François-Louis de Bourbon, Prince de Conti
Born on 30 April in 1664 at the Hôtel de Conti in Paris, François-Louis was the youngest of three sons of Armand de Bourbon, Prince de Conti, and Anne-Marie Martinozzi, a niece of Cardinal Mazarin.
François-Louis was baptised at Saint-Sulpice on the day of his birth, with his uncle le Grand Condé and his aunt Anne-Geneviève de Bourbon acting as godparents. François-Louis and his older brother Louis-Armand lost their mother in 1666 and their father in 1672, after which both were given into the care of their uncle le Grand Condé. Upon the death of their father, Louis-Armand succeeded to the title of Prince de Conti and François-Louis to that of Prince de La Roche-sur-Yon.
Both brothers received an excellent education, but François-Louis outshone his older brother in everything. He was not just more handsome and more amusing, but also had a quick cultured mind, was very smart and had perfect manners, which he showed to valet and nobleman alike. The latter made him a court favourite and also the favourite of his uncle, who liked him better than his own son.
The Prince de La Roche-sur-Yon was even a perfect gentleman when drunk, as Liselotte von der Pfalz reports: “He is very funny when he is drunk. On such occasions he thinks that it is somebody else who has been drinking. Last year at an appartement I found him in a very exalted state. He came up to me and said, “I have just been talking to the Papal Nuncio: he reeks of wine and is completely intoxicated. I am afraid he won’t be able to remember all the pretty things I have said to him, for he is too drunk.” And with that he began to sing and laugh and pay me compliments, all in the same breath. “But, my cousin,”said I with a laugh, “are you sure that it isn’t you who have been drinking? You certainly seem very merry.” “Why !'” he exclaimed, “you are making exactly the same mistake as Monseigneur, Monsieur de Chartres, and the Princesse de Conti! They all think I am drunk and will not believe that it is the Nuncio.” … And if we hadn’t prevented him, he would have gone up to the Nuncio and asked him where he had been drinking.”
According to rumour, the Prince de La Roche-sur-Yon was involved in the scandal around the gay brotherhood, founded by Monsieur and the Chevalier de Lorraine, and was exiled for it. Shortly after, his brother Louis-Armand challenged the Chevalier de Lorraine to a duel, because the Chevalier teased by saying François-Louis was in love with Louis-Armand’s wife, Marie-Anne, a daughter of Louis XIV. Louis-Armand wedded her in 1680 and had a disastrous wedding night, with the bride fleeing the bed, after which he swore not to share a bed with a woman again. The story made the rounds quickly and some said the bride jumped from the bed, because she did not find Louis-Armand in it… but François-Louis.
François-Louis also had a good understanding of military matters, like his uncle, but only a few chances to display it. He and his brother took part at the sieges of Courtrai and Dixmude in 1683 and earned much glory for it. In 1685, both brothers went to fight against the Turks, not exactly with permission of Louis XIV, and François-Louis caused a bit of a scandal during that time by calling the King a roi du théâtre in a letter. Upon their return, François-Louis was told he should not appear at court for a while and remain at Chantilly instead. He did so and was injured between eye and temple by a stag while hunting.
Louis-Armand died shortly later. He contracted smallpox from his wife Marie-Anne de Bourbon, daughter of Louis XIV, and while she survived it, Louis-Armand got a high fever and died aged only twenty-four. He died without heir and thus the title Prince de Conti went to François-Louis.
The new Prince de Conti entered the ranks of the Chevaliers de l’ordre du Saint-Esprit on 2 June in 1686, after le Grand Condé urged the King to accept his protégé. Condé was very fond of François-Louis, so fond that he took in mind to marry François-Louis to his granddaughter Marie-Thérèse de Bourbon. She was the fifth of ten children Condé’s (insane) heir Henri-Jules had with Anne de Bavière.
Marie-Thérèse liked the idea too, after all François-Louis was one of the most handsome and dashing bachelors of France. She fell immediately in love with him and adored him above everything else…. François-Louis agreed to the match, but not because he was equally fond of his suggested bride. He was quite the libertine and equally fond of both genders, but not that fond of the bride. The marriage took place at Versailles on 28 June in 1688 and the couple had seven children born between 1689 and 1703.
By September, François-Louis was off to war. Louis XIV did not give him a command at the start of the War of the League of Augsburg, thus the Prince de Conti left as a mere volunteer to participate in the siege of Philippsburg. In May 1689, Conti followed Monsieur le Maréchal de Luxembourg to Holland, where he fought bravely. He also took part in the infamous Battle of Steinkerque, where he had two horses shot dead under his princely behind. Later on, he was wounded at Neerwinden.
As he returned to court, he was praised for his great bravery by everyone. (It annoyed Louis XIV a bit, especially since his own kids did not perform too well.) François-Louis had a good relationship to the Dauphin and was part of his clique, which was reason enough for Louis XIV not to be too fond of this brave and handsome young man.
In around 1695, François-Louis began an affair with Louise-Françoise de Bourbon, who had married Louis de Bourbon, the oldest son of Condé’s son Henri-Jules and Anne de Bavière. Louise-Françoise was the eldest legitimated daughter Louis XIV and Madame de Montespan. She gave birth to a daughter in 1697, which is thought to be the fruit of this affair. Louise-Françoise’s hubby found out about the affair at some point and was positively furious, but did not dare to quarrel in public with Conti, because he was afraid Louis XIV might get involved then. The Dauphin was involved in the whole thing too, for he allowed them to meet secretly at his Meudon residence.
Conti’s great hour of glory came in June of 1697. He was elected to be King of Poland. The Polish King John Sobieski died in 1697 and thanks to plenty of bribes, some of the Electors decided for François-Louis as new King… while others were in favour of the Elector of Saxony, Augustus the Strong. One party proclaimed Conti as King, the other Augustus. While the latter was eager for the job, François-Louis was not so much, for it meant he would have to leave Louise-Françoise in Versailles. He had to accept anyway, for the sake of the political advantages. Louis XIV did not mind to get rid of someone he did not like too much that way and thus provided him with everything needed. But Conti delayed his departure again and again, until there were no longer any pretexts to delay it further. François-Louis said adieu to Louise-Françoise and travelled to Dunkerque, accompanied by two million livre from the King. Some of it fell out of a broken chest on the way… Jean Bart, naval commander and privateer, awaited Conti in Dunkerque, which was guarded by enemy vessels. They managed to leave unseen and sailed for Danzig, where they arrived by September 28…. to find Augustus on the Polish throne.
The Elector of Saxony had taken it in the meanwhile and installed himself as new Polish King. François-Louis did not dare to leave his ship, for Danzig appeared to be quite hostile towards him and refused provisions for his ships. Weeks of fruitless negotiations followed, before it was decided to abandon the enterprise. François-Louis was back in Paris by December 12.
Louis XIV received him back at Versailles, all kind and polite, while rather vexed on the inside to see him again. Thus François-Louis preferred to spent his days among friends at Meudon. Conti was still close to the Dauphin, and also Mademoiselle de Choin, but there were also people at Meudon which he liked a bit less. Like the Duc de Vendôme, Louis-Joseph de Bourbon/Vendôme, and his brother the Grand Prieur, Philippe de Bourbon/Vendôme. Not because they were generally unpleasant, but because they were favoured by the King in military matters. It made Conti a bit jealous and at some point, while playing cards with them, he got quite angry over some issue with the game. He forgot his perfect manners for a second, as the Grand Prieur got insolent, and called him a cheat and a coward. The Grand Prieur jumped onto his feet and challenged François-Louis to a duel, he replied that his movements were well-known and that he always could be found. Since the whole thing caused a bit of an unrest in the house, the Dauphin had been informed of what went on in his salon and shuffled there, in his dressing-gown, to keep the gentlemen from doing something foolish. The King was informed about the matter by the Dauphin the next day. The story ended with the Grand Prieur being arrested and thrown in the Bastille. Since the King was allergic to his nobility attempting to kill each other in silly duels, the Grand Prieur’s family and friends had quite the difficulties to get him released. In the end, it required the intercession of Conti himself to secure the release.
François-Louis was considered to be a great military man by many, but not so much by the King… or rather, the King did not like that he was a great military man, compared to his own children. He wanted the Duc du Maine to shine on the battlefield and not that Conti, that had insulted him so. So, François-Louis never managed to achieve a rank higher than lieutenant-general. By 1709, Louis XIV finally decided to put some trust into the public opinion of Conti being a good commander… but by then it was too late. The Prince de Conti suffered of gout, dropsy and syphilis as he was informed he was to lead a campaign in Flanders the next spring. François-Louis did not see the next spring. He died, aged forty-five, on 21 February 1709.