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HistoryCourt characters

Madame de Pompadour

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The king’s favourite and patroness of the arts (1721-1764)

Madame de Pompadour, mistress, friend and adviser to Louis XV, remained with the king up to her death in 1764. Introduced to the court through relatives, she was noticed by the king and quickly became one of his preferred mistresses. Louis XV had the Petit Trianon palace built for her, a haven of peace away from the court.

The future Marquise de Pompadour, Jeanne-Antoinette Lenormant d’Etiolles, née Poisson, met Louis XV at Versailles in 1745. She was invited to the grand masked ball held for the wedding of the Dauphin Louis-Ferdinand. The king became enamoured of her and installed her that same year in the Château de Versailles, in an apartment above his own. A secret stairway enabled Louis XV to visit her there, away from prying eyes. In July 1745, he presented her with the Pompadour estate, the favourite became a Marquise and was officially presented to the court in September. But her middle-class, non-noble origins – the daughter of a financier, she was raised in the house of the king’s Farmer General – quickly attracted the criticisms of aristocratic circles. Yet she managed to get her brother, the Marquis de Marigny, appointed Superintendent of the King’s Buildings.

In the early 1750s she ceased to be the king’s mistress but still had great influence on him. Henceforth installed on the ground floor of the central palace building, she introduced young girls to the court and presented them to him, oversaw new construction work and, above all, played a role in the country’s artistic life. In 1756, she encouraged the foundation of the porcelain factory of Sèvres, promoted the laying out of the place Louis XV in Paris, the present place de la Concorde, and convinced the king, with the backing of her brother the Marquis de Marigny, to build the Petit Trianon palace. A lover of truffle soup, chocolate and champagne, Madame de Pompadour also took an interest in intellectual nourishment and in 1751 encouraged the publication of the first two volumes of the Encyclopédie of Diderot and d’Alembert.

Two years later, in 1752, Louis XV bought her the hôtel d’Evreux, now the Palais de l’Elysée, for her stays in Paris. She began to split her time between the capital and her château de Bellevue, in Meudon. But in 1764, aged 42, she died of pulmonary congestion in Versailles. The king mourned his “friend for twenty years”.