Claire was born on 25 February in 1628 to Urbain de Maillé, Marquis de Brézé, and Nicole du Plessis, sister of Cardinal Richelieu. The Brézés were an old noble family from Anjou and among their members was Diane de Poitiers, mistress of Henri II, who was married to Louis de Brézé.
The Marquis de Brézé was a Marshal of France, who had won plenty of glory on the battlefields, and a man of great renown. He married Nicole du Plessis in 1617 and their first child was born two years later. A son, Jean-Armand, who just like his papa won military glory. Jean-Armand was a brilliant commander and died, only twenty-seven years old, during battle.
Claire was their second born child and Cardinal Richelieu took quite the interest in her, not just because she was his niece. Richelieu seems to have had quite the plans for her. As Claire was five years old, he arranged for her to marry a Prince du Sang. The chosen groom was Louis de Bourbon, at that time Duc d’Enghien and in direct line for the throne. Mademoiselle de Brézé, as Claire was called, was taken away from her family under the pretext of giving her a proper education and placed in the care of Madame Boutillier, the wife of the Superintendent of Finance.
As Mademoiselle de Brézé turned thirteen, she was wed in a swift to the Duc d’Enghien despite the loud protests of the groom. Louis was twenty years old and in love with a certain Mademoiselle du Vigean, Marthe Poussard. It was not his first love, he had a bit of a reputation as ladies-man and had already quite a few mistresses. Thus he protested, not wanting to marry a little girl, but it was in vain, for his father commanded him to marry Claire. The marriage was concluded at Milly-le-Meugon and celebrated at the Palais-Royal on February 11 in 1641.
Now styled Her Most Serene Highness Madame la Duchesse d’Enghien, she became a member of the Royal House of Bourbon… and liked her hubby not much more than he liked her. Nevertheless, duties were performed and their first child, Henri-Jules de Bourbon, was born in 1643. Another son, Louis de Bourbon, was born in 1652, but died the following year. Their third and last child, a daughter styled Mademoiselle de Bourbon, was born in 1657 and died not yet aged three.
The birth of Henri-Jules, did not bring the couple closer together… but the Fronde did. Louis succeeded to the title Prince de Condé upon the death of his father in 1646, becoming the First Prince of the Blood, and involved himself in the Fronde. As a result, he was disgraced and arrested in January 1650. Claire did everything in her power to help her husband and gathered his friends, leading them against Cardinal Mazarin. The Prince did not get released until February 1651 and went into exile afterwards, Claire followed him with their son.
It was not until 1659, that Louis XIV allowed the Prince and Princesse de Condé to return to France. What little affection had grown between them, was long gone again by then. They settled at the Château de Chantilly, plagued by financial problems, but in fabulous company. The Prince invited all the great minds of France to visit him. Claire did not care too much for it.
She was homely, a little dull, very virtuous, gentle and pious. But, in 1671, she got herself involved in some strange affair. Two men, who were in her favour, got into an argument about it, during which Claire was slightly injured with a knife as she tried to intervene in the violent dispute. One of them, a man called Duval, was sentenced to the galleys, but died before he even reached the coast. Rumour had it that poison was the reason. The other, Jean-Louis de Rabutin, a distant cousin of Marquise de Sevigne, was forced into exile and settled in Transylvania, where he then became a man of brilliant military acumen.
Le Grand Condé took advantage of this strange affair and obtained the King’s permission to exile Claire by claiming she engaged in various affairs with various men over the last years. Louis XIV granted it and Claire was locked up by her hubby in Châteauroux. As Condé died in 1689, eighteen years later, his wife was still locked up, almost forgotten by everyone. The little hope Claire had to be released after the demise of her husband, who had abused her so, died as her own son, as cruel as his father, prolonged her exile indefinitely.
Claire remained locked up until the very day she died, on April 16 in 1694, and was buried at the chapel of the Château de Châteauroux.