Count Robert’s “Pet” Wolf
By William Chester Jordan
Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Vol.155:4 (2011)
Introduction: The Count Robert of Artois around whom this story revolves was the nephew of King Louis IX, the thirteenth-century French king later canonized as Saint Louis. The count’s father, who died on crusade and whom he never knew, was Saint Louis’s brother, also named Robert. His mother was a noblewoman, Matilda of Brabant, who raised him as a “single parent” for the first four years of his life and thereafter with her second husband, the count of Saint-Pol. It is tempting to imagine that the taste for excess that Robert later developed owes something to an indulgent upbringing of an aristocratic orphan (medieval law used the term even if only one parent predeceased the child). In the direct line of the French kings descended from Saint Louis, upbringing was anything but indulgent. Sons and daughters were indoctrinated—which is to say, they were told repeatedly — that they should lead virtuous, sober, indeed, exemplary lives, as their holy ancestor Louis IX had.
The saint’s detailed moral profile was key here. Louis IX had avoided aristocratic pleasures. And he had laid this burden, this impulse to perfection, heavily while he lived on his own immediate family, often in ways that may strike modern readers of contemporary or nearc ontemporary descriptions of Louis IX as obsessive. Moreover, toward the end of his life the saint had written out two sets of precepts, allegedly in his own hand, on the ideal behavior he expected from his eldest son and daughter—and implicitly all their successors. These are known now as the Instructions and the Teachings of Saint Louis. It is not true that his successors always adhered tightly to all these precepts, but divergence from them came at a cost. It opened up the king’s descendants to the charge of deviating from the very example that established the dynasty’s sacrosanct and inviolable character.