“Your Majesty is dying. The only remedy for you is to deflower this young virgin”.
Such was the proposition made to Louis VIII of France on 8 November 1226 as he lay on his death bed. But the king replied that he was in love with his wife, Blanche de Castille, whom he had married when both were twelve years old, and must therefore refuse his physician’s thoughtful advice.
Louis had the cognomen ‘the Lion’, and had fallen sick on his way back to Paris from the Crusades in the south of France. He was struck down with a fever and debilitating diarrhoea and was probably suffering for dysentery, a common illness of soldiers at the time, though some think he may have been poisoned. On 3 November he took to his bed and became delirious. His doctors consulted and diagnosed a severe case of sexual abstinence due to several months of campaigning, and that the remedy was a night of passion with a young virgin. As reported by Guillaume de Puylaurens:
‘…. coming back from the Crusades in Albigeois the king fell ill and they said he could be cured if he saw a woman …. His faithful companion Archambaud de Bourbon chose a beautiful young girl and had her placed in his bed while he was sleeping. Upon waking the king asked the girl what she was doing in his bed. She replied that she was there to help cure him of his sickness. He thanked her for her kindness and said that he must refuse the remedy as he did not wish to commit a mortal sin.’
He died several days later - 8 November 1226, at the age of 39.
No-one at the time blamed Louis’s fidelity as the cause of his death. Instead, rumour-mongers pointed the finger at Thibaud de Champagne, whom they accused of poisoning the king because of his mad passion for Blanche. But Thibaud had a cast iron alibi, as had left the royal army several months before the king’s death.
Louis was succeeded by his twelve-year old son, Louis IX, who was to become known as Saint Louis, and Blanche assumed the title of Regent.