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descended to such methods of warfare, since it would
have been easy for him, with the Lieutenant of Police
and his numerous agents under his orders, to have
procured documentary proofs of the new favourite's
humble origin and discreditable past, and also of the
impudent frauds perpetrated on the occasion of her
marriage, and to have laid them before the King.
Had this course been adopted, he argues, all danger of
Madame du Barry becoming maitresse en litre would
have been averted, as, though the monarch's infatua-
tion might have been strong enough to induce him to
overlook her quasi-criminal complicity in the Du
Barrys' forgeries, he would certainly never have dared
to force her upon his Court.

M. Vatel, however, was unacquainted with the cor-
respondence between Mercy and Kaunitz. published
some years ago, from which it appears that Choiseul
had fully intended to take this step, but was dissuaded

"Letter of Mercy to Kaunitz, December 9, 1768.


therefrom by the representations of the Ambassadors
of Austria and Spain, to both of which Powers it was
a matter of the most vital importance that Choiseul's
credit with his royal master should remain unimpaired.
Mercy and Fuentes pointed out that an open remon-
strance, which could not fail to humiliate the King,
might very well do* the Minister irreparable injury,
and should, at all costs, be avoided. The scandal was
a public one; all France deplored it. It would be
wiser to allow the echo of the rumours concerning the
favourite's past to reach the ears of the monarch ; and
a Minister so powerful as Choiseul could easily find
means of ensuring this, without committing himself. 12
Unfortunately for Choiseul and his advisers, the
campaign of calumny had the very opposite effect to
that which they had anticipated. The pamphleteers
and playwrights whom the Minister employed did their
work but too well. Not content with bringing ac-
cusations against the favourite which had some foun-
dation in fact, their zeal led them to charge her with
vices and faults of which she was wholly guiltless,
such as drunkenness, vulgarity, and ignorance. What
chivalry remained to Louis XV. was aroused by these
shameful attacks upon a defenceless woman. His reply
was to redouble his attentions to his mistress, to load
her with favours, and, finally, to order apartments to
be prepared for her at Versailles.

12 Despatch of Mercy to Kaunitz, December 9, 1768.


IT would appear to have been in the closing weeks
of 1768 or the first of the following year that
Madame du Barry was installed at Versailles.
The apartments allotted to her were those of the de-
ceased valet-de-chainbre Lebel, situated on the rez-de-
chanssee of the Cour Royale, and here she remained
until the spring of 1770, when she removed to the suite
which had formerly been occupied by the deceased
Dauphiness, Marie Josephe of Saxony, on the second
floor of the chateau, immediately above the King's
private apartments. 1

A little court soon gathered about her: ambitious
young noblemen, eager to worship at the shrine of the
rising sun; foreigners of rank, like the Prince de
Ligne, who came thither curious to see how the little
courtesan he had known in the Rue de Jussien com-
ported herself amid her new surroundings, and some
of Jeanne's old literary acquaintances, like Robbe de
Beauveset 2 and Cailhava. 8 In the afternoons, a stream

1 The Goncourts (who also assert that the new favourite was
installed at Versailles immediately after her marriage), M. Vatel,
and Mr. Douglas all say that the apartments to which Madame
du Barry removed were those of Madame Adelaide, Louis XV.'s
eldest daughter, who was given those of the Dauphiness in ex-
change. This, as M. de Nolhac points out in his interesting
work, Le Chateau de Versailles sous Louis XV., is an error.

2 Pierre Honore Robbe de Beauveset ( 1712-1792), ^ a poet
celebrated, or at least known, for his profane and licentious
verses. Madame du Hausset says : " This same Archbishop of
Paris (Christophe de Beaumont) gave a pension of 1200 livres
to the greatest scoundrel in Paris (Robbe de Beauveset), who
writes abominable verses; this pension being granted on condi-
tion that his poems were never printed. I was informed of this



of visitors might be seen wending its way towards the
apartments of the new divinity; and Madame de Gra-
mont, whose windows overlooked the Cour Royale,
compelled to witness the triumph of her rival, was
beside herself with mortification and jealousy, and
urged her brother to prosecute the campaign of
slander with renewed vigour.

As soon as Madame du Barry was installed at Ver-
sailles, the question of her presentation to the King
was raised. The Goncourts assert that Jean du Barry
was the prime mover in this affair, but, in our opinion,
there can be little doubt that the responsibility rests
with the Due de Richelieu, who, on January i, 1769,
had entered upon his term of office as First Gentleman
of the Bedchamber, in which capacity he had charge
of the presentations for the ensuing year.

This hero of gallantry was now in his seventy-
third year, but age had not diminished his predilection
for the fair sex nor his love of intrigue. Bitterly
jealous of Choiseul's ascendency over the King, and
incensed by the Minister's refusal to allow him scope
for the exercise of the meddlesome activity which he
mistook for genius, he had viewed with unalloyed
satisfaction the advent of a rival influence. At first,
having no great confidence in the permanency of the

by M. de Marigny, to whom he recited some of his shocking
verses one evening when he supped with him, in company with
some persons of quality. He chinked the money in his pocket
and said, laughing: 'This is my good archbishop's; I keep my
word with him; my poem will never be printed so long as I
live, but I read it. What would the worthy prelate say if he knew
that I had shared my last quarter's allowance with a charming
little dancer from the Opera?'

8 Jean Frangois Cailhava d'Estandoux (1731-1813), author of
a number of comedies, including Le Mariage impromptu, L'Ego-
isme, and Le Journaliste Anglais, in the last of which he re-
venged himself upon La Harpe, who had severely criticised his
productions in the Mercure, by making him appear in a most
odious role.


monarch's latest passion, he had hesitated to commit
himself too deeply; but once assured that the affair
was something more than a caprice, he resolved to
lend his support to Madame du Barry, hoping thereby
to ensure the undoing of his enemy and the realisation
of certain political ambitions of his own, to which his
reputation for levity had hitherto opposed an insur-
mountable barrier.

Richelieu's office of First Gentleman of the Bed-
chamber afforded him ample opportunity for private
conversation with his royal master, and it is probable
that he experienced but little difficulty in inducing the
King to lend a willing ear to his suggestion.

There is, indeed, some reason to suppose that Louis
already entertained the idea of having his mistress
presented, and that the marriage on which he had
insisted had had no other object than to pave the
way for this ceremony. The nature of his senile
passion rendered it imperative that its object should be
always near him; but until the lady had been presented
it was impossible for her to ride in the royal carriages,
to be admitted to his Majesty's petit s soupers, to pay
her court to the Dauphin or the King's daughters
(Mesdames), to be present at the ceremonies or fes-
tivities of the Court, to enjoy, in a word, any of those
privileges "without which the mistress was nothing
but a mistress, with which the mistress was the
favourite." For the King to keep her at Versailles
or in the other royal chateaux without acknowledg-
ing her was to tacitly admit that he was in the wrong,
to recognise limits to his power, and Louis XV. had
always believed, as Choiseul observes, that "the eclat
he threw into his amours was a proof of his

The presentation was then decided on, but before it
* E. and J. de Goncourt's La Du Barry, p. 45.


could take place two obstacles had to be surmounted.
The first of these, by a singular coincidence, the King
had himself created. The right of presentation soli-
cited by so many ladies was accorded to comparatively
few. By a decree of April 1760, Louis XV. had very
strictly defined the conditions upon which this favour
was to be accorded. No lady was henceforth to be
eligible who could not satisfy the Court genealogist
that both she and her husband were of noble birth.

To the claim of Madame du Barry's titular husband
no objection w r as likely to be raised; indeed, it had
already been conceded when his younger brother, Elie
du Barry, had been admitted as a pupil to the Ecole
Militaire, and his nephew Adolphe, the "Roue's" son,
appointed page to the King, for both of which posi-
tions proofs of noble birth were rigorously insisted on.
But the favourite herself was in a very different case.
How was she to get rid of the Becus and find a gene-
alogy for the Vauberriiers ?

Although Louis XV. firmly believed that his kingly
dignity placed him above all laws, moral and re-
ligious, he shared the general prejudice of his age, and
entertained the deepest veneration for the rules of
etiquette; and the difficulty with which he now found
himself confronted appears to have occasioned him
the keenest embarrassment. According to Belleval,
he approached the Princesse de Tingry, with the idea
of purchasing for Madame du Barry the principality
of Lus in Bigorre, 5 and allowing her to masquerade
as a foreign princess, in which event, of course, no
proofs of nobility would be required. If such were
the case, the negotiations fell through, for when the

6 Lus in Bigorre was a little town in Gascony, situated on the
River Gave, in the valley of Bareges, three leagues from the
Spanish frontier. It had been united to the royal domain in the
time of Philippe le Bel, but still enjoyed a nominal independence,
It is now known as Luz-Saint-Sauveur.


lady was presented it was certainly not as a foreign
princess. 8 How the difficulty was finally overcome
does not appear to be known. Some writers are of
opinion that the proofs were dispensed with altogether,
while there is a more than remote possibility that
Jean du Barry was again called upon to exercise his
inventive talent.

The second obstacle was less serious, but not less
embarrassing. It was necessary to find a lady who
had already been presented to act as marraine to the
new postulant. This was no easy task. The resent-
ment of the feminine portion of the Court against the
favourite was far from being confined to the coterie
dominated by Madame de Gramont; it was well-nigh
universal. It was felt that for a woman of exalted
position to> undertake so unenviable a duty would mean
degradation; while for one of lower rank to do so
would be to court social ostracism. Every lady who
was applied to indignantly refused, or took refuge in
specious excuses. 7 The Baronne de Montmorency,
who it was thought might be willing to play the part
"in return for money and many favours," set so
exorbitant a price upon her services that the King
found it impossible to comply with her demands, and
the friends of Madame du Barry were in despair.
Finally, however, a marraine was found in the person
of the Comtesse de Beam, a lady of very ancient but
impoverished family, 8 who since the death of her

6 Souvenirs d'un Chevau-leger, p. 117.

7 One lady did consent, but, finding that the King's daughters
turned their backs upon her next time she went to Court, she
took to her bed and gave out that she was stricken with a mortal

8 Angelique Gabrielle Joumard des Achards, married in 1738
to Frangois Alexandre Galard, Vicomte de Beam, Seigneur d'Ar-
gentines. The Galards of Beam claimed descent from the
Merovingiens, through Eude of Aquitaine. They had enjoyed
at one time a quasi-princely rank.


husband had resided entirely upon her estates, and
cared little for the opinion of a Court which she had
ceased to adorn. The countess had come to Paris to
prosecute a lawsuit, in which she herself had been en-
gaged for some years and her family for more than
two centuries. This lawsuit had at length been de-
cided in her favour, but in the interim she had in-
curred large debts, which she was totally unable to
settle. When, therefore, one fine day, Richelieu, who
was a distant connection of her own, waited upon her,
and suggested a way out of the difficulty, she readily
agreed to do what was required of her, and the duke
at once fixed the presentation of Madame du Barry
for January 25.

Meanwhile the war of chansons, pamphlets, and
plays continued with unabated vigour, but whatever
effect it may have produced upon the Court and the
city it had little or none upon the amorous old
monarch, unless to excite his resentment at such un-
warrantable interference in his private affairs. Cha-
grined at his want of success, Choiseul had recourse
to other measures ; he cast about for a rival beauty who
might be capable of weaning the King from Madame
du Barry, and fixed upon the wife of a, Paris doctor, a
Madame Millin, "young and charming and devoted to
his interests."

"I have seen her," writes Belleval, "but, though
very pretty, she is not to be compared with the
favourite. No one seems to think that M. de Choiseul
will succeed in this affair, for the King is too in-

9 Souvenirs d'un Chevau-leger, p. 118.

Writing under date January 15, Hardy confirms Belleyal's ac-
count of this incident, and describes Madame Mellin in much
the same terms: "Young and pretty, but less beautiful than
the countess (du Barry)." Some time afterwards, Choiseul put


Such, indeed, proved to be the case; his Majesty
would have nothing to say to Madame Millin, and, in
despair, the Minister decided to seek the assistance of

The four unmarried daughters of Louis XV.,
Mesdames Adelaide, Victoire, Sophie, and Louise,
lived a very retired and uneventful life, and had little
influence or credit; but the King, in his selfish way,
was much attached to them, and, in accordance with
an old habit, which dated from the time when the
princesses were young and agreeable companions, paid
them daily visits, always at the same hour. The
strict seclusion into which they had withdrawn since
the death of the Queen, and the rigorous discretion
they imposed upon their ladies and little circle of inti-
mates, had hitherto prevented them from, learning of
their royal father's latest conquest, and they were
ignorant even of the existence of such a person as
Madame du Barry. Choiseul, however, having de-
cided that the time had come to enlighten them,
adroitly contrived that a copy of the following verses,
which satirised the favourite without overstepping the
bounds of propriety, should be brought under the
notice of the princesses :

"Lisette ta beaute seduit

Et charme tout le monde.
En vain la Duch'esse en rougit,

Et la princesse en gronde.
Chacun salt qui Venus naquit

De 1'ecume de Tonde.

" En vit-elle moins tous les Dieux

Lui rendre un juste hommage,
Et Paris, ce berger fameux,

Lui donner 1'avantage,
Meme sur la reine des Cieux

Et Minerve le Sage.

forward another lady, his cousin, the Vicomte de Choiseul's
wife, a beautiful Creole; but the King was insensible to her


" Dans le Serrail (sic) du Grand Seigneur

Quelle est la Favorite?
C'est la plus belle au gre du cceur

Du Maitre qui 1'habite.
Cest le seul titre en sa faveur

iit c'est le vrai merite." 10

After perusing these verses, Mesdames very
naturally asked for an explanation, and were
astonished to find that not only was the King en-
gaged in a fresh liaison, but that it was viewed with
complacence by not a few of their devout friends, who
seemed to regard Madame du Barry as destined to re-
pair the evil which Madame de Pompadour and Choi-
seul had brought upon the Church by their anti- Jesuit
policy. The preceptor of the Dauphin and his broth-
ers, the Duke de La Vauguyon, and Madame de
Marsan, gouvernante of the princesses, did not hesi-
tate to assert their conviction that Providence had
chosen this instrument, all unworthy though it was, to
chasten the haughty Minister and bring about his ,

10 These pretty verses have been ascribed to several persons : to
the Due de Nivernais, the Chevalier de Boufflers, and the Abb de
Lattaignan, canon of Rheims. At the time when they were
written the duke was generally believed to be the author ; but
M. Vatel is inclined to give the credit to the abbe. However
that may be, the Choiseul party appear to have been of opinion
that the irony was a little difficult to detect, and, accordingly,
employed one of their scribes to parody the first verse:

" De deux Venus on parle dans le monde,
De toutes deux gouverner fut le lot.

L'une naquit de 1'ecume de 1'onde,
L'autre naquit de 1'ecume du pot."

Th'e " scum of the pot " is, of course, an allusion to the occupa-
tion of the favorite's mother, who had at one time been a cook.
1 Hardy, in his Journal, relates that on the evening of February
i, 1769, a priest of his acquaintance was dining with a friend.
At dessert, another priest who was present invited the company
to drink to "the presentation." Hardy's friend inquired his
meaning, and was told : '* It is that which took place yesterday,
or will take place to-day, the presentation of the new Esther,
Memoirs 3 Vol. 2


Now, Mesdames detested Choiseul. The eldest,
Madame Adelaide, a haughty and vindictive woman,
saw in him only the ally of Austria and the creature
of Madame de Pompadour; the youngest, Madame
Louise, the most intelligent of the family, could not
pardon his expulsion of the Jesuits and his sympathy
with the philosophers. However, they were too sin-
cere in their desire for their royal father's spiritual
welfare they had since the Queen's death cherished
the illusion that the King was "sincerely converted
and resolved to live like a good Christian" to be
deceived by the specious arguments of La Vauguyon
and Madame de Marsan; and no sooner had they
made themselves acquainted with the details of the
affair, than they determined to sacrifice their per-
sonal feelings and make common cause with the

But, unfortunately for Choiseul, the princesses could
not bring themselves to adopt the course which would,
in all likelihood, have at least prevented the presenta-
tion of Madame du Barry, even if it had had no further
results that of openly remonstrating with the King.
They preferred to attack the new favourite by indirect
methods, namely, by using their influence to promote
their father's marriage with the Archduchess Eliza-
beth. In this, as the following letter from Mercy to
Kaunitz clearly indicates, they were unconsciously per-
mitting themselves to be made the agents of the
Austrian Ambassador, who, eager to turn the affair
to the advantage of his Court, had contrived to gain
over Madame Victor's dame d'atours (Mistress of
the Robes) and confidante, the Comtesse de Durfort,

who is to supplant Haman and deliver the Jewish people from
oppression." The new Esther was Madame du Barry, Haman
was Choiseul, and the Jewish people, the clerical party. Journal
des evenements tels qu'ils parviennent a ma connaissance.
(Bibliotheque Nationale.)


and, through her, was pulling the strings with con-
siderable adroitness:


"Paris, December 29, 1768.

"Monseigneur, Some very interesting circum-
stances have lately arisen relative to the matter of
which I had the honour to render an account to your
Highness in my letter of November i. I acquainted
you on that occasion with the first details of the in-
trigue of Madame du Barry, and I added that I was
endeavouring to turn this conjuncture to account to
make it understood how important it was to the tran-
quillity of the Ministers and the glory of the King
that this prince should extricate himself by means o>f
a second marriage from the irregularities to which
he does not cease to abandon himself.

"As soon as this could be done without exciting
suspicion, I insinuated my views into every quarter
where I judged them capable of producing some
effect, and I found occasion to speak of them, amongst
others, to Madame de Durfort, dame d'atours to
Madame de France (Madame Victor). This lady
spoke to me with considerable frankness about Ma-
dame du Barry; she confided to me that, at the out-
set, Mesdames had not imagined that this adventure
was likely to have serious consequences, but that,
alarmed by the public clamour and by the results
which are only too easy to foresee, they were in de-
spair about it, and were seeking means to put an end
to the intrigue.

"A week after the first overtures of Madame de
Durfort, she informed me that Mesdames, still full of
this project, were at length convinced that there was
no other way to establish tranquillity at Court and
in the Royal Family, and that to effect it they were


prepared to use every means of persuasion and to en-
deavour that the choice of the King should fall upon
the Archduchess Elizabeth. Madame de Durfort
added that in supporting this project she had at the
same time suggested the language which Mesdames
should employ towards the monarch, in order to pre-
vail upon him to comply with their wishes.

"In response, I said everything that the circum-
stances required; I enlarged upon the personal ad-
vantages which Mesdames would derive from securing
in the archduchess a sure friend, who, constantly as-
sociated with them, would be in a position to assure
the happiness of the Royal Family by the natural
influence which she would have over the mind of the
King and over that of the Dauphin and future Dau-
phiness. 12 I did not forget to speak of matters likely to
interest Madame de Durfort, and I left her persuaded
to my view of the affair and very pleased with the
conversation which I had had with her "

Madame de Durfort faithfully carried out her errir
ployer's instructions, and, a few days later, Mesdames,
summoning up their courage, astonished the King by
a request that he should give them a queen, and that
the queen should be the Archduchess Elizabeth of
Austria. The monarch seemed at first much embar-
rassed, affected to believe that his daughters spoke in
jest, and enlarged upon the inconveniences inseparable
from second marriages; but ended by laughing good-
humouredly and agreeing to give the matter his con-
sideration. Mesdames returned to the charge each
time their father came to visit them, with the result

"Marie Antoinette, the Archduchess Elizabeth's younger

13 Correspondence secrete du Comte de Mercy-Argenteau avec
I'Empereur Joseph II. et le Prince von Kaunits, par le Chevalier
d'Arneth ct M. Jules Flammermont (Paris, 1896), ii. 347.


that one day they succeeded in extracting- from him
a definite promise to demand the archduchess in mar-
riage, "provided that her person did not displease
him" ; whereupon the princesses, delighted at the suc-
of their scheme, immediately proposed that an artist
should be sent to Vienna to paint the archduchess.
The King consented, and it was decided to offer the
commission to Drouais.

Things seemed to promise well, though Drouais de-
clined the proffered commission, or rather placed a
prohibitive price on his services, 1 * no doubt because,
unknown to Mesdames, he was at that time engaged
on two portraits of the favourite, to which we shall
have occasion to refer later. 15 And we are inclined to
think that it is highly probable that Louis would have
kept the promise he had made his daughters, had the
efforts of the latter but been seconded by Choiseul.
This, however, the Minister seemed unwilling to do,
though Mercy lost no opportunity of "reminding him
of all the reasons which ought to render such a project
(the King's marriage) eminently agreeable and de-
sirable to him."

The truth is that the idea of Louis XV. 's union
with a young princess was very far from commending
itself to the Minister or his sister, Madame de Gra-
mont. To rid themselves of Madame du Barry by such
means seemed to them as unwise as for a person to
submit to a dangerous operation for a disease which

Online LibraryH. Noel (Hugh Noel) WilliamsMemoirs of Madame Du Barry of the court of Louis XV → online text (page 5 of 28)