Memoires de Jean Sire de Joinville ou I'Histoire et Chroniqiie du tres-chretien roi-St. Louis.
M. De Sainte-Beuve says that Joinville is the best representative ‘of the age which we like to represent to ourselves as the golden age of the good old time. If this happy period ever existed in the past, it was in the reign of Saint Louis, during the fifteen years of peace under the shadow of the oak in the forest of Vincennes.' Joinville certainly gives us a vivid glimpse of this past age. It is, however, only a glimpse, and before the figures of the picture can be fully appreciated, it is necessary to sketch slightly the frame in which they must be set.
The forty-four years of the reign of Louis IX. (1226-1270) nearly coincide with the fifty-six years of the reign of Henry III. (1216-1272), and cover one of the great epochs of European history; for during that period the French Monarchy and the English Constitution were founded, and the first great religious crisis of modern Europe— that which included the destruction of the Albigenses, the erection of persecution into a system, and the crusades—came to an end.
The final conclusion of the Languedocian troubles, and the fall of the independence of the province may be dated in 1244. At the same date the successes of Louis in his war with Henry III., and the additions which his dominions received on the fall of Raymond, extended the French Monarchy from the Scheldt to the Mediterranean and the Pyrenees.
Thus the great events of the boyhood and early manhood of Louis were the extension and consolidation of his own dominions, by the same causes which overthrew the Albigensian heresy and established the Inquisition. This of itself would account for the great space which the question of orthodoxy occupied in his mind. It occupied, however, a similar space in the minds of his contemporaries.
The Church was at that time by far the greatest and most powerful organisation in the world; for though there were several great sovereigns,—Louis IX., Henry III., and the Emperor Frederic II., there was hardly such a thing in the whole of Europe as a nation well defined and thoroughly organised. The Church, moreover, was not only powerfully organised, but was instinct with life in every part. Councils, general, provincial, and national, were still a reality. The clergy of every country, and almost of every church, had their own special rights, which they maintained with the greatest determination. Even at St. Louis's own funeral there was a quarrel, betweenthe clergy of the Abbey of St. Denis and the Archbishop of Sens and the Bishop of Paris, as to the right of the prelates to officiate. It had to be arranged before the funeral could proceed, though the new king, Philip III, with all the aristocracy and clergy of France, was kept waiting with the coffin at the church doors. The political side of religion was thus constantly brought home to everybody.
The intellectual movement, both within and without the Church, was at least as powerful. On the one side, the Albigensians had developed views of which, at this distance of time and with our imperfect sympathy with the feelings of a past age, it is difficult to form a just opinion. They would, however, appear to have involved, on the part of those who held them, not merely a revolt against all the institutions of the age, but a formal surrender of part of human life to the evil principle, coupled with that strange mixture of asceticism and license as to the other part, which is the practically necessary complement of such a view. On the other hand, there was within the Church a movement, or rather a series of movements, in which several of the great questions of religion were debated in a terminology and under conditions strange to us, but most influential over the men of that age.
In the thirteenth century, the Church was rather the friendly and sympathetic ruler, than the enemy of what then passed for reason; and this relation was rendered possible by the scholastic conception of science, and by the universal belief that the method of acquiring knowledge was to argue downwards, from principles generally admitted to be true, either as self-evident, or as notoriously revealed from heaven.
All theology may be divided into two great branches —the process of ascertaining certain facts, and the process of giving form to certain sentiments; at different periods the result of these two processes, and their relation to each other, differ. The degree of completeness, precision, and system which can be given to the religious emotions—in other words, the extent to which feeling can be translated into propositions, depends upon the amount of certainty which is felt as to the facts to which the sentiments relate. In the thirteenth century all the facts were taken for granted. The apparatus for examining or discussing them did not then exist. Hence it was possible to exhibit, in an astonishingly definite and systematic form, what in reality were only conjectures, upon subjects about which religious people felt a curiosity.
For instance, amongst the innumerable subjects on which Thomas Aquinas considered himself scientifically able to pronounce an opinion, were (according to Hallam) such as these: Could God have permitted actions against natural reason? Can he dispense with the law of nature? Did he act in a legislative, or in some, and what, other capacity, in the matter of the sacrifice of Isaac? To us these questions appear insoluble or puerile, but in that age various principles which could be logically connected with them were universal postulates, and the state of religious sentiment was such as absolutely to demand some rational organisation.
It was the age not only of the Albigensians, but of the Pastoureaux, the sect which tried to erect what is called the religion of the Holy Ghost, the time of the Father having ended at the birth of Christ, and the time of the Son at the rise of the Pastoureaux. An immense mass of peasants marched half over France on this strange errand under an unknown leader in 1251. In 1260 the Flagellants scourged themselves through every city in Europe; and the Dominicans and Franciscans, with other orders of less importance, were in the full flush of their early enthusiasm, and afforded a safety-valve for fanaticism.
Their intense sense of the emotional side of religion enabled the monks to take up the logical side of it ardently and successfully. The greatest of all the Dominicans was Thomas Aquinas, a friend, and often a guest of St. Louis, and the work of his marvellously laborious life seems to have been—for it would be presumptuous for any one to speak positively on the contents of eighteen folio volumes known to him only by report—to expand and systematise the premisses which orthodoxy supplied, into a form sufficiently minute and definite to exercise, and, if possible, to satisfy, the reason, and to afford to the religious emotions that food and support, which they find in the intricacy of systems assumed to be strong because they are complex. Long chains of coherent reasoning often confirm the faith by which they are supported, as a number of hurdles will bear up a heavy superstructure on a swampy foundation.
Thomas Aquinas was the architect of the greatest structure of this kind ever erected, and St. Louis's character is an indirect illustration of its practical objects. To use the picturesque language of M. Michelet, who compares the thirteenth century to a pyramid: 'Au sommet le grand boeuf muet de Sicile' (Aquinas's nickname, given on the principle on which the owl at Arundel Castle was called Lord Thurlow) 'ruminait la question.' ‘Audessous de 1'ange il y avait 1'homme, la morale sous la métaphysique. Sous St. Thomas, St. Louis.' The charm of Joinville's Mémoires is, that they draw an original picture of a man who might be considered the flower of the age in which these influences were at work. They set in the clearest light his sound intelligence in common things, his passionate religious sensibility, and the wild course of conduct into which he was led by indulging it. They also throw a curious light on the doubts, just sufficiently realised to enable him to look upon faith as difficult and meritorious, which passed through the mind of St. Louis, and no doubt through the minds of many others in that age, for the thirteenth century was an age of doubt as well as of faith. In its history indications are still to be found of a sceptical movement, not the less real because it was secret.
'The Latin writers of those times' (says Mosheim) 'often complain of public enemies of the Christian religion, and even of mockers of the Supreme Being. . . . The Aristotelian philosophy, which reigned in all the schools of Europe, and was regarded as identical with sound reason, led not a few to discard the doctrines commonly held and preached respecting Divine Providence, the immortality of the soul, the creation of the world, and other points.'
'They defended themselves,' adds one of his annotators, 'by distinguishing between theological truth and philosophical,' as many others have done to our own days. The Emperor Frederic II. was, of all the men of his age, the most deeply and widely suspected in this matter. The suspicions of his orthodoxy (which were probably not ill founded) were embodied in the myth of the book De Tribus Impostoribus.
Such was the age in which Louis IX. lived and reigned, and which Joinville commemorated. The leading dates of it are few. The first period extends from his accession, in 1226, to the first crusade in 1248. The second takes in the first crusade, from 1248 to 1254. The third consists of fifteen years of peace, 1255-1270; and the fourth consists of the few weeks which were occupied in the second crusade, July-August 1270. Joinville's Mémoires contain an outline of the first period, a pretty complete history of the second, some account of the third and scattered anecdotes as to the whole of the reign, for the most part not dated.
The book begins with a division of the subject, which is soon given up. The first part, it is said, is meant to show in general how the king ‘se gouverna tout son temps selon Dieu et selon 1'eglise, et au profit de son regne' (p. 1). The second part relates his 'great acts of chivalry and great feats of arms.' The first part consists of characteristic anecdotes told without arrangement, some of which have become almost proverbial, and of which all are eminently characteristic. The first of these is splendid in its simplicity and magnanimity.
'II me demanda se je voulais estre honoré en ce siecle et avoir paradis a la mort, et je li diz oyl. Et il me dit, Donques vous gardez que vous ne faites ne ne dites à votre escient nulle riens, que se tout le monde le savoit, que vous ne peussiez congnoistre, je ai ce fait, je ai ce dit' (p. 6).
The most curious of these anecdotes are those which show how deeply the controversies of the day had affected Louis, and what was the view which orthodox men of his age took of the nature of religious doubt. They viewed it as in all cases, a voluntary act to which a man was distinctly tempted by the devil, and for which he was responsible, just as he would be for any other definite sin.
'The holy king did his utmost to make me believe firmly in the Christian law. . . . He said that we ought to believe firmly in the Christian law; when people are dying the devil does all he can to make them die in doubt on points of faith; for he sees that he cannot take away the good works which a man has done, so that he will have lost him if he dies in the true faith. Therefore we ought to guard and defend ourselves against this snare; say to the enemy when he sends such temptations, Begone. . . . He said that faith and belief were such that we ought to believe firmly, although we had only hearsay evidence. He asked how I knew that my father's name was Simon. I said I firmly believed it because my mother had told me so. Then, said he, you ought to believe firmly all the articles of faith to which the apostles testify, as you mean to sing in the creed on Sunday' (p. 13).
He also told a story of a conversation between a 'great master in divinity' and the Bishop of Paris. The theologian said to the Bishop, weeping much :—
'I tell you, sir, said the master, I cannot help weeping, for I fear I am an unbeliever, for I cannot force my heart' (mon coeur ahurter) 'to believe in the sacrament of the altar as the Church teaches us, and I know these are temptations of the devil. Sir, said the Bishop, tell me, when the enemy sends you this temptation, does it please you? The master said, Sir, it annoys me as much as possible. I will ask you, said the Bishop, would you take money to avow with your mouth anything contrary to the sacrament of the altar or against the other holy sacraments of the Church? Sir, said the master, I would rather have the limbs torn from my body than I would make such an admission. I will say more, said the Bishop. You know that the King of France is at war with the King of England, and you know that the castle on the march between them is La Rochelle in Poitou. Now, I ask you, if the King had delivered you the castle of Rochelle to keep, which is on the frontier, and had delivered to me the castle of Laon, which is in the heart of France, and in a peaceable country, to which ought the King to be most indebted at the end of the war, to you who had kept Rochelle without losing it, or to me who had kept Laon without losing it? Good God, sir, said the master, to me who had kept La Rochelle. Sir, said the Bishop, I tell you that my heart is like the castle of Laon, for I have no temptation or doubt as to the sacrament of the altar, wherefore, I say that God owes you four times as much for believing with your heart in war and tribulation, as he owes me for believing firmly and peaceably.'In the same spirit was another story of Louis. De Montfort refused to go and see a miraculous host, which had turned into visible flesh and blood.
'Do you go and see it, who disbelieve. I believe firmly. . . . And do you know what I shall gain? In heaven I shall have a crown more than the angels, who see face to face, and so are obliged to believe' (p. 15). There is one more of the king's stories which, well known as it is, will bear repetition, as the comment is usually separated from the facts to which it relates.There was to be a controversy at Clugny between the Jews and the clergy. A knight begged to be allowed to open the discussion. He asked for the greatest of the rabbis, and when he came, asked him if he believed in the history of the Virgin Mary. The rabbi naturally said No. The knight said 'que moult avait fait que fol'— that he had acted very like a fool, in coming to the Virgin's house, if he neither believed in nor loved her; and so saying, 'he lifted his crutch and hit the Jew near the ear and knocked him down, and the other Jews ran away, and carried off their master all wounded.' The knight, when blamed by the abbot, justified what he had done by saying that there were many Christians present who, if they had heard the controversy, would have gone away unbelievers. 'And I tell you,' said the king, 'that no one, if he is not a great scholar, ought to dispute with them; but a layman, when he hears the Christian law attacked, ought to defend it with the sword only, which he ought to drive into their bellies as far as it will go.' 'De quoy il doit donner parmi le ventre dedens, tant comme elle y pent entrer' (p. 16).
These stories give the keynote of Louis's mind. Faith, in his view, was the act of believing without evidence, or even against evidence. Nay, the greater the objections from a rational point of view, the more merit was there in believing. Whatever made, or seemed to make, against the 'Christian law' was a temptation of the devil, and whoever doubted or denied it was a personal enemy, to be combated by laymen like himself, with the sword; by 'great clerks,' like Thomas Aquinas, with syllogisms; and by the ecclesiastical authorities with the Inquisition backed by the secular arm.
This faith was the fruit of a still deeper feeling.
In his instruction to his daughter Isabelle he says: 'Dear daughter, have in yourself a desire which is never to leave you, that is to say, to please our Lord as much as you can, and give your whole heart to this, so that if you were certain that you would never be rewarded for the good you might do, nor punished for the ill you might do, you would still be obliged to keep yourself from doing anything which could displease our Lord, and would try to do what would please Him as much as you can, solely for the love of Him.'
Joinville tells a story which shows how widely such feelings were spread. At Acre 'brother Yoes saw an old woman crossing the street carrying in her right hand a pan full of fire, and in her left hand a bottle of water. Brother Yoes asked her: 'What do you want to do with this? She replied that she wanted to burn paradise with the fire and to put out hell with the water, so that they should be no more.' 'Why do you want to do that?' 'Because I wish that no one should do good to have the reward of heaven, or for fear of hell, but only to have the love of God, which is worth so much, and which gives us all good.'
With all his piety Louis IX. was the last man to underrate his own position in relation to the clergy. The bishops on one occasion addressed him by their spokesman as follows: 'Sire, the archbishops and bishops here present, have charged me to tell you that Christianity is falling and melting away in your hands, and will fall still more unless you interfere, for no one at the present day cares for being excommunicated. Therefore, sire, we ask you to order your bailiffs and serjeants to imprison those who are excommunicated a year and a day to compel them to give satisfaction to the Church! And the king replied without taking counsel that he would willingly command his bailiffs and serjeants to imprison excommunicated persons as they wished, but that he must take cognisance of the sentence' (i.e. of excommunication) 'to see whether it was just or not. Upon this they consulted and replied to the king that they would not give him cognisance of matters relating to the Christian religion. And the king told them that he would never give them cognisance of what belonged to him, nor order his officers to imprison persons excommunicated to force them to get absolution whether right or wrong. 'If I did so I should go against God and against right. And I will give you a proof of it. The bishops of Brittany have kept the Count of Brittany excommunicated for full seven years, and then he got absolution from the Court of Rome, and if I had constrained him' (to get absolved) 'in the first year I should have done so wrongfully.'
Joinville, whose unconscious portrait of himself is only less interesting than his portrait of St. Louis, was a very different kind of man. They were not unlike Sancho Panza and Don Quixote. Joinville admired and reverenced the king beyond all bounds, but he was by no means of the same way of thinking, or rather of feeling. He would appear to have been a model of the orthodox sensible men of the world of that day. He seems to have acquiesced in the creed of the time, to have believed it, and submitted to it, rather as a straightforward matter of prudence than from any special devotional feeling. A strong vein of frank dislike of cant runs through all that he says on such subjects.
The following anecdote is characteristic of them both. 'He once called me and said, I dare not speak to you on account of the sharpness of your wit in things touching God, ['Je n'ose parler à vous pour le soutil sens dont vous estes de chose qui touche à Dieu.'] and therefore I have summoned these monks because I want to ask you a question. The question was this, Seneschal, what sort of thing is God?' (quel chose est Dieu ?). 'I said, Sire, so good a thing that better cannot be. Well, said he, that is a good answer which you have made, and is the same which is written in this book which I hold in my hand. And now I ask you, which you would like best, to have the leprosy, or to commit a mortal sin, and I, who never told him a lie, said I would rather commit thirty mortal sins than be a leper. Next day when they were alone, the King gave him a solemn reproof, but Joinville does not seem to have changed his views. Louis asked him if he washed the feet of poor men on Holy Thursday.' 'Sire, dis-je les pieds de ces vilains ne laverai-je ja' (p. 81).
His own religious observations show how straightforward and simple-minded he was, and in what a direct business-like way the laymen of those days regarded such matters. Speaking of the belief of the Bedouins in predestination, he says: 'It is as much as to say that God has no power to help us; for it would be foolish to serve God (ils seroient fols ceux qui serviroient Dieu) 'if we did not think that He could prolong our lives and protect us from evil and mischief (p. 79).
On one occasion Joinville knocked down one of his knights for quarrelling with another, saying as he did so: 'Get out of my house; so help me God, you shall not come back.' The knight made great interest to be pardoned, but Joinville says: 'I answered that I could not take him back unless the Legate would absolve me from my oath. They went and told the Legate, and he said he could not absolve me, as the oath was reasonable, and had served the knight quite right. . . . And this I mention to teach you not to take foolish oaths' (p. 176). The directness and simplicity of Joinville's views about prayer and oaths show a contented, straightforward, business-like view of religion which few people possess in our days.
Without reading the whole of Joinville's account of the crusade it would be difficult to form a just idea of the way in which the passionate devotion of Louis and the practical sense of Joinville set each other off throughout. Joinville's prevailing notion seems to have been that it was the right thing to do, and that he and others would or might go to heaven for it. He speaks of those who were killed as martyrs. 'The Bishop of Soissons greatly desiring to go to God, when he saw our troops retreating to Damietta, would not return to his native land, but hastened to go to God. He, therefore, spurred his horse and attacked the Turks all alone. They cut him down, and put him in the company of God, and in the number of the martyrs' (p. 119).
He also distinguished himself by strongly opposing, on the point of honour, a premature proposal to return to France; but when there was a talk of a second crusade he as strongly condemned it. 'I was much pressed by the King of France and the King of Navarre to cross myself, and I answered that while I was serving God and the king beyond the sea (in the first crusade) the officers of the King of France and the King of Navarre had destroyed and impoverished my vassals, so that they and I never were in a worse condition. I said also that if I wished to do God's will, I ought to stay at home and take care of my people; for if I were to risk my body by going on the crusade, clearly seeing that by so doing I should injure my people, I should offend God, who gave his body to save his people. I thought those who advised the king to go committed a mortal sin, for as long as he was in France the whole realm was at peace, at home and abroad, and after his departure things got continually worse' (p. 235).
Notwithstanding his clear apprehension of the plain duties which the King neglected by going on this strange wild-goose chase, no one could feel his piety more deeply than Joinville. He says that to canonise him was not enough. 'He should have been put amongst the martyrs for all he underwent in the crusade. ... If God died on the cross, so did he, for he went as a crusader to Tunis.'
The actual history of the crusade must be gathered from the book itself. It is impossible for any abstract to do justice to the merit of a story the beauty of which depends so much upon the way in which it is told. But it may be worth while to give, in the most cursory way, the outline of the events which Joinville describes.
Louis IX. took the cross on his recovery from an illness, in December 1244. So difficult was it in those days to make all the necessary arrangements, that he did not sail from Aigues Mortes till the 28th of August 1248. He reached Cyprus on the 17th of September, and stayed there till the following May. He landed at Damietta on the 3d of June 1249, and took the town on the 6th, owing to the panic which the landing caused amongst the Turks. The Nile began to rise, and the crusaders loitered at Damietta till the end of November, waiting for it to fall, and did not appear before Mansourah, the half-way stage to Cairo, or Babylon as Joinville calls it, till the 20th of December. They remained in front of Mansourah till Shrove Tuesday (8th February 1250), when a great battle was fought, in which the Saracens were defeated. There was more fighting on the Friday, which was not so favourable to the French. After this, the armies maintained their positions till early in April, when the Christians, worn out with sickness and warfare, were obliged to retreat. The retreat became a rout, Louis himself being taken prisoner and held to ransom. Early in May the ransom was paid, and the army made its escape to Acre by sea. There, and at Jaffa, Louis remained four years, doing hardly anything of importance, and not even succeeding in entering Jerusalem. He returned to France on his mother's death, early in 1255, and entered Paris on the 7th of September.
Nothing could be more miserable than the generalship of this strange expedition. In just seven years' absence from France there was not much more than three months of fighting (8th February to 8th May 1250); the rest of the time was either wasted in delay or passed in doing nothing at all. The loss was awful. Of 2800 knights who left Cyprus with the King, only 100 went with him to Acre. The whole transaction was a wretched failure. On the other hand, Homer himself is hardly more picturesque than Joinville. Every page has its picture. The following are a few instances of his powers. He thus describes Greek fire :—
'La manière du feu gregois estoit telle que il venoit bien devant aussi gros comme une tonnel de verjus, et la queue du feu qui partoit de li estoit bien aussi grant comme un grant glaive; il faisoit telle noise au venir que il sembloit que ce feust la foudre du ciel; il sembloit un dragon qui volast par 1'air; tant getoit grant clarté que 1'on veoit parmi 1'ast comme si il feust jour pour la grant foison du feu qui getoit la grant clarté. . . . Toutes les fois que notre saint roy voit que il nous getoient le feu gregois il se restoit en son lit et tendoit ses mains vers Nostre Seigneur et desoit en plourant, "Biau Sire Dieu, gardez moy ma gent," et je croie vraiement que ses prieres nous orent bien mestier au besoing' (p. 65).The following is a very Homeric sketch of a bit of a battle:
'There was wounded, Monseigneur Huges d'Escoz with three sword cuts on his face, and Monseigneur Raoul, and Monseigneur Ferri de Loupey with a sword between his shoulders, and the wound was so large that the blood came out of his body as from the bung-hole of a barrel. Monseigneur Erart de Syverey was struck by a sword in the face so that his nose fell over his lip; and thereupon I recollected my lord St. James, and said, "Biau Sire, St. Jacques, whom I implore, help and succour me in this business'" (P- 70).Take again this picture of St. Louis himself:
'The King came with all his battle and halted on a causeway with a great blast and noise of trumpets and cymbals. Never was seen so fine a man at arms, for he was above all his men from the shoulders upwards, with a gilt helmet on his head, and a German sword in his hand' (p. 71).I must content myself with one more of these pictures, though the whole history is almost made up of them. On the disastrous retreat from Mansourah Joinville with others fell into the power of the Saracens, who were about to put them to death. Upon this, says Joinville,—
'A number of people were confessing themselves to a monk who was there. For my own part I could not remember any sin I had committed, yet I saw the more I struggled the worse it would be, so I crossed myself and knelt down before one of the Saracens, who had a Danish carpenter's axe, and said, "So died St. Agnes." The Constable of Cyprus knelt by my side and confessed himself to me, and I said, "I absolve you in so far as God has given me power;" but when I got up I could not remember a single thing he had said' (pp. 107, 108).Joinville was not present at the last Crusade of St. Louis. It formed an appropriate ending to his life. For fifteen years after his return from Syria, he ruled France with exemplary virtue, and with the most resolute and vigorous good sense, asserting his own authority, not only against the nobles but also against the clergy, and, in the case of need, against the Popes; but the strange vein of enthusiastic religion which prompted him to the first crusade was always present in him, as in one form or other it was in most of his family. Exaggerated asceticism was not enough for him. He was devoured by melancholy at not having seen Jerusalem, and he determined on a second expedition. It was even more absurdly planned and disastrously executed than the first. After three years of preparation he sailed on the 1st July 1270 for Tunis of all places in the world. The plague broke out in the army. Louis died there in August, so did his son the Comte de Nevers; so did the Papal Legate, and many others. The French returned to Sicily, and lost eighteen ships in a storm. When they landed, the King of Navarre and his wife, Louis X’s daughter, died of the plague caught at Tunis. On the journey home the wife of Philip III., Louis's successor, died, after giving birth to a child who died also. The dismal catastrophe of this crusade, the last expedition which deserved the name, was an appropriate practical comment on the value of the vein of fanatical asceticism which ran through the character of St. Louis. It is impossible to read his history without feeling that nothing but the accident of his age saved him from a full participation in the Albigensian persecution. Whether there was much more moral justification for the crusades, in which he spent so much of the substance of France, is a question too wide, and also too hackneyed, to be discussed here.
Saturday Review, March 10, 1866.