For Christmas Gifts, St. Louis IX of France Gives His Nobles Crusader Crosses

December 20, 2018

Louis IX occupied himself constantly in carrying his design into execution, and neglected no mean of winning to his purpose all the nobility of his kingdom; his piety did not disdain to employ, for what he considered a sacred cause, all the empire that kings generally possess over their courtiers. . . . After an ancient custom, the kings of France, at great solemnities, gave such of their subjects as were at court, certain capes or furred mantles, with which the latter immediately clothed themselves before leaving the court.

Painting of King St. Louis IX of France in the church Saint Louis of the French in Rome, Italy.

In the ancient comptes (a sort of audits) these capes were called livrées (whence, no doubt, our word livery), because the monarch gave them (les livrait) himself. Louis ordered a vast number of these to be prepared against Christmas Eve, upon which crosses were embroidered in gold and silk. The moment being come, every one covered himself with the mantle that had been given to him, and followed the monarch to the chapel. What was their astonishment when, by the light of the wax tapers, they at once perceived upon all before them,and then upon themselves, the sign of an engagement they had never contracted. Such was, however, the character of the French knights, that they believed themselves obliged to respond to this appeal to their bravery; all the courtiers, as soon as divine service was ended, joined in the laugh with the skillful fisher of men, and took the oath to accompany him into Asia.

Joseph François Michaud, History of the Crusades, trans. W. Robson (London: George Routledge and Co., 1852), 2:349.

Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 657

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