The boy who would become known as the Grand Condé was born on 8 September 1621 into the elite of French society. Once he became old enough he was sent to Bourges where his education was entrusted to the Jesuits. Here, in the midst of France, he was given the best education possible. He would later enroll in the Royal Academy in Paris.
Louis began his official duties at the age of seventeen when he acted as governor of Burgundy since his father absent. He would also soon have his first experience with love; the young Duc d'Enghien (as he was titled before his father's death) fell in love with Marthe Poussard, Mademoiselle du Vigean. Sadly for Louis, the object of his interest was not quite so grand a match as was expected and his father intervened. Instead, Louis was made to marry Claire-Clémence de Maillé-Brézé who was just thirteen years old at the time. Despite the protests of Louis the couple was married and he joined the army soon afterwards.
While in the army it soon became clear that he had a natural talent for warfare. When the Thirty Years' War broke out, Louis was put in charge of the French troops in northern France. This meant that he would be face-to-face with experienced Spanish generals and one of the finest armies in Europe. However, Louis' military genius shone through on 19 May 1643 when the Battle of Rocroi was fought. With a decisive victory the 21-year old Louis began his string of military successes which saw him making a triumphant entry into Paris.
On the homefront things were less idyllic. The match had not been one of love and would continue to be strained at best. Nevertheless, the couple managed to have three children to carry on the family line. The thought of Mademoiselle du Vigean had never quite left him and once his wife's uncle (Cardinal Richelieu) died he attempted to have his marriage annulled. His request was denied and he was forced to finally give up his sweetheart in 1647 when she entered a Carmelite nunnery.
|Louis at Rocroi|
Although he lost the battle of his love-life, his military career was far more promising. By 1644 the king once again had need of his prowess and sent him to Germany where he would join forces with Turenne. One after another he took strategically important fortresses and could spent the winter period in Paris with ease. Louis was seriously wounded in the Battle of Nördlingen but recovered to the relief of both his country and his king. He would go on to take Philippsburg and was left in charge of the Duc d'Orléans' troops the following year which enabled him to take Dunkirk as well.
That same year - 1646 - saw him elevated from Duc d'Enghien to Prince de Condé with the death of his father. By this time the atmosphere at the French court was under serious strain. Anne of Austria and in particular Cardinal Mazarin was worried at the immense influence he had - especially since his military renown made him popular amongst both the people and the soldiers. With Louis XIV still only a child it was feared that he might try to overthrow the child-king. Despite attempts to lessen his popularity his victory at Lens only further raised his star.
The Fronde was soon in full action and Anne of Austria managed to secure the services of the Grand Condé. Once again he proved that even with insufficient forces he could achieve considerable victories. When peace was finally declared at Rueil he was set to become a bright star at court.
However, Louis' personality was not likely to recommend him to the courtiers and he made few - if any - friends. The result was that he became estranged from the Louvre and found himself in icy water with Anne of Austria. The Regent was not unaware of the danger he still posed and had him arrested along with the Prince de Conti on 18 January 1650. Interestingly enough, he would be saved by the very wife he has scorned for years.
The final release came when those who had been opposed to the crown during the Fronde suddenly joined forces with the party of the Grand Condé. By February 1651 Louis was released but was not about to experience easier terms at court. Court factions shifted quickly and the Grand Condé was soon facing a new alliance made up of his former allies - the "old" Frondeurs - and the Regent.
Louis' choice was action was considered treason by many at court. Realizing that he was in a precarious situation he instead made peace with the Spanish king and offered his military services to Spain instead. This saw the inflammation of the Fronde once again and Louis found himself head to head with his previous ally, Turenne, at the Battle of Faubourg St. Antoine. Turenne would have won the day if La Grande Mademoiselle had not opened the gates of Paris to admit le Grand Condé and his army.
The Fronde eventually came to an end and once again Louis discovered that he was at a disadvantage. Trapped at the Spanish court his only chance of ever returning to France was to completely submit himself to the victor of the Fronde: Louis XIV and his mother, Anne of Austria. The Grand Condé bowed his head and duly submitted. Nevertheless, it would be years before he was placed anywhere near an army and during this time he was primarily living at his Château de Chantilly. While he could not exert himself in the military he maintained his mind by the company of some of the great of the day: Molière, Bossuet, La Fontaine etc.
One could think that the actions of his wife might do something to make their relationship better. Unfortunately, this was not so. Louis had never forgiven Claire-Clémence for being his social inferior which had mortally wounded his enormous pride. Furthermore, it is possible that Claire-Clémence suffered from mental issues. He accused her of having had many affairs - although this was widely disbelieved - and used his power as her husband to lock her up.
His first reentry into grace came when a new king of Poland was to be elected and he was sent to conduct negotiations. Louis XIV was still wary of his relative and became even more so when the Prince de Condé attempted to intervene on behalf of Nicolas Fouquet in 1664. However, there was a chance of coming back into the king's good graces and the means were his ever-present military genius. When Louis took control of Franche-Comté he was once again appreciated.
By 1673 he was once again deployed in the Low Countries where he would have the final of his great military successes. The place was the Battle of Seneffe and the opponent was William of Orange. Despite having no less than three horses killed under him he secured a victory. Having finally repelled the imperial forces in 1675 he was ready to hang up his spurs.
Louis was no longer a young man and was increasingly suffering from ill health. Gout had been his great opponent lately and he returned to the Château de Chantilly. Here he lived out his retirement in the company of some of the masters who had previously paid him court there. It was during a visit to Fontainebleau that Louis finally breathed his last on 11 November 1686.