The Poet's Princess

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Affairs and wiles

It’s a muggy day with a hot, hazy sun. Suffering from headache, Conti goes to bed. To distract himself, he summons his secretaries, Sarasin and Cosnac. He orders them to entertain him. When Cosnac leaves the room to look after his feverish friend Langlade, another of Conti’s men, Sarasin seizes this occasion to talk to the Prince about a most important and urgent matter: the Prince’s marriage with the niece of Mazarin. To arouse his master’s interest, the poet exploits the weakest point of Conti’s character: the envy. When the Prince starts to talk enthusiastically about the army career of Monsieur de Candale, the Commander-in-Chief, who may call himself lucky to have reached this most glorious post so young and admits that he would do anything to be at his place, Sarasin has a ready answer:

“It depends only on you, my Prince, to command the Army yourself,” the poets suggests breezily. “Rumour has it that the Duke de Candale is to be married to one of Mazarin’s nieces. Do as he does, my Prince, it’s as easy as a pie. Mazarin will feel like a cat that has swallowed the cream and nominate you General straight after. Just imagine yourself in full regalia! You’ll be irresistible, my Prince!”

“Oh I don’t know,” Conti minces, “just thinking about a marriage makes me weary. I’m so young and frail! And then, I’m not sure whether my dearest sister Anne would like it!”

“Don’t fret, my Prince, I’m sure the Duchess won’t take amiss a wee marriage of convenience. You and one of Mazarin’s nieces! That’s hardly a love match. Believe an experienced man, my Prince, there are no strings attached. A kiss at the altar is all that my wife has ever got from me.”

“Is that so? Well, in that case, I might give it a try. Though I can’t promise you anything before talking to my dearest sister. Now let me rest. You wore me out with your wile scheming. Stay where you are! Don’t even dream about sneaking away. Think up something amusing while I’m napping. Something droll and cheering!”

Seeing that he has not been rejected, Sarasin continues developing his plot and examining its advantages. As he is intelligent and has a marvellous gift of persuasion, not only does he make the Prince understand that he has to accept this marriage, but he convinces even himself that, by this means, he will earn a considerable amount of money and other benefits with it.

Firstly, he would become the Prince’s right hand, attend with him the States General and thus solve his financial difficulties. Secondly, he will be able to return to Paris and restart his literary career.

To ensure that things will turn out according to his scheming, Sarasin scares Conti warning him that he won’t find another way of returning to the Court and hence he will most certainly be obliged to leave France. The Prince replies that he has nothing against the marriage but doesn’t wish to be bothered with such a triviality.

Sarasin’s task would have been much simpler if Conti had stuck to his decision and didn’t interfere. From the very beginning, the poet’s mission is compromised by the Prince’s perfidy. According to Cosnac, Conti sabotaged Sarasin’s efforts and did all he could to prevent him from obtaining the position at the States General. Cosnac was so appalled by this perfidy that he openly criticised his master who “put so little frankness in his dealings with his servant who, by the way, has so many excellent qualities”.

Despite Conti’s treachery, Sarasin’s diplomatic exploits are crowned with success. He could not have made a better choice. In addition to her beauty, Mazarin’s favourite niece Anne de Martinozzi, has “a lot of candour in her humour, a lively mind and is highly educated.”

As for Conti, he never gets involved in “that affair”. With his usual arrogance and complacency, the Prince remarks that he doesn’t give a damn which one of the nieces he will get because he is not marrying a wench but the Cardinal.

I must not neglect to stress that Armand de Conti was far from being a desirable spouse for Anne de Martinozzi, worshipped by all, the King included. She was the very example of beauty, virtue and nobility of mind whereas Conti was a much-touted debaucher. To top his lack of manners, he tried his best not to let anybody in doubt as to the real reason of his marriage. Madame de Motteville, chambermaid and confidante to Anne of Austria, criticises Conti openly in her “Memoirs”:

“The Prince de Conti, finding himself in exile after the war, unwanted at the Court and having lost all his privileges, asks for the hand of Mademoiselle de Martinozzi, thus deeming himself lucky to become the nephew of the man whom he previously hated and despised to the point not to take the trouble of making his acquaintance.”

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