|Author:||Artois [ Wed Jun 16, 2010 7:04 pm ]|
|Post subject:||What Price Beauty?|
On April 19, 1743, there was no one to help with the labor and delivery of Anne Becu. Her six brothers and sisters showed no interest and could not be bothered to assist with the birth. Only three people were in attendance, two of whom were there at the bidding of the parish priest. Anne was not sure who the father was; rumor had it that Anne, a seamstress, was pregnant by a monk in the monastery in which she worked repairing sheets. The rumors were confirmed when the offending priest, Brother Angel, was suddenly transferred to a church in Paris from the village of Vaucouleurs.
The baby was christened Jeanne and, by all reports, was an exceptionally pretty child. Good looks were common among the Becu family and helped them to gain employment in the houses of the nobility as maids or lackeys; one became the personal valet to Louis XV’s father-in-law. By the time Jeanne was five, her beauty was complemented by a charming personality and a happy disposition. Her pretty smile, framed by golden curls, lit up her face and enhanced her perfect mouth and her unique almond-shaped aquamarine eyes.
As Jeanne grew so did her charm and beauty. She held several sales and clerical jobs dealing with the public several of which she lost because of the young men who would crowd the shops for a chance to flirt with the young charmer. It became such a problem that Anne feared for her daughter’s well being and placed Jeanne in a convent where she spent nine years. The convent didn’t change Jeanne. She remained pretty despite the ugly habit she wore and her vibrant personality made the nuns smile.
Jean du Barry was bored with the country life he led in Vaucouleurs; he longed for the excitement and possibilities of the capital. Du Barry eventually left his wife and infant son and left for Paris thanks to a small inheritance left to him by the deaths of his father and godfather that amounted to a few livres, some land and, most important to him, some inherited titles. He was now a Chevalier de St. Louis and the Compte du Barry. The Compte’s fascination with life in Paris paled in comparison with Jeanne’s fascination with what life at Versailles must be like; she longed to dress in beautiful gowns, ride in white and gold carriages, keep company with duchesses, princesses and Kings.
Timing is everything. By 1763 the Marquise de Pompadour was dying. Her once pleasant face was now a painted mask. Bets were already being made at Versailles as to how long la Pompadour had and who would take her place. At the same time, du Barry had become involved with the war department and the furnishing of food and ammunition to troops in Corsica that provided him with enormous profits. Again, timing was favorable to du Barry. It is unclear how the Compte du Barry persuaded both Jeanne and her mother to move in with him, but he did. It was clear that Jeanne felt no attraction to du Barry even though she was thought to be his mistress; she was grateful to him for the trappings of nobility he permitted her to assume. Anne functioned as cook, housekeeper and overseer of her daughter’s behavior. Jeanne continued to dream of a life of luxury and discovered how her time spent in the Convent of the Sacred Heart had benefited her. She now spoke with the pure accents of the upper class and had been exposed to the classics. She had worked for a time at Labille, a fashion house in which she learned how to dress and choose flattering, stylish clothes. Du Barry’s increased income permitted her passion for proper clothes and the trappings of a pseudo noble life.
Word came from the Duc de Choiseul, who was at the height of his power, that contracts such as that benefiting Jean du Barry and his involvement with Corsica were being examined for possible elimination. Du Barry was not about to lose such a profitable moneymaker, so he decided to appeal to Choiseul’s appreciation of beautiful women. He would send Jeanne to Versailles to plead with Choiseul to leave the Corsica connection intact since it was her only source of income. The plan backfired; Choiseul found her “…..only moderately pretty. There was a certain awkwardness in her manner which made me take her for a young woman from the provinces. Nor did I believe her story of having confided the whole of her small fortune to an army contractor in charge of supplies for Corsica who was now in danger of losing his job. I was kind, but I passed her on to M. Foulon at which the young lady did not seem to be very pleased.” Jeanne returned to Versailles a few days later for a second try this time wearing a more revealing gown; Choiseul again rebuffed her saying, “She was not at all to my taste”. She may have failed with the minister but she was a hit with the King. Again, timing was everything. As Jeanne was leaving the ministry of war she found herself at the state apartments at the hour when the King went to mass. The atmosphere was suffocating at Versailles because the Queen was dying; everyone spoke in hushed tones and attended daily masses to pray for her recovery. Louis XV, accompanied by his daughters, passed across the gallery of mirrors glancing at the crowd when he suddenly saw a radiant young woman standing straight and looking at him with a charming smile.
The King was entranced with Jeanne’s disarming smile and beautiful face and asked his valet to find out whom she was. Her reputation preceded her; the valet knew immediately who she was. A story circulated among the courtiers concerning Jeanne’s meeting with His Majesty. Ushered into the 58-year-old King’s presence, Jeanne performed the three curtseys required by protocol then walked up to Louis and kissed him full on the mouth. The Queen was in agony, close to death; Louis put her aside and began entertaining Jeanne in his bed. It was time to present Jeanne at court. Richelieu ordered her a gown fit for a queen. With huge panniers of silver and gold cloth scattered with diamonds. and a long train.that she handled effortlessly while performing the protocol-required curtseys. Many of the women commented how perfect she was and how sure of herself she was despite what many felt to be a rather sordid past. But there she was, looking as innocent as a virgin with a skin so delicate no rouge was needed. Her teeth were pure white covered by a small naturally scarlet mouth. Louis was aglow with happiness. Ignored at first by the ladies of the court, Madame du Barry ignored these insults and adopted an attitude of calm disdain. Louis furthered the negative reaction of the court by installing Jeanne in the most intimate of the ‘petits appartements’, the one directly above his own to which he had direct access via a private staircase..
La du Barry and Marie Antoinette were instant enemies. It started one evening when Louis had arranged for the Comedie Francaise and the Theatre des Italiens to give a performance in the theater at Choisy to amuse Antoinette. Her pleasure disappeared when she discovered that the programs had been chosen by La du Barry and that the best seats in the theater were reserved for the Comptess du Barry and her friends. When du Barry arrived, she found some of her seats taken by the Dauphine’s ladies. They not only refused to move but also made sarcastic remarks directed to the Countess. This incident revealed a new, more forceful du Barry. Up until now she had always displayed a conciliatory demeanor. This incident prompted La du Barry to shed angry tears to the King and insisted she had been insulted by the Dauphine. Louis discovered that it was the Comptess de Grammont who had made the offending remarks; he had her sent into exile. Marie Antoinette never looked at or spoke to du Barry until ordered to do so by the King.
Under increasing pressure from her mother, Compte Mercy and the King, Antoinette agreed to speak to “that creature”, This took place after one of Antoinette’s card parties when she would circle the room bidding all of her guests good night. Unfortunately Antoinette had shared the plan with Mesdames (Louis XV’s unmarried daughters who despised La du Barry); as du Barry approached Antoinette with the Compte Mercy complete with an anticipatory, victorious smile and beginning her deep curtsey. Madame Adelaide, who had been watching carefully, ran up to Antoinette just as she was about to speak to du Barry and reminded Antoinette in a loud voice that they were already late to visit Madame Victoire. Flustered, Antoinette turned around and hurried out of the room with Madame Adelaide close behind and La du Barry in mid-curtsey and still without a word from the Dauphine.
The more du Barry was ignored or slighted the more extravagant and inappropriate she became. She spent hundreds of thousands of livres on those she considered her friends
to be continued.........
(some topics and descriptions taken from "Madame du Barry -The Wages Of Beauty" by Joan Haslip Grove Weidenfeld 1991)
Continued from prior post:
But as generous as she was, all did not go well for her at Versailles. She was moved to a tiny space adjoining the chapel that had housed the King’s valet She became completely ostracized; women who passed her in her gold and white chaise carrying her to meet the King deliberately turned their backs. The only weapons Jeanne had were her beauty and her charm and this was enough for Louis. Keeping him entertained and amused was a difficult and time consuming task. Jeanne’s natural sweetness of disposition was enough to give him warmth and affection such as he had never known. The orphan who became King at age five (5) had never experienced the normal pleasures of a happy childhood. The Duc de Croy, who had known Louis for many years, wrote:
“He is more in love than he has ever been. He seems to be rejuvenated and I have never
seen him in better spirits, extremely good-humored and far more outgoing than he has ever been.”
However strong his love for du Barry, he was plagued by the indecision and weakness that was part of his character (and apparently passed on to his grand-son, Louis August, the future Louis XVI) and thus he vacillated and wavered when it came to his formal presentation of the Comptess at court.. The longer he waited, the lower her reputation sank . She was initially the King’s mistress or his ‘favorite’; without formal recognition, she was a common whore. Louis finally found a titled lady willing to sacrifice her reputation by befriending and promoting La du Barry to the court, the first step in the presentation process. The Comptesse de Bearn was looking for a way back to Versaillles for her and her two sons. Bearn had incurred massive debts that she could not pay; her price for befriending du Barry was the elimination of her debts and promotions for her two sons who were in the armed forces, action that opened the door of Versailles to her.
The date of du Barry’s presentation to court was set for January 25. As the day approached, Madame de Bearn lost her nerve and took to her bed with. an alleged sprained ankle. On the morning of the 25th Louis was out riding, fell from his horse and seriously injured his arm. Plus (and again timing played a major part in events) it was the beginning of Lent and Louis was disturbed by the sermons that emphasized sins of the flesh; his conscience bothered him and, for the time bring, excluded the Comptess from Louis’ life and bed. When Louis recovered, he was as amorous as ever. One of his first acts was to present his mistress with one hundred thousand livres of diamonds. She was moved to a petit apartment in close proximity to the King where she was just a private, hidden staircase away. As of the 25th, Jeanne Becu officially became the Comptesse du Barry, ‘maitresse en titre’ to Louis XV.
In her new position she was permitted to assist at the ‘grands couverts’ of the Dauphin and his aunts and to have a place at the King’s card table. Yet no one spoke to her, nor did they respond to invitations she sent to parties both in and out of Versailles. Her tears shed to the King made him even more determined to impose M adame du Barry onto his family and his court. Less than one month after the presentation the King announced that he was giving a supper at Bellevue, the charming chateau built by Madame de Pompadour, in honor of the new favorite and eight (8) ladies of the court had been invited to make her acquaintance. No one dared to refuse the royal invitation; and the ladies selected were old friends of the King. The night of the party was perfect; cascades of roses climbed over marble balustrades; fountains played in pools of water lilies. The King was late, having attended the ‘Fete-Dieu’ in the chapel. At the end of an hour more and more people drifted over to the beautiful young woman who was the guest of honor. The former Jeanne Becu looked exquisite in a white diaphanous gown with pearls and roses in her hair made every other woman look over-rouged and over dressed..The King never took his eyes off of her.and, from the moment he arrived, he never left her side. La du Barry reveled in his admiration and glowed, relaxed and happy,.completely at ease. Those in attendance were convinced that the King and his favorite had a deep and enduring love.
Marie Antoinette still had not spoken to the Comptess du Barry.and her mother would not let her forget it. On January 1, 1772, Antoinette agreed to speak to ‘the creature’ ; this time she didn’t tell Mesdames. On the day selected, Versailles was crowded with courtiers who came to offer their good wishes for the new year when the Dauphine’s apartment was open and full of queues of ladies including the Comptess du Barry, her face pale and nervous with the fear that she may endure another humiliation. All eyes were on her. Antoinette looked at the Comptess full in the face and said in a loud, clear voice, “There are a lot of people at Versaillles today.” The grateful du Barry curtseyed almost to the ground and her eyes were moist. Comte Mercy came to Antoinette to offer congratulations. The unsmiling, stern Dauphine cut him off saying , “I have spoken to her once, but that woman will never hear my voice again.” Antoinette was all of sixteen years old and she was well on her way in learning how to hate.
Louis was getting older and looked forward to spending time alone with his mistress; this was getting more and more difficult at Versailles. The only place available was the Petit Trianon which they used frequently. Louis had a mechanical device built that moved tables full of food from the kitchen to the Trianon thus eliminated the need for waiters and other food service personnel to ensure total privacy. One day while walking to Trianon the King and du Barry passed a funeral. Du Barry shivered and crossed herself. The King, who was fascinated by and fearful of death stopped the procession and examined the coffin and the corpse, a little girl. No one told him that the child was a victim of smallpox. On April 27, the King woke up feeling unwell., feverish and shivering. Du Barry insisted that he sleep in his own bed that night; Louis woke her in the middle of the night and asked for his doctor. Dr. Lemonnier noted that His Majesty had a fever but felt that it was a passing indisposition and recommended that he remain quiet and relaxed at Trianon. The illness of a King is difficult.to keep secret. As soon as Madame Adelaide heard the news she summoned the royal surgeon , La Martiniere, who insisted that the King be transferred to Versailles immediately. :Louis, by now sicker and frightened, had a cloak put over his dressing gown was taken into the cold for the ride back to Versailles.
Versailles was not ready for the King; he stayed in Madame Adelaide’s room until his own bed was prepared. Once settled in his room, he asked for the Comptesse du Barry. She had already been accused of neglecting the King resulting in his illness. She was crying in a corner when she was called to the King. While Louis’ daughters cared for him during the day, La du Barry tended to him all night. The following night the King’s condition had rapidly deteriorated; the physicians decided to bleed him. The first attempt was unsuccessful so it was done again resulting in a state of weakness; he could barely move. He asked each of the 14 doctors in the room the nature of his illness. By the evening of the next day, smallpox was evident but no one told Louis. The King had a very mild case of smallpox as a child and assumed he was immune. Mesdames and du Barry continued with their vigils. How terrified it must have been for du Barry whose very existence depended on her beauty to expose herself to an illness that could destroy her face..She was heard to say, “I displease his whole family. No one wants me here. Please let me go.” It was not to be. She continued to force herself into Louis’ bedroom that was already filled with the.sweet sickening smell of decay and death. She would sit for hours stroking his hot, feverish forehead. At times he would reach weakly up to fondle her breasts.
On the night of May 3rd, the Countess saw for the first time a horrible eruption on his hand; Louis saw it at the same time and yelled in terror, “It’s the smallpox!” In a brave and selfless act, du Barry leaned over and kissed his hands. Versailles was emptying quickly except for Mesdames and du Barry. By the evening of May 4th, the King knew he was dying. Du Barry, as usual, was sitting by his bed. He suddenly spoke, “If I had known before what I know now you would never have been allowed to come to me.,From now on I owe myself to God and to my people. Tomorrow you must leave. Tell d’Aiguillon to come to me and see me at ten o’clock in the morning. You will not be forgotten. Everything that is possible will be done for you.” She didn’t cry; she walked quietly out of the room . On the threshold, however, she fainted and had to be carried to her room. She spent the night sobbing.
She spent time at the d’Aiguillon’s castle located near Versailles. Jeanne, with her youthful optimism, was sure the King would recover and call her back to Versailles. She was made to leave the palace in a hired carriage to avoid the menacing crowd outside the gates; this made her feel uneasy for the future.
For two days Louis XV lingered, his body putrefying, his mind calm and lucid. To save his immortal soul the priests forced him to sign a ‘lettre de cachet’ that sent the Comptess du Barry as a prisoner of state to the abbey of Pont aux Dames..Pleas to Louis XVI for her release went unanswered for one year. Louis XVI hated La du Barry both as Dauphin and King. He finally agreed to permit du Barry to leave the abbey. Louis XVI also allowed her to retain the revenues she received from his grandfather, an extreme act of generosity considering how Louis detested du Barry; his love for his grandfather was stronger than his hatred of ‘the creature’. As the years passed, du Barry still retained her seemingly indestructible beauty. Many felt her looks were more perfect and remarkable than ever. The Comptess entered middle age happier than she had ever been . She had her looks, several serious love affairs, a beautiful and luxurious chateau at Louveciennes, far from the riots and revolutionary ferver in the capital,.and a staff of devoted servants.. But Jeanne du Barry was already a marked woman. In Paris, the revolution had begun followed quickly by the Reign of Terror.
The Comtess still had enemies; one of the most vicious was a man she never met. George Grieve was English and took it upon himself to assist the revolutionary council in finding those against the revolution. He spent some time in Louveciennes watching the Countess and decided to destroy her; she represented the vicious depravity of the ancien regime. Grieve was eventually able to go before the Convention with a petition to take action against du Barry. The Convention agreed to order the arrest of the Countess and ordered her to be taken to the prison of St. Pelagie and detained as a “person with aristocratic leanings.” At nine o’clock in the morning of the sixth of December, 1789, Jeanne du Barry went on trial. Every seat was taken by a public anxious to gloat over the downfall of a woman who had already become a legend. But most of them were disappointed., for the stout, middle-aged woman with the pale cheeks and the eyes reddened by tears had little left of the exquisite beauty ‘so celebrated for her dissolute morals, whose wantonness alone empowered her to share the life of a despot who sacrificed the wealth and blood of his people to the satisfaction of his shameful pleasures’. The rhetoric of the public prosecutor did not seem to pertain to the sad-faced woman with the gentle voice who, despite months spent in a filthy prison.was still scrupulously clean with a fresh fichu and well brushed hair.
The verdict was heard in silence broken only by a cry that was really a whimper. Jeanne du Barry had fainted in the dock and had to be carried.back to her cell. In the grip of fear, she still believed she could buy her way to freedom. Hidden in the grounds at Louviciennes, in places where Grieve had failed to look, were bags of gold coins, piles of assignats, diamond, ruby and emerald rings, miniatures framed in diamonds, golden pencil boxes, and pink cultured pearls. Many sleepless nights were spent remembering the exact location of all that was buried. It would take weeks, probably months, to locate, process and inventory all that there was and by then the Reign of Terror might have ended. Hope had returned by dawn and the executioner who arrived at eight o’clock to prepare her for the guillotine found her calm and composed. asking for a delay as she had important information for the Committee For Public Safety. The Committee was ready to listen to her proposals and the poor woman deluded herself with the belief that she might save her life by divulging her secrets.
Three men were sent to take down her statement and for three hours she sat in her cold cell enumerating her hidden treasures. It was past midday when the men left her in a state of anguish and suspense but still with a glimmer of hope. They had barely gone when the executioner returned to cut her hair and tie her hands behind her back.. There was to be no reprieve. The tumbrel was already waiting outside. When she felt the cold steel on her neck giving her a taste of the horror to come and she saw her lovely golden curls, barely streaked with gray, lying on the dusty floor, the woman who was the beautiful La du Barry finally collapsed into a pathetic, whimpering creature dead to all sense of dignity and shame.
The gendarmes carried her struggling to the tumbrel. Others seated therein must have felt nothing but contempt for the once beautiful resident of Versailles who now lay moaning and struggling, now and then letting out a cry of pain as the tumbrel lurched and the horses stumbled on the cobbled stones on the rue St. Honore.
It was already getting dark and the people who had waited all day to see the notorious favorite being taken to the scaffold had long since gone home It was too cold to linger in the streets. But in the Place de la Revolution there was still the normal crowd of those who , day after day, attended the grisly spectacle of the condemned being brought to the guillotine..
Only today there was none of the usual animation , the raucous laughter and coarse jokes for here was no proud disdainful beauty to be mocked and reviled but a pathetic , broken creature more like a trapped animal than a human being. Sensing the reaction of the crowd, the executioner hurried her first up the steps of the guillotine. She was still struggling and had to be carried by force all the time screaming, “You are going to hurt me. Please don’t hurt me!” When the knife came crashing down there was one terrible piercing cry and the lovely head fell into the basket.
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