Saturday, June 16, 2012

June 16, 2012

Louis, Prince de Condé: Huguenot Prince

Louis is considered by many to be the “third wheel” in the Huguenot triumvirate of 16th century French Protestant leaders. In that time of mayhem and unbridled violence it was necessary that France’s beleaguered Huguenots might have a strong set of ringleaders to guard their rights, defend the faith, and provide social protection. The two other members of this unofficial group, Jeanne d’Albret (see my post of June 04), and Admiral Gaspard de Coligny (see my post of March 09) were also powerful movers and shakers who kept the Huguenots’ tenacious hold at least partially secure throughout the rampant brutality of the era.

But who was Louis de Condé? He was born to Charles de Bourbon in 1530 and was the brother of Antoine, who famously married Jeanne d’Albret and firmly refused to give a thought to her Protestant doctrines. Thus, Louis was the uncle of that lion of the Wars of Religion, Henri IV de Navarre. A few prominent members of Louis’ branch of the Bourbon family tree, the Condés, became known for their unabashed Protestantism and were despised because of that fact.

Louis’ record was far from spotless. In 1560 he allegedly took part in a plot to kidnap boy-king François II. The end result of this plot would have been involved becoming more powerful than the hated House of Guise, which was firmly entrenched in Huguenot minds as a Catholic faction much in need of a walloping dose of humility. This clandestine plot fell short and was seen by wary Catholics as a threat to the fabric of French society; many Protestants lost their lives due to this altercation.

The Wars of Religion raged in the 1560s, when Louis was only in his third decade of life. He proved himself an able officer but was taken prisoner at the Battle of Dreux. Apparently he was still in some position of influence, for at the age of thirty-three he was called upon to approve the Peace of Amboise. This edict allowed the Huguenots to breathe a sigh of relief, for it decreed freedom at least in part. Louis wormed his way into court affairs quite persuasively and agreed to curtain Huguenot ambitions so he might find himself better accepted by the French Crown. When a hoped-for promotion did not come, he fled in 1567 and found himself once again swept up in the Wars of Religion.

Louis I, Prince de Conde

His life and death may have seemed contrary to one another at this point. At first he failed Admiral Coligny’s aspirations by approving the controversial Peace of Longjumeau in 1568, but then, in 1569, he found himself rushing to strengthen Coligny’s defenses and rescue the very man whom he had recently disappointed. It would be the last decision we would ever make. While we might be tempted to praise the Huguenot triumph that resulted from his final battle, Louis de Condé’s end, sadly, was far from heroic. He was assassinated in a scrap that stemmed from the battle, and his body was abused and mocked in turn. It was an impious end to a once-powerful man.

What of Louis the man as opposed to Louis the prince and soldier? Contemporaries said he was hunchbacked, a fact which must have earned him much ridicule throughout his life. A contemporary portrait shows a man with reddish hair swept seamlessly up over his head, and a carefully-trimmed mustache and short beard. His dark eyes, heavily-lidded, show an expression that can almost be called tiredness, while his nose is prominent but not overly so. He is dressed in the conservative Huguenot fashion --- a black ensemble that reaches to the throat and is topped with a modest lace ruff --- and some sort of neck-chain.

I often look at portraits of Protestants who lived in this era and see the knowledge, forewarning, and perhaps tired acceptance in their eyes that martyrdom most assuredly awaits them. While Louis de Condé avoided such an end, his own death was far from glamorous. He was only thirty-nine at that event. He left a wife, Francoise d’Orleans, and sons Charles, Louis, and Benjamin. His first two sons were three and two at their father’s death. The last son was born the year Louis died. 

He had also had eight children from a previous marriage. Rumors that he had had a child with his mistress dogged his young adult life. Louis himself refused to admit it. We are still uncertain of the truth. What is certain is that he did indeed engage in practices that were contrary to the Huguenot sense of austerity. At the death of Louis de Condé, France’s Protestants lost an able leader. They would still have Admiral Gaspard de Coligny for another three years. 

His end would be even less heroic.

(c) 2012 Joyously Saved

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