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  • The Sanctity of Louis IX: Early Lives of Saint Louis by Geoffrey of Beaulieu and William of Chartres by Larry F. Field
  • Michael Lower
The Sanctity of Louis IX: Early Lives of Saint Louis by Geoffrey of Beaulieu and William of Chartres. Translated by Larry F. Field; edited and introduced by M. Cecilia Gaposchkin and Sean L. Field. (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. 2013. Pp. xviii, 197. $18.95 paperback. ISBN 978-0-8014-7818-5.)

Even in an age when kingship was especially imbued with sacred qualities, very few medieval European kings ascended to the ranks of the saints. Louis IX of France’s canonization in 1297, twenty-seven years after his death on crusade in North Africa, therefore sets him apart as a subject of exceptional historical interest. Although Louis’s long and momentous reign (1226–70) has always attracted attention from medievalists, this marvelous collection of documents shifts the focus toward the king’s reputation for sanctity. By offering translations of two key early hagiographies along with crucial contextualizing documents, the authors show how Louis’s saintly image was cultivated over several decades in French mendicant and court circles before Pope Boniface VIII officially affirmed it in his canonization bull of 1297.

The Sanctity of Louis IX aims to reach both scholarly and undergraduate audiences. For students, it offers highly readable and idiomatic translations of texts that have to date only been accessible in nineteenth-century Latin editions. Geoffrey of Beaulieu was a Dominican who served as Louis’s confessor for some twenty years and accompanied the king on his ill-fated crusades to Egypt and Tunis. His is the earliest life of Louis IX that has come down to us—he started writing it in 1272, just two years after the king’s death in the crusader camp at Carthage. Shortly after Geoffrey died (probably in 1274 or 1275), William of Chartres complemented Geoffrey’s vita with one of his own. William also belonged to Louis’s inner circle, serving the king in a variety of sensitive judicial and political roles first as a secular cleric and then, likely from around 1264, as a Dominican friar. Taken together, the two texts offer a remarkably intimate portrait of a saint in the making. They can support classroom teaching or student research projects on a wealth of topics in medieval history, literature, and religious studies: lay piety and the revolutionary impact of mendicant ideals; prayer, penance, confession and discipline; ideas of [End Page 627] kingship, justice, and good governance; attitudes toward poverty, charity, and disability; the relationship between secular and ecclesiastical authority; the place of the miraculous in everyday life; crusading; and Latin Christian attitudes toward Muslims and Jews. Further increasing the value of these translations is a generous introduction that delves deeply into major themes while also laying out the historical context in considerable detail.

Students and teachers will appreciate this book a great deal. So, too, will scholars who work on Louis IX and his world. The introduction offers an authoritative guide to current scholarly literature in this area. More important still, the editors carefully reviewed the manuscript and printing histories of Geoffrey and William’s vitae and have managed to bring clarity to a confused state of affairs. They discovered that, despite the claims of several early-modern and nineteenth-century editors to the contrary, a single manuscript now housed in the Bibliothèque nationale de France has provided the basis for every major printed edition of these works. By checking the standard scholarly edition (which actually dates back to 1840) against this manuscript and by consulting a second early version of Geoffrey’s vita that has never been used in any previous edition of the texts, they have been able to make many important corrections to the original Latin. As a result, this excellent set of translations is likely to transform teaching and research on one of the quintessential figures of the European Middle Ages.

Michael Lower
University of Minnesota


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pp. 627-628
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