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August 19, 1743: Birth of Madame du Barry August 19 1743: Birth of Madame du Barry King Louis XV of France royal mistress Jeanne Bécu born in Vaucouleurs, Countess du Barry, is a favorite of Louis XV King of France. The king, Louis XV having suffered in the previous years from the death of his relatives whose favorite title, the Marquise de Pompadour, wanted to make the young woman his new official favorite, which could not be without a presentation to the court and without her being married. The disadvantage was that the knight Jean-Baptiste du Barry was already married (to Mlle Dalmas de Vernongrese), so the difficulty arose by marrying Jeanne to the elder brother of Jean-Baptiste, Count Guillaume du Barry, that she married on September 1st, 1768; she could now be officially presented to the court (April 1769). On the death of Louis XV, his grandson and successor, probably inspired by Marie-Antoinette, had issued all ceasing business a lettre de cachet against Madame du Barry. The Duke de La Vrilliere, a kind of Minister of the Interior, had her driven by night to the Convent of Pont-aux-Dames at Meaux; then he had his papers seized, which arrived partly in the hands of the clan Choiseul. Madame du Barry’s former status as royal mistress made her a perfect target for the revolutionaries. In spite of the numerous testimonies of the inhabitants of Marly and Louveciennes in her favor, she quickly became suspicious from the vote of the law of that name (September 17, 1793), was declared enemy of the Revolution and, after a long predetermined trial, she was sentenced to be guillotined. The execution took place December 8 under the Terror.
Jeanne Bécu was born in Vaucouleurs on the 19th August 1743, the illegitimate daughter of a gorgeous seamstress and a friar. It was a shocking beginning to what was to be a scandalous life.
Jeanne, dragged up by her mother then fortuitiously sent to a convent school by a wealthy benefactor, was to grow up to be exceedingly beautious with a lovely face, tumbling blonde hair and meltingly seductive violet eyes. Sadly, her fiscal prospects were non existant and the presence of protective adults was minimal so the young Jeanne after an initial attempt to train as a milliner soon found herself working in a casino come brothel.
She was ‘rescued’ from this life by a noted roué, the spurious comte du Barry who installed her as his mistress then launched her career as a high class courtesan to men of the court. Jeanne does not appear to have been adverse to this life, being untroubled by too much in the way of morals and blessed with a budding taste for expensive luxuries.
The Sleeping Beauty is the oldest existing figure on display at Madame Tussaud’s in London. It was modeled after Madame du Barry. She appears asleep and a device in her chest makes it seem as if she were breathing.
She did very well for herself until 1768 when on a visit to Versailles, she came to the attention of another aged roué, Louis XV who, always prone to depression, had been in a protracted state of bored gloom ever since the death of his exquisite mistress, Madame de Pompadour. He’d ignored all of his courtiers attempts to divert his attention with various beautiful and well born ladies of the court and had instead consoled himself with the less demanding charms of servant girls and young women who were housed in his private brothel in Versailles.
He was instantly smitten by the young Jeanne and it wasn’t long before her lover du Barry’s brother was forced to marry her in order to make her position more respectable and enable her to have the title that was so necessary for an entrée to Versailles life. After this there was no stopping her and to the horror of all, the King even installed her in apartments in the palace. No one in Versailles had any illusions about the origins of the latest favourite, lovely thought she was. They’d all sneered at the middle class origins of Madame de Pompadour, so you can imagine how they felt about having Madame du Barry prancing around in their midst, dressed up in pink silk and exquisite lace and covered in the diamonds that she adored so much.
In 1772, the infatuated Louis XV requested that Parisian jewellers Boehmer & 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. 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 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.
The good times didn’t last for long however as in May 1774, Louis XV died of small pox in his room at Versailles and Madame du Barry, who was loathed by his young and rather prudish grandson and heir Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette was promptly sent away from court and at first compelled to enter a convent, although she did not remain there for long.
Madame du Barry was never again received at court but does not seem to have regretted this exile too much as she had her own beautiful chateau at Louveciennes and seems to have lived there very happily throughout the rest of the 1780s, taking one lover after another, patronising artists and being a lady bountiful to the local people.
She did her best to live out the revolution in relative obscurity but her fame as one of Louis XV’s most extravagant mistresses and also, as usual, her total lack of proper advice and support were to be her downfall.
On the night of the 10th January 1791, a significant amount of the Comtesse’s jewelery collection had been stolen from her bedroom and she had moved heaven and earth in an attempt to retrieve it, which necessitated offering a reward and several trips to England. If she had only remained in London, where she had friends, then she would have been safe and would have come to no harm. However, not being too bright, she always returned to France and eventually these trips brought her to the attention of the hostile authorities, who were hardly likely to be sympathetic about her tale of stolen diamonds.
Among the charges brought up against Madame du Barry at her trial was the charge that she wore mourning for Louis XVI while she was staying in London.