Karolus Meets Loys for Tea on Sunday

These two cards are ones I pulled out of the Dames de France playing cards by Grimaud. Not for the first time do I regret that Roddy Somerville stopped selling online, because I used to get the most marvelous playing cards from him.

KING OF SPADES – Karolus Magnus
KING OF DIAMONDS – Sainct (sic) Loys


Saint Louis was King of France from 1226, when he was eleven years-old, until he died. His mother ruled as regent until he came of age. His father was Louis VIII and his grandfather was Philip II. He is the only canonized King of France.

Interestingly, when in his 30s he fought in the 7th crusade, being captured and held prisoner by the Egyptians until a high ransom was paid. Then he did another crusade when in his mid-fifties, which killed him when disease hit the camp during the early stages after they landed at Carthage.

His reign was a golden time in France, and his court promoted art and architecture everywhere France had influence. The beautiful Sainte-Chapelle was his personal chapel, and he bought relics for it and dressed as a penitent to carry the relics at then end of their journey into the chapel. He often fasted and prayed and did penance, wearing a hair shirt or being beaten. He fed beggars personally and washed their feet, supported lepers, and founded hospitals, and houses for the blind and reformed prostitutes.

He was generous with his charity and outlawed usury. Unfortunately, he also seems to have been anti-Semitic along with the Pope of the time, and burned thousands of copies of Jewish books, which were probably as beautiful as Christian illuminated manuscripts of the time. What a loss. He was also a firm supporter of the Inquisition and took his stewardship of France and the Church very seriously.

His canonization seems a bit dubious, there being only scanty reports left with no real details about what he did in the way of miracles needed to become a Saint, but I suppose they figured he’d done enough with his crusades and care of the poor to merit it and created a few miracles to get him there. A somewhat cynical view on my part about canonization, but my opinion only.

Karolus Magnus is the Latin name of Charles I of the Franks, known to us as Charlemagne (Charles le Magne means Charles the Great), who ruled from 768 to 814. He was part of the Carolingian dynasty of Charles Martel; the French monarchy of Louis IX is descended from Charlemagne’s larger empire. I find the history of the time rather confusing, as it must have been to live it I’m sure. After Rome fell, they couldn’t quite get back that central authority and stability, and all of Europe seems to ripple with war and change. States and kingdoms switched back and forth, and then the Church comes into it all.

Charlemagne was canonized too but it was never recognized by the Catholic Church. He loved books and promoted the making of books, which were all made by hand at the time and expensive to produce, taking months of time. Of course, his history is much longer than this, but it was enough for me to know it was him on the card and ruminate on greatness and history.

I never knew that Saint Louis was actually a King of France. Imagine! Funny how we take things for granted, hear names and never think to ponder where they come from.




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