H. Noel (Hugh Noel) Williams.

Memoirs of Madame Du Barry of the court of Louis XV online

. (page 13 of 28)
Online LibraryH. Noel (Hugh Noel) WilliamsMemoirs of Madame Du Barry of the court of Louis XV → online text (page 13 of 28)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

3 Mr. J. B. Perkins's " France under Louis XV.," ii. 271.
"Here is an extract from a pamphlet cited in Les Pastes de

Louis XV.:

" Maupeou is the most abominable monster that hell has ever
vomited forth to distress the kingdom, the most damnable hypo-
crite, the most determined villain that has ever been seen _ on
earth. The Jacques Clements, Ravaillacs and Damiens may yield
him the first place in their parricidal gang. The Sicilian Vespers,
the Saint-Bartholomew, the defeats of Poitiers, Azincourt, and
Malplaquet were lucky days for the nation in comparison with
that on which this traitor was born, for they only destroyed
some Frenchmen, whereas this impious wretch would^ wipe out
the very name. What good citizen, if any such are still left us,
would not solicit the honour to load, charge, and fire the weapon
which should revenge the nation and deliver it for ever from
the villain who has ruined it? "

4 The provincial Parliaments met with substantially the same
fate as the Parliament of Paris; the unruly members being de-
prived of their offices and their places filled by men more amen-
able to the royal will.


jurisdiction of the Parliament of Paris, to the great
loss and inconvenience of litigants residing therein,
who had been compelled to carry their appeals to the
capital. The members of these new courts were
strictly forbidden to receive any term- fees, judges'
fees, or other perquisites over and above their salaries.
On April 9, the Cour des Aides was swept away, and
its members and its jurisdiction divided between the
new Parliament and the superior councils. Finally,
on the 1 3th of the same month, a Bed of Justice was
held in which were read three edicts : the first, abolish-
ing the old Parliament; the second, abolishing the
Cour des Aides ; the third, transforming the old Grand
Council into the new Parliament.

After the edicts had been read, Louis XV. rose and
terminated the sitting with these words : " You have
heard my will; I desire that you will conform to it.
I order you to commence your functions on Monday;
my Chancellor will install you. I forbid any delibera-
tions contrary to my edicts and all representations in
favour of my former Parliament, for I will never

Madame du Barry assisted at this ceremony, " hid-
den behind a gauze curtain." As she was leaving the
Palais, she encountered the Due de Nivemais, who,
with ten other peers, had given his opinion against the
registration of the edicts. 5

" I hope, Monsieur le Due," said she, " that you will
cease to oppose the King's wishes, for, as you have
heard his Majesty say, he will never change."

5 The Princes of the Blood (with the single exception of the
Comte de la Marche), headed by the Due d'Orleans and the
Prince de Conde, had refused to attend the bed of justice, and
sent a vigorous protest to the King, " couched in harsh and bar-
baric language." Louis seized the protest and threw it into the
fire, and forbade the princes to appear in his pres'ence or in that
of the Dauphin and Dauphiness.


True, Madame," replied the gallant duke ; ' but
when he said that he was looking at you."

It has frequently been asserted that, but for the as-
sistance he derived from the caquetage of Madame du
Barry, Maupeou would never have succeeded in induc-
ing Louis XV. to sanction the destruction of the Par-
liaments. Historians like Michelet and Henri Martin
have given the weight of their authority to this charge,
which, however, appears to rest on no better founda-
tion than an anecdote related by the Nowvelles a la
main. 6 Writing under date March 25, 1771, Bachau-
mont says :

The Empress of Russia has carried off the picture-
gallery of the Comte de Thiers, a distinguished ama-
teur, who had a very fine collection. M. Marigny
(Director-General of the Board of Works, an office
which included the supervision of the art-collections
of France) has had the mortification of seeing these
treasures go to a foreign country, for lack of funds to
purchase them for the King. Among the pictures
was a full-length portrait of Charles I., King of Eng-
land, by Van Dyck. This is the only one which has
remained in France. The Comtesse du Barry, who
displays more and more taste for the arts, gave orders
for it to be bought. She paid 24,000 livres for it, and
when she was reproved for having selected this picture
among so many which would have been more suitable,

6 Nouvelles a la main was the name given in the seventeenth
century to clandestinely printed gazettes, which contained news
of the Court and the town, generally in a highly piquant form.
They were prohibited by the Parliament of Paris in 1620, and in
1666 and 1670 the penalty of whipping and the galleys was de-
creed against the vendors. They still continued to be circulated
however, and it was not until some years later that La Reynie,
the Lieutenant of Police, contrived to suppress them. They re-
app'eared under the Regency, when Madame Doublet published
a weekly journal, entitled Nouvelles a la main, which was con-
tinued by Bachaumont, and, after his death, by Pidansat de


pretended that she was recovering a family portrait.
In fact, the Du Barrys claim to be related to the House
of Stuart."

On October 22, the Nouvelles, which was now edited
by the ingenious Pidansat de Mairobert, Bachaumont
having died in the preceding April, returns to the sub-
ject of Charles I.'s portrait:

' People are talking much of the full-length portrait
of Charles I., purchased for 20,000 livres by Madame
du Barry. This lady has placed it in her apartments,
together with that of the King, and, it appears, not
without design. It is asserted that she shows it to the
King, whenever his Majesty, relapsing into his normal
kindness of disposition, seems to weary of violence and
inclines towards clemency. She tells him that perhaps
his Parliament would have made some attempt similar
to that of England, if the Chancellor had not foreseen
their insane and criminal designs and checked them
before they had reached the degree of baseness and
wickedness required to put them into execution. 7
However absurd and atrocious such an imputation
may be, it reinflames the prince for the moment, and
it is from the foot of this picture that proceed the
destroying thunderbolts that smite the magistrates
and pulverise them in the remotest corners of the

" One is well assured that a calumny so atrocious
and so deliberate cannot proceed from the tender and
ingenuous heart of Madame la Comtesse du Barry,
and that the alarms with which she inspires the King
are instigated by advisers whose policy is as clever as it
is infernal."

7 " Behold that unfortunate monarch," said she to him. " Your
Parliament would perhaps have ended by treating you as he was
treated by the Parliament of England, if you had not had a
Minister to oppose their designs and set their menaces at de-
fiance." Vie privee de Louis XV., iv. 160.


This anecdote, justified by events, is attested by
courtiers whose testimony carries great weight."

The portrait referred to by the Nomrelles is the
beautiful painting, now in the Louvre, representing
the King followed by a squire leading his horse, which
the famous engraving of Le Strange has helped to
popularise. Considerable doubt exists as to whether
this portrait ever belonged to Baron de Thiers, but,
contrary to the opinion expressed by Mr. R. B. Doug-
las, in his " Life and Times of Madame du Barry,"
there is none whatever that it was at one time the
property of the favourite. Here, however, is what M.
Jules Guiffrey, the great French authority on Van
Dyck and his works, has to say on the subject :

The Louvre Catalogue states that the portrait
comes from the collection of Louis XV. and that it
had belonged to Baron de Thiers, who, as is known,
sold his fine collection bodily to the Empress of Russia.
Here there is a twofold error. It is, to say the least,
very doubtful if the portrait of Charles I. ever formed
part of Baron de Thiers' s collection. It is also related
that the picture figured at the beginning of the eight-
eenth century in the collection of the Comtesse de Ver-
rue, who gave it to the Marquis de Lassay. Neverthe-
less, it is not mentioned in the catalogue of the
countess's pictures, published for the first time by M.
Charles Blanc in the Tresor de la Curiosite. The col-
lection of the Marquis de Lassay fell partly, as is
known to the Comte de la Guiche; in the latter's lot
was Charles I. The collection of the Comte de la
Guiche was sold by auction in 1/70; but the famous
picture found no purchasers, and the heirs withdrew it
at 17,000 livres. It was, no doubt, in consequence of
this fruitless effort to sell the picture that the Comtesse
du Barry, in quest of distinguished ancestors, to atone
for the lowliness of her extraction, made direct offers


to the owners. A bargain was struck, and the favourite
became the possessor of the picture. She bought it for
herself, and not for the King, as has often been as-
serted. Only at the commencement of the succeeding
reign did she consent to surrender it and sell it to
King Louis XVI., as will be gathered from the cor-
respondence which we shall now cite.

' After the death of Louis XV., the Comtesse du
Barry, pressed by her numerous creditors, was reduced
to parting with a portion of the riches of every kind
which royal liberality had showered upon her. The
Charles I. included in this enforced liquidation was
offered to M. d'Angiviller, Director-General of the
Board of Works. The architect Le Doux, who had
done much work for Madame du Barry, undertook the
negotiations. We have not been able to find his letter,
but the three following notes render that document un-
necessary and all comment superfluous :

" 'Letter of M. D'ANGIVILLER to M. LE Doux.

' I have received, Monsieur, the letter wherein you
acquaint me with Madame du Barry's fixed intention
to sell the portrait of Charles I. and of the offer which
has been made to her. I will not let the opportunity
of acquiring this valuable work escape. I therefore
secure it on behalf of the King for the price of 24,000
livres (1000 louis) which has been offered for it, and
this sum will be paid down on delivery of the picture.

" ' I am, Monsieur, &c.' " 8

The remaining two letters mentioned by M. Guiff-
rey merely refer to arrangements for the removal of
the picture from Louveciennes and the payment of
the purchase-money.

8 M. Guiffrey's Antoine Van Dyck, sa vie et son ceume (Paris,
1882), p. 1 80 et seq.


Thus it will be seen that the portrait of Charles I.
did belong to Madame du Barry, and that she sold it
to Louis XVI. for the exact sum which the Nouvelles
state that she had paid for it. What amount of truth
there was in the story of the use the lady made of her
purchase it is very difficult to say. As Sheridan re-
marked of Dundas, the writers of the Nouvelles were
no doubt largely indebted to their imagination for their
facts; but, on the other hand, they were frequently
well-informed, and hardly deserve the scorn which
Madame du Barry's two champions, M. Vatel and
Mr. Douglas, so unsparingly mete out to them. These
writers ridicule the story on the ground that the sale of
the Thiers collection took place at a later date than
that stated by the Nouvelles, in fact some months
after the old Parliament of Paris had been sent about
its business, so that the portrait of Charles I. 9 could
not have been in Madame du Barry's possession early
enough to be used as a bogey to frighten the King.
But, from the passage from M. Guiffrey's work which
we have just cited, it would appear that the portrait
was acquired, not at the sale of Baron de Thiers's
pictures in the autumn of 1771, but from the heirs of
the Comte de la Guiche some time in 1770, that is to
say, before the suppression of the Parliament, which
entirely refutes their arguments and strengthens the
case against the favourite.

However, if for lack of trustworthy evidence,
Madame du Barry must be acquitted of the Machiavel-
ian conduct attributed to her, for we should hesitate
to condemn any one on the testimony of Bachaumont
and his confreres, though, as we have observed, they
were not nearly so black as M. Vatel and Mr. Douglas
appear to imagine, she was unquestionably, in some

'Van Dyck valued this picture at 200, but was persuaded to
reduce his charge to half that amount.


degree, responsible for the quashing of the proceedings
against d'Aiguillon, and cannot, therefore, be held al-
together blameless for the later developments of the
quarrel between the King and the magistracy.

While Maupeou was waging war on the Parlia-
ments, d'Aiguillon was engaged in the congenial task
of inciting Madame du Barry to persecute the friends
of Choiseul. Jarente, Bishop of Orleans, who had
persuaded Madame Adelaide to intercede with the
King for the recall of Choiseul, was deprived of the
distribution of benefices; d'Usson was recalled from
Stockholm ; the appointment of the Baron de Breteuil
as Ambassador at the Austrian Court was revoked,
just as he was on the point of starting for Vienna;
Rulhiere was deprived of his pension and his place in
the Foreign Office ; the unfortunate Prince de Beau-
vau, whose imperious wife had taken so prominent a
part in the attacks upon the favourite, lost his post of
Governor of Languedoc, though he was over a million
livres in debt; and lettres-de-cachet were suspended
over the heads of the Archbishop of Toulouse, Male-
sherbes, the Due de Duras, and even Sartine, the
Lieutenant of Police. D'Aiguillon and the favourite
dealt blows on every side, and as they could not strike
their feminine adversaries directly, they struck at
them through their husbands, their lovers, or their


Desolation and alarm reigned in the salons whenc
had proceeded the quips and gibes and epigrams
against Madame du Barry and her reputed
for no one knew upon whom the next blow might


" The lady is more supreme than her predecessor
even Cardinal de Fleury," wrote Madame du Deffand
to Horace Walpole ; " she is exasperated to the last


degree. We are passing through a terrible time here ;
it is impossible to foresee where it will end." 10

But great as was the influence of Madame du Barry
over her royal adorer, she was for some months unable
to overcome the reluctance of the King to promote
d'Aiguillon to the Foreign Office, which was the goal
of that intriguing nobleman's ambition. Louis had
always disliked d'Aiguillon he had never been able
to pardon him for having been, for r. time, his success-
ful rival in the affections of Madame de Chateauroux
and to make a Foreign Minister of a man who was
but yesterday an accused person was to defy public
opinion to an extent from which a far bolder monarch
than himself might well recoil. Moreover, the duke's
pretensions encountered serious obstacles in the oppo-
sition of the Prince de Conde, who, until he fell into
disgrace on account of his sympathy with the Parlia-
ment, exercised considerable influence, and at the be-
ginning of January succeeded in thrusting one of his
proteges, the Marquis de Monteynard, into the Min-
istry of War ; and from a rival candidate, whose quali-
fications for the post were far superior to his own.

This was the Comte de Broglie, surnamed " the little
intriguer," who had formerly been French Ambassador
at Warsaw, and, in 1767, had succeeded Tercier as
conductor of the secret diplomatic correspondence of
Louis XV. Broglie had nothing to aid him on the
side of Conde, who had a long-standing grievance
against the count's elder brother, the Marechal de
Broglie, dating back to the time of the Seven Years'
War : u but he had public opinion on his side, especially

"Letter of March 26, 1771.

u This resentment was so bitter that it survived the fall of the
Monarchy, and twenty years later, during the emigration, the
prince and the old marshal, commanding the same troops and
involved in the same disasters, could hardly bring themselves


among the representatives of foreign Courts, and had
the support of the Marechale de Mirepoix and Mad-
emoiselle " Chon " du Barry, the sister-in-law of the

For five months the post of Minister for Foreign
Affairs remained vacant ; while clouds were gathering
upon the horizon, the French agents abroad and the
Ambassadors in Paris were complaining every day of
the absolute ignorance in which they were left, and
foreign princes waited about at Versailles until a suc-
cessor to Choiseul should be appointed. 12 D'Aiguillon
intrigued against Broglie, Broglie intrigued against
d'Aiguilloii," and Conde intrigued against both.
Madame du Barry supported her protege; Montey-
nard, the new Minister for War, Maupeou, and Terray
to speak to one another. The Due de Broglie's Le Secret du
Roi, ii. 339-


13 Broglie bombarded Louis XV. with letters, in which he car-
ried flattery and servility to their utmost limits. In one written
on January 14, I77L he says: [ The knowledge that, under the
sole direction of your Majesty, the King of Spam has been com-
pelled to accept the conditions imposed by England has occa-
sioned the greatest joy. The value of this most fortunate peace
is infinitely augmented in the 'eyes of your subjects by the knowl-
ed^e that they owe it to your paternal care, and everybody ex-
claims with enthusiasm and regret, ' Why does not the King do
everything and decide upon everything, himself? nothing would
then be wanting to our happiness and his glory/ ' And this at
a time when the most distinguished persons in France were
nocking to Chanteloup, and "Le Bien Aime de I' Almanack" was
being sung at every street corner!

In another letter, the count informs the King that "he should
indeed be flattered if Madame du Barry entertained a sufficiently
good opinion of him to lead her to desire that the Ministry of
Foreign Affairs should be conferred upon him." Le Secret du

Roi, ii. 343, 352.

The servility of Broglie, however, must not blind us to the
fact that he was by far the most suitable candidate for the post
to which he aspired. He was the first French statesman to fore-
see the designs of the Eastern Powers upon Poland, and had
he been appointed to the Foreign Office, would have undoubtedly
striven his utmost to checkmate them.


sided with Conde; while the Marechale de Mirepoix
and Mademoiselle " Chon ' ' espoused the cause of the
diplomatist, who also had the assistance of a certain
fascinating Chevalier de Jaucourt, called by his friends
' Clair-de-lune" owing to his talent for relating ghost-
stories, who endeavoured to frustrate d'Aiguillon's
ambitions by supplanting him in the affections of the

" It is almost impossible that your Majesty should
form a correct idea of the horrible confusion which
reigns here," wrote Mercy to Maria Theresa. " The
throne is disgraced by the extensive and indecent in-
fluence of the favourite and her partisans. The nation
shows its feeling by seditious remarks and disloyal
pamphlets, in which the person of the sovereign is
not spared. 1 * Versailles is the abode of treachery,
spite, and hatred ; everything is done through motives
of personal interest, and all honourable feeling dis-

At length, in June, Conde having in the meantime
fallen into disgrace, Louis XV. grew weary of the im-
portunities of his mistress, and allowed a reluctant
consent to be wrung from him that the Foreign Office
should be given to d'Aiguillon, to the indignation of
Broglie, the disgust of the whole nation, and the
amazement of Europe. 16

The nomination of her protege was celebrated by

14 One morning, a placard bearing the following words was
found affixed to the King's statue by Bouchardon, in the Place
Louis XV. : " By order of the Mint. A Louis badly struck must
be struck again." This, of course, referred to the attempted
assassination of the King by Damiens, on January 5, 1757, and
was nothing less than a thinly veiled incitement to regicide.

5 Letter of April 16, 1771.

"The Marine, which had likewise been a bone of contention,
had been filled in the previous April by the appointment of
Boynes, a creature of d'Aiguillon. Until then its duties had been
discharged by Terray.


Madame du Barry, in the following September, by a
grand dinner at Louveciennes, at which were present
the wife of the new Minister, the dowager Duchesse
d'Aiguillon " la grosse duchesse," as Madame du
Deffand styles her the Marechale de Mirepoix, the
Princesse de Montmorency, the Comtesse de Valen-
tinois, the Chancellor and all the Ministers of State,
and the whole of the Corps Diplomatique, with the
exception of the Ambassadors of Spain and Naples. 17
These Ministers, acting presumably on instructions
from their Courts, had declined to visit the favourite,
and Fuentes, the Spanish Ambassador, went so far as
to refuse invitations to functions at which the lady
was to be present. The representative of Great
Britain, on the other hand, showed most gratifying
complacence, and, in February 1772, gave a dinner-
party exclusively to the d'Aiguillon and Du Barry

At the Salon of 1771 Madame du Barry was again
in evidence. Two important works were consecrated
to the favourite one, a bust in terra-cotta, by Pajou;
the other, a full-length portrait, by Drouais, in which
the lady was represented as one of the Muses. 13

The bust in terra-cotta by Pajou, the marble repro-
duction of which, exhibited at the Salon of 1773, and
now in the Louvre, is by many considered that
sculptor's chef-d'oeuvre, was generally admired and

17 Madame du Deffand to Horace Walpole, September 25, 1771.

18 Here is a contemporary description of the portrait : The
Comtesse du Barry is painted as a Muse. She is seated, and is
partly veiled by light and transparent draperies, which are gath-
ered up below the left breast, leaving the legs uncovered to the
knees, and revealing the outline of the rest of her figure. In
her right hand she holds a harp and a crown of flowers; in the
left she carries other flowers. The foreground of the picture is
filled by books, paint-brushes, and various attributes of _ the
arts." Cited by M. Vatel in Histoire de Madame du Barry, ii. 83.


warmly praised by the Mercure. But the picture was
not so fortunate, as the devout, " who only care to
see women veiled from head to foot," were shocked
at the mythological nudity of the figure ; and Madame
du Barry, hearing of this, ordered it to be at once re-
moved from the walls of the Salon.

In February 1771, the Prince Royal of Sweden, the
future Gustavus III., arrived in Paris, accompanied
by his younger brother, Frederick. The ostensible
object of his visit was to improve his mind by a course
of foreign travel, and he took up his quarters at the
Swedish Legation, Rue de Crenelle Saint-Germain,
under the name of the Graf von Gothland. But, in
point of fact, he had been sent by his mother, Queen
Ulrica, sister of Frederick the Great, on the invitation
of Choiseul, to solicit French assistance in the difficult
enterprise which was to end in his coup d'Etat of
August 19, 1772.

When ChoiseuFs invitation was sent the duke was,
of course, still in office; but the young prince reached
Paris to find his hoped-for ally exiled and his enemies
wrangling over his departments; and was, in con-
sequence, placed in a somewhat embarrassing position.
Acting, however, on the advice of Creutz, 19 the saga-
cious and popular Swedish Ambassador, he resolved to
pay court to all parties, and won golden opinions from
all. One day, he sent his compliments to Chanteloup
through Madame du Deffand, and the next he supped
at Rueil with the d'Aiguillons, Richelieu, and Mau-
peou. On another, he showed himself in the salon of
the Comtesse d'Egmont 20 in the Rue Louis-le-Grand,

19 Gustaf Philip Creutz (1729-1785), the most celebrated
Swedish poet of the eighteenth century, author of the beautiful
idyll Atis och Camilla, and the exquisite pastoral Daphne.

10 Sophie Jeanne Armande Elisabeth Septimainie de Vignerod
du Plessis de Richelieu, daughter of the notorious Due de Riche-


and on a fourth went to the Palais-Bourbon to visit
the Prince de Conde. Nor did he neglect to render
homage to the reigning sultana, whose heart he quite

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 13 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28

Online LibraryH. Noel (Hugh Noel) WilliamsMemoirs of Madame Du Barry of the court of Louis XV → online text (page 13 of 28)