Thursday, July 14, 2011

Anne Genevieve de Bourbon-Conde - Famous Women From The Business of Politics


THE brilliant heroine of the Fronde, of whose grace, beauty, and influence Anne of Austria was so jealous—not to speak of the mortal rivalry of the gay Duchesses de Montbazon and de Chatillon—although the youngest of that famous trio whom Mazarin found so formidable in the arena of politics, obviously claims alike from her exalted rank and the memorable part she played in the tragi-comedy of the Fronde, priority of notice among the bevy of the Cardinal’s fair political opponents.

Some time in the month of August, 1619, Anne Genevieve de Bourbon-Conde first saw the light in the donjon of Vincennes, where her parents had been kept State prisoners for three years previously. She was the eldest of the three children of Henry (II.) de Bourbon-Conde, first prince of the blood, and of that Charlotte Marguerite de Montmorency, “the beauty, perfect grace and majesty of her time.”[1] The lovely Montmorency on coming to Court in her fifteenth year had sorely troubled the heart of the amorous soldier-king, Henry of Navarre, who had married her in 1609 to his nephew of Conde with the covert hope of finding him an accommodating husband; but the latter, alike defiant and uxorious, made the jovial Bearnois plainly understand that he had wedded the blooming Charlotte exclusively for himself. The “gaillard” monarch, however, at length grew so deeply enamoured that the prince, perceiving there was too much cause to fear the result of the constant assiduities of his royal uncle, fled precipitately with his young wife from France, only to return thither after tidings reached him of the great Henry’s assassination. To the fair Montmorency’s very decided proclivity to gallantry was to be attributed—if we may believe the scandal-loving Tallemant des Reaux—her long confinement, by the Regent Marie de’ Medici’s consent, within the gloomy fortress of Vincennes, rather than any reason of State for her sharing her husband’s imprisonment. In fact, it was believed that the jealous prince procured her incarceration simply to keep her out of harm’s way.
[1] Lenet.

Deriving from her mother the threefold gifts of grace, beauty, and majesty, the fair Bourbon inherited also, it must be owned, a share of that princess’s inclination to “l’honnete galanterie”. The restriction to a “share” should be noted; for at no period of her heydey, not even during the licence of the Fronde, could Anne Genevieve be accused of having—as Madame de Motteville tells us the Princess de Conde had,—adorers “in every rank and condition of life, from popes, kings, princes, cardinals, dukes, and marshals of France, down to simple gentlemen.”

The mind and heart, however, of Anne de Bourbon, although predestined, alas! eventually to culpable passion, seemed at first but little inclined to the gay world—with all its blandishments and seductions, or even to its innocent pleasures. When quite a child she was in the habit of accompanying her mother in her visits to the convent of the Carmelites at Paris. For though still possessing great personal attractions, Madame de Conde had become serious and of a somewhat demonstrative piety. Those visits, which were frequent, strengthened Anne’s gentle and susceptible mind in its tendency to devotion. The impression, too, which somewhat later the tragic fate of her uncle, the unfortunate Duke de Montmorency,[2] left on her memory, inspired her with the resolution to quit the outer world at the earliest possible moment, and, renouncing all its pomps and grandeurs, hide beneath the veil her budding attractions. Although her mother opposed an inflexible resistance to her embracing that holy vocation, and strove to combat by forcible arguments the cold and disdainful demeanour exhibited by her daughter when mixing in gay society, the fair girl persevered from the age of thirteen to seventeen in her longing to embrace the life of the cloister. Futile for a time were the parental arguments, unfruitful every effort! Anne Genevieve would not consort with worldlings, persisted in her distaste for mundane pleasures, and continued to cherish persistently her desire for conventual seclusion. At length the princess, in 1636, having resolved upon the adoption of more energetic measures, suddenly ordered her daughter to make preparations for appearing at a Court ball, and that, too, in three days. With what despair did the young princess hear the cruel sentence! What affliction, too, befell the Carmelite nuns when they heard of the fatal mandate. What a flood of sighs and tears and prayers! The good sisters gathered themselves together to take counsel one with another, and decided that, since Mdlle. de Bourbon could not avoid the wretched fate that awaited her, before going through the trying ordeal she should indue her lovely form with an undergarment of hair-cloth (commonly called a “cilice”), and, protected by such armour of proof, she might then fearlessly submit herself to all the temptations lurking beneath the ensnaring vanities of her Court attire. The “cilice”, however, did not, it seems, prove invulnerable as the aegis of Minerva, for the subtle shafts winged by homage and admiration pierced through that slight breast-plate to a heart which in truth was by nature framed to inspire and welcome both. The Princess de Conde rejoiced greatly at her daughter’s conversion to more reasonable views of mundane existence. The commencement of her noviciate was no longer thought of, and her visits to the Carmelites became sufficiently rare. But it was only a deferment of that calm vocation, it being Anne de Bourbon’s destiny to embrace it at the close of her feverish political career.

[2] Brought to the scaffold by Richelieu in 1632.

This era of her entrance into the great world was probably the happiest, the most joyous of the fair Bourbon’s life. Lofty distinction of birth, great personal beauty, and rare mental fascination, contributed to place her in the very foremost rank of the Court circle—in the “height of company”—conspicuous amongst lovely dames and distinguished men of the time. Her peerless loveliness at once meeting with universal recognition, “la belle Conde” was toasted with acclamation by courtiers, young and old—at Chantilly, at Liancourt, at the Louvre, and at the Hotel de Rambouillet. Contemporaries of either sex have rendered unanimous testimony to the varied and exceptional character of her attractions, and we will let a woman’s pen add to Petitot’s pencilling some of those delicate traits which neither the burin nor even the vivid tints of the enamel have the power to convey.

“Her beauty,” says Mdme. de Motteville, “consisted more in the brilliance of her complexion”—(”it had the blush of the pearl,” writes another contemporary)—”than in perfection of feature. Her eyes were not large, but bright, and finely cut, and of a blue so lovely it resembled that of the turquoise. The poets could only apply the trite comparison of lilies and roses to the carnation which mantled on her cheek, whilst her fair, silken, luxuriant tresses, and the peculiar limpidity of her glance, added to many other charms, made her more like an angel—so far as our imperfect nature allows of our imagining such a being—than a mere woman.” Somewhat later, the smallpox, in robbing her of the bloom of her beauty, still left her all its brilliancy, to repeat the remark of that eminent connoisseur of female loveliness, Cardinal de Retz.

To sum up the general opinion of her contemporaries: Mdlle. de Bourbon rather charmed by the very peculiar style of her countenance than by its linear regularity. One of her greatest fascinations lay in an indescribable languor, both of mind and manner—”a languor interrupted at intervals,” says De Retz, “by a sort of luminous awakenings, as surprising as they were delightful. This physical and intellectual indolence presented later in life a piquant contrast to her then”—according to Mdme. de Motteville—”somewhat too passionate temperament.” She was of good height, and altogether of an admirable form. It is evident also, from the authentic portraits of her still extant, that she had that kind of attraction so much prized during the seventeenth century, and which, with beautiful hands, had made the reputation of Anne of Austria. In speech, we are told, she was very gentle. Her gestures, with the expression of her countenance, and the sound of her voice, produced the most perfect music. But her peculiar charm consisted in a graceful ease—a languor, as all her contemporaries expressed it—which would quickly change to the highest degree of animation when stirred by emotion, but which usually gave her an air of indolence and aristocratic “nonchalance”, sometimes mistaken for “ennui”, sometimes for disdain.

Crediting the unvarying testimony of these and other of her contemporaries, the daughter of Bourbon-Conde must have been at least as beautiful as her mother—endowed, indeed, with almost every attribute and feature of female loveliness.

“Beauty,” remarks a philosophic panegyrist of physical perfection, “extends its prestige to posterity itself, and attaches a charm for centuries to the name alone of the privileged creatures upon whom it has pleased heaven to bestow it.” Beauty has also its epochs. It does not belong to all men and to all ages to enjoy it in its exquisite perfection. As there are fashions which spoil it, so there are periods which affect its sentiment. For instance, it belonged to the eighteenth century to invent “pretty” women—charming dolls—all powder, patches, and perfume, affecting the attractions which they did not possess under their vast hoops and great furbelows. Let us venture to say that the foundation of true beauty, as of true virtue, as of true genius, is strength. Shed over this strength the vivifying rays of elegance, grace, delicacy, and you have beauty. Its perfect type is the Venus of Milo,[3] or again, that pure and mysterious apparition, goddess or mortal, which is called Psyche, or the Venus of Naples.[4] Beauty is certainly to be seen in the Venus de’ Medici, but in that type we feel that it is declining, or about to decline. Look at, not the women of Titian, but the virgins of Raphael and Leonardo: the face is of infinite delicacy, but the body evinces strength. These forms ought to disgust one for ever with the shadows and monkeys “a la Pompadour”. Let us adore grace, but not separate it in everything too much from strength, for without strength grace soon shares the fate of the flower that is separated from the stem which vitalizes and sustains it.

[3] Quatremere de Quincy, Dissertation upon the Antique Statue of Venus Discovered in the Island of Milo. 1836.
[4] Millingen: Ancient Inedited Monuments. Fol. 1826.

What a train of accomplished women this seventeenth century presents to us! They were not all politicians. Women who were loaded with admiration, drawing after them all hearts, and spreading from rank to rank that worship of beauty which throughout Europe received the name of French gallantry. In France they accompany this great century in its too rapid course; they mark its principal epochs, beginning with Charlotte de Montmorency and ending with Mdme. de Montespan. The Duchess de Longueville has perhaps the most prominent place in that dazzling gallery of lovely women, having all the characteristics of true beauty, and joining to it a charm exclusively her own.

In early girlhood she had been taken, along with her elder brother, the Duke d’Enghien, to the Hotel de Rambouillet; and the “salons” of the Rue St. Thomas du Louvre were probably the most fitting school for such a mind as hers, in which grandeur and finesse were almost equally blended—a grandeur allied to the romantic, and associated with a finesse frequently merging into subtilty, as indeed may be discerned in Corneille himself, the most perfect mental representative of that period.

To follow step by step the course of Anne de Bourbon’s life at this period of it through all its earliest rivalries, would involve the task of recording the manifold caprices of a tender, yet ambitious nature, in which the mind and heart were unceasingly dupes of each other. It would be like an attempt to follow the devious path of the light foam and laughing sparkle of the billow—

“In vento et rapida scribere oportet aqua.”

Our purpose lies mainly with her political life, but ere entering upon it we will give a short but comprehensive view of her character in the words of one who, more than anybody else, had the means of judging her correctly—La Rochefoucauld. “This Princess,” writes the Duke, “possessed all the charms of mind, united to personal beauty, to so high a degree, that it seemed as though nature had taken pleasure in forming in her person a perfectly finished work. But those fine qualities were rendered less brilliant through a blemish rarely seen in one so highly endowed, which was that, far from giving the law to those who had a particular admiration for her, she transfused herself so thoroughly into their sentiments that she no longer recognised her own.”

Now La Rochefoucauld should have been the last person to complain of that defect, since he was the first to foster it in the Duchess. In her bosom love awoke ambition, but the awakening was so sudden, in fact, that any difference in the two passions was never perceptible.

Singular contradiction! The more we contemplate the political bias of Madame de Longueville the more it becomes mingled with her amorous caprice; but when we analyse her love more narrowly (and later on in life she herself made the avowal), it appears nothing else than ambition travestied—a desire to shine only the more magnificently brilliant.

Her character, then, was entirely wanting in consistency, in self-will; and her mind, be it observed, however brilliant and acute, had nothing that was calculated to counterbalance that defect of character. One may possess the faculty of right perception without strength of mind to do that which is right. One may be rational in mind and the contrary in conduct—character being at fault between the two. But here the case was different. Madame de Longueville’s mind was not, above all else, rational; it was acute, prompt, subtle, witty by turns, and readily responsive to the varying humour of the moment. It shone voluntarily in contradiction and subterfuge, ere exhausting itself finally in scruples. There was much of the Hotel de Rambouillet in such a mind as hers.

“The mind in the majority of women serves rather to confirm their folly than their reason.” So says the author of the “Maxims;” and Madame de Longueville, with all her metamorphoses, was undoubtedly present before him when he penned the sentence. For she, the most feminine of her sex, would offer to him the completest epitome of all the rest. In short, evidently as he has made his observations upon her, she also seems to have drawn her conclusions from him. So the agreement is perfect.
Adapted From Political Women by Sutherland Menzies
I have a graduate degree in history and I love history in all it’s forms–especially women’s history. A graduate degree in women’s studies was not an option at the university where I received my MA in History so I had to make do with a more generalized degree. However, in every class I made up for the lack by researching the condition of women in each age that I studied. I have always been fascinated by women’s history, so I thought I would start sharing some of the lost treasures that I uncover. I believe that most people have curious minds and like glimpses of how the world was, and how things were perceived in the past. I firmly believe in the idea that we must remember history in order to learn from it, grow and hopefully cut down on the number of stupid mistakes that random impulse and intellectual curiosity and greed and a thousand other human motivators lead us to make.
Smiles and Good Fortune,
Teresa Thomas Bohannon

It is not wealth one asks for, but just enough to preserve one’s dignity, to work unhampered, to be generous, frank and independent.
– W. Somerset Maugham (1874 - 1965) Of Human Bondage, 1915

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