Louis the Pious

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Louis VII, King of France from 1120-1180CE, also known as Louis the Pious (not to be confused with the Holy Roman Emperor Louis I) and Louis the Younger, was son of Louis VI, (also called Louis the Fat).

His reign was dominated by feudal struggles (in particular with the Angevins of England and Normandy), and saw the beginning of the long rivalry between France and England. It also saw the beginning of construction on the cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris and the disastrous Second Crusade.

Louis was renowned (and in some quarters, reviled) for his piety and religious devotion. He was married at the age of seventeen to Eleanor of Aquitaine, then two years his junior. The match between the dour and monkish Louis and the vibrant and free-spirited Eleanor was not a happy one, and Eleanor quickly came to resent her husband; rumours of her infidelity were legion, and some may have had truth to them. In any event, Eleanor and Louis had only two children together, both daughters.

In 1147 Louis set out on the Second Crusade, bringing much of his court (and his wife) with him to relieve the Crusader States. The crusade was a disaster, with the German contingent being nearly wiped out shortly after reaching Asia Minor and the French contingent suffering heavy losses en route.

Never the most stable ruler, Louis became increasingly eccentric as the pressures of the crusade built. He ceased to bathe and wore a simple pilgrim's robe, which quickly became lice-ridden and threadbare. In one battle Louis, dressed in his rags, was trapped in a tree while his bodyguard was overrun. He was spared by the Turks because of the poverty of his clothing. By the time he arrived in the Holy Land (by ship, leaving the bulk of his army to slog onward through Turkish territory) he was so filthy and repellent that Eleanor refused to go near him.

The disastrous attempt by Louis to besiege Damascus in 1148 effectively ended the campaign, and a disappointed Louis lingered in Jerusalem for several months before returning to France. There, beset by rumours that his wife had an affair with her uncle, Raymond of Poitiers, the couple obtained a divorce on the grounds of consanguinity in 1152. Louis kept the children, and within a few months Eleanor had married Henry, Count of Anjou who would later be King of England.

Louis went to war with the couple on the excuse that the marriage had occurred without his suzerain and suffered a humiliating defeat -- which was compounded again and again as Eleanor gave her second husband eight children. Louis himself remarried, to Constance of Castile, who would bear him only daughters. With no son for an heir, Louis' throne was unstable and the canny Henry began intriguing to place an Angevin on the throne of France, a diplomatic dance which would continue for decades. Fortunately for Louis, his third wife, Adele of Champagne, finally produced a son, Phillip in 1165.

Suffering from ill-health at the end of his life, Louis crowned his son as co-ruler in 1179 in the Capetan tradition -- the last time this tradition would be followed. He died in 1180 and was buried at the Basilique Saint-Denis near Paris.