Louis VII Facts
Louis VII (ca. 1120-1180) was king of France from 1137 to 1180. He strengthened the authority of the royal court, went on the Second Crusade, and repelled the aggressions of Henry II of England.
Sixth Capetian king of France, Louis VII succeeded his father, Louis VI, in 1137. Louis VII was a devout king with a passion for justice, but for many years one lacking in political good sense. By maintaining order in the royal domain and assuring justice, his court received on appeal many cases and earned respect for the Crown. Thanks to his trusted adviser, Suger, Abbot of St-Denis, the administration of the kingdom became more efficient and stronger and won increasing loyalty. Much of Louis's trouble arose from his marriage in 1137 to Eleanor, the heiress of unruly Aquitaine, which she brought to the King as her dowry.
A year after the fall of Edessa in 1144, Pope Eugenius III asked the King to organize a new crusade. To overcome the widespread lack of enthusiasm, Louis invited Bernard of Clairvaux to preach the crusade, and the eloquent Cistercian awakened fervor for the project. Louis also won the support of the German Conrad III, who led a German army—the first time the French and Germans had undertaken an enterprise in common. The Second Crusade failed before the walls of Damascus in 1148.
During the crusade Queen Eleanor aroused the jealousy of Louis by her questionable conduct with her uncle, Raymond of Poitiers. Pope Eugenius III tried to repair the broken marriage on their return from the East and forbade its dissolution. After Eleanor gave birth to a second child, another girl, and after the death in 1151 of Suger, who had managed to save the marriage as long as he was alive, in March 1152 a council of bishops declared the marriage annulled for reasons of kinship. Less than 2 months later Eleanor married the Duke of Normandy and Count of Anjou, Henry Plantagenet, who thereby acquired Aquitaine. Louis thus found himself confronted by a shrewd and aggressive vassal who ruled western France from the English Channel to the Pyrenees. Two years later Henry became King Henry II of England.
Experience and the events of 1151-1154 made Louis wiser. He limited his objectives to the possible, never risked serious losses in battle, and resorted to alliances and the support of the Church to strengthen his position against Henry II. Thanks to the rebellions of Henry's sons, egged on by their mother, Eleanor, against their father, and the great difficulty Henry had in controlling his unruly vassals, Louis was able to survive this seemingly one-sided contest and to maintain his authority and orderly government in his kingdom. Louis became partially paralyzed the year before he died and lived out his life as an invalid.
Further Reading on Louis VII
The best study of Louis is in French. In English, accounts of him are in Charles E. Petit-Dutaillis, The Feudal Monarchy in France and England from the Tenth to the Thirteenth Century (trans. 1936), and Robert Fawtier, The Capetian Kings of France: Monarchy and Nation, 987-1328 (trans. 1960). An account of the Second Crusade is in Kenneth M. Setton, ed., A History of the Crusades, vol. 1 (1955). See also Louis Halphen, "France: Louis VI and Louis VII (1108-1180), " in The Cambridge Medieval History (8 vols., 1911-1936).