Monday, 25 February 2019

Claire-Clémence de Maillé-Brézé, Princesse de Condé

Claire-Clémence was born on 25 February 1628 in the region of Anjou; she was the daughter of the Marquis de Brézé. Through her mother she was related to Cardinal Richelieu (her uncle) which enabled her parents to make an advantageous match for her. This match was arranged when she was just five years old; not long after she bid adieu to Anjou and was placed in the care of Madame Boutillier. Such a move was not uncommon, and the official explanation was that she would be able to receive a better education away from home. However, Madame Boutillier provided a mediocre one at best.

At the age of 13 - the age of maturity for girls at the time - she was married to Louis de Bourbon, Duc d'Enghien (the future Grand Condé). Her husband was 20 years old and already had several mistresses. He had not wanted to marry Claire-Clémence but was compelled. Thus, it was not an easy situation the young adolescent found herself in.
This marriage - which made her a princess of the blood - meant that she was in the very elite of French society She entered the circle of the Grande Mademoiselle and featured in several of the court ballets.
In 1646, her father-in-law died which made her husband First Prince of the Blood.  Claire-Clémence's relationship with her husband did not improve over the years - on the contrary. Her uncle still supervised her education. Claire-Clémence would continue to hold him in high esteem; in her eyes he had been the one to take care of her from a young age.

1646 was also the year when she gained two titles of her own. Her brother had been killed by a cannon ball which left her Duchesse de Fronsac and Comtesse de Beaufort.


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Claire-Clémence

They did have three children but certainly not from a sense of affection. As it turned out, her sons showed as little loyalty towards her as her husband did. Louis claimed that she had been unfaithful on numerous occasions; this served as an excuse for locking her away.

Husbands in the 17th century had almost complete legal control over their wives. Thus, he was in his legal right to basically imprison Claire-Clémence on a whim. As for the validity of the accusation, it is almost certainly unfounded. Even the critical Duc de Saint-Simon remarked on Claire-Clémence's virtue; her character was generally thought to be one of piety and gentleness rather than wantonness and dishonesty. Despite the general opinion she remained under lock and key for a couple of years.

It would not be surprising if such a treatment turned her profoundly against her spouse. However, it was not in her nature to hold a grudge. By 1650, le Grand Condé had fallen out of favour and was imprisoned himself. Despite his deplorable treatment of her, Claire-Clémence went out of her way to plead on her husband's behalf. She stopped Cardinal Mazarin at Milly-le-Meugon - coincidentally the site of her wedding - and set herself up as befitted her rank. She gathered supporters of both herself, her husband and the Fronde. She even contacted the Parlement of Bordeaux on her husband's behalf.

Louis was released on 7 February 1651. This year also saw the end of Claire-Clémence's role as hostess of the resistance to the Crown. Both she and her husband knew that they had lost and submitted to Anne of Austria. Claire-Clémence fell seriously ill and for a while her life was despaired off. It was even suggested that if she should die, then the Grande Mademoiselle could take her place.  Nevertheless, she recovered. The couple was sent into exile in Spanish Flanders where they remained for nine years. Despite all she had done for him, the two never could be reconciled. After returning to France in 1660, they officially lived at the Château de Chantilly. Following the marriage of her son, Claire-Clémence becomes more and more isolated and prefers to live at the Hôtel de Condé. 

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Princesse de Condé

According to Jean-Marie Schio, she was the subject of an attempted assassination on 13 January 1671. Apparently, her husband had never given up on getting rid of her. Louis wasted no time in asking the king for a separation; he went so far as sending her own son to sign the papers. The king granted the separation and once Claire-Clémence had recovered from her wounds she was sent into exile in the area of Châteauroux. She was granted one lady-in-waiting and a few domestic servants. Now her ungrateful husband set about taking her titles from her. Her duchy of Fronsac was sold to the Duc de Richelieu.

Following years of domestic maltreatment it is hardly a wonder that Claire-Clémence's psyke took its toll. Her mother had been considered somewhat eccentric and as she herself became older, Claire-Clémence slowly seemed to lose her mind. During her exile, she was never visited by her children. Claire-Clémence died her on 16 April 1694.

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