Copyright
H. Noel (Hugh Noel) Williams.

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

. (page 6 of 28)
Online LibraryH. Noel (Hugh Noel) WilliamsMemoirs of Madame Du Barry of the court of Louis XV → online text (page 6 of 28)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


might conceivably never reach an acute stage. "Per-
sons in power," wrote Mercy to Kaunitz, "imagine
that a queen, judicious and amiable, who would suc-
ceed in gaining the affection of her husband, might
open his eyes to the irregularities and the enormous
abuses which exist in all departments here, and cause
much embarrassment to those who direct them. They
" 80,000 livres. K See p. 103, infra.



72 MADAME DU BARRY

are consequently of opinion that it behoves them to
divert the mind of the King from ideas of marriage ;
and I have very strong proofs that Madame de Gra-
mont, more interested than any one in the maintenance
of the present abuses, has succeeded in persuading
M. de Choiseul to renounce his own predilections in
this affair." 18

Thus, blinded by ambition and cupidity, the
Choiseuls prepared the way for their own fall, by re-
jecting that which would, in all probability, have
proved their salvation.

Nevertheless, for several weeks the question of the
King's re-marriage continued to be a frequent sub-
ject of conversation between Louis XV. and his
daughters, and Mesdames occupied themselves in
seeking a painter to take the place of Drouais, and
ended by recommending Ducrest. The princesses
entertained no doubt whatever as to their father's
sincerity; but such was not the opinion of the watchful
Mercy, who sorrowfully admits to Kaunitz that the
delay in sending a painter to Vienna "renders the in-
tentions of the King so doubtful that he cannot bring
himself to hope for a favourable issue." He adds
that Choiseul is so much incensed against Madame du
Barry that he and the Spanish Ambassador have ex-
perienced the greatest difficulty in prevailing upon
him to renounce "the rash and violent measures on
which he appeared determined" ; but that, on the other
hand, the Minister still clings to the belief that the
favourite will not, after all, be presented, 17 and, in

16 Despatch of November I, 1768.

17 Madame du Deffand was of the same opinion. On January
14 she wrote to Horace Walpole : " I suppose you know all
about the divinity in question (Madame du Barry) ; a nymph
brought out from the most famous retreats of Cythera and
Paphos. No, no; I cannot believe in all that folks foresee; the
greatest obstacles may be overcome, and one may yet be checked
by shame, by mere decency."



MADAME DU BARRY 73

consequence, cannot be persuaded to urge upon the
King the advisability of marrying the Austrian arch-
duchess. From the same letter we learn that his
Most Christian Majesty is passing the greater part of
his time with his new enchantress, that the public is
murmuring and "permitting itself the utmost freedom
of speech," that the revenue for the past year shows
a deficit of 38,000 million livres, that the Comptroller-
General is at his wits' end, and that France seems
bankrupt in both money and morals. 18

Choiseul's belief that the presentation of Madame
du Barry would, after all, be abandoned seemed not
unlikely to be justified, for January 25 passed with-
out the dreaded event taking place. Madame de
Beam's courage, it appeared, had failed her at the
last moment; the icy reception she had encountered
on the occasion of a recent visit to Court had given
her a sprained ankle, and she sent word that it was
impossible for her to leave her room.

The enemies of the favourite could hardly restrain
their elation, and, indeed, Fate seemed to be playing
into their hands, for ere Madame de Beam had had
time to regain her courage and the use of her ankle,
another accident a genuine one this time intervened
to postpone the evil day a second time.

On February 4, Louis XV., while hunting in the
Forest of Saint-Germain, was thrown from his horse,
falling heavily on his right shoulder. The pain was
so severe that he believed that his arm was broken,
and, according to one account, "behaved with a weak-
ness which would have been ridiculous in a little girl
ten years old." A litter was hastily improvised on
which the monarch was conveyed to his carriage, and
orders were given to return to Versailles, where, the
news having preceded his arrival, and a report hav-
18 Despatch of January 24, 1769.



74 MADAME DU BARRY

ing spread that the accident was of an alarming char-
acter, the Court was in a ferment of excitement,
every one speculating as to how his or her position
would be affected in the event of the King succumbing
to his supposed injuries.

On reaching the chateau, it was found that Louis's
arm had swollen to such an extent as to render it
necessary to cut away the sleeve of his coat; but an
examination revealed that beyond a slight dislocation
of the shoulder no harm had been done, and the ex-
citement of the selfish courtiers speedily subsided.
However, having regard to the King's age, the acci-
dent was a rather severe one, and obliged him to keep
his apartments for some time, as a result of which
confinement he developed so alarming an attack of
ennui that Senac, his n>st physician, confided to
Mercy his fear that if his Majesty were to be much
longer deprived of violent exercise, his mind would
become affected, "a danger with which he had long
been threatened."

Illness invariably had the effect of temporarily de-
taching Louis from his mistresses, and for several
days Madame du Barry did not see the King. On
the other hand, Mesdanics were constant in their at-
tendance upon their royal father, while the Dauphin
and his brothers and sisters, by his Majesty's request,
also paid several visits to the sick-room. The im-
pression was general that this return to family life
could hardly fail to make for virtue, or, at least, for
decency; and when it was announced that the King
had given orders for the apartments of Madame
Adelaide, which adjoined his own, to be renovated,
few doubted that the object was to prepare for a
future queen, the Archduchess Elizabeth.

The monarch recovered and resumed his visits tc
"Mercy to Kaunitz, March 14, 1769.



MADAME DU BARRY 75

his new mistress, but the weeks went by and nothing
further was heard of the dreaded presentation. Grad-
ually the opponents of the lady permitted their appre-
hensions to be lulled to rest. The interest of the
Court was transferred to other matters : the marriage
of the Due de Chartres and Mademoiselle de Pen-
thievre, the completion of the grande salle of the Opera
at Versailles, the magnificent fetes which were to cele-
brate the approaching union of the Dauphin and Marie
Antoinette; people ceased to talk of the "Bourbon-



naise.'



The astonishment and indignation, therefore, may
be imagined when towards the middle of April the
announcement was made that on the 22nd of the
month his Majesty would hold a presentation, and that
among the ladies who were to participate in the
honour would be the Comtesse du Barry.

The long-deferred ceremony duly took place, and
Madame du Barry appears to have acquitted herself
well, and to have shown commendable sang-froid in
what the following account, given by Madame de
Genlis, an eye-witness, will show musi have ;>een ex-
ceedingly trying circumstances.

"I went to the presentation of my aunt, and was
highly diverted, for it was the very same day on which
Madame du Barry was presented. It was recognised
on all sides that she was splendidly and tastefully
attired. By daylight, her face was passee, and her
complexion spoiled by freckles. Her bearing was re-
voltingly impudent, and her features far from hand-
some, but she had fair hair of a charming colour,
pretty teeth, and a pleasing expression. She looked

20 The Marquise de Montesson. The other ladies presented
with Madame du Barry were the Marquise de Gouffier, the
Comtesse de Boisgelin, and the Comtesse de Lusignan.



76 MADAME DU BARRY

extremely well at night. We reached the card-tables
in the evening a few minutes before her. At her
entrance, all the ladies who were near the door rushed
tumultuously forward in the opposite direction, in
order to avoid being seated near her, so that between
her and the last lady in the room there was an interval
of four or five empty places. She regarded this
marked and singular movement with the utmost cool-
ness ; nothing affected her imperturbable effrontery.
When the King appeared at the conclusion of play,
she looked at him and smiled. The King at once cast
his eyes round the room in search of her; he ap-
peared in an ill-humour, and almost instantly retired.
The indignation at Versailles was unbounded j 21 for
never had anything so scandalous been seen, not even
the triumphs of Madame de Pompadour. It was
certainly very strange to see at Court Madame la
Marquise de Pompadour, while her husband, M.
Lenormant d'Etioles, was only a farmer-general, but
it was still more odious to see a fille publique presented
with pomp to the whole of the Royal Family. This
and many other instances of unparalleled indecency
cruelly degraded royalty, and, consequently, con-
tributed to bring about the Revolution."

The day following her presentation, which was a
Sunday, Madame du Barry assisted at the King's

21 Hardy, who may be considered the mouthpiece of Paris,
says : " This event aroused great murmuring both in Paris and
Versailles. Some interested persons rejoiced over it, but the
greater number were in consternation."

**Memoires de Madame de Genlis (edit. 1825), p. 89. A news-
sheet of the time, which, however, was not improbably inspired
by the "Roue," or some other ally of the favourite, is far more
indulgent in its criticism : " Madame du Barry has been very
well received by Mesdames, and even with marked graciousness.
All the spectators admired the dignity of her bearing and the
ease of her attitudes. The role of a' lady of the Court is not
an easy one to play at first, but Madame du Barry played it as
if she had been long accustomed to it."



MADAME DU BARRY 77

i

Mass, and occupied in the chapel the place which had
formerly been reserved for Madame de Pompadour.
The attendance of noblemen and ladies of the Court,
it was remarked, was unusually small, but, as a set-off
against this, there were a number of high ecclesiastics
in his Majesty's suite, at the head of whom was the
Archbishop of Rheims. At the conclusion of the
ceremony, Madame du Barry presented herself at the
dinner of Mesdaines and at that of the Dauphin, with
the performance of which duties her installation as
maitresse en titre may be said to have been accom-
plished.



CHAPTER VI

MADAME DU BARRY had then realised her
ambition : the post of maitressc en titre, this
"glorious dishonour" so ardently desired by
so many haughty and highborn dames was hers; but
her triumph was not yet absolute. It remained for her
to overcome the hostility of a Court which had taxed
the resources of her brilliant predecessor to the ut-
most before it had allowed itself to be coerced or
cajoled into complacence; and. Madame de Pompa-
dour, though at the outset of her career she was even
more friendless than Madame du Barry, had had to
encounter no such powerful Minister as Choiseul, no
such bitter antagonists of her own sex as the Duch-
esses de Gramont and de Choiseul and the Princesse
de Beauvau.

The three ladies in question lost not a moment in
proclaiming, or rather reasserting, their inflexible
hostility to the new regime. Immediately after the
presentation, they intimated to the King that, owing
to the changes that had recently taken place at Court,
they feared that their company was less agreeable to
him than formerly, for which reason they begged to
be excused from attendance at the suppers of the
Petits Cabinets. Thus was dispersed that intimate
society which Madame de Pompadour had so skill-
fully gathered round her, and in which Louis XV.
had lived happily for so many years.

Such an example was not likely to be lost upon the
feminine portion of the Court, and during a visit to

78



MADAME DU BARRY 79

Marly which followed close upon the presentation,
the ladies showed their disapproval of his Majesty's
choice in a manner so unmistakable that a general
feeling of uneasiness and constraint prevailed, the
card-tables the visits to Marly were noted for the
high play which took place 1 were well-nigh deserted,
and every one was relieved when the time came to re-
turn to Versailles.

Shunned and slighted on all sides, Madame du
Barry was forced to take refuge in the society of
Madame de Beam; but opposition seemed only to
render the passion of Louis XV. the more stubborn.
"He regards resistance to the object of his caprice,"
wrote Choiseul, "as a want of respect to his royal per-
son ; he recognises in this connection neither decency,
nor rank, nor reputation; he believes that every one
ought to bow before his mistress, because he honours
her with his intimacy ; he is bold in setting at defiance
all the rules of decorum, though in nothing else.
Then he imagines that he has shown his power, and
proved to his Court, to his people, to Europe, that he
is in very truth a monarch to inspire respect." This
is, perhaps, the only occasion on which, bearing up
against all difficulties, Louis showed a degree of firm-
ness and perseverance which failed him in matters of
the first importance.

A few days after the return of the Court to Ver-
sailles, Louis XV., "as some consolation to Madame
du Barry, who had made bitter complaints to the
King about the contempt that the ladies of the Court
manifested towards her," gave a supper at Bellevue,



1 And had been so for nearly a century. In 1686, the Due du
Maine wrote to Madame de Maintenon : " As it is impossible
to be at Marly without playing, or to find any one willing to play
for small stakes, I lost yesterday fifty pistoles to M. de Richelieu
and as much to the Comte de Grammont."

2 Hardy's Journal.



8o MADAME DU BARRY

the beautiful chateau which Madame de Pompadour
had built on the banks of the Seine, between Sevres
and Meudon, in 1750, and sold to the monarch seven
years later. The presence of eight of the haughtiest
dames to be found at Versailles was requested, who, of
course, had no option but to obey, though, as may be
imagined, they did so with the worst possible grace;
while invitations were also sent to a number of noble-
men, amongst whom, to the general astonishment,
Choiseul was included.

"One would imagine," writes Belleval, "that his
Majesty derived amusement from seeing the cat and
dog together;" but though this view of the matter
is quite in keeping with the singular character of
Louis XV., we are inclined to think that the invitation
was inspired by a very different motive, namely, that
the King desired to show the Minister that he was
firmly resolved to support his new mistress, and to
afford him an opportunity of becoming reconciled to
her. A dinner an grand cowuert would not have
suited his purpose so well, while Choiseul would have
declined an invitation to Madame du Barry's apart-
ments. Bellevue, however, was neutral ground, on
which both parties might meet without embarrass-
ment.

If such was the King's intention his scheme came
to nothing. Choiseul accepted the invitation he
could not well refuse took his place at table with
Louis and the favourite, and treated the latter with
punctilious courtesy. But, at the same time, he con-
trived to convey the impression that he was doing
violence to his feelings by joining the party, and that
nothing but the respect he owed his sovereign would
have induced him thus to compromise his dignity.

In pursuance of his resolution to compel the Court
3 Souvenirs d'un Chevau-Uger, p. lao.



MADAME DU BARRY 81

to accept his mistress, Louis now bestirred himself,
with an activity very unusual in one of his indolent
temperament, to rally people to the standard of Ma-
dame du Barry and give her something more than a
nominal footing at Versailles. This, as may be sup-
possed, was no pleasant task. The men were com-
placent enough. The King's personal friends, Riche-
lieu, Soubise, Chauvelin, Villeroi, and others, had no
scruples about paying homage to the new divinity; it
was all in the day's work, so to speak. But, in an
affair of this nature, the masculine attitude was of
very secondary importance indeed; it was the women
who ruled the Court, and, in the absence of a queen
or a dauphiness, the women followed the lead of
Madame de Gramont and her coterie and remained
obdurate.

To break through the quarantine to which his mis-
tress was subjected the King perceived that the first
step must be to secure for her the countenance and
support of some great lady- -Madame de Beam had
"too much the air of an aunt on hire" to command
any following at Court and, accordingly, turned his
eyes towards the old Marechale de Mirepoix, whose
necessities, he thought, might incline her to undertake
the role, if it carried with it a sufficiently tempting
emolument. In this he was not mistaken. The
Marechale de Mirepoix, who was the sister of the
Prince de Beauvau, and had been the bosom friend of
Madame de Pompadour, belonged to the Choiseul
party, though her reluctance to compromise herself
with the King had prevented her from taking an
active part in the campaign against Madame du
Barry. She enjoyed a very considerable income, but,
owing to her extravagance and her passion for play,
was continually in pecuniary difficulties, and esti-
mated that her expenditure exceeded her receipts by



82 MADAME DU BARRY

nearly 20,000 livres, "which occasioned constant dis-
order in her affairs, and subjected her daily to writs,
executions, and all sorts of humiliations." For some
years past, Louis, who was very fond of the old lady
she was one oi the few persons who possessed the
secret of relieving his ennui had been in the habit of
making her an annual gratification of 12,000 livres, to
enable her to pacify the most importunate of her
creditors; and the promise that this sum should be
materially increased sufficed to secure her chaperon-
nage for Madame du Barry.

All the partisans of Choiseul were highly indignant
at the defection of Madame de Mirepoix, and were
loud in their denunciation of her conduct, declaring
that it seemed as if she were an appanage of the post
of favourite, to be passed on from one mistress to
another like a piece of furniture. But, though Ma-
dame du Deffand wrote that the marechale appeared
"very sad and troubled, and, for the first time in her
life, unable to disguise her embarrassment," the latter
stood to her guns, and Madame du Barry, either from
inclination or gratitude, soon became so attached to
"la petite maressale," as she called her new ally, that
she could not endure to be separated from her.

The reasons which had prompted "la petite mares-
sale" to cast in her lot with the despised favourite
were too generally understood for her to find many
followers. However, the hope of procuring some ad-
vantage for themselves or their relatives brought,
after a while, several welcome recruits to the Du
Barry party, prominent amongst whom were the
Princesse de Montmorency and the Comtesse de
Valentinois; while the Marquise de THopital was
persuaded by Soubise, whose mistress she was, to
throw what little influence she possessed into the same
scale. Thus Madame du Barry found herself the



MADAME DU BARRY 83

centre of a group of ladies, which, whatever claim it
may have had to consideration, could at least boast
great names.

One of the attributes of a maitresse en titre was to
receive the homage of men of letters, and, in return,
to bestow upon them her patronage and protection.
This homage frequently took the form of flattering,
not to say fulsome, dedications prefaced to their
works. Thus La Fontaine had dedicated the second
collection of his fables to Madame de Montespan, 4
Crebillon perc his Catilina to Madame de Pompadour,
and Voltaire his Tancredc to the same lady. Madame
du Barry had not long to wait for Literature to begin
burning incense at her shrine. A few weeks after her
presentation, a certain Chevalier de la Morliere sent
her a copy of a work entitled, Le Fatalisme, ou collec-
tion d' anecdotes pour prouver I' influence du sort sur
rhistoire du cceur humaine, preceded by a most com-
plimentary dedication, wherein he assured her that
''Nature had lavished upon her her rarest gifts," that
"kindness, benevolence, and sweetness of disposition"
were hers, and that, "inspired by these estimable quali-
ties," it would be her destiny to honour the arts and
sciences and "all that would appear to her worthy of
marked distinction."

Unfortunately for Madame du Barry, the author of
Le Fatalisme was very far from being a Voltaire, a
La Fontaine, or even a Crebillon. Bachaumont de-
scribes him as "an author better known by his knavery,
impudence, and baseness than by his works," and in-
deed he appears to have been a most undesirable
protege. A man of some talent, he had commenced

k Two years later, La Fontaine celebrated the charms of
Madame de Montespan's youthful rival, Mademoiselle de Fon-
tanges, whom he apostrophised as " charmant objet, digne
present des deux"



84 MADAME DU BARRY

his literary career by the production of several ro-
mances, one of which, called Angola, which was pub-
lished anonymously, had so great a vogue that it was
attributed to Crebillon His. 5 The profits of these
works, however, failed to accord with the writer's
expectations, and he therefore sought to augment
them by becoming a "dramatic critic" and levying
blackmail upon the luckless playwrights of his time.
The claque of which he was the head was so numerous
and noisy that it was able to secure the success or
failure of all but the productions of dramatists of
established reputation, and managers trembled at the
chevalier's nod.

Emboldened by his success, he imagined that it
would be an easy matter to secure the triumph of any
work of his own. But in this he was mistaken, as,
though the poor actors did not dare to refuse his
plays, they failed lamentably, notwithstanding the skil-
ful manoeuvres of his friends, "sustained by the zeal-
ous efforts of his creditors." After this his influence
declined rapidly, and he became an object of ridicule
and contempt to those who had formerly solicited his
suffrages. Finding himself compelled to seek a fresh
field for the exercise of his talents, he established a
sort of academy for embryo actresses, and cheated his
pupils so outrageously that his relatives were forced
to shut him up, on the plea of insanity, to save him
from a worse fate. On his release, he resumed his
literary pursuits, and when Madame du Barry rose to
favour, hastened to make a bid for her patronage.

La Morliere's dedication secured him a ready sale

* He was also the author of a work entitled, Les Lanriers ec-
clesiastiques, ou campagnes de I' Abbe de T. . . ., which bears
the distinction of being one of the most obscene in the French
language. It was suppressed, and the few copies which escaped
the vigilance of the police now command a very high price, and
are "tres recherches par les libertins."



MADAME DU BARRY 85

for his book and an invitation to sup with the countess,
who accorded him "a gracious reception," and a pres-
ent of one hundred louis. Here, however, his connec-
tion with Madame du Barry seems to have ended, very
probably because the lady was annoyed by the ridicule
to which the adulation of a person of such chequered
antecedents exposed her.

Other men of letters followed La Morliere's ex-
ample, and among the volumes in the Versailles Li-
brary bearing the arms and device of Madame du
Barry are four works prefaced by dedications to the
favourite.

The first of these is entitled : Le Royalisnie, on
Memoir es de du Barry de Saint- Aunet et de Constance
de Cezelli, sa fcmme, anecdotes hero'iques sous Henry
IV ., par M. de Limairac. The author in his dedica-
tion announces that heroism is the heritage of every
Du Barry.

The second is an almanac for the year 1774, called
the Almanack de Flore, printed in red, with a portrait
of Madame du Barry as a sunflower turned to the sun,
numerous illustrations, horoscopes, and so forth. It
was the work of a certain M. Douin, "captain of
cavalry," assisted by a M. Chevalier, "lieutenant of
infantry," and one Douin, "formerly soldier of in-
fantry."

The remaining works are by writers of considerable
reputation, at least in their own day. One, a trans-
lation from the Idyllen of Salomon Gessner, is from
the pen of Jacques Henri Meister, the friend of
Diderot and Grimm, who addresses the new mistress
of Louis XV. in the following terms :



Online LibraryH. Noel (Hugh Noel) WilliamsMemoirs of Madame Du Barry of the court of Louis XV → online text (page 6 of 28)