Condé Family

views updated


CONDÉ FAMILY. The leading aristocratic house of ancien régime France, the Condé were a cadet branch of the Bourbon dynasty that ruled France from 1589 to the Revolution. The title derived from the principality of Condé-sur-l'Escaut in Flanders which, with the seigneurie of Enghien in the Île-de-France, was the dowry that François de Bourbon, count of Vendôme received from his wife, Marie de Luxembourg, in 1487. Then, as later, the Condé family depended on wealthy marriages for its survival. François de Bourbon was the founder of the Condé dynasty, whose fortunes came to mirror those of the French monarchy itself.

In the sixteenth century, the Condé family was the epitome of the "duty" among aristocratic princes to lead opposition to the French crown. Louis I de Bourbon, first prince of Condé (15301569), the youngest male heir of Charles de Bourbon, duke of Vendôme (d. 1538) and Françoise d'Alençon, grew up under the shadow of the revolt of his uncle, the Constable de Bourbon. A fortunate marriage to Eleonore de Roye, niece of the Constable Anne de Montmorency, in 1551 brought him lands in Picardy and Brie and prominent positions in the royal armies. Her conversion to Protestantism, and the influence of her uncle, Gaspard de Coligny, led to his emergence as a political leader of French Protestantism. At the same time, the death of the French king Henry II (ruled 15471559) began a decade of royal minority rule in which Condé championed the rights of the princes of the blood against the rival aristocratic house of Guise. In 1560, Condé's hand was evident in an organized plot for a group of discontented noblemen to wrest control of the young king, Francis II (ruled 15591560), known as the Conspiracy of Amboise. Condé feigned indignation but was tried and convicted of treason, making his first public declaration of Protestantism while in prison. The death of the king, five days before his execution, saved his life and he went on to deploy his extraordinary energies and boldness to mobilize an army, partially around his aristocratic affinity, proclaiming the duty of a prince to liberate a young king in chains and protect the liberty to practice the true faith in the first civil wars (15621563; 15671568; 15681570). The thinking heads of the Protestant movement privately distrusted his adventurism and deplored his marital infidelities, but publicly mourned his death in battle at Jarnac, near Angoulême, in 1569. His son, Henry I de Bourbon, second prince of Condé (15521588) followed in his father's footsteps, devouring the considerable wealth of his spouse, Charlotte-Catherine de La Trémoille, to fund his checkered career as "governor and protector" of the French Protestant churches in the 1570s before being overshadowed by the formidable political and military talents of his cousin, Henry of Navarre (later Henry IV of France [ruled 15891610]).

The accession of Henry IV to the French throne in 1589 changed the dynamics of the Condé family's relationships with the crown, but not immediately. Henry II de Bourbon, third prince of Condé (15881646) only enjoyed the preeminence of being heir to the throne during his childhood. Relegated to a subordinate position by the birth of the future Louis XIII (reigned 16101643) in 1601 and that of the first prince of the blood Gaston d'Orléans in 1608, he returned to the family traditions of revolt (albeit shorn of Protestant affiliationshe ended his life as opposed to Huguenots as to Jansenists) in 1615 before being arrested and imprisoned for three years. It was only after 1626 that the fruits of close cooperation with a strengthened royal authority became clear. His marriage to Charlotte-Marguerite de Montmorency in 1609 led eventually to his being rewarded by Louis XIII and Cardinal Richelieu for his loyalty with most of Montmorency's vast wealth, following the revolt and execution of her brother, Henry II de Montmorency in 1632. As Katia Béguin has recently demonstrated, the essential elements of the Condé landed fortune, clientèle, and authority were consolidated at this juncture.

Louis II de Bourbon, fourth prince of Condé (16211686) earned his reputation as "le Grand Condé" or "le Héros" on the battlefield, although his Jesuit tutors had already discovered the keen intellect of a student who could write and speak elegant Latin as well as show more mastery of history, mathematics, and law than was expected of an aristocratic prince. His precocious military career was immortalized early on in the victory over the Spanish forces at Rocroi in 1643, and he went on to demonstrate his considerable strategic ability and stubborn determination in grueling campaigns in the Rhineland and Flanders, his success in the latter being crucial to securing Spanish compliance with the peace terms at Westphalia in 1648. His loyalty in the early years of the Fronde (16481649) proved critical. His later, resourceful resistance to Cardinal Mazarin, which led to imprisonment, revolt, and exile (16501659), proved to be an object lesson for the young Louis XIV in how to handle, but also restrain, the pretensions of a prince of the blood. After Mazarin's death, Condé became the perfect courtier, an enthusiastic patron of letters and a loyal general.

The extensive clientèle patterns of the Condé house enjoyed a remarkable stability and continuity during the remainder of the ancien régime, especially under Henri-Jules de Bourbon, fifth prince of Condé (16431709). The last of the house of Condé was Louis-Henri-Joseph de Bourbon (17561830), who died in mysterious circumstances, hanging from his chaâteau window at St-Leu. The chaâteau at Chantilly, north of Paris, rebuilt in the later nineteenth century, contains many of the family's monuments and its archives.

See also Bourbon Dynasty (France) ; France ; Fronde ; Henry IV (France) ; Huguenots ; Louis XIII (France) ; Louis XIV (France) ; Mazarin, Jules ; Richelieu, Armand-Jean Du Plessis, cardinal ; Wars of Religion (France) .


Aumale, M. le Duc d'. Histoire des princes de Condé, pendant les XVIe et XVIIe siècles. 8 vols. Paris, 18851896.

Béguin, Katia. Les princes de Condé. Rebelles, courtisans et mécènes dans la France du grand siècle. Paris, 1999.

Blancpain, Marc. Monsieur le Prince. La vie illustre de Louis de Condé, héros et cousin du Grand Roi. Paris, 1986.

Blanquie, C. "Entre courtoisie et révolte. La correspondance de Condé, 16481659," Histoire, Economie et Société 3 (1995): 427443.

Cabanès, Augustin. Les Condé. Grandeur et dégénérescence d'une famille princière. 2 vols. Paris, 1932.

de Boislile, Michel. Trois princes de Condé à Chantilly. Nogent-le-Rotrou, 1904. Abstracted from the article originally published in the Annuaire-Bulletin de la Société de l'histoire de France, 1902 and 1903.

Neuschel, Kristin B. Word of Honor: Interpreting Noble Culture in Sixteenth-Century France. Ithaca, N.Y., 1989.

Mark Greengrass