Saint Louis Cover Image
By Jacques Le Goff, Gareth Gollrad (Translator)
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"Life of a king, life of a saint, life of a man. In this work, Jacques LeGoff, one of the truly great medieval historians of our times, magisterially plumbs the depths of the fundamental contradiction of Saint Louis: is it possible to be both a king and a saint? St. Louis lies at the intersection of reasons of state and divine reason; he is an individual around whom LeGoff turns like a detective searching for an ever-elusive truth, that of a life and a legend inextricably intertwined. A fine, eminently readable translation. " --Robert J. Morrissey, University of Chicago

Canonized in 1297 as Saint Louis, King Louis IX of France (1214-1270) was the central figure of Christendom in the thirteenth century. He ruled when France was at the height of power; he commanded the largest army in Europe and controlled the wealthiest kingdom. Renowned for his patronage of the arts, Louis was equally famous for his decision to imitate the suffering Christ as a humbly attired, bearded penitent. Armed with the considerable resources of the nouvel historien, Jacques Le Goff mines existing materials about Saint Louis to forge a new historical biography of the king. Part of his ambitious project is to reconstruct the mental universe of the thirteenth century: Le Goff describes the scholastic and intellectual background of Louis' reign and, most importantly, he discusses methodology and the interpretation of written sources--their composition, provenance, and reliability. Le Goff divides his unconventional biography into three parts. In the first, he gives us the contours of Louis' life from birth to death in the usual context of family dynamics and genealogy, courtly and regional politics, and shifts in economic, social, and cultural life. In sifting through the historical accounts of the king's life, Le Goff determines that it is Louis IX's profound sense of moral and religious purpose--his desire to become the ideal Christian ruler--that colors his every action from boyhood on; it is also, for Le Goff, what renders contemporary accounts problematic and what necessitates further scrutiny. That dissection of sources occupies the second part. Le Goff's intention is to pare away the layers of homily and anecdote produced by the king's early biographers to discover the true Saint Louis. Questioning whether Saint Louis was merely the invention of his eulogists, Le Goff penetrates beyond the literary and hagiographical evidence to the human behind the legend. He brilliantly analyzes Louis' progress toward his unique self-creation and its subsequent mythologizing. In the third part, Le Goff highlights the contradictions within Louis and his historical image that previous chroniclers have elided or overlooked. In the end, he leaves us with the saint, rather than the king, with all the paradoxes embedded in that role.

About the Author

A prolific medievalist of international renown, Jacques Le Goff (1924- ) is the former director of studies at the L'Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris. Among his honors is the Dr. A. H. Heineken Prize for History, bestowed in 2004 by the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences to Le Goff for "fundamentally changing our view of the Middle Ages." He was also among the recipients of the 2007 Dan David Prize in recognition of contributions to his discipline. Jacques Le Goff was awarded the prestigious Prix Gobert for Saint Louis by the Academie Francaise in 1996. This English translation includes the appendices, chronology, and genealogical tables from the French edition.

Praise For…

“. . . a warm and largely admiring portrait of a king in whom power and goodness do indeed form two sides of the same coin. . . . Le Goff’s Louis is cheerful, ardent, devout, intelligent but unintellectual, skillful yet uncomplicated, a man in tune with his age but able to transcend at least some of its limitations . . . this is a rich and generous book, crammed with a lifetime’s learning.” —The New York Review of Books

“Jacques Le Goff’s brilliant biography, Saint Louis, came out in French in 1996, and is now published in a readable English translation. Its publication gives Anglophones a book to set beside W.C. Jordan’s Louis IX and the Challenge of the Crusade (1979) and Jean Richard’s Saint Louis (1983, translated in 1992). . . . Le Goff excels in his knowledge of the biographical sources, which he subjects to close analysis, against the background—Le Goff’s home territory—of European mentalités.” —London Review of Books

“More than simply a biography of Louis IX of France, this magisterial work by a member of the Annales School of historiography is an examination of the historian's craft. . . . Le Goff argues convincingly that Louis, while still a medieval figure, was also one of the first moderns. He provides the scholarly apparatus lacking in Jean Richard's Saint Louis, the Crusading King of France . . . highly recommended for academic and larger public libraries.” —Library Journal

“In a massive piece of scholarship, Le Goff, doyen of French medievalists, plays the sleuth whose work results in more contradictions than clarity in the search for an integration of the three personae—king, saint, and man—of Louis IX (1214–1270). . . . Resolving to live with an inherently unstable and distorted historical figure hovering somewhere between memory, history, and legend, Le Goff thereby raises important questions about defining historical authenticity. Gollrad’s translation nicely preserves the lively and intimate prose of the French original (1996).” —Choice

“. . . Le Goff interweaves insightful and illuminating reflections on Louis’ personality. This interweaving of person, structures and representation takes Le Goff beyond the established historiography of Louis IX . . . [and] demonstrates how the historical biographer can legitimately evoke personality and psychology in a wider account of structures and discourses. . . it is a seminal text, and this welcome translation will render it available to a wider audience.” —English Historical Review

“Louis lives and walks through these pages. What Le Goff has given us is more than a biography; it is a work of literature. . . . Given the length of this book, many will be intimidated and will not take up its challenge. That is a pity, for Le Goff has much to offer here. There is no chapter that does not contain information and ideas that deserve to be discussed further.” —The Catholic Historical Review

Product Details
ISBN: 9780268033811
ISBN-10: 0268033811
Publisher: University of Notre Dame Press
Publication Date: January 1st, 2009
Pages: 952
Language: English