Sunday, 16 July 2017

Madame de Pompadour & the Prince de Conti

The animosity between Jeanne-Antoinette de Poisson and Louis Francois de Bourbon began from the moment that Madame de Pompadour was introduced as royal mistress. 

The first real "sting" came about quite without intent. Madame de Pompadour frequently put on small theatrical performances in the king's private apartment to divert the melancholic king. The thing was that only fifteen people could be admitted due to the room's size. In 1747 - when these plays were well under way - the Prince de Conti was amongst those excluded from the parties. This prince was particularly proud of his Bourbon-blood; the thought of not merely being excluded but being excluded by a bourgeoisie was intolerable.

This matter of rank was most likely what really turned the Prince de Conti against Madame de Pompadour. During her first time at court in 1745 the marquise had been able to charm everyone - except Conti. To him it was not an issue that she was the king's mistress (after all there had to be one); the sore spot was that she was not born a noblewoman.

Prince de Conti

From this point on their relationship went downhill fast. Before, Louis Francois had been a close associate of Louis XV; the king would refer to him as his favourite cousin. The Prince's dislike of the mistress was not unknown but still somewhat contained. That would come to change. 
Gradually, this changed and Conti naturally placed the blame with Pompadour. However, the Prince de Conti was not adverse to slander himself. He was one of the few who worked in the Secret du Roi which handled extremely confidential cases; he took great advantage of the marquise's being barred from there to attempt to turn Louis XV against her.

These secret meetings was a cause of great annoyance to the royal mistress. It certainly did nothing to ease the relationship with the Prince de Conti; every time she saw him coming and going from the king's chamber with a mysterious air it stung.

Louis XV's disinterestedness in such squabbles hardly made tensions any lighter. In 1752 Madame de Pompadour was granted a tabouret and the honours of the court. This included a formal presentation to the royal family - although they had all known each other for years. For some unknown reason, Louis chose none other than the Princesse de Conti to make the presentation. She had also been the one to present Jeanne-Antoinette in 1745; her husband's dislike of the new-comer apparently did not spread.

One of the greatest clashes between the two played out against the background of the Seven Years' War. As a Prince of the Blood and a favourite of Louis XV it was assumed that Conti would be given sole responsibility for the French army in Flanders. However, he instead had to share command with the Marèchal de Saxe. The two men quarreled constantly and both sought prime command. 
When the Comte de Stainville - a follower of Conti - arrived at Versailles on 4th August 1746 to deliver the news of the fall of Charleroi, the question of command arose again. Madame de Pompadour made it clear that she favoured the Marèchale. In fear for his career the Prince de Conti immediately left his post and returned to Versailles. Here he found little obvious grounds for concern. Louis XV was as smiling as always and the two remained closeted for hours.

Madame de Pompadour

The great finale came in 1756. With an increasing coldness from his royal cousin's side, the Prince de Conti became a threat to the monarchy itself. In an attempt to gather support from the Parlements as well as the Prosestants he suddenly posed a threat to Louis XV's throne. This was the final drop for their friendship. The Prince was stripped of his position in the Secret du Roi with the marquise's backing.

When Damiens attempted to assassinate the king in 1757 Madame de Pompadour cast suspicious eyes on her long-time rival. Although she could not prove a connection it was not completely unlikely. Through all their years of in-fighting the two rivals had continually opposed the other's political aspirations. The marquise prevented the prince from getting the promotions he desired, and the prince in turn did his utmost to destroy her reputation.

Following this year the Prince de Conti was not very welcome at Versailles. His hatred of Madame de Pompadour - and probably hers for him - was at an all-time high. He would continue to spread demeaning verses and caricatures; in 1760 he saw a chance of denying the maitresse a wish. She had cast longing eyes at the vineyard of La Romanée. Promptly, the Prince de Conti laid down twice the estimated worth of the vineyard. To mark his acquisition he added his name to it making it La Romanée-Conti. Today, the vineyard produces the most expensive wine in the world.

The vineyard bought by Conti

The conflict with Madame de Pompadour had cost the Prince de Conti dearly. He could have had a chance of becoming king of Poland but it is speculated that she had a hand in tipping the scales against him. However, this is only guesswork. 

When Madame de Pompadour died in 1764 the Prince de Conti was still in disgrace. He may have outlived his rival but her death did not bring about a return to favour. Instead, Conti outlived Louis XV too and died in Paris in 1776.

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