Prince de Condé

The French general Louis de Bourbon, Prince de Condé (1621-1686), became known as the "great Condé" because of his victories in the Low Countries. As the principal French nobleman, he was important in politics but egotistical, imprudent, and stubborn.

Louis de Bourbon was born in Paris on Sept. 8, 1621, to Henri de Bourbon, Prince de Condé, second cousin of Louis XIII, and Charlotte de Montmorency. He was entitled Duc d'Enghien until his father's death in 1646. From 1630 to 1636 he attended the Jesuit school in Bourges, studying Latin classics, Aristotelian philosophy, mathematics, the Institutes of Justinian, and political history. He retained intellectual tastes all his life and was long a freethinker on religious matters. His education was completed at the royal military school in Paris.

In accordance with his father's wishes, in 1641 Enghien married Claire-Clémence de Maillé-Brézé, daughter of Cardinal Richelieu's younger sister. He lived with his wife infrequently for brief periods. They had a son in late 1643 and a daughter in 1656.

Enghien's military ability was discernible in his first three campaigns (1640-1642). In the spring of 1643 he was put in command of the army in Picardy, and on May 18 he won an overwhelming victory at Rocroy northwest of Sedan. His cavalry turned the flank of the Flemish cavalry and scattered the enemy's rear regiments; he rallied the French infantry and finally overcame the immobile firepower of the veteran Spanish infantry, then the most feared in Europe.

Other victories followed. With his cousin the Vicomte de Turenne, Enghien took the west bank of the Rhine in 1644 and defeated the Bavarian army in 1645. He captured Dunkerque and other northern towns in 1646. Commanding the French forces in Spain in 1647, Condé was unable to take Lerida in Catalonia. But in 1648 he returned north to Hainaut and routed the cavalry of Lorraine and the Spanish infantry at Lens on August 20, a victory that finally brought about the Treaty of Münster.

In the ensuing period of sporadic revolt in France, Louis, now Prince de Condé, aided the queen regent and Cardinal Mazarin by organizing a blockade around rebellious Paris in early 1649. But the queen regent eventually found Condé intolerable and had him arrested with his brother and brother-in-law on Jan. 18, 1650. Finally a realignment of factions in Paris persuaded Mazarin that the princes were more dangerous in prison than at large. He freed them on Feb. 13, 1651. Yet Condé was increasingly dissatisfied.

In September, Condé went to Bordeaux to organize an independent base in the southwest. In 1652, his position there crumbling, he returned to Paris but found his forces locked out of the city. Turenne, now in command of a royal army, tried to pin Condé against the eastern walls of Paris on July 2, 1652. Condé's forces were suddenly let into the city, and cannon were fired from the Bastille on Turenne's troops. Condé's popularity in Paris, however, rapidly declined. He soon departed northward, was named commanding general for Spain, and proceeded to Brussels in March 1653.

While Condé opposed Turenne in a series of inconclusive campaigns in the Low Countries, one of Condé's agents attempted to establish friendly relations with Oliver Cromwell in England. But Cromwell formed an alliance instead with the French king, and in 1658 the allies defeated Condé decisively in the Battle of the Dunes outside Dunkerque. The Spanish negotiators made amnesty for Condé a condition of the peace settlement of 1659 and he returned to France. In 1667 he was again given command of a French army. During February 1668 he captured all the principal towns of Franche-Comté. The province was restored to Spain 3 months later.

In the summer of 1673 the young stadtholder William III was eager to use the imperial, Spanish, and Dutch armies against Condé. On Aug. 11, 1674, they fought an all-day battle near Seneffe south of Brussels, with heavy losses on both sides but no victor.

After 1675 Condé lived at Chantilly. He was reconverted to Catholicism the year before his death in 1686.

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Further Reading on Prince de Condé

The most extensive work on Condé is by King Louis Philippe's second son, Henri d'Orléans, Duc d'Aumale, Histoire des princes de Condé pendant les XVI et XVII siècles, vols. 3-7 (1863-1896). It includes hundreds of letters from, to, and about Condé and is generally sympathetic. Material on Condé is also in John B. Wolf, Louis XV (1968).