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Conti, Princes Of

CONTI, PRINCES OF. The title of prince of Conti, assumed by a younger branch of the house of Condé, was taken from Conti-sur-Selles, a small town about 20 m. S.W. of Amiens, which came into the Condé family by the marriage of Louis of Bourbon, first prince of Condé, with Eleanor de Roye in 1551.

François (1558-1614), the third son of this marriage, was given the title of marquis de Conti, and between 1581 and 1597 was elevated to the rank of a prince. Conti, who belonged to the older faith, appears to have taken no part in the wars of religion until 1587, when his distrust of Henry, third duke of Guise, caused him to declare against the League, and to support Henry of Navarre, afterwards King Henry IV. of France. In 1589 after the murder of Henry III., king of France, he was one of the two princes of the blood who signed the declaration recognizing Henry IV. as king, and he continued to support Henry, although on the death of Charles cardinal de Bourbon in 1590 he himself was mentioned as a candidate for the throne. In 1605 Conti, whose first wife Jeanne de Cöeme, heiress of Bonnétable, had died in 1601, married the beautiful and witty Louise Marguerite (1574-1631), daughter of Henry duke of Guise and Catherine of Cleves, whom, but for the influence of his mistress Gabrielle d'Estrées, Henry IV. would have made his queen. Conti died in 1614. His only child Marie having predeceased him in 1610, the title lapsed. His widow followed the fortunes of Marie de' Medici, from whom she received many marks of favour, and was secretly married to François de Bassompierre (q.v.), who joined her in conspiring against Cardinal Richelieu. Upon the exposure of the plot the cardinal exiled her to her estate at Eu, near Amiens, where she died. The princess wrote Aventures de la cour de Perse, in which, under the veil of fictitious scenes and names, she tells the history of her own time.

In 1629 the title of prince de Conti was revived in favour of Armand de Bourbon (1629-1666), second son of Henry II. of Bourbon, prince of Condé, and brother of Louis, the great Condé. He was destined for the church and studied theology at the university of Bourges, but although he received several benefices he did not take orders. He played a conspicuous part in the intrigues and fighting of the Fronde, became in 1648 commander-in-chief of the rebel army, and in 1650 was with his brother Condé imprisoned at Vincennes. Released when Mazarin went into exile, he wished to marry Mademoiselle de Chevreuse (1627-1652), daughter of the famous confidante of Anne of Austria, but was prevented by his brother, who was now supreme in the state. He was concerned in the Fronde of 1651, but soon afterwards became reconciled with Mazarin, and in 1654 married the cardinal's niece, Anne Marie Martinozzi (1639-1672), and secured the government of Guienne. He took command of the army which in 1654 invaded Catalonia, where he captured three towns from the Spaniards. He afterwards led the French forces in Italy, but after his defeat before Alessandria in 1657 retired to Languedoc, where he devoted himself to study and mysticism until his death. At Clermont Conti had been a fellow student of Molière's for whom he secured an introduction to the court of Louis XIV., but afterwards, when writing a treatise against the stage entitled Traité de la comédie et des spectacles selon les traditions de l'Eglise (Paris, 1667), he charged the dramatist with keeping a school of atheism. Conti also wrote Lettres sur la grâce, and Du devoir des grands et des devoirs des gouverneurs de province.

Louis Armand de Bourbon, prince de Conti (1661-1685), eldest son of the preceding, succeeded his father in 1666, and in 1680 married Marie Anne, a daughter of Louis XIV. and Louise de la Vallière. He served with distinction in Flanders in 1683, and against the wish of the king went to Hungary, where he assisted the Imperialists to defeat the Turks at Gran in 1683. After a dissolute life he died at Fontainebleau from smallpox.

François Louis de Bourbon, prince de Conti (1664-1709), younger brother of the preceding, was known until 1685 as prince de la Roche-sur-Yon. Naturally of great ability, he received an excellent education and was distinguished both for the independence of his mind and the popularity of his manners. On this account he was not received with favour by Louis XIV.; so in 1683 he assisted the Imperialists in Hungary, and while there he wrote some letters in which he referred to Louis as le roi an théâtre, for which on his return to France he was temporarily banished to Chantilly. Conti was a favourite of his uncle the great Condé, whose grand-daughter Marie Thérese de Bourbon (1666-1732) he married in 1688. In 1689 he accompanied his intimate friend Marshal Luxembourg to the Netherlands, and shared in the French victories at Fleurus, Steinkirk and Neerwinden. On the death of his cousin, Jean Louis Charles, duc de Longueville (1646-1694), Conti in accordance with his cousin's will, claimed the principality of Neuchâtel against Marie, duchesse de Nemours (1625-1707), a sister of the duke. He failed to obtain military assistance from the Swiss, and by the king's command yielded the disputed territory to Marie, although the courts of law had decided in his favour. In 1697 Louis XIV. offered him the Polish crown, and by means of bribes the abbé de Polignac secured his election. Conti started rather unwillingly for his new kingdom, probably, as St Simon remarks, owing to his affection for Françoise, wife of Philip II., duke of Orleans, and daughter of Louis XIV. and Madame de Montespan. When he reached Danzig and found his rival Augustus II., elector of Saxony, already in possession of the Polish crown, he returned to France, where he was graciously received by Louis, although St Simon says the king was vexed to see him again. But the misfortunes of the French armies during the earlier years of the war of the Spanish Succession compelled Louis to appoint Conti, whose military renown stood very high, to command the troops in Italy. He fell ill before he could take the field, and died on the 9th of February 1709, his death calling forth exceptional signs of mourning from all classes.

Louis Armand de Bourbon, prince de Conti (1606-1727), eldest son of the preceding, was treated with great liberality by Louis XIV., and also by the regent, Philip duke of Orleans. He served under Marshal Villars in the War of the Spanish Succession, but he lacked the soldierly qualities of his father. In 1713 he married Louise Elisabeth (1693-1775), daughter of Louis Henri de Bourbon, prince de Condé, and grand-daughter of Louis XIV. He was a prominent supporter of the financial schemes of John Law, by which he made large sums of money.

Louis François de Bourbon, prince de Conti (1717-1776), only son of the preceding, adopted a military career, and when the war of the Austrian Succession broke out in 1741 accompanied Charles Louis, duc de Belle-Isle, to Bohemia. His services there led to his appointment to command the army in Italy, where he distinguished himself by forcing the pass of Villafranca and winning the battle of Coni in 1744. In 1745 he was sent to check the Imperialists in Germany, and in 1746 was transferred to the Netherlands, where some jealousy between Marshal Saxe and himself led to his retirement in 1747. In this year a faction among the Polish nobles offered Conti the crown of that country, where owing to the feeble health of King Augustus III. a vacancy was expected. He won the personal support of Louis XV. for his candidature, although the policy of the French ministers was to establish the house of Saxony in Poland, as the dauphiness was a daughter of Augustus. Louis therefore began secret personal relations with his ambassadors in eastern Europe, who were thus receiving contradictory instructions; a policy known later as the secret du roi. Although Conti did not secure the Polish throne he remained in the confidence of Louis until 1755, when his influence was destroyed by the intrigues of Madame de Pompadour; so that when the Seven Years' War broke out in 1756 he was refused the command of the army of the Rhine, and began the opposition to the administration which caused Louis to refer to him as "my cousin the advocate." In 1771 he was prominent in opposition to the chancellor Maupeou. He supported the parlements against the ministry, was especially active in his hostility to Turgot, and was suspected of aiding a rising which took place at Dijon in 1775. Conti, who died on the 2nd of August 1776, inherited literary tastes from his father, was a brave and skilful general, and a diligent student of military history. His house, over which the comtesse de Boufflers presided, was the resort of many men of letters, and he was a patron of Jean Jacques Rousseau.

Louis François Joseph, prince de Conti (1734-1814), son of the preceding, possessed considerable talent as a soldier, and distinguished himself during the Seven Years' War. He took the side of Maupeou in the struggle between the chancellor and the parlements, and in 1788 declared that the integrity of the constitution must be maintained. He emigrated owing to the weakness of Louis XVI., but refused to share in the plans for the invasion of France, and returned to his native country in 1790. Arrested by order of the National Convention in 1793, he was acquitted, but was reduced to poverty by the confiscation of his possessions. He afterwards received a pension, but the Directory banished him from France, and as he refused to share in the plots of the royalists he lived at Barcelona till his death in 1814, when the house of Conti became extinct.

See F. de Bassompierre, Mémoires (Paris, 1877); G. Tallemant des Reaux, Historiettes (Paris, 1854-1860); L. de R. duc de Saint Simon, Mémoires (Paris, 1873); C. E. duchesse d'Orleans, Mémoires (Paris, 1880); R. L. Marquis d'Argenson, Journal et mémoires (Paris, 1859-1865); F. J. de P. cardinal de Bérnis, Mémoires et lettres (Paris, 1878); J. V. A. duc de Broglie, Le Secret du roi (Paris, 1878); P. A. Cheruel, Histoire de la minorité de Louis XIV et du ministère de Mazarin (Paris, 1879); E. Boutaric, Correspondence secrète de Louis XV sur la politique étrangère (Paris, 1866); P. Foncin, Essai sur le ministère de Turgot (Paris, 1877); E. Bourgeois Neuchâtel et la politique prussienne en Franche-Comté (Paris, 1877).

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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