing towards establishing Christian rule in the Holy Land, yet remains to us in history as an example of the very few who took up the Cross and carried on the war, inspired only by holy and unselfish motives.
"Louis and his fair queen appear, indeed, as brilliant stars, shining through the blackness of a sky overcast with clouds; but they could not dispel the darkness, or lend more than a transitory gleam of brightness to illumine the gloomy prospects."
King Louis found a devoted hero-worshipper and chronicler in the Sire de Joinville, a great French noble, who accompanied him upon the Eighth Crusade, and whose story will often be told here in his own words.
Louis IX. came to the French throne at no easy time, for he was but a boy of ten, and the powerful French barons were eager to win their independence of the royal power. But they found their match in the Queen Regent, Blanche of Castile, who, for the first time, put her dependence upon the people of her land, and trusted to them to defend their young king against the rebellion of the nobles. She also, as we have seen, won over to her side Count Theobald of Champagne, by whose help the rebels were soon forced to yield, and who, for love of her, afterwards became one of the leaders in the Seventh Crusade.
The young Louis was brought up by her more as a monk than a king, and, as he grew older, his own tastes turned entirely in the same direction. "You are not a king of France," cried a woman who was trying to win his favour in an unjust cause, "you are a king only of priests and monks. It is a pity that you are king of France. You ought to be turned out."
"You speak truly," was the gentle answer, "it has pleased God to make me king; it had been well had He chosen some one better able to govern this kingdom rightly."
Yet he was one of France's wisest rulers, taking a personal interest in the troubles of her people that was rare, indeed, in those days.
"Ofttimes it happened that he would go, after his mass, and seat himself in the wood of Vincennes, and lean against an oak, and make us sit round him. And all those who had any cause in hand came and spoke to him, without hindrance of usher or any other person. Then would he ask, out of his own mouth, 'Is there anyone who has a cause in hand?' And those who had a cause stood up. Then would he say, 'Keep silence all and you shall be heard in turn, one after the other.' And when he saw that there was anything to amend in the words of those who spoke on their own behalf, or on behalf of any other person, he would himself, out of his own mouth, amend what he had said."
His love of justice is seen in his answer to the Pope, when Gregory, after a second violent quarrel with the Emperor Frederick, had deposed him and offered the crown to Louis' brother. Gentle as was the King's usual speech, he replies now, "Whence is this pride and daring of the Pope, who thus disinherits a king who has no superior nor even an equal among Christians—a king not convicted of the crimes laid to his charge? To us he has not only appeared innocent, but a good neighbour; we see no cause for suspicion either of his worldly loyalty or of his Catholic faith. This we know, that he has fought valiantly for our Lord Christ both by sea and land. So much religion we have not found in the Pope, who endeavoured to confound and wickedly supplant him in his absence, while he was engaged in the cause of God."
There can be no doubt that it was in his character as a Crusader that Frederick mainly attracted Louis, for he had little else in common with him. For a long time the French King nursed in secret his desire to follow his hero's example, since his mother would not hear of his deserting his own kingdom. But at length the clear call came.
"It happened, as God so willed, that a very grievous sickness came upon the king in Paris, and brought him to such extremity that one of the ladies who was tending him wished to draw the cloth over his face, saying he was dead; but another lady, who was on the other side of the bed, would not suffer it, saying that the soul was still in his body. And as he listened to the debate between these two ladies, Our Lord wrought within him and soon sent him health, for before that he had been dumb and could not speak.
"And as soon as he could speak, he asked that they should give him the Cross, and they did so.
"When the queen, his mother, heard that speech had come back to him, she made as great joy thereof as ever she could. But when she knew that he had taken the Cross—as also he himself told her—she made as great mourning as if she had seen him dead."
Not even his mother's grief could hinder this ardent soldier of the Cross, whose chief wish now was to persuade his nobles to follow him. At the Christmas of that year he presented each of his barons with a new robe. When these were put on, they were found to have the red cross embroidered between the shoulders. The wearers had "taken the cross," and must accompany their king.
Two years were spent in preparing supplies, and at the end of the year 1248, King Louis, with the Queen, his wife, embarked and sailed to Cyprus, where he remained until the spring of 1249. On landing in Egypt at the Point of Limesol, he met with a strange occurrence.
"The king," says Joinville, "landed on the day of Pentecost. After we had heard mass, a fierce and powerful wind, coming from the Egyptian side, arose in such sort, that out of two thousand eight hundred knights, whom the king was taking into Egypt, there remained no more than seven hundred whom the wind had not separated from the king's company, and carried away to Acre and other strange lands, nor did they afterwards return to the king of a long while."
This sounds like a story from the "Arabian Nights," and one can understand the King's haste to escape, with the remnant left him, from the region of this mysterious wind of the desert. So he sailed to Damietta, "and we found there, arrayed on the seashore, all the power of the Sultan—a host fair to look upon, for the Sultan's arms are of gold, and when the sun struck upon them they were resplendent. The noise they made with their cymbals and horns was fearful to listen to."
Waiting only until he saw his ensign of St Denis safe on shore, "the king went across his ship with large steps, and would not leave from following the ensign, but leapt into the sea, which was up to his arm-pits. So he went, with his shield hung to his neck, and his helmet on his head, and his lance in his hand, till he came to his people who were on the shore."
Seized with panic at the sight of the many brave ships and the landing of the Crusaders, the garrison of Damietta fled without striking a blow. Says Joinville, "The Saracens sent thrice to the Sultan, by carrier- pigeons, to say that the king had landed, but never received any message in return, because the Sultan's sickness was upon him. Wherefore they thought that the Sultan was dead, and abandoned Damietta.
"Then the king sent for all the prelates of the host, and all chanted with a loud voice, Te Deuin laudamus.
"Afterwards the king mounted his horse, and we all likewise, and we went and encamped before Damietta." There they remained until they were joined by the King's brother, the Count of Poitiers; and after that a march was made upon Babylon, "because, if you wanted to kill the serpent, you must first crush its head."
Now when they tried to cross the delta of the Nile, which at that part of Egypt lies between four "branches" of the river, they encamped between the stream that flows to Damietta, and that which flows to Tanis, and found the whole host of the Sultan lying upon the farther side of the latter, and ready to defend the passages.
The King at once gave orders to build a causeway across the river; but as fast as this was made the Saracens dug holes and let in the water which had been dammed up, thus washing away the work. They constantly harassed the camp also, and tried to cut off the French army in the rear; and when they began to use Greek fire also, the hearts of the Crusaders began somewhat to quail.
"The fashion of the Greek fire was such that it came frontwise as large as a bottle of verjuice, and the tail of fire that issued from it, was as large as a large lance. The noise it made in coming was like Heaven's own thunder. It had the seeming of a dragon flying through the air. It gave so great a light because of the great abundance of fire making the light, that one saw as clearly through the camp as if it had been day. . . .
"When my Lord Walter, the good knight who was with me, saw this, he spoke thus: 'Lord, we are in the greatest peril that we have ever been in, for if they set fire to our towers and we remain here, we are but lost and burnt up; while if we leave these defences which we have been sent to guard, we are dishonoured. Wherefore none can defend us in this peril save God alone. So my advice and counsel is, that every time they hurl the fire at us, we throw ourselves on our elbows and knees, and pray to our Saviour to keep us in this peril. . . .'
"Every time that our saintly king heard them hurling the Greek fire, he would raise himself in his bed, and lift up his hands to Our Saviour, and say, weeping, 'Fair Lord God, guard me my people.'
"And verily I believe that his prayers did us good service in our need. At night, every time the fire had fallen, he sent one of his chamberlains to ask how we fared, and whether the fire had done us any hurt."
At length, when things were getting very serious for the Crusading army, there came a Bedouin, or Arab of the desert, to the camp, and offered to show them a ford over the river if they would pay him five hundred besants.
Risky as was the undertaking—for the offer might have been a mere piece of treachery, with the object of placing the host in an entirely unprotected position, and of drowning most of their number—the King decided in its favour, and determined to lead the way, with his three brothers, across the ford.
"Then, as the dawn of day was appearing, we collected from all points and came to the Bedouin's ford; and when we were ready we went to the stream and our horses began to swim. When we got to the middle of the stream, we touched ground and our horses found footing; and on the other bank of the stream were full three hundred Saracens, all mounted on their horses.
"Then said I (the Sire de Joinville) to my people, 'Sirs, look only to the left hand, and let each draw thither; the banks are wet and soft, and the horses are falling upon their riders and drowning them.' Thereupon we moved in such sort that we turned up the stream and found a dry way, and so passed over, thank God! that not one of us fell; and as soon as we had passed over, the Turks fled."
But disaster was at hand. The Templars had been given the post of honour in the vanguard, and close after them came the Count of Artois, brother to the King, with his men.
"Now it so happened that as soon as the Count of Artois had passed over the stream, he and all his people fell upon the Turks, who had fled before them. The Templars notified to him that he was doing them great despite in that, while his place was to come after them, he was going before them, and they besought him to suffer them to go before, as had been arranged by the king. Now it chanced that the Count of Artois did not venture to answer them because of my Lord Foucaud of Merle, who held the bridle of his horse; and this Foucaud of Merle was a very good knight, but heard naught of what the Templars were saying to the Count, seeing that he was deaf, and was all the while crying, 'Out on them l Out on them!'
"Now when the Templars saw this, they thought they would be shamed if they suffered the Count to outride them, so they struck spurs into their horses, helter-skelter, and chased the Turks, and the Turks fled before them, right through the town of Mansourah and into the fields beyond towards Babylon.
"But when the Crusaders thought to return, the Turks threw beams and blocks of wood upon them in the streets, which were narrow. There were killed the Count of Artois, the Lord of Couci, who was called Raoul, and so many other knights that the number was reckoned at three hundred. The Temple, as the Master has since told me, lost there fourteen score men-at-arms, and all mounted."
The whole blame of this disastrous affair must be laid at the door of the Count of Artois, in spite of Joinville's attempt to put it on the shoulders of Lord Foucaud. When the Grand Master of the Templars had warned the Count of the risk of pursuing men who had but given way to a moment's panic, the latter openly accused him of treachery.
"Do you suppose," cried the Master, "that we have left our homes and our substance and taken the habit of a religious in a strange land, only to betray the Cause of God and to forfeit our salvation?"
And with that he prepared to go to almost certain death. Then William Longsword, son of the Earl of Salisbury, did his best to turn the Count from such a course of destruction, and was met with insult. "See how timid are these tailed English! It would be well if the army were purged of such folk!" "At least," returned Longsword, "we English to-day will be where you will not dare to touch our horses' tails."
Longsword fell that day with his face to the foe, Artois, in trying to escape, and the whole force must have been destroyed had not the King's division come to the rescue, while Joinville, who tells the tale, managed to hold the bridge across to the town. Says the latter, "We were all covered with the darts that failed to hit the sergeants. Now it chanced that I found a Saracen's quilted tunic lined with tow: I turned the open side towards me and made a shield of it, which did me good service, for I was only wounded by their darts in five places, and my horse in fifteen. And it chanced again that one of my burgesses of Joinville brought me a pennon with my arms and a lance head thereto, and every time that we saw that the Turks pressed too hardly upon the sergeants, we charged them and they went flying.
"The good Count of Soissons, in that point of danger, jested with me, and said, 'Seneschal, let these curs howl! We shall talk of this day yet, you and I, in ladies' chambers.'"
At sunset, when the King's crossbow men came up, the Saracens fled, and Joinville, hastening to Louis, conducted him with loving care to his tent. "And as we were going, I made him take off his helmet, and lent him my steel cap, so that he might have air.
"When he had passed over the river, there came to him Brother Henry, Provost of the Hospitallers, and kissed his mailed hand. The king asked if he had any tidings of the Count of Artois, his brother, and the Provost said that he had news of him indeed, for he knew of a certainty that his brother, the Count of Artois, was in Paradise.
"'Ah, sire,' said the Provost, 'be of good comfort therein, for never did King of France gain such honour as you have gained this day. For, in order to fight your enemies, you have passed swimmingly over a river, and you have discomfited them, and driven them from the field, and taken their war-engines and also their tents, wherein you will sleep this night.'
"Then the king replied, 'Let God be worshipped for all He has given me!' but the big tears fell from his eyes."
In spite of the Provost's cheering words, the King's army was still in a position of great danger. That very night an attack was made upon the camp, which was but the first of a series of attacks which cut Louis off entirely from Dam. ietta and forced him to retreat to the "Island."
"When I was laid in my bed," says Joinville, "when indeed I had good need of rest because of the wounds received the day before—no rest was vouchsafed to me. For before it was well day, a cry went through the camp, 'To arms! To arms!' I roused my chamberlain, who lay at my feet, and told him to go and see what was the matter. He came back in terror, and said, 'Up, lord, up: for here are the Saracens, who have come on foot and mounted, and discomfited the king's sergeants who kept guard over the engines, and have driven them among the ropes of our tents.'
"I got up and threw a tunic over my back and a steel cap on my head, and cried to our sergeants, 'By St Nicholas, they shall not stay here!' My knights came to me, all wounded as they were, and we drove the Saracens from among the engines, and back towards a great body of mounted Turks."
A day or two later, the Saracens, encouraged by the sight of the bloodstained coat of arms belonging to the Count of Artois, which they were told was that of the King, and that Louis was now dead, came together in a great battle against the French host. In this fight so many on both sides were killed that the river was full of the dead.
Then a worse thing fell upon them, for, says Joinville, "because of the unhealthiness of the land—where it never rains a drop of water—there came upon us the sickness of the host, which sickness was such that the flesh of our legs dried up and the skin became spotted, black and earth colour, like an old boot; nor could anyone escape from this sickness without death."
Famine followed, for the Turks had cut off all sources of supplies from Damietta; and, in desperation, an attempt to treat with the enemy was made. The conditions proposed were that Louis should give up Damietta in return for the kingdom of Jerusalem; and when the Saracens asked what pledge they offered that they should regain the port, the French offered them one of the King's brothers.
They promptly replied that they would be satisfied with no one but the King himself, whereupon, "my Lord Geoffrey of Sargines, the good knight, said he would rather that the Saracens should have them all dead or captive than bear the reproach of having left the king in pledge."
When Louis saw that there was no alternative but death or retreat, since none of his officers would agree that he should be given up, he once more gave the order to try to return to Damietta. The King could have easily escaped thither by means of a little boat, but he would not abandon his people, many of whom were very sorely sick. But Louis himself was weak with illness, so that he could scarcely sit upon his horse; yet he persisted in trying to guard the river banks while Joinville and others got the sick men on board. What happened then was told by Louis himself to his faith ful friend. " He told me that of all his knights and sergeants there only remained behind with him my Lord Geoffrey of Sargines, who brought him to a little village, and there the king was taken. And, as the king related to me, my Lord Geoffrey defended him from the Saracens as a good servitor defends his lord's drinking-cup from flies; for every time that the Saracens approached, he took his spear, which he had placed between himself and the bow of his saddle, and put it to his shoulder and ran upon them, and drove them away from the king. And then they brought the king to the little village; and they lifted him into a house, and laid him, almost as one dead, in the lap of a burgher-woman of Paris, and thought he would not live till night."
Thus did Louis fall into the hands of the Saracens, and was left in sorry plight indeed. He was sufficiently conscious to beg Lord Philip de Montfort to try once again to make terms of peace, but while this was being done, " a very great mischance happened to our people. A traitor sergeant, whose name was Marcel, began to cry to our people, 'Yield, lord knights, for the king commands you; and do not cause the king to be slain!'
"All thought that the king had so commanded, and gave up their swords to the Saracens. The Emir (the officer of the Sultan), saw that the Saracens were bringing in our people prisoners, so he said to my Lord Philip that it was not fitting that he should grant a truce, for he saw very well that we were already fallen into his hands."
Meantime Joinville and his men had fared no better by water than his comrades had by land. He himself, indeed, had the narrowest possible escape from death, and was only saved by the generosity of a Saracen, whose former dealings with Frederick II. of Germany had made him favour the Crusaders. Joinville was exceedingly weak and ill, but as his boat was in mid-stream he hoped to escape to Damietta with those of the sick whom he had been able to rescue.
"My people," says he, "had put on me a jousting hauberk, so that I might not be wounded by the darts that fell into our boat. At this moment my people, who were at the hinder point of the boat, cried out to me, 'Lord, Lord, your mariners, because the Saracens are threatening them, mean to take you to the bank!' Then I had myself raised by the arms, all weak as I was, and drew my sword on them, and told them I should kill them if they took me to the bank. They answered that I must choose which I would have; whether to be taken to the bank, or anchored in midstream till the wind fell. I told them I liked better that they should anchor than that they should take me to the shore where there was nothing before us save death. So they anchored.
"Very shortly after we saw four of the Sultan's galleys coming to us, and in them full a thousand men. Then I called together my knights and my people, and asked them which they would rather do, yield to the Sultan's galleys or to those on land. We all agreed that we would rather yield to the galleys, because so we should be kept together, than to those on land, who would separate us and sell us to the Bedouins.
"Then one of my cellarers said, 'Lord, I do not agree in this decision.' I asked him to what he did agree, and he said to me, 'I advise that we should all suffer ourselves to be slain, for then we shall go to Paradise.' But we heeded him not."
When Joinville saw that he must be taken either way, he threw his casket of jewels into the river, and turned to find one of his mariners urging, "Lord if you do not suffer me to say you are the king's cousin they will kill you all, and us also." So he told him he could say what he pleased. The sailor at once cried out loud, "Alas, that the king's cousin should be taken!" with the result that the Saracens on the nearest galley at once anchored near their boat.
But help of an unexpected kind was at hand. A Saracen, who had lived on land in the East belonging to the Emperor Frederick, swam aboard, and throwing his arms round Joinville's waist, said, "Lord, if you do not take good heed you are but lost; for it behoves you to leap from your vessel on to the bank that rises from the keel of that galley; and if you leap, these people will not mind you, for they are thinking only of the booty to be found in your vessel."
So he leapt, but so weak was he that he tottered and would have fallen into the water had not the Saracen sprung after him and held him up in his arms.
A rough reception awaited him, however, for they threw him on the ground and would have killed him had not the Saracen held him fast in his arms, crying "Cousin to the King!"
He was certainly in sorry case, for he had no clothing save for the steel hauberk, which the Saracen knights, pitying his condition, exchanged for a fur-lined coverlet and a white belt, in which he girt himself for lack of proper clothes. Still under the protection of "his Saracen," Joinville saw with sad eyes the slaughter of the sick upon the bank and in the boats, and was himself subjected to a sore trial of faith. For his protector, who was evidently a man of some authority, tried to tempt him to embrace the religion of Islam by causing all his mariners to be brought before him, telling him that they had all denied their faith.
"But I told him never to place confidence in them, for lightly as they had left us, so lightly, if time and opportunity occurred, would they leave their new masters. And he answered that he agreed with me; for that Saladin was wont to say that never did one see a bad Christian become a good Saracen, or a bad Saracen become a good Christian.
"After these things he caused me to be mounted on a palfrey and to ride by his side. And we passed over a bridge of boats and went to Mansourab, where the King and his people were prisoners. And we came to the entrance of a great pavilion, where the Sultan's scribes were; and there they wrote down my name. Then my Saracen said to me,' Lord, I shall not follow you further, for I cannot; but I pray you, lord, always to keep hold of the hand of the child you have with you, lest the Saracens should take him from you.'"
Truly, in his case, for the sick and sorry Joinville, as well as for the protection he provided for the little lad. the "child called Bartholomew," that unknown Saracen showed himself worthier of the name of Christian than many of those who fought under the banner of the Cross.
When the French lord entered the pavilion with his little charge, he found it full of his brother barons, "who made such joy that we could not hear one another speak, for they thought they had lost me."
Joy was soon turned to grief, however, for many of their number were taken by the Saracens into an adjoining courtyard and asked, "Wilt thou abjure thy faith?"
"Those who would not abjure were set to one side, and their heads were cut off, and those who abjured were set on the other side."
Then the Sultan sent to ask what terms they were willing to make. "Would you give, for your deliverance, any of the castles belonging to the barons oversea?" But they replied that they had no power over these castles, which belonged to their sovereign King. Then he asked if they would surrender any of the castles belonging to the Knights Templars and Hospitallers. But they answered that this could not be, for when the knights of the Temple or the Hospital were appointed to these castles, they were made to swear, on holy relics, that they would not surrender any of them for man's deliverance.
"The council of the Sultan then replied that it seemed to them that we had no mind to be delivered, and that they would go and send us such as would make sport of us with their swords, as they had done of the others belonging to our host. And they went their way."
With Louis himself the counsellors of the Sultan had gone still further, threatening him with torture if he did not do as they willed. "To their threats the King replied that he was their prisoner, and that they could do with him according to their will."
Finding that they could not terrorise the King they came back to him once more and asked how much money he was willing to pay for a ransom, besides giving up Damietta.
To this Louis replied that if the Sultan would accept a reasonable sum, he would see if the Queen would pay it for their deliverance. This answer, to those who held the Eastern idea of women, was astounding, and they asked, "How is it that you will not tell us definitely that these things shall be done?" To which Louis replied, with spirit that he did not know if the Queen would consent, seeing that she was his lady, and mistress of her own actions. Then they took counsel with the Sultan, and brought back word that if the Queen would pay five hundred thousand livres (about £405,000) he would release the King.
"And when they had taken the oath that this should be so, the King promised that he would willingly pay the five hundred thousand livres for the release of his people, and surrender Damietta for the release of his own person, seeing that it was not fitting that such as he should barter himself for coin."
When the Sultan heard this, he said. "By my faith, this Frank is large-hearted not to have bargained over so great a sum! Now go and tell him that I give him a hundred thousand livres towards the payment of the ransom."
The prospects of the unfortunate Crusaders seemed therefore to be brightening, when, as they were being conveyed down the river to the Sultan's camp as a preliminary to being set free, all was suddenly darkened again by the murder of their generous captor at the hands of some of his own traitorous Emirs.
One of these, indeed, came to King Louis, with the heart of the Sultan, all reeking with blood, in his hand, and said: "What wilt thou give me? For I have slain thine enemy, who, had he lived, would have slain thee!" "But the King answered him never a word."
Nothing now but death seemed the probable fate of the despairing prisoners, who meantime, were thrown into the hold of the galley and "so pressed together that my feet came against the good Count Peter of Brittany, and his came against my face."
But the Saracen Emirs seem to have thought that more profit could be made out of them alive than dead, and were ready to observe the terms already proposed, if the King would renew his oath to this effect, "that if he did not observe his covenant he should be as dishonoured as a Christian who denies God and His law, and who spits upon the Cross and tramples on it."
Though he fully meant to keep his word, the pious soul of Saint Louis revolted against so blasphemous a declaration, and he absolutely refused to take such an oath. They threatened him with instant death, but he replied tranquilly that he "liked better to die as a good Christian rather than to live under the wrath of God."
By the exercise of further fiendish cruelty the Saracens attained their object. They took the old white haired Patriarch of Jerusalem, and tied him to the pole of the pavilion with his hands behind his back, and so tightly "that the said hands swelled to the size of his head, and that the blood started from between the nails." Then the Patriarch cried to the King, "Sire, for the love of God, swear without fear; for seeing that you intend to hold to your oath, I take upon my own soul whatsoever there may be of sin in the oath that you take."
It seems certain that by his firmness and courage Louis had earned the respect and admiration of the Saracens. Joinville says that they wanted to make him their Sultan, and only desisted because they said he was the most steadfast Christian that could be found. "They said that if Mohammed had suffered them to be so maltreated as the King had been, they would never have retained their belief in him; and they said further that if their people made the King to be Sultan, they would have to become Christians, or else he would put them all to death."
In spite of this, however, their fate still hung in the balance, for some recalled the precept of Mohammed, "For the assurance of the faith, slay the enemy of the law."
But better counsels prevailed, and on the day after Ascension Day, in the year 1250, all were released save the Count of Poitiers, who remained as hostage till the ransom should be paid.
Many of the Crusading barons no sooner regained their ships than they set sail for France, but-the King remained behind, to see that the ransom was paid. In connection with this ransom Joinville tells us of an incident that marks even more emphatically Louis' upright character.
"When the money had been counted, there were those of the council who thought that the King should not hand it over until he had received his brother back. But the King replied that he would hand it over, seeing that he had agreed with the Saracens to do so, and as for the Saracens, if they wished to deal honestly, they would also hold to the terms of their agreement. Then Lord Philip of Nemours told the King that they had miscounted, by ten thousand livres, to the loss of the Saracens (but without their knowledge).
"At this the King was very wroth, and said it was his will that the ten thousand livres should be restored, seeing he had agreed to pay two hundred thousand before he left the river.
"Then I touched Lord Philip with my foot, and told the King not to believe him, seeing that the Saracens were the wiliest reckoners in the whole world. And Lord Philip said I was saying sooth, for he had only spoken in jest, and the King said such jests were unseemly and untoward. 'And I command you,' said the King to him 'by the fealty that you owe me as being my liegeman—which you are—that if these ten thousand livres have not been paid, you will cause them to be paid without fail.'"
Nor would Louis listen to those who advised him to leave the river on account of its proximity to the Saracens, and go to his ship, which waited for him out at sea. But he had promised his foes not to go away until the payment had been made, and no considerations of personal safety would induce him to break his word.
"So soon, however, as the ransom was paid, the King, without being urged thereto, said that henceforth he was acquitted of his oaths, and that we should depart thence, and go to the ship that was on the sea. Then our galley was set in motion, and we went a full great league before we spoke to one another, because of the distress in which we were at leaving the Count of Poitiers in captivity.
"Then came Lord Philip of Montfort in a galleon, and cried to the King : 'Sire! Sire! Speak to your brother, the Count of Poitiers, who is on this other ship!' Then cried the King 'Light up! Light up!' and they did so. Then was there such rejoicing among us that greater could not be. The King went to the Count's ship, and we went too. A poor fisherman went and told the Countess of Poitiers that he had seen the Count released, and she caused twenty livres to be given to him."
Nor was Louis the only star to shine in the dark firmament of the Eighth Crusade. All those anxious weeks there lay at Damietta the poor young Queen, in terrible anxiety for the fate of her husband, and for the future of those who were with her in the city.
In the midst of her grief and trouble was born her little son Tristan, the "child of sorrow," and he was but a day old when she heard that all the men of the five cities of Italy, who were with her in the city, were minded to flee away. With heroic courage she sent for them to her bedside and urged them not to leave Damietta to its fate, for if so the King would be utterly lost.
To this they replied: "Lady what can we do? For we are dying of hunger in this city?" But she told them that for famine they need not depart, "for," said she "I will cause all the food in this city to be bought, and will keep you all from henceforth at the King's charges."
Thus did the brave Queen keep Damietta until it had to be given up according to the terms of the treaty; upon which she went to Acre, there to await the King.
The release of the prisoners was, for all practical purposes, the end of the ill-fated Eighth Crusade, but Louis could not bear to return to France without even a glimpse of the Holy Land which lay so very near his heart.
His brother had deserted him, but the faithful Joinville was still at his side, and with the latter was now to be found the little child, Bartholomew, who had in so strange a manner been placed under his protection. There were not wanting those who urged the King to return to France, and look after the affairs of his kingdom, but Louis was firm. The Queen Mother, Blanche, was well able to fill his place, and he was determined not to leave the kingdom of Jerusalem while any hope remained of striking a blow on its behalf. Again and again he had urged Henry III. of England to bring an army to its relief, he had even promised to give up Normandy if he would do this; and he could scarcely believe that he would persist in his refusal. If he should fail there was yet a faint hope that the Pope himself might lead an army in the cause of God; while there was the slightest chance, therefore, he would hold himself ready to act.
So Louis went first to Acre to rejoin his Queen, and then set to work to rebuild the fortifications of the seaports, Caesarea, Joppa, and Sidon, which had been destroyed by the Saracens, though they were still ruled by Christian chieftains. And then four more years passed away.
It was while Louis was engaged in fortifying Joppa that he was told that the Sultan was willing that he should go to Jerusalem under a "sure and safe conduct." It was the King's dearest wish to visit the Holy Sepulchre, but after grave consideration, acting on the advice of his council, he determined not to do so. His reason was the same as that of Richard of England in the Third Crusade. "For if he, the greatest Christian King, went a pilgrimage without delivering the city from God's enemies, then would all other kings and pilgrims, coming thereafter, rest content with going on pilgrimage after the same manner as the King of France, and give no heed to the deliverance of Jerusalem."
A pilgrimage in sackcloth to Nazareth was all, therefore, that the king would allow himself, and meantime his hopes of aid from Europe grew fainter and fainter.
Then came bad news from France. Queen Blanche, who seems to have been more to the king than wife or children, was dead, and Louis must return to his deserted kingdom. On St Mark's day (April 24th) of the year 1254, the king and queen sailed from Acre, but they were not destined to reach France without further adventures.
"On the Saturday we came in sight of the Isle of Cyprus, and of a mountain in Cyprus which is called the Mountain of the Cross. That Saturday a mist rose from the land, and descended from the land to the sea; and by this our mariners thought we were further from the Isle of Cyprus than we were, because they did not see the mountain above the mist. Wherefore they sailed forward freely and so it happened that our ship struck a reef of sand below the water; and if we had not found that little sandbank where we struck, we should have struck against a great mass of sunken rocks, where our ship would have been broken in pieces, and we all shipwrecked and drowned.
"As soon as our ship struck, a great cry rose in the ship, for each one cried 'Alas!' and the mariners and the rest wrung their hands because each was in fear of drowning.
"When I heard this, I rose from my bed where I was lying, and went to the ship's castle with the mariners. As I came there, Brother Raymond, who was a Templar and master of the mariners, said to one of his varlets 'Throw down the lead.' And he did so. And as soon as he had thrown it, he cried out and said. 'Alas, we are aground!' When Brother Raymond heard that, he rent his clothes to the belt, and took to tearing out his beard, and to crying: 'Ay me! Ay me!'"
In marked contrast to this not very helpful master of mariners stands one of Joinville's knights who "brought me, without a word, a lined overcoat of mine, and threw it on my back, for I had donned my tunic only. And I cried out to him, and said, 'what do I want with your overcoat that you bring me, when we are drowning?' And he said to me, 'By my soul, lord, I should like better to see us all drowned than that you should take some sickness from the cold, and so come to your death.'"
An effort was made to get the king off the threatened ship by means of the galleys, but the latter held off; and in this they acted wisely, seeing there were full eight hundred persons on board the ship who would have jumped into the galleys to save their lives, and thus have caused the latter to sink.
Morning came and found the ship fast aground, and seeing there was much damage done to her keel, the servants of the king implored him to embark in another vessel. By his decision Louis showed once again that wonderful unselfishness which forms one of his best claims to the title of Saint.
After hearing the opinion of the master mariners, and his nobles, he called together the seamen and said to them.
"I ask you, on your fealty, whether, if the ship were your own, and freighted with your own merchandise, you would leave her?"
And they replied all together "No!" for they liked better to put their bodies in peril of drowning than to buy a new ship at great cost.
"Why then," asked the king, "do you advise me to leave the ship?"
"Because," said they, "the stakes are not equal. For neither gold nor silver can be set against your person and the persons of your wife and children who are here; therefore we advise you not to put yourself or them in danger."
Then the king said, "Lords, I have heard your opinion and that of my people, and now I will tell you mine, which is this: If I leave the ship there are in her five hundred people and more who will land in this Isle of Cyprus, for fear of peril to their body-since there is none that does not love his life as much as I love mine-and these, peradventure, will never return to their own land. Therefore I like better to place my own person, and my wife, and my children in God's hands than do this harm to the many people who are here."
Their next adventure might have been more serious, at least for some of the crew. Sailing away in comparative safety in the damaged ship they came at length to the island of the sea called Pentelema, which was peopled by Saracens who were subjects of the King of Sicily and the King of Tunis.
"The queen begged the king to send thither three galleys to get fruit for the children; and the king consented, and ordered the masters of the galleys to go thither, and be ready to come back to him when his ship passed before the island. The galleys entered into a little port that was on the island; and it chanced that when the king's ship passed before the port, we got no tidings of the galleys.
Then did the mariners begin to murmur among themselves.
"The king caused them to be summoned, and asked them what they thought of the matter. The mariners said it seemed to them that the Saracens had captured his people and his galleys.
"'But we advise and counsel you, sire, not to wait for them; for you are between the kingdom of Sicily and the kingdom of Tunis, which love you not at all. If, however, you suffer us to sail forward, we shall, during the night, have delivered you from peril, for we shall have passed through the strait.'
"'Truly,' said the king, 'I shall not listen to you, and leave my people in the hands of the Saracens without at least, doing all in my power to deliver them. I command you to turn your sails and we will fall upon them.'
"And when the queen heard this, she began to make great lamentation and said. Alas! this is all my doing!'
"While they were turning the sails of the king's ship and of the other ships, we saw the galleys coming from the island. When they came to the king, the king asked the mariners why they had tarried; and they replied that they could not help themselves, but that the fault lay with certain sons of burgesses of Paris, of whom there were six, who stayed eating the fruit of the gardens, wherefore they had been unable to get them off, nor could they leave them behind.
"Then the king commanded that the six burghers' sons should be put into the barge a-stern; at which they began to cry and to howl, saying, 'Sire, for God's sake, take for ransom all that we have, but do not put us there, where murderers and thieves are put; for we shall be shamed to all time.'
"The queen and all of us did what we could to move the king; but he would listen to none of us.
"So they were put into the barge, and remained there till we came to land; and they were there in such danger and distress that when the sea rose, the waves flew over their heads, and they had to sit down, lest the wind should carry them into the sea.
"And it served them right; for their gluttony caused us such mischief that we were delayed for eight good days, because the king had caused the ships to turn right about."
So at length Louis came to his own land of France; but his heart was full of longing for the "holy fields" of Palestine, and he was not content to live a life of luxury at the court while Jerusalem was yet in the hands of the infidel.
"After the king returned from overseas, he lived in such devotion that never did he wear fur of beaver or grey squirrel, nor scarlet, nor gilded stirrups and spurs. His clothing was of camlet and blue cloth, the fur on his coverlets and clothing was deer's hide, or the skin from the hare's legs, or lambskin. He was so sober in his eating that he never ordered special meats outside what his cook prepared; what was set before him that did he eat. He put water to his wine in a glass goblet, and according to the strength of the wine he added water thereto by measure; and would hold the goblet in his hand while they mixed water with his wine behind his table. He always caused food to be given to his poor, and after they had eaten, caused money to be given to them."
Thus, for the next fifteen years the king fulfilled the duties of his royal position in France; and all the while the voice of the East was calling, calling with insistent voice, as news of lost cities, quarrels between those who should have united themselves against the Saracens, and invasions of new and hostile races reached his cars.