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The Apple of His Eye: Converts from Islam in the Reign of Louis IX

  • Book Title:
 The Apple Of His Eye
  • Book Author:
William Chester Jordan
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Introduction – THE APPLE OF HIS EYE – Converting the World

since The An TiquAri Ans of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries established the scholarly rules and conventions that govern the professional study of the past, historians have put an enormous amount of effort into investigating the Crusades.1

Many aspects of the Crusade experience, however, remain un- derexplored. Despite a few valuable studies, conversion is one of the more neglected topics. Interested, as I have long been, in the Crusades of the French king Louis IX, who reigned from 1226 to 1270, I have returned frequently to the relevant sources in order to see what more can be learned about his two exceedingly well- planned and yet, from the point of view of his Christian contemporaries, disappointing expeditions of 1248–1254 and 1270.

The specific aspect scrutinized in this book is the king’s program for the conversion of Muslims, which incorporated, because of was part of a complex of conversionary impulses long associated with Louis IX. There are notable differences among his various efforts, but there are also remarkable parallels and similarities.

I shall first be summarizing for the reader these other, better- investigated endeavors, as well as some related developments in the thirteenth century, in order to set the scene for the king’s attempts to bring Muslims and pagans to the Catholic faith.

Before doing so, I want to acknowledge that in order to fill in gaps in the story of the king’s project, I have sometimes had to press the evidence hard. However, I do acknowledge explicitly which assertions are only possibilities or plausibilities, and I have tried to avoid introducing statements as potentially true and then presuming them to be true thereafter.

Rather, I have hypothesized in the manner, “if this is the case, then such-and- such should follow.” Often enough, hypotheses without direct proof have generated conclusions for which I believe the evi- dence is compelling. In any case, I hope this explanation of my approach encourages an open-minded reading of the reconstruc- tion of events presented in this book.

In general, the policies and programs that Louis IX instituted to encourage conversions—in particular those targeting dissenting Christians, notorious sinners (prostitutes and manifest usurers being two such groups according to medieval moral thought), and Jews—had a very hard edge to them. In order for them to reconcile with him, the king demanded the converts’ full renun- ciation of the beliefs and practices that defined their fallen state.

The transformation of Christian dissidents into faithful Catho- lics was primarily a task for the ecclesiastical authorities. The effort had come to have an urgency about it in the late twelfth and thirteenth centuries, in large part because clerical elites claimed that heresy had long been spreading and would continue to do so unless rigorous means were employed to arrest its extension and, indeed, to extirpate it as a whole.

These perceptions and their consequences constitute an almost classic theme in the scholarship; historians such as Robert Moore and Malcolm Lambert have treated them with great sensitivity.2

Some scholars do not think the nature and extent of the threat to Catholic orthodoxy was as serious as contemporary church- men believed.3 Yet, however misguided the clerics may have been, they made it their mission to find and expose heresy.

 They did so eventually (in the mid-1230s) by the implementation of inquisitions of heretical depravity. These became the principal mode of ferreting out religious difference among baptized Chris- tians. The crown, in the reign of Louis IX, fully embraced the mission “with all thankful support.”4 The goal of these inquisitions was conversion, securing the return of contrite dissidents to the Catholic fold. Yet sometimes the inquisitors failed to achieve their goal. Contumacious heretics not only put their own salvation at risk, the orthodox observed, but could also lead other Christians astray and jeopardize their chance to enter into Para- dise.5

In cases of contumacy, clergy turned to secular authorities for assistance. Clerics could not impose capital punishment in such instances because the church abhorred blood (“ecclesia abhorret a sanguine”). Instead, they “relaxed” (delivered) contumacious heretics into the hands of secular rulers for execution, typically by burning.6

As to prostitutes, Louis IX articulated policies of social seg- regation piecemeal before 1254 and more comprehensively there- after, expelling them to the peripheries of towns and away from main roads and holy places, threatening the loss of their goods if they violated these directives, and criminalizing the actions of people who leased them dwellings too near the prohibited spaces. He expected these measures to motivate them to abandon their profession.7

With the king’s support, the bishop of Paris, William of Auvergne (d. 1249), provided group housing in the city and financial support for those who promised to reform themselves and live quasi-monastic lives. This meant also furnishing reli- gious instruction and the necessary endowments to sustain the women over the years.8 The temporary relief from financial vulnerability, often a key factor in taking up sex work,9 offered some repentant prostitutes the opportunity to reenter society and to marry.10 For others, it allowed for the possibility of later profess- ing at a genuine monastic house, taking their conversion to a higher stage.11

The king’s and similar other programs subjected the women temporarily or permanently to the stringent disci pline of the church and secular authorities in the communal housing furnished to them. This may not have been to their lik- ing, but authorities had not forced the women (by contemporary understandings of force) to take up residence. Over time, though, some of them may have chafed under the discipline and come to rue their choice.

Usurers, as remarked, also attracted the king’s attention. He and his mother, Blanche of Castile, as regent, prohibited lending at interest in a series of pronouncements, the centerpiece of which was the Ordinance of Melun of 1230.12 Moreover, Louis IX took extraordinary measures to follow up on the prohibition and eradicate usurious practices.13

The goal, expressed in lan- guage drawn from Ephesians 4:28, was for the usurers to give up traditional moneylending and “live by the honest work of their own hands,” not, as the criticism went, by mulcting poor people in distress by means of high-interest consumption loans.14 Jews were the principal focus of the anti-usury campaign because of their prominence as moneylenders in the lower reaches of the consumer credit market.15

 In time, despite manifest subterfuges and clandestine practices, the campaign drastically reduced usu- rers’ profits, causing widespread pauperization.16 It is not clear that any immediate occupational shift improved the financial situation for Jews, however, since other than moneylending, they were restricted to producing goods for the small market of their coreligionists.17

As dissenters from the Christian faith, the Jews also stimu- lated the king’s interest in other aspects of moral reform and, of

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