See W. FitzPatrick, The Great Condé (1873).
Louis II de Bourbon, Prince de Condé (8 September, 1621 – 11 November, 1686) was a French general and the most famous representative of the Condé branch of the House of Bourbon. Prior to his father's death in 1646, he was styled the Duc d'Enghien. For his military prowess he was renowned as The Great Condé (Le Grand Condé).
Louis was born in Paris, the son of Henry II de Bourbon, prince de Condé and Charlotte-Marguerite de Montmorency. His father was a first cousin-once-removed of Henri IV, the King of France, and his mother was an heiress of one of France's leading ducal families.
Conde's father saw to it that his son received a thorough education – Louis studied history, law, and mathematics during six years at the Jesuits' school at Bourges. After that he entered the Royal Academy at Paris. At seventeen, in the absence of his father, he governed Burgundy.
His father betrothed him to Claire Clémence de Maillé Brézé, niece of the powerful Cardinal Richelieu, chief minister of the king, before he joined the army in 1640. Despite being barely twenty years of age and in love with Mlle du Vigean (Marthe Poussard, called mademoiselle du Vigean, daughter of the king's gentleman of the bedchamber François Poussard, marquis de Fors and baron du Vigean, by his wife Anne de Neubourg, daughter of Roland, sieur de Sercelles), he was compelled by his father to marry his fiancée, a child of thirteen. Although she bore her husband four children, Enghien later claimed she committed adultery with different men in order to justify locking her away at Châteauroux, but the charge was widely disbelieved: Saint-Simon, while admitting that she was homely and dull, praised her virtue, piety and gentleness in the face of relentless abuse.
Enghien took part with distinction in the siege of Arras. He also won Richelieu's favor when he was present with the Cardinal during the plot of Cinq Mars, and afterwards fought in the siege of Perpignan (1642).
In 1643 Enghien was appointed to command against the Spanish in northern France. He was opposed by experienced generals, and the veterans of the Spanish army were held to be the toughest soldiers in Europe. The great Battle of Rocroi (May 19) put an end to the supremacy of the Spanish army and inaugurated the long period of French military predominance. Enghien himself conceived and directed the decisive attack, and at the age of twenty-two won his place amongst the great generals of modern times. The king he represented on the battlefield, Louis XIV of France, was only five years old at the time.
After a campaign of uninterrupted success, Enghien returned to Paris in triumph, and tried to forget his enforced and hateful marriage with a series of affairs (after Richelieu's death in 1642 he would unsuccessfully seek annulment of his marriage in hopes of marrying Mlle du Vigean, until she joined the order of the Carmelites in 1647). In 1644 he was sent with reinforcements into Germany to the assistance of Turenne, who was hard pressed, and took command of the whole army. The Battle of Freiburg (August) was desperately contested, but in the end the French army won a great victory over the Bavarians and Imperialists, commanded by Franz Baron von Mercy. As after Rocroi, numerous fortresses opened their gates to the duke.
Enghien spent the next winter, as every winter during the war, amid the gaieties of Paris. The summer campaign of 1645 opened with the defeat of Turenne by Mercy at Mergentheim, but this was retrieved in the brilliant victory of Nördlingen, in which Mercy was killed, and Enghien himself received several serious wounds. The capture of Philippsburg was the most important of his other achievements during this campaign. In 1646 Enghien served under Gaston, Duke of Orléans in Flanders, and when, after the capture of Mardyck, Orléans returned to Paris, Enghien, left in command, captured Dunkirk (October 11).
The government, therefore, was determined to allow no increase of his already overgrown authority, and Mazarin made an attempt, which for the moment proved successful, both to find him employment and to tarnish his fame as a general. He was sent to lead the revolted Catalans. Ill supported, he was unable to achieve anything, and, being forced to raise the siege of Lleida, he returned home in bitter indignation. In 1648, however, he received the command in the important field of the Low Countries, and at Lens (August 19) a battle took place, which, beginning with a panic in his own regiment, was retrieved by Condé's coolness and bravery, and ended in a victory that fully restored his prestige.
In September of the same year Condé was recalled to court, for the Regent Anne of Austria required his support. Influenced by the fact of his royal birth and by his scorn for the bourgeoisie, Condé lent himself to the court party, and finally, after much hesitation, he consented to lead the army which was to reduce Paris.
On his side, although his forces were insufficient, the war was carried on with vigour. After several minor combats with substantial losses, and a threatening scarcity of food, the Parisians were weary of the war. The political situation inclined both parties to peace, which was made at Rueil on March 20 (see Fronde).
It was not long, however, before Condé became estranged from the court. His pride and ambition earned him universal distrust and dislike, and the personal resentment of Anne. She assented to the sudden arrest of Condé, Conti and Longueville on January 18, 1650. But others, including Turenne and his brother the Duke of Bouillon, made their escape.
Vigorous attempts for the release of the princes began to be made. The women of the family were now its heroes. The dowager princess demanded from the parlement of Paris fulfilment of the reformed law of arrest, which forbade imprisonment without trial. Condé's sister Anne Genevieve, duchesse de Longueville entered into negotiations with Spain; and the young Princess of Condé, having gathered an army around her, entered Bordeaux and gained the support of the parlement of that town. She, alone among the nobles who took part in the folly of the Fronde, earned respect and sympathy. Faithful to a faithless husband, she came forth from the retirement to which he had condemned her to fight for his freedom.
The delivery of the princes was brought about in the end by the coming together of the old Fronde (the party of the parlement and of Cardinal de Retz) and the new Fronde (the party of the Condés). Anne was at last, in February 1651, forced to liberate the princes from their prison at Le Havre. Soon afterwards, however, another shifting of parties left Condé and the new Fronde isolated. With the court and the old Fronde in alliance against him, Condé found no resource but that of making common cause with the Spaniards who were at war with France.
The confused civil war which followed this step (September 1651) was memorable chiefly for the battle of the Faubourg St Antoine, in which Condé and Turenne, two of the leading generals of the age, measured their strength (July 2, 1652). The army of the Prince was only saved by being admitted within the gates of Paris. La Grande Mademoiselle, daughter of Gaston of Orléans, persuaded the Parisians to act thus, and turned the cannon of the Bastille on Turenne's army. Thus Condé, who as usual had fought with the most desperate bravery, was saved, and Paris underwent a new siege. This ended in the flight of Condé to the Spanish army (September 1652), and thenceforward, up to the peace, he was in open arms against France, and held high command in the army of Spain. Nonetheless, even as an exile, he asserted the precedence of the royal house of France over the princes of Spain and Austria, with whom he was allied for the moment.
Condé's fully developed genius as a commander found little scope in the cumbrous and antiquated system of war practised by the Spanish, and though he gained a few successes, and manoeuvred with the highest possible skill against Turenne, his disastrous defeat at the Dunes near Dunkirk (June 14, 1658) led Spain to open negotiations for peace. The Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659, which ended the Franco-Spanish War, pardoned Condé and allowed him to return to France.
Condé now realized that the period of agitation and party warfare was at an end, and he accepted, and loyally maintained henceforward, the position of a chief subordinate to Louis XIV. Even so, some years passed before he was recalled to active employment, and these years he spent on his estate, the Château de Chantilly. Here he gathered round him a brilliant company, which included many men of genius such as Molière, Racine, Boileau, La Fontaine, Nicole, Bourdaloue and Bossuet.
About this time negotiations between the Poles, Condé and Louis were carried on with a view to the election, at first of Condé's son Enghien, and afterwards of Condé himself, to the throne of Poland. These, after a long series of curious intrigues, were finally closed in 1674 by the veto of Louis XIV and the election of John Sobieski. The Prince's retirement, which was only broken by the Polish question and by his personal intercession on behalf of Fouquet in 1664, ended in 1668.
In that year he proposed to Louvois, the minister of war, a plan for seizing Franche-Comté, the execution of which was entrusted to him and successfully carried out. He was now completely re-established in the favour of Louis, and with Turenne was the principal French commander in the celebrated campaign of 1672 against the Dutch. At the forcing of the Rhine passage at Tolhuis (June 12), he received a severe wound, after which he commanded in Alsace against the Imperialists.
In 1673 he was again engaged in the Low Countries, and in 1674 he fought his last great battle, the Battle of Seneffe, against the Prince of Orange (afterwards William III of England). This battle, fought on August 11, was one of the hardest of the century, and Condé, who displayed the reckless bravery of his youth, had three horses killed under him. His last campaign was that of 1675 on the Rhine, where the army had been deprived of its general by the death of Turenne; and where by his careful and methodical strategy he repelled the invasion of the Imperial army of Montecuccoli.
After this campaign, prematurely worn out by the toils and excesses of his life, and tortured by gout, Condé returned to Château de Chantilly, where he spent the eleven years that remained to him in quiet retirement. At the end of his life, Condé specially sought the companionship of Bourdaloue, Pierre Nicole and Bossuet, and devoted himself to religious exercises. He died on November 11, 1686 at the age of sixty-five. Bourdaloue attended him at his death-bed, and Bossuet pronounced his elegy.
The Prince's lifelong resentment of his forced marriage to a social inferior persisted, and found unchivalrous expression in a bitter letter, his last to the king, in which he begged that his wife never be released from her exile to the countryside. Nonetheless, Claire-Clémence de Maillé had brought the Prince of Condé a dowry of 600,000 livres, the manors of Ansac, Mouy, Cambronne, Plessis-Billebault, Galissonnière and Brézé, and, once-upon-a-time, liberation from the King's dungeon.
That he was capable of waging a methodical war of positions may be assumed from his campaigns against Turenne and Montecucculi, the greatest generals opposing him. But it was in his eagerness for battle, his quick decision in action, and the stern will which sent his regiments to face the heaviest losses, that Condé is exalted above all the generals of his time. Upon the Grand Condé’s death, Louis XIV pronounced that he had lost "the greatest man in my kingdom."
In 1643 his success at the Battle of Rocroi, in which he led the French army to an unexpected and decisive victory over the Spanish, established him as a great general and popular hero in France. Together with the Marshal de Turenne he led the French to victory in the Thirty Years' War.
During the Fronde, he was courted by both sides, initially supporting Mazarin; he later became a leader of the princely opposition. After the defeat of the Fronde he entered Spanish service and led their armies against France. He returned to France only after the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659, but soon received military commands again.
Condé conquered the Franche-Comté during the War of Devolution and led the French armies in the Franco-Dutch War together with Turenne. His last campaign was in 1675, taking command after Turenne had been killed, repelling an invasion of an imperial army.
He is regarded as one of the premier generals in world history, whose masterpiece, the Battle of Rocroi, is still studied by students of military strategy.