17th century Flemish and Dutch paintings

Unidentified French painter, last quarter of the 16th century, SOLD
Portrait of François de Bourbon, Prince de Conti
Oil on canvas : 63,6 X 50,0 cm
Circa 1590
Frame : 88,6 X 75,6 cm

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In short
Our portrait represents François de Bourbon (1558 – 1614), Prince of Conti, one of the highest noblemen of France: a ‘prince of the blood’ (male heir of a king) and a member (since 1579), of the highest French order, the Order of Saint Esprit, which he proudly carries here.
Judging by the lace collar this portrait dates from around 1590.  
François de Bourbon lived during the French Wars of Religion, which opposed Catholics and Protestants, represented by the noble Houses of Guise and Bourbon. While his father (who died in 1569) had been a champion of the Protestant cause, François the Bourbon supported the new Protestant leader, his nephew, King Henry of Navarre, in becoming King of France (as Henry IV).
The French Wars of Religion, the political background
François de Bourbon lived during the terrible French Wars of Religion, which were fought between 1562 and 1598. These opposed not only Roman Catholics and Huguenots (Calvinist Protestants), but also the most important noble families of France: the House of Guise and the House of Bourbon-Condé fought for power and indirectly for the throne of France.
Following the death of King Henry II in 1559 he was succeeded shortly (during one and a half year) by his son François II; his widow Queen Catherine de’ Medici acted as regent. 
François II was succeeded by his brother, Charles IX, who publically tried to reconcile Catholics and Protestants by marrying in 1572 his sister to the Protestant champion King Henry of Navarre, who was a French ‘Prince du Sang’ (‘Prince of Blood’, being a descendant of King Louis IX, ‘Saint Louis’). Henry of Navarre had been baptized as a baby, so he was Catholic, his parents had quarrelled about his religious education and following his father’s death (1555) he had turned Protestant. 
Secretly, under the influence of his extremely Catholic mother, King Charles IX ordered the massacre of all Huguenot (Protestant) leaders five days after the marriage in Paris: Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre (le Massacre de la Saint-Barthélemy). King Henry IV of Navarre was forced to become Catholic (again) and from 1574 he was held prisoner at the French court. King Charles IX died two years later at the age of 23 of tuberculosis, psychologically wrecked by the murders.
The fourth son of King Henry II, Henry III, was installed in February 1575 as the new King of France. This last king of the House of Valois (all had been Catholics) had a certain sympathy for the Protestant cause. His youngest brother and heir, François, Duke of Alençon, openly favoured the Protestants, chose their side and joined Henry of Navarre (who had fled Paris and who had abjured Catholicism) and his troops against his brother, the King of France. Without a single battle being fought they forced the Edict of Beaulieu upon the French King, which favoured the Protestants. 
When François died in 1584 King Henry of Navarre became the heir of the throne of France, of King Henry III who accepted him as such. This initiated the War of the Three Henries, for a third Henry, Henry I, Duke of Guise, created the Catholic League against Henry of Navarre. The Duke of Guise and Queen Catherine de’ Medici forced Henry III to fight against his successor Henry of Navarre. In December 1589 the French King had the Duke of Guise assassinated and a few days later his mother, the Queen, passes away a natural death. The Catholic League and almost all of France rose against the King who joined his heir, the King of Navarre. While both kings are besieging Paris, King Henry III of France was killed by a monk in 1589.
Henry, King of Navarre, thus became the new King of France, as Henry IV. He was only accepted by his subjects after he permanently renounced Protestantism and converted, yet again, to Catholicism four years later in 1593. He was said to have declared that ‘Paris is well worth a mass’ (‘Paris vaut bien une messe’). He was the first French king of the House of Bourbon. Five years later, in 1598, the Edict of Nantes, granting religious liberties to the Protestants, ended the Wars of Religion. He was not popular at all, but France and history sees him as a great king. There were at least 12 assassination attempts against him and he was killed by a Catholic fanatic in 1610.
About François de Bourbon, Prince de Conti
French prince
La Ferté-sous-Jouarre (Île-de-France) 1558 – 1614 Paris
François was born into a very important Protestant family. He was the third son of Louis I de Bourbon (1530 – 1569), who became Prince of Condé in 1557. Louis had 8 children with his first wife and three with his second. 
Louis’ elder brother, Antoine, married the Queen of Navarre and was the father of Henry of Navarre, who was to become King Henry IV of France.
Louis had actively participated in the Wars of Religion as its chief Protestant general:
- in 1560 he is said to have been involved in the Conspiracy of Amboise, aimed at abducting the young, adolescent King François II;
- in April 1562 his Huguenot army captured Orléans;
- in 1563 he negotiated the Peace of Amboise with the Catholic party;
- he was killed after the Battle of Jarnac (near Cognac) in 1569. Louis had surrendered at the end of the battle, but was killed afterwards and his body was paraded on a donkey in the town of Jarnac (accidentally the birthplace of President François Mitterrand).
Louis’ eldest son, brother of our François, was Henri de Bourbon (1552 – 1588), who inherited the title of Prince of Condé. He was also a Huguenot general.
After his father’s death he served together with Henry of Navarre as a page to Admiral de Coligny, whose murder initiated Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in 1672. Henri died at an early age in 1588, just before his 36th birthday.
Our François de Bourbon lost his mother at the age of six and his father at the age of eleven. Following the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of 1672 he was converted to Catholicism together with his mother-in-law. King Henri III realised the importance of having this ‘prince du sang’  (prince of the blood, being a male descendant of King Louis IX) with him at his court:
- he made him a member of the Order of Saint-Esprit in 1579;
- he made him Marquis and later Prince of Conti.
François seems only to have started taking part in the Wars of Religion in 1587, when he left the King’s court and joined his nephew, King Henry of Navarre, against the Catholic League and against Henry, Duke of Guise, whom he did not trust. Much later, in 1605, François married one of his daughters.
François supported Henry of Navarre in becoming King of France, after the murder of the French King, Henry III in 1589. In fact our François de Bourbon had been second in line to succeed to King Henry III. In 1590 he participated at the Battle of Ivry, which was won by King Henry IV.
François married twice: in 1581 and in 1605. His second wife was a daughter of the infamous Henry I, Duke of Guise, nicknamed ‘Scarface’ (le Balafré), the great Catholic hero:
- he is suspected of having murdered Admiral Coligny in 1572, a murder that initiated the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre;
- he created the Catholic League in 1576;
- he was assassinated by order of King Henry III at the end of 1588.
When François married Louise-Marguerite de Lorraine (1588 – 1631), the daughter of ‘Scarface’, he was 47 and already deaf and mute, she was 17. King Henry IV, then aged 52, had in fact (justly) hoped to make her his mistress.
Why should you buy this painting?
Because to my knowledge this is the only painted portrait of François de Bourbon, first Prince of Conti.
Comparative paintings
Click photos for more details