Madame du Barry

Madame du Barry
Jeanne Bécu, comtesse du Barry

Madame du Barry by Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, 1781
Born 19 August 1743(1743-08-19)
Vaucouleurs, France
Died 8 December 1793(1793-12-08) (aged 50)
Paris, France
Occupation Maîtresse-en-titre to Louis XV
Spouse 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

Madame du Barry by Auguste de Creuse
A portrait of Madame du Barry by Francois-Hubert Drouais

Jeanne Bécu was born at Vaucouleurs, in the Meuse department in Lorraine, France. She was the illegitimate daughter of Anne Bécu, a woman of enticing beauty,[3] whose occupation was as a seamstress. Her kitchen and bedroom were also mentioned to describe a means of measly income for mother and daughter. 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 brief lover), Monsieur Billard-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. In time Dumonceaux made the decision to fund Jeanette's education at the convent of Saint-Aure.[4]

At the age of fifteen, Jeanne left the convent as she had 'come of age.' For some reason; either due 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, a certain 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. Reference is also made how she may have resorted to prostitution when offered, but was not her main job. In time she experienced different careers; 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 very highly improbable[5]). On the instigation of a certain Gomard (possibly 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 somewhat middle-aged sons. Later, Jeanne was a milliner's assistant (known as a grisette) in a haberdashery shop named 'À la Toilette', owned by a certain Madame Labille, and run by her husband. Labille's daughter was the future famed painter Adélaïde Labille-Guiard, and Jeanne became very good friends with her. 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 to Louis XV

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. The dashing Maréchal de Richelieu became one of her recurring customers. Because of this, Jean du Barry saw her as a means of influence with Louis XV, who became aware of her in 1768 while she was on an errand at Versailles. The errand involved the duc de Choiseul, who found her rather ordinary, in contrast to what most other men thought of her. In any case, Jeanne could not qualify as an official royal mistress 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 nobler descent.[9]

For now, Jeanne was installed below the King's quarters in Lebel's former rooms. She lived a lonely life, not able to be seen with the King since no formal presentation had taken place. Her official sponsor, Madame de Béarn, presented her to the Court at Versailles on 22 April 1769. Jeanne was 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 ordered by Richelieu especially for Jeanne; many courtiers claimed that its likeness had never been seen before. Her hairdo was also noticeably spectacular, being the cause of her late arrival.

Jeanne was a tremendous triumph. She now wore extravagant gowns of great proportions both in creation and cost, exhausting the treasury all the more.[10] 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 Béatrix de Grammont, Choiseul's sister, who had in vain tried her best to acquire the place of the late Marquise de Pompadour. Jeanne's first friend was Claire Françoise, better known as 'Chon', brought from Languedoc by her brother Jean du Barry to accompany her then-friendless sister-in-law. Later on, she also befriended the Maréchale de Mirepoix and the Comtesse d'Ossun.

Jeanne quickly accustomed herself to living in luxury (which she had already been introduced to when living with Dumonceaux), having also been given a young Bengalese servant-boy by Louis XV, Zamor, whom she dressed in elegant clothing to show him off; 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]

While Jeanne was part of the faction that brought down the Duc de Choiseul, Minister of Foreign Affairs, she was unlike her late predecessor, Madame de Pompadour, in that she had little interest in politics, preferring rather to pass her time ordering new ravishing gowns and all sorts of complementary jewelery. However, the king went so far as to let her participate in state councils.[13] A note in a modern edition of the Sovenirs of Mme. Campan recalls a pleasant anecdote: the king said to the duc de Noailles, that with Mme. du Barry he had discovered new pleasures; "Sire - answered the duke - that's because your Majesty has never been in a brothel."

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

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. Her relationship with Marie Antoinette, who was married to the Dauphin of France, was contentious. Marie Antoinette supported Choiseul as the proponent of the alliance with Austria and also 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.[14] Madame du Barry furiously complained to the king. Eventually, during a ball on New Year's Day 1772, Marie Antoinette spoke to her, saying, "There are many people at Versailles today," but made it clear that she would say nothing else to du Barry.

The diamond necklace commissioned by Louis XV for Mme. du Barry

The Diamond Necklace

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.[15] 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.

Death of Louis XV and exile of Mme. du Barry

In time, the king started to show his age by constantly thinking of death and repentance, even missing 'appointments' in Jeanne's boudoir.[16] 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 with him. On 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.[17] She immediately retired to her estate near Rueil. Following the death of Louis XV, she was quickly exiled to the Abbaye du Pont-aux-Dames near Meaux-en-Brie.[18]

Life after Louis XV

Two years later, she moved to the Château de Louveciennes. In the following years, she had a liaison with Louis Hercule Timolon de Cossé, Duke of Brissac.[19] She later also fell in love with Henry Seymour (of Redland),[20] whom she met when he moved with his family to the neighborhood 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, having kept Jeanne in his heart even though he jealously knew of her affair with Seymour. Unfortunately, the Revolution brought misfortune for the two. Brissac had been 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

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. The following year she was arrested. The Revolutionary Tribunal of Paris accused her of treason and condemned her to death. She had tried to save herself by revealing the hiding places of the gems she had hidden.[21]

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 accused the crowd. Her last words to the executioner were: "One moment more, Mr. Executioner, I beg you!". On 8 December 1793, Madame du Barry was beheaded by guillotine on the Place de la Révolution (nowadays, Place de la Concorde). 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.[22]

Her French estate went to the Tribunal de Paris. However, 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

  • 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.
  • She inspired a wax figure at Madame Tussaud's in London, called The Sleeping Beauty, which is the oldest existing figure on display.
  • 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

  • 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.

In film

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.


  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 climbing the ladder of success. She is referred to many times in many books as a courtesan, who in common language is a high-class prostitute (though by no means should one think that she was a common soliciting streetwalker)
  9. ^ Haslip, p. 27.
  10. ^ Haslip, p. 32: 'The carriages, jewels....reclaim the money from the royal treasury.
  11. ^ de Stoeckl, p. 43.
  12. ^ Loomis, Stanley, Du Barry: A Biography, Lippincott, Philadelphia, 1959, re-ed. 1965, pp. 55–56.
  13. ^ Mme. Campan, Souvenirs
  14. ^ 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"
  15. ^ "The Diamond Necklace Affair". Marie Antoinette Online. Retrieved 2011-06-30. 
  16. ^ Haslip, p. 81: "She never dared go out for long, for a while in peace"
  17. ^
  18. ^ Bernier, pp. 246–249.
  19. ^ Haslip, p. 133.
  20. ^ Haslip, p. 121
  21. ^ Stoeckl, p. 174.
  22. ^ Madame Du Barry on


  • 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 13: 9780802112569, ISBN 10: 0802112560.
  • 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.

External links

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