This is a story about a country without king and a prince without kingdom. A country whose nobility from 1573 till 1764, in a spirit of the armed democracy, elected itself a king out of all the princes available, the princes without kingdom: on the day of election some sixty thousand noblemen would ride out to the plane of Wola near Warsaw and more or less fight it out. And so when in 1697 Jean Sobieski, the reigning king of Poland had died and his throne became available, the noblemen of Poland have decided to offer it to Prince Conti.
Who could be better? Prince Conti was the man who has distinguished himself at the Steinkerque, Mons, Nemur, and Philippsburg, the hero of the battle of Neerwinden and the siege of Luxembourg, the victor over the Turkish army at Gran. Louis XIV subsidized the prince’s expedition with two and a half million livres, and aboard the man-of-war commanded by Jean Bart our prince has sailed to Poland.
Long and dangerous was their journey across the hostile seas festered by the English fleet, but very safely they did cast anchor at the berth of Danzig and there from the bridge of the ship Prince Conti contemplated his kingdom: for forty days and nights the ponderous thought was churning in his head: to be or not to be, to rule or…. And then on the forty-second day our heroic prince, François Louis, without ever setting his foot on the soil of his kingdom, gave orders for the ship to take him back to France.
An enigma! Perhaps Frederic-August of Saxony, Prince Conti’s rival, had marched a good enough number of regiments to Warsaw to scare François Louis out of the adventure? Or should we do as the French historians recommend? For they always say in France, that when you cannot figure something out, look for a girl! Perhaps François Louis was in love? And what a scandal, the queen of his heart was a married woman — Mademoiselle de Blois, Princess de Conti, the wife of his elder brother, Armand Louis, and the daughter of Louis XIV! An old story. Nobody knows. And yet I often wonder, is it better to be a king in Warsaw or a prince in Versailles?