Madame du Barry

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Jeanne Bécu, comtesse du Barry
Madame Dubarry1.jpg
Madame du Barry by Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, 1781
Born (1743-08-19)19 August 1743
Vaucouleurs, France
Died 8 December 1793(1793-12-08) (aged 50)
Paris, France
Occupation Maîtresse-en-titre to Louis XV
Spouse(s) Comte Guillaume du Barry
Parents Anne Bécu and possibly Jean Baptiste Gormand de Vaubernier

Jeanne Bécu, comtesse du Barry (19 August 1743 – 8 December 1793) was the last Maîtresse-en-titre of Louis XV of France and one of the victims of the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution.[1][2]

Early life[edit]

Madame du Barry by Auguste de Creuse

Jeanne Bécu was born at Vaucouleurs, in the present-day Meuse department in Lorraine, France, as the illegitimate daughter of Anne Bécu, a woman of enticing beauty,[3] whose occupation was a seamstress. Jeanne's father was possibly Jean Baptiste Gormand de Vaubernier, a friar known as frère Ange. During her childhood, one of her mother's acquaintances (possibly briefly a lover), Monsieur Billiard-Dumonceaux, and possibly father of Jeanne's half- brother Claude (who died in infancy when only ten months old) took both Anne and three-year-old Jeanne into his care when they traveled from Vaucouleurs to Paris and installed Anne as a cook in his Italian mistress' household. Little Jeanette was well liked by Dumonceaux's mistress Francesca (known in French as Madame or La Frédérique), who pampered her in all luxury. Dumonceaux funded Jeanette's education at the Couvent (convent) de Saint-Aure.[4]

A portrait of Madame du Barry by Francois-Hubert Drouais

At the age of fifteen Jeanne left the convent as she had "come of age". For some reason - possibly due either to La Frédérique's jealousy of the former's beauty or because Dumonceaux's passion for Anne revived - both mother and daughter were thrown out. They then moved into the very small household of Anne's husband, Nicolas Rançon. Jeanne had to find some sort of income to help herself live, and thus traveled the dingy streets of Paris carrying a box full of trinkets for sale. Over time she worked at different occupations; she was first offered a post as assistant to a young hairdresser named Lametz; Jeanne had a brief relationship with him that may have produced a daughter, although it is highly improbable.[5] On the instigation of a Gomard (possibly the brother of her supposed father), Jeanne was then employed as a companion (dame de compagnie) to an elderly widow, Madame de la Garde, but was sent away when her youth and beauty began to meddle in the marital affairs of both la Garde's two sons. Later, Jeanne worked as a milliner's assistant (known as a grisette) in a haberdashery shop named 'À la Toilette', owned by Madame Labille, and run by her husband. Labille's daughter, the future famed painter Adélaïde Labille-Guiard, became a good friend of Jeanne.

As reflected in art from the time, Jeanne was a remarkably attractive blonde woman with thick golden ringlets and almond-shaped blue eyes. Her beauty came to the attention of Jean-Baptiste du Barry, a high-class pimp/procurer[6] nicknamed le roué. Du Barry owned a casino, and Jeanne came to his attention in 1763 when she was entertaining in Madame Quisnoy's brothel-casino.[7] She introduced herself as Jeanne Vaubernier. Du Barry installed her in his household and made her his mistress. Giving her the appellation of Mademoiselle Lange, Du Barry helped establish Jeanne's career as a courtesan in the highest circles of Parisian society; this enabled her to take several aristocratic men as brief lovers or clients.[8]

Life as a courtesan and official mistress of Louis XV[edit]

Madame du Barry, by François-Hubert Drouais
Madame du Barry, by Élisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun, (posthumous, between 1789 and 1805).

As Mademoiselle Lange, Jeanne immediately became a sensation in Paris, building up a large aristocratic clientele. She had many lovers from the king's ministers to his courtiers.[9] The dashing yet old Maréchal de Richelieu became one of her recurring lovers. Because of this, Jean du Barry saw her as a means of influence over Louis XV, who became aware of her in 1768 while she was on an errand at Versailles. The errand involved the duc de Choiseul, Minister of Foreign Affairs, who found her rather ordinary, in contrast to what most other men thought of her. In any case, Jeanne could not qualify as a maîtresse-en-titre unless she had a title; this was solved by her marriage on 1 September 1768 to du Barry's brother, Comte Guillaume du Barry. The marriage ceremony included a false birth certificate created by Jean du Barry himself, making Jeanne younger by three years and of fictitious noble descent.[10]

Jeanne was now installed above the King's quarters in Lebel's former rooms. She lived a lonely life, unable to be seen with the King since no formal presentation had taken place as yet. Very few if any of the nobility at court deigned to become acquainted with her, for none could accept the fact that a woman of the street had the audacity to mingle with those above her station and thrive in trying to become like them. Comte du Barry constantly pestered Jeanne and urged her to speak of presentation with the king. Louis XV, in turn, asked her to find a proper sponsor to be able to have one. Richelieu took responsibility of doing so, and after those women approached asked too high a price to take the role, her official sponsor, Madame de Béarn, was found after having been granted that all her huge crippling gambling debts be paid off. On the first occasion when the presentation was to take place, de Béarn was panicked by fear and feigned a sprained ankle. On a second occasion, the king was badly hurt when he fell of his horse during a hunt and broke his arm. Finally, Jeanne was presented to the Court at Versailles on 22 April 1769; an occasion which was long awaited for by the gathering crowds outside the palace gates, and by the gossiping courtiers within the Hall of Mirrors. Jeanne was described as wearing a queenly silvery white gown brocaded with gold, bedecked in jewels sent by the king the night before, and with huge panniers at the sides. The dress had been specifically ordered by Richelieu especially for Jeanne; many courtiers claimed that its like had never been seen before. Her hairdo was also noticeably spectacular, being the cause of her late arrival.

Jeanne first befriended Claire Françoise, better known as 'Chon', brought from Languedoc by her brother Jean du Barry to accompany her then-friendless sister-in-law, being also a means of companionship and tutor in helping Jeanne let go of her peasant past and take a more court-like demeanour. Later on, she also befriended the Maréchale de Mirepoix. Other women of nobility were bribed into forming her entourage.

Jean-Michel Moreau the Younger, Fête donnée à Louveciennes le 2 septembre 1771, Musée du Louvre, Paris.

Jeanne quickly accustomed herself to living in luxury (to which she had already been introduced whilst living with Dumonceaux), having also been given a young African boy by Louis XV, Zamor, whom she dressed in elegant clothing to show him off. According to Stanley Loomis’ biography ‘Du Barry’, Jeanne’s everyday routine began at 9am, when Zamor would bring her morning cup of chocolate. Later she would be dressed in a fine gown of choice and dressed in her jewellery. Accordingly, either hairdresser Nokelle for special occasions, or Berline for everyday styles, would come to do her hair in powders and curls. She would then receive friends, dressmakers, jewellers and artists showing off their new stock hoping she would be interested in buying something of their offers. She was indeed extravagant, but her good nature was not spoiled. When the old Comte and Comtesse de Lousene were forcibly evicted from their château due to heavy debts, they were sentenced to beheading because the Comtesse had shot dead a bailiff and a police officer while resisting.[11] To their great fortune, they were good friends with Madame de Béarn, who told Jeanne of their situation. Though warned by Richelieu of her possible failure, she asked the king to pardon them, refusing to rise from her kneeling posture if he did not accept her request. Louis XV was astounded and his heart thawed, saying, "Madame, I am delighted that the first favour you should ask of me should be an act of mercy!".[12] A second similar act happened when Jeanne was visited by a certain Monsieur Mandeville who asked pardon in the name of a young girl condemned to the gallows convicted of infanticide for giving birth to a still-born and not informing the authorities. Jeanne wrote a letter to the Chancellor of France, who granted the pardon.

Jeanne was a tremendous triumph. She now wore extravagant gowns of great proportions both in creation and cost, exhausting the treasury all the more.[13] With diamonds covering her delicate neck and ears, she was now the king's maîtresse déclarée. Due to her new position at Court, she made both friends and enemies. Her most bitter rival was the Duchesse de Grammont, Choiseul's sister, who had in vain tried her best to acquire the place of the late Marquise de Pompadour, and according to Diane Adélaïde de Mailly, Béatrix de Grammont would have disdained the comtesse no matter what.[14] She had since the very beginning plotted with her brother for the removal of Jeanne, even going to the extent of slandering her name as well as the king’s on gutter pamphlets.

In time Jeanne became acquainted with the Duc d’ Aiguillon, nephew of Richelieu, who sided with her against the opposing Duc de Choiseul. As Jeanne’s power in court grew stronger, Choiseul began feeling his was waning, and against the king’s wishes after the terrible Seven Years' War incident, he decided France was capable of war again and sided with the Spanish against the British for possession of the Falkland Islands. When this plot came to light to the du Barry clan, the mistress exposed all to the king and, on Christmas Eve of 1771, Choiseul was dismissed of his ministerial role and from court, ordering him to exile himself to his Chanteloup property along with his wife and sister.

Jeanne’s golden age had finally truly arrived. She was rid of Choiseul and Grammont, comte Jean du Barry was dealt with and her family had the benefits they deserved as relations to the mistress. Her mother, Anne, was now Marquise de Montrabé, residing in a luxurious apartment in the Couvent (convent) de Sainte-Elisabeth. While Jeanne was part of the faction that brought down the duc de Choiseul,[15] she was unlike her late predecessor, Madame de Pompadour, in that she had little interest in politics,[16] preferring rather to pass her time ordering new ravishing gowns and all sorts of complementary jewellery. However, the king went so far as to let her participate in state councils.[17] A note in a modern edition of the Souvenirs of Mme. Campan recalls a pleasant anecdote: the king said to the duc de Noailles, that with Madame du Barry he had discovered new pleasures; "Sire" - answered the duke - "that's because your Majesty has never been in a brothel."[18] While Jeanne was known for her good nature and support of artists, she grew increasingly unpopular because of the king's financial extravagance towards her. She was forever in debt despite her huge monthly income from the king-at one point three hundred thousand livres.[19]

Relationship with Marie Antoinette[edit]

Her relationship with Marie Antoinette, who was married to the Dauphin of France, was contentious. The first meeting of the two was during a family supper at the Château of La Muette on the 15th of May 1770, a day before the great wedding. Jeanne had only been official mistress a little over a year, and many thought she would not be included in the list of guests for the occasion. It ended up being otherwise to the disgust of most of those present. Marie Antoinette noticed Jeanne, who stood out from the rest of the crowd with her attractive extravagant appearance and a high talkative voice. The Comtesse de Noailles informed the inquisitive Austrian Archduchess that the role of that woman was to give pleasure to the king, and the innocent 14 year-old added that she would thus be her rival at such a role. The Comte de Provence soon after divulged the true nature of such pleasure, causing instant hatred in Antoinette towards Du Barry for such immorality. This rivalry kept on for quite some time, especially since also the dauphine supported Choiseul as the proponent of the alliance with Austria. Antoinette defied court protocol by refusing to speak to Mme. du Barry, owing not only to her disapproval of the latter's background, but also after hearing from the Comte de Provence of Du Barry's amused reaction to a story told by the Prince de Rohan during one of her dinner parties, in which Marie Antoinette's mother, Maria Theresa, was slandered, adding therefore yet another foe to her list.[20] Madame du Barry furiously complained to the king, who in turn complained to the Austrian ambassador Mercy, who in turn did his best in convincing Antoinette to ease her ways. Eventually, during a ball on New Year's Day 1772, Marie Antoinette spoke somewhat indirectly to Du Barry the words "There are many people at Versailles today.",[21] giving her the option to take or leave, for they were tossed in her direction.

The Diamond Necklace[edit]

The diamond necklace commissioned by Louis XV for Madame du Barry

In 1772, the infatuated Louis XV requested that Parisian jewellers Boehmer and Bassenge create an elaborate and spectacular jeweled necklace for du Barry, one that would surpass all known others in grandeur, at an estimated cost of two million livres.[22] The necklace, still not completed nor paid for when Louis XV died, would eventually trigger a scandal involving Jeanne de la Motte-Valois, in which Queen Marie Antoinette[23] would be wrongly accused of bribing the Cardinal de Rohan, Archbishop of Strasbourg in the Alsace, to purchase it for her, accusations which would figure prominently in the onset of the French Revolution.[24]

Death of Louis XV and exile[edit]

In time, the king started to show his age by constantly thinking of death and repentance, even missing appointments in Jeanne's boudoir.[25] During a stay at the Petit Trianon with her, Louis XV felt the first symptoms of smallpox. He was brought back to the palace at night and put to bed, where his three daughters and Madame du Barry stayed beside him for surveillance. 4 May 1774, the king suggested to Madame du Barry that she leave Versailles, both to protect her from infection and to prepare for confession and receiving last rites.[26] She was relieved of her duties by Doctor Lemonnier and immediately retired to Aiguillon’s estate near Rueil as were his wishes. Following the death of Louis XV, hence Marie Antoinette’s ascension to the throne and becoming queen of all France, Jeanne was quickly exiled to the Abbey du Pont-aux-Dames near Meaux-en-Brie.[27] She was not met too warmly by the nuns at first, knowing that in their midst they had the thirty one year old former royal mistress, but soon enough they grew accustomed to her timid ways and opened up to her, most of all the Abbess Madame de la Roche-Fontenelle.

Life after Louis XV[edit]

A year after her imprisonment she was granted permission to visit the surrounding countryside on condition she returned and slept behind the abbey’s walls at sundown. A month later, in June, she was given permission to leave the abbey but not to venture closer than ten miles of Versailles, thus cancelling out the idea of going to her beloved Château de Louveciennes. Hence she managed to purchase property belonging to the family of the wife of Madame de la Garde’s younger son from back when she was a teenager. Two years later, she moved to the Louveciennes.[28] In the following years, she had a liaison with Louis Hercule Timolon de Cossé, Duke of Brissac.[29] She later also fell in love with Henry Seymour (of Redland),[30] whom she met when he moved with his family to the neighbourhood of the Château. In time, Seymour became fed up with his secret love affair and sent a painting to Jeanne with the words 'leave me alone' written in English at the bottom, which the painter Lemoyne copied in 1796. The duc de Brissac proved the more faithful in this ménage-a-trois, having kept Jeanne in his heart even though he knew of her affair with Seymour. During the French Revolution, Brissac was captured while visiting Paris, and was slaughtered by a mob. Late one night, Jeanne heard the sound of a small drunken crowd approaching the Château, and into the opened window where she looked out someone threw a blood-stained cloth. To Jeanne's horror, it contained Brissac's head, at which sight she fainted.

Imprisonment, trial and execution[edit]

Madame du Barry being taken away to the scaffold, by Tighe Hopkins, The Dungeons of Old Paris, 1897.

In 1792, Madame du Barry was suspected of financially assisting émigrés who had fled the French Revolution and in the following year she was finally arrested. When the Revolutionary Tribunal of Paris accused her of treason and condemned her to death, she vainly attempted to save herself by revealing the hiding places of the gems she had hidden.[31]

Zamor, along with another member of du Barry’s domestic staff, joined the Jacobin club. He became a follower of the revolutionary Grieve and then an office-bearer in the Committee of Public Safety. Du Barry found out and questioned Zamor about his connections with Grieve. He was given three days’ notice to quit her service. This Zamor did without hesitation, and denounced his mistress to the Committee. During the trial, he gave Chittagong as his birthplace. His testimony sent the Comtesse to the guillotine, along with many of her ilk.

On 8 December 1793, Madame du Barry was beheaded by means of the guillotine on the Place de la Révolution (nowadays, Place de la Concorde). On the way to the guillotine, she collapsed in the tumbrel and cried "You are going to hurt me! Why?!" Terrified, she screamed for mercy and begged the indifferent crowd for help. Her last words to the executioner were: "One more moment, Mr. Executioner, I beg you!". Her corpse was disposed of in the Madeleine Cemetery, where many victims of the Terror—including Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette—had also been buried.[32]

Although her French estate went to the Tribunal de Paris, the jewels she had smuggled out of France to England were sold by auction at Christie's in London in 1795. Colonel Johann Keglevich, the brother of Major General Stephan Bernhard Keglevich, took part in the Battle of Mainz in 1795 with Hessian mercenaries who were financed by the British Empire with the money from this sale.

In popular culture[edit]

  • Her famous last words ("Encore un moment!") serve as a symbol of existential angst when they are raised as a topic of conversation on at least two separate occasions in Fyodor Dostoevsky's 1869 novel, The Idiot.
  • A short two-page comic strip La Rue perdue ("The lost street") was published in 1978, featuring Gil Jourdan, a detective series created by Maurice Tillieux. Set in 1953 it has Jourdan trying to find out why a fake guillotine blade is hanging outside the door of a black African friend. The one responsible turns out to be a man obsessed with du Barry and taking his anger at her death out on Jourdan's friend who looks like Zamor, the man whose actions led to her execution. The action is set in Rue Maître Albert (Maître Albert Street).

In music[edit]

  • The comtesse du Barry is the subject of an operetta entitled Gräfin Dubarry (1879) by Karl Millöcker.
  • She was also the subject of a musical by Cole Porter titled DuBarry Was a Lady, featuring Ethel Merman in two roles, a nightclub singer named May Daley, and Madame Dubarry. Bert Lahr co-starred as a washroom attendant in the nightclub who dreams he is Louis XV. The 1943 movie version starred Lucille Ball in the title role, with co-stars Red Skelton and Gene Kelly.
  • She is mentioned in the introduction to Lydia the Tattooed Lady, made famous by Groucho Marx.
  • She is mentioned in the song "Personality" in the Bob Hope-Bing Crosby movie The Road to Utopia.

Jeff Simmons-Madame Du Barry From the album "Lucille Has Messed My Mind Up" (1970)

In film[edit]

She was portrayed by:

  • Madame du Barry also appears in the famous anime and manga series The Rose of Versailles as a villainous, scheming enemy of Marie Antoinette; her struggles with the young princess are a major concern of the story in its early stages, though portrayed as evil and cruel-hearted.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ A King's favourite, Madame du Barry, and her times from hitherto unpublished documents by Claude Saint-André with an introduction by Pierre de Nolhac and 17 illustrations, New York, Mc Bride, Nast & Company, 1915, p. 3 (a translation from the French publication by Tallandier, Paris, 1909.)
  2. ^ Michel Antoine, Louis XV, Librairie Arthème Fayard, Paris, 1989, p. 887.
  3. ^ Haslip, Joan, Madame du Barry: The Wages of Beauty, Grove Weidenfeld, New York, 1992.
  4. ^ Haslip, p. 3.
  5. ^ Haslip, p. 6.
  6. ^ Haslip, p. 13.
  7. ^ Stoeckl, Agnes de, Mistress of Versailles: the Life of Madame du Barry, John Murray, London, 1966, p. 23.
  8. ^ Haslip, p. 16: such reference is made in the sentence that Jeanne was a talented courtesan, whom sometimes '(Jean) du Barry regretted when necessity forced him to merchandise what he would willingly have kept for himself', obviously indicating that Jeanne (who was well aware her beauty and sexual charms) was a very good means whereby he could climb the ladder of success. She is referred to many times in many books as a courtesan, which in common language means a high-class prostitute (though by no means should one think that she was a common soliciting streetwalker)
  9. ^ Herman, An Indecent Pitch of Luxury as to Insult the Poverty of the People, p.175
  10. ^ Haslip, p. 27.
  11. ^ de Stoeckl, p. 43.
  12. ^ Loomis, Stanley, Du Barry: A Biography, Lippincott, Philadelphia, 1959, re-ed. 1965, pp. 55–56.
  13. ^ Haslip, p. 32: 'The carriages, jewels....reclaim the money from the royal treasury.
  14. ^ Grey, Juliet (2011). Becoming Marie Antoinette. Ballantine Books. p. 322. 
  15. ^ Langon, Baron Etienne Leon Lamothe (2010). Memoirs of the Comtesse Du Barry; with intimate details of her entire career as favorite of Louis XV. Chapter XXV: Kessinger Publishing. p. 234. 
  16. ^ Baumgold, Julie (2005). The Diamond: A Novel. Simon and Schuster. p. 136. 
  17. ^ Mme. Campan, Souvenirs
  18. ^ Herman, Sex with the King. p.22
  19. ^ Herman, Pensions, p.146
  20. ^ Haslip, p. 78: "Prince de Rohan had made fun of the pious old Empress... No one, it appears, had laughed so heartily as the hostess"
  21. ^ Palache, John Garber (2005). Marie Antoinette The Player Queen. Steps to the Throne: Kessinger Publishing. p. 28. 
  22. ^ "The Diamond Necklace Affair". Marie Antoinette Online. Retrieved 30 June 2011. 
  23. ^ Herman, Jewels, p.135
  24. ^ Catherine Temerson, Evelyne Lever (2000). Marie Antoinette: The Last Queen of France. Chapter 21-The Diamond Necklace Affair: St. Martin's Griffin. pp. 173–182–A whole chapter on the diamond necklace. 
  25. ^ Haslip, p. 81: "She never dared go out for long,...rest for a while in peace"
  26. ^ "newadvent.org". 
  27. ^ Bernier, pp. 246–249.
  28. ^ Herman, p. 203
  29. ^ Haslip, p. 133.
  30. ^ Haslip, p. 121
  31. ^ Stoeckl, p. 174.
  32. ^ Madame Du Barry on www.findagrave.com

Sources[edit]

  • Antoine, Michel, Louis XV, Librairie Arthème Fayard. Paris. 1989 (French).
  • Bernier, Oliver, Louis The Beloved, The Life of Louis XV, Doubleday & Company, Inc.: Garden City, New York. 1984. ISBN 0-385-18402-6
  • Castelot, André, Madame du Barry, Perrin, Paris, 1989.
  • Haslip, Joan, Madame du Barry: the Wages of Beauty, Grove Weidenfeld, New York, 1992, ISBN 978-0-8021-1256-9, ISBN 0-8021-1256-0.
  • La Croix de Castries, René de, Madame du Barry, Hachette, Paris, 1967.
  • Loomis, Stanley, Du Barry: A Biography, Lippincott, Philadelphia, 1959.
  • Saint-André, Claude, A King's favourite, Madame du Barry, and her times from hitherto unpublished documents, with an introduction by Pierre de Nolhac, New York, Mc Bride, Nast & Company, 1915; translated from the French Madame du Barry, published by Tallandier, Paris, 1909.
  • Saint Victor, Jacques de, Madame du Barry, un nom de scandale, Perrin, Paris, 2002.
  • Stoeckl, Agnes, (Baroness de), Mistress of Versailles: the Life of Madame du Barry, John Murray, London, 1966.
  • Vatel, Charles, Histoire de madame du Barry, L. Bernard, Paris, 1883.
  • Herman, Eleanor. (2005). Sex with Kings: 500 Years of Adultery, Power, Rivalry, and Revenge. William Morrow Paperbacks. ISBN 0-06-058544-7

External links[edit]