Longueville, Anne Geneviève, Duchesse de (1619–1679)

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article Share Article
views updated

Longueville, Anne Geneviève, Duchesse de (1619–1679)

French princess who, after a life crowded with excitement, romance, and intrigue, turned her back on the ways of the world and lived the life of a penitent for 20 years before her death. Name variations: Anne de Bourbon; Anne Geneviève de Bourbon, Duchesse de Longueville; Anne Geneviève de Bourbon-Conde. Born Anne Geneviève de Bourbon-Condé or Conde on August 28, 1619, in the Bois de Vincennes; died on April 15, 1679, at the Convent of the Carmelites, Paris; daughter of Charlotte de Montmorency and Henry II de Bourbon, third Prince de Condé; sister of the Great Condé; married Henry, the Duc de Longueville, on June 2, 1642; children: daughter, name unknown (c. 1646–1650), and two sons, Jean-Louis-Charles, the Comte de Dunois, Abbé d'Orleans (c. 1647–1694) and Charles-Paris, the Comte de Saint-Paul (c. 1649–1672); stepdaughterMarie d'Orleans , Mlle. de Longueville, who became Duchesse de Nemours (c. 1625–1707).

Born during her father's imprisonment (1619), was attracted to the religious life as a young girl but, with her family's position restored, made a glittering debut into French society at age 14; a captivating beauty, made a politically advantageous marriage to a much older man (1642); had three children, saw an admirer killed in a duel defending her reputation, conducted a notorious affair, and became one of the major participants in the Fronde, a sporadic civil war against the court (1642–52); deserted and betrayed by

her lover, returned to her family and gradually resumed her earlier religious devotion; became an influential supporter of the nuns and theologians of Port Royal (1660s) and played a primary role in securing the Peace of the Church (1669); lived with the nuns of Port Royal and at the Carmelite house (1672–79).

A popular song of the 1640s portrayed the heartless beauty, the new duchesse de Longueville, peering from behind a curtain as the brave young champion of her honor was killed in a duel in the street below. A princess of the French royal house, born in a prison, a woman of incomparable beauty who deserted her husband and children to aid her lover in rebellion against the king but subsequently found peace among the strict, self-denying nuns of Port Royal, Anne Geneviève de Bourbon's life appears at first glance to be one of contrasts and contradictions.

She was descended from the most revered of the kings of France, the saintly Louis IX (d. 1270), and her father Henry II de Bourbon, third Prince de Condé, was second cousin to the reigning monarch, Henry IV. Henry, a notorious philanderer, arranged the marriage of Anne's father to Charlotte de Montmorency and then attempted to seduce the beautiful Charlotte, causing the couple to flee to Belgium. After the assassination of Henry IV in 1610, the couple returned from exile, only to be arrested on suspicion of plotting against the new ruler, Louis XIII, and it was during their confinement in the Bois de Vincennes that their daughter Anne was born. A few months later, however, the family was released and their home, the Hôtel de Condé, became known as one of the most lavish and elegant houses in Paris.

Yet despite the social atmosphere in which she grew up, Anne's early influences were also spiritual ones. These were turbulent political times, and after her uncle had perished on the scaffold, her newly widowed aunt became a Carmelite nun. Anne's mother, no doubt under the influence of her sister, became a dévote, a lay woman who lived as spiritual a life as possible while remaining in the everyday world. Anne often accompanied her mother on visits to the convent where they had their own rooms. At the age of 13, the girl announced her desire to become a nun; while her mother might have been persuaded to allow it, her father was resolutely opposed, and Anne was told that she must prepare to make her entrance into society instead.

According to one account, the 14-year-old Anne was wearing the hair shirt of a religious penitent when she made her public debut in February 1635, but spiritual thoughts were not to preoccupy her for much longer. Her radiant beauty made her the center of attention; her brilliant blue eyes, pearl-like complexion and silver blonde hair combined with her pleasing personality to inspire admiration and affection in all who met her. Anne soon became accustomed to the pleasures of society and seems to have forgotten her earlier plans to forsake it for the life of a nun.

In 1641, the elder of her two brothers, the Duc d' Enghien, later to become known as the Great Condé, made a loveless but politically advantageous marriage to Clarie-Clémence de Maillé de Brézé , niece of the powerful Cardinal Richelieu. The following year it was to be Anne's turn. At age 22, on June 2, 1642, she was married off to a widower with a 17-year-old daughter, a man 24 years older than herself. The Duc de Longueville, although not a man of intellectual distinction or wit, was the French noble closest in rank to the princes of the blood.

Almost from the first, the new Madame de Longueville found that she had left behind the charmed life of her girlhood; shortly after her marriage, she suffered an attack of smallpox, a dreaded disease in the 17th century. Deserted by almost all her friends, Anne survived, her beauty unmarred. An incident which occurred in the period following her recovery was to bring a different kind of danger.

The notorious and powerful Marie de Rohan-Montbazon who, rumor had it, had been, and perhaps was still, the mistress of the Duc de Longueville, had developed an implacable dislike for her lover's new wife. It was Madame de Rohan-Montbazon who circulated a rumor concerning a letter Anne had supposedly written to a lover; her supporters insisted that Anne's honor be cleared but it was impossible, given the etiquette of the day, to confront the source of the allegation directly. Rather, Madame de Rohan-Montbazon's champion, the Duc de Guise, was challenged to a duel on Anne's behalf by the youthful Comte de Coligny. Rumors spread that the young duchesse had witnessed the death of her brave champion from behind the windows of a house in the Place Royale and a popular song alleged that he had died in the attempt to become her lover.

Charlotte de Montmorency (fl. 1600–1621)

French aristocrat. Name variations: Charlotte of Montmorency; Princesse de Condé or Conde; Princess of Condé. Flourished between 1600 and 1621; married Henry II de Bourbon, third prince de Condé (1588–1646); children: Louis II de Bourbon, prince de Condé (1621–1686, known as The Great Condé); Anne Geneviève, Duchesse de Longueville (1619–1679).

Charlotte of Montmorency, the princesse de Condé and an influential member of the French court, was involved with her good friends, her cousin Anne of Austria and Marie de Rohan-Montbazon , in the Conspiration des Dames. Their intent was to spoil a matchmaking scheme of Cardinal Richelieu's to better position Gaston, duke of Orléans, brother of Louis XIII, in line for the throne. The princesse preferred her husband Henry, who was next in line. When Henry headed a revolt against the regency during the minority of Louis XIII, he was imprisoned for three years at Vincennes; he then became a partisan of Richelieu. Charlotte's son, the Great Condé, was a celebrated French general.

While most of Madame de Longueville's biographers consider her to have been the innocent victim of a jealous rival in the incident which led to the tragic duel, even her staunchest defenders agree that, commencing in 1649, she began an affair with a man whom she loved so passionately as to rebel against her king and abandon her family.

Shortly after their marriage, the Duc de Longueville had been sent on a diplomatic mission to Magdeburg. It soon became obvious to Anne that he was a mere figurehead, and that he lacked the talent for either negotiation or administration. She quickly returned to her mother's house in Paris, and it was there that her eldest son was born. She was much in the company of her unmarried younger brother, the Prince de Conti, who greatly admired his beautiful sister, and it was probably through him that she came to know François, Prince de Marsillac, afterwards to become the Duc de la Rochfoucauld. A dashing, witty man of 36, he later coldly recorded in his Mémoires that he had seduced Madame de Longueville solely in order to win her, and through her, her brothers, to the cause of rebellion against the court.

The Fronde or slingshot wars, were a series of rebellions against the French government which broke out sporadically between 1648 and 1653. The ineffectual monarch Louis XIII had been succeeded, in 1643, by his son Louis XIV, but because the new king was still a boy, France was being governed by a regency consisting of his mother, Anne of Austria , and her supposed lover, Cardinal Mazarin. Not only was there resentment against the Habsburg queen and her Italian advisor, but the costs of continuing warfare, several years of bad harvests, and the government's continuing attempts to curb local autonomy prompted aristocratic discontent. In what Ranke called the "burlesque war," the outbreaks of rebellion were generally small scale and sporadic, with most of the nobles involved concerned only with their own self-interest. Like many of his class, the Duc de la Rochfoucauld was convinced that he was being passed over for lucrative office and that rebellion would improve his fortunes.

Anne de Longueville's involvement in the rebellion has been ascribed to Rochfoucauld's "boundless influence" over her, but, deep as her attachment to him undoubtedly was, there were other reasons why this royal princess should have turned against the court which had generally treated her with kindness. Her impulsive husband was quick to join the rebels, and her brother, now called the Great Condé because of his brilliant success on the battlefield, shared the popular dislike for Cardinal Mazarin. But perhaps just as important as her devotion to her lover was Anne's desire for greatness; she longed to be a leader and to play an active part in politics. As Ethel Romanes records, in later years she was to reveal to her confessor that "her great fault was pride, that she longed to be first, to be distinguished."

There were faults; who is without a blemish? She saw and lamented them; that is almost all which God demands of us.


Both the Fronde and the love affair were soon over; a treaty of 1652 restored peace to Paris, but Rochfoucauld's interest in the rebellion and in Madame de Longueville had cooled the previous year. With his estates devastated by the conflict, he withdrew his soldiers from battle and his affections from his mistress. Anne, who had lost her only daughter in 1650 at the age of four, remained devoted to Rochfoucauld and stayed active with the malcontents, hopeful of his return and unwilling to rejoin her husband. The final break-up of the Fronde party in 1653 found her alone, deserted by her lover, separated from her husband and two young sons, her older brother proclaimed guilty of treason and the much-loved younger one, now allied with the court party, estranged from her. In despair, she reestablished contact with the Carmelites, visiting her widowed aunt, now superior of the convent of the Filles de la Visitation, and she subsequently wrote that she wished to end her days with them, since all her worldly attachments were now broken and severed.

During her visit to her aunt, she seems to have experienced a genuine religious conversion, for she recorded in a letter written June 11, 1653, to Mother Agnes of the Carmelites that:

I found myself like a person who suddenly awakens from a long sleep in which she has dreamed she was great, happy, honoured, and esteemed, and discovers that she is loaded with chains, pierced with wounds, overcome with languor, and shut up in an obscure prison.

But great as was her desire to retreat from the world, Madame de Longueville still had responsibilities to fulfill. She reconciled with her husband, joining him in his post as governor of Normandy, and reunited with her children. As she observed in a letter to her Carmelite friends: "Having left God of my own free will it would not be right that I should find Him in the very first moments of seeking: if only at the end of my life I find I am not separated from Him, it would mean very much for me."

Her time of trial was not yet over; the Duc de la Rochfoucauld published his Mémoires in which the course of their affair was laid bare for the world and in which Anne was trivialized and ridiculed. Also, desperate to alleviate the ravages of the warfare which their rebellious intrigues had brought about, Madame de Longueville and her new sister-in-law, Anne-Marie Martinozzi , the Princess de Conti, poured much of their remaining fortune into supporting the most damaged areas. But Anne was also able to find an increasingly important new source of support and a new cause to which she could devote herself; through her friendship with Madeleine de Sablé she came to know the nuns and solitaires of Port Royal.

Some description of the controversies surrounding the religious house of Port Royal is essential to an understanding of the final phase of Anne de Longueville's stormy life. A religious center since medieval times, Port Royal was situated in an isolated spot some 20 miles west of Paris. In time, under the firm guidance of Mère Angélique Arnauld , the community was to abandon the somewhat lax and comfortable ways into which it had fallen and adopt habits of worship which were reminiscent of the vigorous devotion of its earliest times. Of the numerous Arnauld family, three of Angélique's sisters, two brothers, several nieces and even her mother, joined the Port Royal community and within a relatively short period it achieved a reputation for uncompromising piety. It was also an important center of intellectual activity, with its male recluses (les solitaires) in particular producing important theological and devotional works and establishing influential schools.

Madame de Longueville seems to have first become acquainted with the works of the Port Royal theologians in 1643 when she read Antoine Arnauld's On Frequent Communion. However, she had been too preoccupied with worldly matters to look any more deeply at that time. A decade later, she was more responsive to its spiritual message, and Port Royal was certainly in need of her friendship. Opposition to the so-called "Jansenist" theology of Port Royal was mounting, particularly from the Jesuits. To reduce a complex dispute to its barest essentials, the Jesuits were firm adherents to the doctrine of free will and strong supporters of papal authority, while the Port Royalists stressed the significance of original sin and were less enthusiastic about the prospect of unquestioning obedience to the pope of Rome.

As in so many centuries of European history, inevitably interwoven with theological matters were political considerations. Louis XIV might be said to have invented the notion of an absolute monarchy and within his theory of the state there was no room for plurality in matters of religion. His dictum was un roi, un loi, un foi (one king, one law, one faith) and within that faith it was the Jesuit approach he favored; Louis saw the stern intellectualism of Port Royal as a form of Calvinism and, early in his reign, he seems to have determined to exterminate it. The Jesuits began the persecution in 1649 when seven propositions, meant to represent erroneous trends in Jansenist thought, were submitted to the Sorbonne for investigation. In 1652, a tract entitled Confusion of the Jansenists was widely circulated in France. It listed five erroneous propositions, supposedly drawn from Jansen's work, Augustinus, and, in 1653, Innocent X declared the propositions to be heretical.

Arguing strenuously that the heretical principles were not in fact to be found in Jansen's work, refusing to agree that the pope's edict could establish fact, and insisting that his role be limited to defining matters of faith, the Port Royalists laid themselves open for the action which Louis had long been contemplating. In 1655 Antoine Arnauld, Mère Angélique's brother, leapt to the defense of Port Royal's theology and of the works of St. Augustine from which it was drawn, but he was forced to go into hiding after his letter was censured. Blaise Pascal distilled the debate into two words, fait (fact) and droit (right). While the popes were certainly infallible in matters of dogma and morals (droit), he argued, they might well be mistaken in asserting that the condemned propositions attributed to Jansen were contained in the Augustinus (fait). But despite the best efforts of their influential friends, Port Royal's solitaires were ordered dispersed in 1656, and, by 1660, the remaining schools were closed.

In 1661, a formula was drawn up by an assembly of the clergy which all priests and members of religious orders in France were required to sign. In April, the king, who had increasingly come to regard the Port Royalists, like the Frondeurs, as serious threats to his absolutist regime, ordered the expulsion from the Paris house of the female students and postulants and the replacement of the spiritual director. It was in this turbulent year that Madame de Longueville made her retreat at Port Royal.

Anne's friend, Madame de Sablé, had retired to Port Royal and for many months had urged Anne to visit. Her first audience with the dying Mère Angélique immediately convinced Madame de Longueville that here was a cause worthy of her devoted support. The same sense of sympathy for those who had been treated unfairly which had initially won her to the Fronde now drew her to this very different persecuted group. The attraction appears to have been mutual, for Mère Angélique wrote to Madame de Sablé that "all I have seen of this Princess in such a short time seems to me to be of finest gold."

Mère Angélique suggested that Anne place herself under the spiritual guidance of M. Singlin, her own confessor. Although the priest was in hiding because of the royal persecutions, he reluctantly accepted his new charge and visited her disguised as a physician, wearing a wig and a concealing cloak. On Singlin's recommendation Madame de Longueville wrote out her confession, a lengthy analysis of her own character, identifying her greatest sin as that of pride, a defect which had led her to the mistaken belief that she could conquer temptation and that her virtue was unassailable. With her pride in tatters, she was in danger of despair, but Singlin convinced her to devote herself to the good of others, her children, and the wider community of those in need. Port Royal was soon to clearly demonstrate its need.

The embattled Mère Angélique Arnauld died on August 6, 1661, at the age of 70. With great reluctance, her sister Agnes and her nuns signed a new formula which excluded the famous distinction between fait and droit in November 1661, but their signatures, which they almost instantly regretted giving, did not win them much respite.

In June 1664, the archbishop of Paris insisted that the sisters sign a new formula under which they would have to agree to the entire contents of the Papal Constitutions. Despite the most intense pressure from the authorities, which included suspension of the administration of the sacraments, 12 of the nuns, including Mère Agnes, refused to sign. Instead, they attempted to insert a dissenting clause. The compromise was rejected, and the long-anticipated expulsion took place in August 1664. The community was dispersed.

The sisters were separated and sent to various convents, frequently enduring conditions which resembled a form of house arrest. Two of les solitaires, Antoine Arnauld and his friend Pierre Nicole, a theologian and former teacher at Port Royal, went into hiding in the Hôtel de Longueville. Anne seems to have genuinely mourned the death of her husband in 1663, for they had long been reconciled, but she was now free to devote all her resources to the support of her spiritual friends. For five long years, Madame de Longueville sheltered the dissidents, heedless of the dangers of incurring the king's displeasure. She was more mindful of the violations of etiquette which she had to endure on the occasions when Arnauld absent-mindedly removed his braces in her drawing room or Nicole abandoned his hat, gloves, cane and muff on her bed. It was under her roof that a new translation of the New Testament was composed, demonstrating, when it appeared in 1667, that the Port Royalists were doctrinally sound, despite the accusations still circulating against them.

Meanwhile, Madame de Longueville was far from resting content with the role of provider of refuge; in July 1667, she wrote an eloquent letter of appeal to Pope Clement IX, describing the Port Royal reformers as: "the greatest and smallest people in the world; the strongest and the most frail." She stressed that they were full of humility but that among this persecuted group were some of the most influential people in France. Her letter of support itself reaffirmed her submission; the plea of a royal princess on behalf of the embattled Port Royalists.

In 1669, the Peace of the Church was finally agreed; after delicate negotiations and vigorous efforts by Port Royal's friends, especially Madame de Longueville, a formulary was arrived at which allowed for a clear dissenting clause drawing a distinction between droit and fait. According to Sainte-Beuve's history of Port Royal, Anne's unremitting efforts to win over both the court and the papacy "contributed as much as any prelate to the Peace of the Church" and succeeded in securing peace for Port Royal for the remaining ten years of her life.

Despite Louis XIV's specific request that she not hold gatherings of Jansenists at her home, Madame de Longueville continued to offer shelter and support to the Port Royalists, making, as Lilian Rea remarks "no concession but that of greater discretion." As well as giving generously to the poor, she aided and ransomed many prisoners, perhaps identifying with their plight, for she had taken to calling her earlier years "my criminal life." In 1672, she moved into a house which she had built at Port Royal, from which a covered walkway led directly into the church, and she divided her time between this place and her rooms in the convent of the Carmelites, becoming ever more devoted in her prayer and penance.

Anne had been at Port Royal only a short time when the news reached her that her youngest son, the Comte de Saint-Paul, had been killed in battle. The boy, although not a particularly dutiful son, had always been her favorite; indeed it may be that he was the child of her faithless lover. Her elder son, to whom she had never been close, had left for Rome in 1665 and been ordained a priest. Madame de Longueville's only consolation in her grief on the death of her child was that he had experienced a religious conversion and made his confession before departing for war. Prayer, penance, and works of charity dominated the remaining seven years of her life. Anne de Longueville died at the convent of the Carmelites on April 15, 1679, at the age of 59. Indication that the court had not forgiven her political intrigues nor her subsequent adoption of the cause of Port Royal is evident from the delivery of her funeral eulogy by a minor bishop a full year after her death. According to Madame de Sévigné who heard the sermon, for it was not allowed to be printed, the bishop of Autun preached with dignity, "passing the delicate points, saying or not saying what should be said or not said."

In a manuscript discovered by Sainte-Beuve, an unidentified author, who may have been Pierre Nicole, praised Madame de Longueville's generosity, stressing that she was never known to speak badly of anyone. Sainte-Beuve observed that "she was not a learned or even a very clever woman, but she was an excellent judge of character; she was kind, affectionate, and loyal to her friends."

Just as all those who saw her in her radiant youth were captivated by her translucent beauty, all those who knew the mature Anne de Longueville admired her humility. M. de Pontchâteau, one of the most stern of the Port Royal solitaires, wrote admiringly of her unfailing regularity in her religious duties and her "absolute self-disregard … even in her dress." In an age which prized wealth, rank, and political influence, her uncompromising rejection of the material world had the power to move all who observed it. But her transformation was more than that of a beautiful great lady to a dévote; she was a woman of pride and ambition who subdued those instincts to live almost 20 years as a humble penitent, entering the public arena only to safeguard the interests of her family and her beloved spiritual friends, and spending the last seven years of her crowded life in religious seclusion. Anne de Longueville was a woman of great passion who eventually found the most complete fulfillment of that passion in spiritual devotion.


Catel, Maurice, ed. Les Êcrivains de Port-Royal. Mayenne: Mercure de France, 1962.

[Villefore]. La Vie de Madame la Duchesse de Longueville. N.p., 1738.

suggested reading:

Bibliographie Universelle, Nouvelle Édition. Vol 25. Graz, Austria: Akademische Druck, 1968, pp. 82–86.

Rea, Lilian. The Enthusiasts of Port Royal. London: Methuen, 1912.

Romanes, Ethel. The Story of Port Royal. London: John Murray, 1907.

(Dr.) Kathleen Garay , Assistant Professor of History and Women's Studies, McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada