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HistoryCourt characters

Madame Du Barry

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Last mistress of Louis XV (1743-1793)

Jeanne Bécu, known as “Mademoiselle Vabernier”, succeeded Madame de Pompadour as the king’s “favourite” or mistress. He installed her in Versailles in 1769. In spite of the scheming of the duc de Choiseul, Secretary of State, and the contempt of the dauphine Marie-Antoinette, she held on to her position at court until the death of Louis XV. A lover of art, she was a patroness to painters and craftsmen and cultivated the neo-classical style in Versailles.

Louis XV was old when he met Madame Du Barry. He had lost, among others, his son the Dauphin Louis-Auguste, his wife, Marie Leszczinska, and his mistress and then friend Madame de Pompadour. When Richelieu heard about Jeanne Bécu he wished to present her to Louis XV. This was done in 1768, thanks to Lebel, first valet of the king’s chamber. Married to the Count Guillaume Du Barry aged 26 in 1769, the countess was presented to the court and became the official new mistress of the king who was seduced by her beauty. This was despite the plans of the Duc de Choiseul who would have preferred his sister, the duchesse de Grammont, to occupy this coveted place.

Like many other favourites, Madame Du Barry led a comfortable life. Installed on the second floor of the Cabinets du Roi, she enjoyed many privileges and gifts of jewellery and estates, particularly the Louveciennes estate where she resided. Appreciative of skilled craftsmanship as well as painting, she commissioned many pieces from the joiner Delanois, the cabinet-maker Leleu and the painters Fragonard and Vien. A friend to Voltaire, she visited him up to his death in 1778.

But the favourite was not spared by the court intrigues aimed against her. Her beauty provoked a lot of jealousy and her dubious origins aroused the disdain of the dauphine Marie-Antoinette, a partisan of the Choiseul camp. But in 1771 she triumphed over her enemy when Louis XV decided to banish him from the court.

On the death of the king in May 1774, an ordinance of his successor Louis XVI banished her from Versailles to the convent of Pont-aux-Dames in Meaux. In 1776 she retired to Louveciennes. Denounced during the Terror, she was guillotined in October 1793.

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