King of France (1137-1180) and one of the leaders of the Second Crusade (1147-1149).
Louis VII succeeded his father, Louis VI, on 1 August 1137, within days of his marriage to Eleanor, duchess of Aquitaine. The early part of his reign proved unstable. Louis maintained his father’s hostility toward their leading vassal, Thibaud IV, count of Blois, brother of King Stephen of England, and campaigned against him in 1142-1143. Further instability arose out of disputed ecclesiastical elections, in which Louis consistently resisted papal wishes, determined to prevent the erosion of his royal prerogatives by Pope Innocent II.
Louis announced his desire to make a pilgrimage on Christmas Day, 1145, at Bourges, to little enthusiasm, but things changed when Queen Melisende of Jerusalem wrote to Pope Eugenius III asking for help following the fall of the city of Edessa (mod. Şanlıurfa, Turkey) to Nûr al-Dīn in 1144. Louis responded to Eugenius’s appeal by summoning an assembly at Vézelay for Easter 1146, where the Cistercian abbot Bernard of Clairvaux preached the crusade with great success. The underfinanced and ill-organized Second Crusade eventually left in 1147, in two main parties, led, respectively, by King Conrad III of Germany and Louis, who was accompanied by his wife. The hostility of the Byzantine Emperor Manuel I Komnenos to the enterprise heightened the difficulties of the journey (whether or not exaggerated by Louis’s chaplain and chronicler Odo of Deuil), as did the failure of the German and French armies to cooperate. After a difficult journey, during which the French suffered defeat at Laodikeia in Phrygia, Louis reached Antioch (mod. Antakya, Turkey), where he was soon at loggerheads over strategy with Prince Raymond, his wife’s uncle. Eleanor took Raymond’s part, provoking a lasting breach with Louis. The subsequent campaign against Damascus was a debacle that saw heavy French casualties. Louis stayed on as a pilgrim before returning home, via a visit to Eugenius III at Rome in October 1149.
A new threat was the rising power of Henry Plantagenet, count of Anjou, which was consolidated when he married Eleanor soon after the annulment of her marriage to Louis. Lacking the necessary resources or the military skill to challenge Henry, Louis was circumscribed in his response, though he would eventually use marriage alliances with Champagne as a means of defense against this over-mighty vassal. His prestige increased dramatically when he supported first Alexander III against Frederick Barbarossa and the antipope Victor IV, and then Thomas Becket, Henry’s exiled and eventually (1170) martyred archbishop. During the 1170s, Louis successfully incited the sons of Henry II to revolt against their father, but he was unable to take full advantage of the situation. He died on 18 September 1180 and was succeeded by his son Philip II.