Louis Henri de Bourbon, Duke of Bourbon, Prince de Condé (Louis Henri Joseph; 18 August 1692 – 27 January 1740) was head of the Bourbon-Condé cadet branch of the France’s reigning House of Bourbon from 1710 to his death, and served as prime minister to his kinsman Louis XV from 1723 to 1726.
Despite succeeding as head of the House of Condé in 1709, he never used that name, preferring the title “Duke of Bourbon”, and was known at court as Monsieur le Duc. As a member of the reigning House of Bourbon, he was a prince du sang.
Louis Henri was born at Versailles, the eldest son of Louis III, Prince of Condé and Louise Françoise de Bourbon, the eldest legitimised daughter of Louis XIV and his maîtresse-en-titre, Madame de Montespan.
He was the great-grandson of Louis de Bourbon, le Grand Condé, and ranked as a prince du sang. Following the death one after the other of the heirs to the throne of France in the early 18th century (except for the duc d’Anjou, great-grandson of Louis XIV and future king as Louis XV) Bourbon was third in the order of succession to the throne, being preceded by the dauphin, Philippe, the 2nd duc d’Orléans who became regent, and the latter’s son, Louis d’Orléans, duc de Chartres. He was Louis XV’s prime minister from 1723 to 1726.
In September 1715, Philippe d’Orléans, who had just become regent for the 5-year-old king Louis XV, appointed the then 23-year-old duc de Bourbon to his first Regency Council, the highest consultative body in the French government during the king’s minority, equivalent to the Conseil d’en-haut), appointed by adult kings.
In 1718, he replaced Louis-Auguste de Bourbon, duc du Maine as superintendent of the king’s education. This happened at the Regency Council meeting of 26 August, at which Maine and the Louis-Alexandre de Bourbon, comte de Toulouse, legitimised sons (princes légitimés de France) of Louis XIV, were demoted in rank.The actual instruction of the young king was not much disturbed however, since it was mostly done by his old and trusted tutor, André-Hercule de Fleury, Bishop of Fréjus, who remained in place.
Many of the surviving descriptions of the duke’s personality are highly uncomplimentary. They fall under the general categories greed, bad manners, stupidity.vFor example, Barbier said he “had a very limited mind, knows nothing, and only likes pleasure and hunting.”He was described as pretending to like hunting to ingratiate himself with the king
The Regency ended when Louis XV reached the age of majority, thirteen, in February 1723. Cardinal Dubois, who had been the Regent’s premier ministre, remained in that capacity for the king. However, Dubois died in August 1723. Thereupon the former regent became the king’s premier ministre, until his own death the following 2 December. Bourbon rushed to see the king that very evening and requested the prime ministership. Cardinal de Fleury, who was present at the meeting, recommended acceptance, and Louis XV indicated his assent by a silent nod. Guizot says that Louis “sought in his perceptor’s [tutor’s] eyes the guidance he needed”. Gooch and Perkins also said that Fréjus acquiesced in the appointment. Jones, on the other hand, says that Fréjus was not there; also that after the meeting, in order to protect his own influence with the king, which was great, Fréjus got the king to agree never to hold discussions with Bourbon unless he too was present. This was an unusual, and for Bourbon, eventually an intolerable situation. Orléans had been able to see the king whenever he wanted. Within a few years Fréjus was able to assume control of the government himself.
One of the most notable achievements of the Duke’s premiership was the arrangement of the King’s marriage. The King had been betrothed to Mariana Victoria, the infanta of Spain, daughter of the Spanish king, in 1721, when she was just three years old, and the French king only eleven. By 1724, the king was fourteen but the infanta was still a decade away from child-bearing age. Some felt that this was too long for France to wait for an heir. This was especially so because, if Louis XV died without an heir, it was feared that, armed with a hereditary right he had renounced when he became king of Spain, Philip V de Bourbon would ignore the Treaty of Utrecht and claim the French throne, thus plunging France and Spain into conflict with the other European powers.
It appears that by the summer of 1724, the marquise de Prie, and possibly also Monsieur le Duc, were considering breaking Louis XV’s engagement with the infanta, despite the great offence this would cause Spain, and finding him a wife who might provide the country with an heir at an earlier date.
By, at latest, the winter of 1725, replacement of the infanta was being considered. Candidates included the Duke’s sisters, especially Mademoiselle de Vermandois. Mme de Prie was opposed to this choice because it would give the duchesse de Bourbon, Vermandois and the duke’s mother too much influence. The duchess and Mme de Prie did not like each other. Furthermore, Fréjus was opposed to Louis marrying anyone from the Bourbon-Condé branch of the royal family.
In April 1725, the seven-year-old infanta was sent back to Madrid — Louis did not even say goodbye to her. A new candidate was sought urgently because, should Louis die with no heir, and assuming Philippe V of Spain did not seize the throne, then it would pass to the new duc d’Orléans, son of the deceased regent; the House of Orléans and the House of Condé were rivals, so this would cast Monsieur le Duc into the political wastelands.
Prominent among these was a daughter of George I of England. The prize was offered to her if she would consent to become a Catholic.However that would have caused great difficulties for her father, as he was occupying the British throne mainly because he was Protestant, whereas his rival, James Stuart, was Catholic; he had to politely decline the offer of France to his daughter.
Another prominent contender was the grand duchess, later empress, Elizabeth of Russia. Others on the list included the Princess Anne Charlotte of Lorraine; a princess of Savoy who was Louis XV’s first cousin, and the Landgravine Caroline of Hesse-Rotenburg.
The choice finally made was the daughter of the deposed king of Poland. Her name was Marie Leszczyńska; her father, Stanislaus, had occupied the Polish throne from 1704 with the backing of Charles XII of Sweden. He lost it after five years because his sponsor was beaten by Peter the Great of Russia, at Poltava. Stanislaus had found refuge, first in Germany, then in France, where the regent had given him a house at Wissembourg in Alsace, a pension of fifty thousand livres, irregularly paid, and, as a sign of respect, a few regiments of soldiers as an honour guard; they, along with a handful of retainers who had followed the forsaken king in his wanderings, comprised his bare little court. “His property in Poland had been confiscated and his wife’s jewels pawned.”(Gooch)
Marie did not have a reputation for great beauty or intelligence, but she was not ugly, was healthy as well as kind, generous, and calm. She had already been thought of as a wife for the duc de Bourbon. Now he and Mme de Prie decided she would be ideal for the King. On 31 March 1725, the Council met and agreed that the offer would go to Marie Leczińska. On 27 May, the name of the Queen-to-be was made public.
The young duc d’Orléans stood in for the bridegroom during the marriage by procuration, which took place in the cathedral of Strasbourg, and was officiated by the Cardinal de Rohan, bishop of Strasbourg and Grand Almoner of France. The bride and groom were wed in person at Fontainebleau.
Bourbon remained prime minister until his dismissal in 1726 in favour of the young king’s tutor, Cardinal Fleury.
Saint-Simon, the memoir writer known for his acid portraits of grandees, described the Duke of Bourbon as a man with “an almost stupid foolishness, an indomitable obstinacy, an insatiable self-interest”. On the other hand, the Cardinal de Fleury said that he found in the Duke of Bourbon “goodness, probity, and honour” and that he considered himself one of the duke’s friends.
After his spell in the government, Bourbon was exiled to his country estate, the Château de Chantilly, 40 kilometers northeast of Paris. The château then underwent a sort of renaissance, being described as a “splendid residence.”. Bourbon redecorated the building as well as the grounds and entertained there when he could avoid hosting the Parisian set which had banished him. He died there, aged 47. The titles of the Bourbon-Condé family then passed to his 4-year-old son who was to hold the title of prince de Condé for more than seven decades.