Henry I of Bourbon, Second Prince of Condé

Henry I, second prince of Condé (1552 – 1588), was Henry of Navarre’s cousin. He was a somewhat austere Protestant who, due to his noble birth, became a leader of the Protestant cause; indeed, he held the honourable position of Protector of the ‘Union of Provinces’. He did not, however, see eye to eye with his cousin Henry of Navarre – this was because he considered that the success of the Protestant cause was more important than the wellbeing of the Kingdom. Little is known about the circumstances of his death after being badly wounded at the battle of Coutras.

He was the head of a family with royal connections

  • Henri I de Bourbon, Prince de Condé (1552-1588) © S.H.P.F.

Henry of Bourbon, second prince of Condé, was born in 1552. He was the son of Louis de Bourbon and Eleanore de Roye; his cousin was Henry of Bourbon, who later became Henry IV and head of the Bourbon family.

In 1572 he married Marie of Cleves, who died in 1574 without having any sons. In 1586 he married Charlotte de la Frémaille, who came from a distinguished Protestant family in the North of France. She had three children, including a boy called Henry, but who died in childbirth.

Little is known about the exact circumstances of Henry of Condé’s death in 1588. He was wounded in the battle of Coutras and was just regaining his health when he suddenly died without any apparent reason. Probably one of his enemies poisoned him but who could it have been? Perhaps it was either a moderate Catholic or a Protestant who was irritated by his extreme views?  Finally the Princess of Condé was accused of the murder, together with her lover; she was arrested in her home in Saint-Jean-d’Angély.

La Maison de Bourbon et les rois de France © Musée virtuel du protestantisme

Henry was a Protestant leader

  • Louis Ier de Condé (1530-1569) © S.H.P.F.
  • Gaspard de Coligny (1519-1572) © S.H.P.F.
  • Battle of Jarnac (March 13th, 1569) © S.H.P.F.

Sadly, Henry of Condé did not inherit either his father’s charisma as a leader or his political talent. Above all things, he was a Protestant – his faith was dogmatic, austere and unyielding; in his eyes the success of the Protestant cause was all that mattered. What’s more, although he was nominally appointed head of the Protestants at the death of his father in 1569 (this became official in 1574) because Henry of Navarre had to remain at the royal court, he was soon replaced by Gaspard de Coligny a military leader and Henry of Bourbon Navarre, first prince of the blood, who both took on the leadership of the Protestant cause because of their strong personalities.

The Treaty of St Germain in 1570 brought the Third War of Religion to an end. Protestants were given a certain degree of religious freedom and some strongholds where they could be safe. Coligny was appointed as a member of the Royal Council and Marguerite de Valois, the king’s sister, became engaged to Henry of Navarre. This reduced even more the influence of the second prince of Condé over the Protestants.

The kingdom was at peace until 1572, when the St. Bartholemew massacre took place. In the court of the Louvre Palace, the Protestants were put to death, their military leaders were assassinated; Navarre and Condé survived but only at the cost of abjuring their Protestant faith and being coerced into Catholicism. Condé spent the next two years at court; during this period the religious wars  began again; he was with the king at the siege of La Rochelle.

At this time the Protestants in, the South established the Union of Provinces of the South of France. This structure sought to set up a State within a State  so as to organise its own finances and diplomacy.

The king’s younger brother led a public revolt against those in power

  • François de Valois, Duc d'Alençon, 1572
    François de Valois, Duc d'Alençon, 1572 © National Gallery of Art - Washington
  • Catherine de Médicis (1519-1589), reine de France
    Catherine de Médicis (1519-1589), queen of France © SHPF
  • The security places in 1579 © Musée Virtuel du Protestantisme

The younger brother of the king, the Duke of Alençon, led a revolt in 1574 against the leadership of Catherine de Medicis; it was called the conspiracy of Dissatisfied Subjects. It provided just the opportunity Condé had been waiting for to escape from France into Germany. He raised 20000 soldiers (Reiters) under the command of Prince Casimir of the Palatinate, who came to join the Protestant army in their fight against the royal troops. At the Assembly of Millau in July 1574 he was appointed leader and general of the Churches of France by the Protestant supporters.

Condé was one of the Protestant military leaders during the Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Religious Wars. He won renown for seizing the town of La Fère in 1579, although it was lost to the royal troops the following year and also Angers (1585) which was also lost a fortnight later, forcing Condé to flee to Guernsey.

In 1587, he accepted the authority of the King of Navarre, the Bourbon leader, and also his cousin. However, there were many violent disputes between them over the real reason for opposing the Crown. Condé only wanted to make Protestantism the official religion in France. However, the situation was different for Henry of Navarre, heir to the throne. It was more important for him to obtain peace in the kingdom and not necessarily a protestant supremacy. Sadly, this lack of unity weakened the Protestant army.

A forgotten prince

  • Agrippa d'Aubigné (1552-1630) © S.H.P.F.

Regretted by his contemporaries he shared their passion and he seduced them by the strength of his convictions.

Agrippa d’Aubigné said the second prince of Condé was a brave, determined and inflexible warrior but he was also narrow-minded, sometimes lacking in judgement and did not possess the King of Navarre’s unusual capacity to have an overall view of any given situation.


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    Associated notes

    • The Union of Provinces or the Huguenot State (1573-1577)

      The Protestants who lived in the South of France reacted to the St Bartholemew Massacre in 1572 by gathering together and founding an administrative community in 1573. This was called...
    • The eight wars of religion (1562-1598)

      In the 16th Century, France was to know a religious split : the great majority of the country remained faithful to Catholicism, whilst an important majority joined the Reformation. Coexistence of...
    • Protestant Strongholds

      In a predominantly Catholic France torn apart by the Wars of Religion (1562-1598), the Protestants were granted strongholds to ensure their security. The creation of these ‘strongholds’ enabled the organisation...
    • The Bourbons

      The Bourbons descended in direct line from Louis IX also called Saint Louis ; they were blood princes. They had precedence over all the other noble men in the Kingdom and...
    • Gaspard de Coligny (1519-1572)

      Gaspard de Coligny born in the influential Châtillon family, was naturally at the service of the King of France. However, after being made prisoner at the siege of Saint Quentin,...
    • St. Bartholomew's Day (24th August 1572)

      Charles IX had tried to reconcile the two religious parties, but when this failed, he was driven by the Guise family to authorize the Catholics to assassinate the Protestant leaders; the situation...
    • Fifth war of Religion (1574-1576)

      11 July 1573: Edict of Boulogne December 1573: the Millau Assembly set up “Unity of Protestants in the Midi”, Henri de Condé was appointed protector February 1574: Protestant uprisings in...
    • Third war of religion (1568-1570)

      23 March 1568           Edict of Longjumeau May 1568                   Chancelor Michel de l’Hospital dismissed. Repressive measures in the                                                            Netherlands. The French civil war spread abroad. First self-defense Catholic leagues....
    • Seventh war of Religion (1579-1580)

      17 September 1577: Edict of Poitiers Autumn 1578: Catherine de Medici’s trip to the South-West 28 February 1579: Treaty of Nérac 29 November 1579: Henri de Condé took La Fère...