The great crusader hero: Louis IX or Joinville?
By Adriana Almeida
Medievalista Online, Vol.4:4 (2008)
Introduction: Joinville’s Vie de Saint Louis is, in the least, a touching account of a hard campaign in the East, and the humanity and sanctity of a king. There are countless ways in which the reader can be touched, though, from excitement at battle descriptions, tenderness at the goodness of King Louis IX, or annoyance prompted by the imposing presence of the narrator himself. This essay seeks to study the author’s relation to the ideals of chivalry as exposed in Joinville’s work, and try to understand, if possible, who is the real hero in the Vie de Saint Louis.
In the Dedication to the future Louis X, Joinville claims to have written the book at the request of his mother, Queen Jeanne de Navarre, to put down in writing ‘the pious saying and the good deeds of our King, Saint Louis’, illustrating the sanctity of the monarch. Clearly, Joinville had this appeal in mind when he composed the chapters that open and close the work. In these, the reader is overwhelmed with the pouring of qualities, exemplar deeds, advice and acts of capable administration of the kingdom by his beloved king. There is hardly any narration, and all there is is subject to the purpose of illustrating the attributes of the monarch. The facts enumerated have little or no logical relation between them. In Chapter One of the first part, for instance, from an advice of the King on how people should dress we jump to an anecdote about King Louis questioning Joinville on his idea of God, and then to an episode in which the monarch warns our writer to follow Christ’s example and wash the feet of the poor. The ending chapters, although of the same nature, offer a somewhat more organized division of the sketches: ‘his wisdom’, administration of the realm, or patronage and piety.
The Chapters in the middle (Part Two, Chapters Two to Seventeen), which represent most of the book, make up a narrative, with beginning, development, and ending. The frontiers between the parts may vary depending on what we consider to be the main plot, if the crusader adventure of the main characters, the development of the friendship between Joinville and Louis, or any other, but establishing these boundaries is not a concern in the present essay. Trying to define the plot itself is, however, and this will be looked into below. The setting is King Louis’s first crusade, but, although the monarch figures greatly in it, and unlike what happens in the opening and ending chapters, he is not the main character.