Louis IX, ascended the throne of France in 1226, died in crusade in 1270 and canonized in 1297 became a tutelary figure of the French Monarchy and more generally of the History of France. For everyone, Saint Louis is the good monarch doing justice under an oak tree. For the most learned on the question, Louis IX is also an ambivalent man: undeniably pious, hoarder of relics of the Passion, crusader ... But hunting the Cathars and attacking the Jews. It is this monarch in all his singularity and complexity that we are invited to discover through this new volume from the collection “They have made history”. A serious historical comic book embellished with a documentary file produced by two medievalists. A comic that we should be able to find quickly in the libraries of amateurs of the ninth art and in the CDI of high schools.
A difficult task
Although the character is relatively well documented and has been the subject of multiple serious publications (think for example of the famous biography of Jacques Le Goff) this character is very difficult to deal with in comics. Why this paradox? Quite simply because we are facing a monarch of the 13th century, a time when realistic representation did not prevail, which hinders any reliable restoration of the sovereign's face, but which can also, despite our historical and archaeological knowledge, hinder the restitution sets. It is understood from the outset that the ninth art is in difficulty in its very essence: graphic representation. The task therefore falls to the designer, Filippo Cenni, and to the colorist, Hugo Poupelin, to overcome these difficulties to make a thirteenth century as plausible as possible within the framework of a comic strip that claims to be historic.
The scenario can be based on multiple primary and secondary sources. However, there again a difficulty can arise from this abundance ... Indeed, many sources of the thirteenth century do not give us so much the life story of Louis IX as the hagiography of Saint Louis, which can cause some concerns in terms of of historicity. The writers therefore had to choose their sources wisely and as they explain in the making of they favored Jean de Joinville, advisor and friend of the monarch who wrote at the beginning of the 14th century a Life of Saint Louis which, according to Le Goff himself, perhaps allows us to approach a little of the “real Saint Louis”.
Finally, the last difficulty, it is customary in historical comics to place in the mouths of historical characters quotes, speeches, words, which we know have actually been spoken more or less as they are by the character. In addition to the question of transcription into modern French, a way remained to be found to give the floor directly to Louis IX. For this, the writers used the Teachings of Saint Louis which become the backbone of the scenario.
An effective scenario
The Teachings of Saint Louis are a text certainly dictated by the sovereign himself before his last departure for the crusade. With this text, he intends to transmit to his son advice for a just and Christian management of himself and of the kingdom. These are excerpts from this text that will "historically" give the sovereign a voice throughout the comic strip. The work begins on August 25, 1270, while Louis IX is dying before Tunis. The sovereign then asks that we read his prescriptions for the last time and over the course of the reading flashbacks appear which chronologically retrace the major stages in the life of the future saint. If the prescriptions of Saint Louis testify to a deep will to do good and to follow the teachings of Christ, the mirrored biographical elements testify to a more contrasted sovereign, animated by a faith and an altruism of the most sincere, but who also had to show severity throughout his reign, even violence.
From history to history
This comic is part of the new and promising “They Made History” collection which also covered other “Great Men” such as Philippe le Bel, Vercingétorix, Charlemagne, Jaurès, Soliman, Napoleon and Gengis Khan. According to a recurring model in the series, screenwriters Mathieu Mariolle and Alex Nikolavitch review their work in a two-page making of. This concern for transparency is one of the strong points of the series since the authors go back in detail on the difficulties encountered during the production of this volume and on the choices they made to make an accessible and serious comic strip by trying to stick at best historical or plausible.
In addition, this comic is enhanced with a historical dossier produced by Valérie Theis (lecturer in medieval history at the University of Paris-Est Marne-la-Vallée) and Étienne Anheim (director of Annales and lecturer in history medieval at the University of Versailles / Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines). This richly illustrated five-page file (drawings from comics, medieval illuminations ...) briefly reviews the reign of Louis IX from the death of his father in 1226 until his own death in 1270 and his canonization in 1297. This well-constructed file allows a chronological approach (from the tutelage of Blanche of Castile to the progressive emancipation of the sovereign, the fight against the great lords, the crusades ...), geographical (with a map of the kingdom in 1270 allowing the reader to situate it in a space which has little in common with current France) and thematic with a return to the government of France by a man known for his piety and the administrative development that he engendered. The expected subjects are discussed (the justice of Saint-Louis, the management of Jewish and Cathar questions ...) and the two academics are also interested in this ambivalence of the character: both king of France and saint. Finally, this atypical character that is Louis IX is the crossroads: his canonization serves the interests of the “holy race” of the Capetians and seals the alliance between the Church and the Kingdom of France; but it is also the fruit of an undeniable personal commitment and of a real desire to conform to the ideal type of the Christian king. Thus, "in the person of" Saint "Louis [...] a collective aspiration and an individual devotion met".
Finally and to conclude, this opus ends with a brief chronology of the life of Saint-Louis and a hierarchical bibliography offering the curious reader to deepen references on the period, secondary sources and primary sources on the sovereign.
In doing so, this comic book turns out to be a great tool for historical popularization, allowing everyone to follow the epic fresco of this tutelary figure in the history of France, but also take the time to discover a more scientific portrait of Louis IX through a short, accessible and serious analysis. Enthusiastic about comics, educated by the file, the curious reader will have on hand the bibliographical references necessary for a deepening of his knowledge. If this comic is for everyone, we can only recommend it to high school students and to the high school CDI: it will indeed be a playful addition for the students in Seconde on medieval Christianity.
Screenplay: Mathieu Mariolle & Alex Nikolavitch
Historians: Etienne Anheim & Valérie Theis
Drawing: Filippo Cenni
Colors: Hugo Poupelin
Editions: Glénat - fayard