Copyright
H. Noel (Hugh Noel) Williams.

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

. (page 7 of 28)
Online LibraryH. Noel (Hugh Noel) WilliamsMemoirs of Madame Du Barry of the court of Louis XV → online text (page 7 of 28)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


" De la beaute, Tes talents et les arts
Cherissent tous 1'aimable empire.
Que 1'eglogue au naif sourire
Arrete un instant vos regards!



MADAME DU BARRY

Comme vous, belle sans parure,
Elle doit tout aux mains de la nature.
Comme vous, elle a quelquefois
Sous 1'air d'une simple bergere,
Charme les heros et les rois.



The other, a poetical recueil containing two comic
operas, Les Etrenncs de I' Amour, and Le Nouveau
Marie, is by Madame du Barry's friend, Cailhava;
and the favourite finds herself apostrophised on the
first page as "beautiful Cytherea" and "amiable
Hebe." 6

6 E. and J. de Goncourt's La Du Barry, p. 65 note. Querard's
La France litter air e, passim.



CHAPTER VII

THE new favourite was soon afforded an op-
portunity of using her influence in a more
worthy manner than in patronising sycophantic
men of letters.

Although the punishments meted out to evil-doers
in the eighteenth century were still reminiscent of the
dark ages, the right of pardon possessed by the Crown
was very rarely exercised. Louis XV., so indulgent
towards his own follies and vices, was far from being
so towards those of others, and was but little inclined
to interfere with the course of the law, even in cases
where a manifest injustice had been perpetrated; the
Queen never had any influence with her husband or
his Ministers after the first few years of her married
life; Madame de Mailly, charitable and kind-hearted
though she was, could never be persuaded to meddle
with matters which did not immediately concern her;
Madame de Chateauroux's reign was, of course, too
short for her to have much opportunity for deeds of
mercy ; while Madame de Pompadour, who could have
dictated her will to the Chancellor as to the other
Ministers, was far more ready to people the dungeons
than to open them.

The condemned criminal had, therefore, up to the
present, lacked an intercessor, but in Madame du
Barry he was to find a very efficient one. Whatever
may have been the faults of the new mistress and,
apart from her unchastity, prodigality and love of dis-
play are, after all, the only charges which can be truth-

87



88 MADAME DU BARRY

fully brought against her there can be no question
that she was a woman of genuine kindness of disposi-
tion in whose heart the sight of suffering never failed
to awaken a responsive echo ; and on several occasions
during her favour we find her intervening with suc-
cess on behalf of those who would otherwise have
suffered the extreme penalty of the law.

Two of these cases occurred in the summer of 1769,
only a few weeks after her recognition as Madame de
Pompadour's successor.

Harsh as was the old French law, it was particularly
so in regard to infanticide. An edict of Henri II.,
bearing date February 1556, prescribed that a woman
convicted of concealing her pregnancy should, in the
event of her child's death, be adjudged guilty of homi-
cide and punished accordingly. This law was still in
force, and in virtue of it, in June 1769, a girl named
Appoline Gregeois, of the parish of Liancourt, in the
Vexin, whose offence had been aggravated by several
petty thefts, committed, apparently, with the view of
providing for her accouchement, was brought to trial
and condemned to death.

The case, in some way, was brought to the notice of
Madame du Barry, who, touched with compassion, at
once interested herself on the unhappy young woman's
behalf. At her solicitation the pro cur eur- general
granted a respite, and, a week later, she had the satis-
faction of learning that the capital sentence had been
commuted to one of three years' imprisonment.

A fortnight after the favourite's successful interven-
tion on behalf of Appoline Gregeois, her good offices
were again requisitioned, on this occasion to save a
high and puissant seigneur and his lady from the con-
sequences of armed resistance to the officers of the law,
which in those days was construed into rebellion
against the King. As this case, besides being one of



MADAME DU BARRY 89

the most sensational of the reign, contributed not a
little towards reconciling the nobility to the new re-
gime, it is deserving of something more than passing
mention.

On the borders of Champagne and the Orleanais
stood an old, ruinous chateau called Parc-Vieil, the
seat of a certain Comte and Comtesse de Louesme.
Like the chateau, the family of Louesme had fallen on
evil times; their estates had been sequestrated and
their personal property as well ; but, as they had pro-
claimed their determination of resisting vi et armis
any attempt to seize the latter, they were, for some
time, left in undisturbed possession of their old home.

As ill-luck would have it, however, in the summer
of 1768, the bailiwick in which the chateau of Parc-
Vieil was situated passed into the hands of a certain
Dorcy, "a man of resolute character and an astute
practitioner," who had no sooner been informed of the
facts of the case than he determined to bring the Comte
and Comtesse de Louesme to reason without a mo-
ment's delay. Accordingly, on July I, between three
and four o'clock in the morning, he arrived at Parc-
Vieil, accompanied by two bailiffs named Jolivet and
Chamon and the marechaussee, or mounted gendarm-
erie, of Saint-Fargeau and Courtenay.

Although not precisely a stronghold, Parc-Vieil was
far from an easy place to take by storm, as it was
surrounded by a deep moat, the place of the draw-
bridge, which had long since broken down, being sup-
plied by planks, which were removed at night. Dorcy '
summoned the garrison to surrender; the count and
countess appeared on the battlements, and defied him
to do his worst, upon which, perceiving that further
argument would be useless, the besiegers threw a
bridge across the moat and advanced to the assault.

The Comte de Louesme's threats of armed resistance,



9 o MADAME DU BARRY

however, had been no idle talk. Hurrying down to
the door, he thrust the barrel of a gun through a loop-
hole, and threatened to fire upon the enemy if they ap-
proached a step nearer. The bailiff Jolivet seized the
gun by the muzzle and attempted to wrest it from
the grasp of the infuriated nobleman, with the result
that it went off, and a general engagement ensued, in
the course of which the Comtesse de Loiiesme, who
had come to her husband's assistance, fired at Jolivet,
wounding him mortally. Another of the attacking
party was also fatally injured, and, in the end, Dorcy
was compelled to raise the siege.

Two days passed, which were utilised by the gar-
rison in strengthening their defences, and by Dorcy in
collecting reinforcements, and, on the night of July 3,
quite an army appeared before the chateau, composed
of the marechaussee of Saint-Fargeau, Courtenay, and
Montargis, and a number of armed peasants, who had
been called upon to support the majesty of the law.
A second engagement followed, in which Godard, the
coachman of the Loiiesmes and an old retainer of the
family, was killed, and the countess herself slightly
wounded, whereupon the count yielded to the en-
treaties of his terrified servants and surrendered.

The affair caused an immense sensation, for though
such incidents had been common enough during the
anarchy of the Fronde, they had since been of very rare
occurrence. 1 As the persons implicated were of high
rank, it was deemed inexpedient to leave the matter
to the jurisdiction of the local courts, and, accordingly,

1 There had, however, been a somewhat similar affair fourteen
years earlier, when the Marquis de Pleumartin, a nobleman of
Poitou, for whose arrest a warrant had been issued, not the com-
mander of the marechaussee who had come to arrest him. He
was condemned to be beheaded, but, in order to spare his family
the ignominy of a public execution, he was strangled in prison.
Journal du Marquis d'Argenson, January 1755, cited by M. VateL



MADAME DU BARRY 91

the King issued letters patent directing that the case
should be tried by the Parliament of Paris. For some
reason, however, the trial was postponed for a year,
and it was not until July 4, 1769, that the count and
countess were arraigned before the Grande Chambre
and Tournelle sitting together.

The prisoners had practically no defence, and the
only plea that their advocate could find to put forward
was that the first execution had been irregular, inas-
much as Dorcy and his followers had commenced hos-
tilities before sunrise. This was promptly overruled,
and five witnesses having deposed that the Comtesse
de Loiiesme had fired the shot which had been re-
sponsible for the death of the unfortunate Jolivet, both
she and her husband were condemned to be beheaded,
the sentence to be carried out on the following day. 3

The rank of the condemned, their connection with
several persons high in favour at Court, and particu-
larly the fact that they were related to the Chancellor,
Maupeou, combined to induce the belief that the capi-
tal sentence would be immediately commuted. The
astonishment, therefore, was profound when it became
known that the Chancellor had refused to take any
steps on their behalf, declaring that the crime was one
which the King's oath forbade him to pardon ; and that
Louis XV., acting doubtless on his Minister's advice,
had turned a deaf ear to the entreaties of the Com-
tesse de Moyon, the daughter of the Loiiesmes, and
replied that the law must take its course.

It was then that a friend of the unhappy pair deter-
mined to address himself to the Comtesse de Beam
and, through her, to Madame du Barry, in the hope

2 Occasionally when the sentence was pronounced in the morn-
ing, it was executed the same day. Thus, in November 1746,
the procureur-general sent a placet ordering the release of one
Guillaume Cor, to which the reply was : " Remission. Affair
concluded. Guillaume Cor has been hanged."



92 MADAME DU BARRY

that the latter, whose sympathy had been so readily
aroused by the misfortunes of a poor peasant-girl,
might not be unwilling to interest herself in those of
offenders of a more exalted station.

The favourite at once promised to use her influence
on the side of mercy, and, hastening to the King, threw
herself on her knees before him and announced her
intention of remaining in that position until his
Majesty accorded her prayer. Louis, who had re-
mained unmoved by the tears and supplications of the
Comtesse de Moyon, was not proof against the en-
treaties of his beautiful mistress, and, raising her
up, exclaimed : " Madame, I am enchanted that the
first favour you obtain from me should be an act of
humanity."

The sentence on the Comte and Comtesse de
Loiiesme was commuted to imprisonment, and they
were confined in the Chateau of Saumur, their rela-
tives being charged with the expense of their main-
tenance. In 1778, their detention, in its turn, was
commuted to banishment; Louis XV., at the same
time, granting them a small pension.

Not even the bitterest critic of Madame du Barry
has ever ventured to suggest that the countess's con-
duct in this affair was prompted by any other motive
than humanity ; nevertheless, it had all the results of a
most skilful political move. Not only did it afford a
striking proof of the lady's influence over the King,
and thus decide many waverers to accord her their sup-
port, but, by inspiring a belief that this influence
would be exercised in no unworthy manner, it con-
ciliated not a few of those who had hitherto opposed
her from disinterested motives. Outside the Court,
too, it produced a strong reaction in her favour; Vol-
taire, in a letter to the Comtesse de Rochefort, ex-
presses his conviction that Madame du Barry was "a



MADAME DU BARRY 93

kind-hearted woman" (une bonne femme), and this
opinion appears to have been widespread. "No one,
unless he had personal motives for enmity to the
favourite," writes Pidansat, in one of his rare excur-
sions into the truth, "could fail to like her, and to re-
ject the impressions that prejudiced people and her
enemies had spread abroad about her; she was so
courteous, affable, and gentle. She had the virtue,
rare, especially among her own sex, of never speaking
ill of any one, and never permitting herself complaints
and reproaches against those who envied her and
those who had not only published abroad the not too
creditable stories of her life, but had embroidered
them with infamies and enormities."

Madame de Montespan had had her Clagny,
Madame de Pompadour her Bellevue, her Crecy, and
her La Celle; it was, therefore, only in accordance
with precedent that Madame du Barry should possess
a country-seat befitting her high position; and on
July 24, a fortnight after the arrival of the Court on
its annual visit to Compiegne, Louis XV. presented his
new favourite with a brevet conferring upon her the
tenancy for life of the beautiful chateau and estate of
Louveciennes, situated a short distance from the left
bank of the Seine and adjoining the park of Marly. 4

8 Anecdotes, \. 152.
4 Here is the brevet :

"Brevet of the gift of the pavilion of Louvetiennes
in favour of madame la comtesse du Barri,

" Of July 24, 1769.

" To-day, twenty-fourth of July, seventeen hundred and sixty-
nine, the King being at Compiegne, and being desirous of giving
to the dame comtesse du Barry a mark of the consid'eration with
which his Majesty honours her, has accorded and made to her
a gift of the pavilion of Louvetiennes, its gardens, and depend-
encies, the 'enjoyment of which has already been accorded by
his Majesty to the comtesse de Toulouse, and after her to Mgr.
le due de Penthievre, who has surrendered it, in order that the



94 MADAME DU BARRY

The estate of Louveciennes, frequently abbreviated
into Luciennes, originally belonged to a Marquis de
Beringhen, who, in the year 1690, sold it to Louis
XIV., or, to speak more precisely, exchanged it for
another property, that of Chatellenie-de-Tournan, in
Brie. At this period there was no house upon the
estate, but Louis XIV. built one as a residence for
Baron Deville, the Flemish engineer, who designed the
famous hydraulic machine at Marly. Deville left
France in 1708, whereupon the house was transformed
into a little chateau and presented for life to Mad-
emoiselle de Clermont, daughter of the Prince de
Conde and Mademoiselle de Nantes, upon whose death
in 1741, Louis XV. gave it to the Comtesse de Tou-
louse, in recognition, it is believed, of her services in
the King's amours with the sisters de Nesle. E The
countess died in January 1766, and was succeeded as
tenant by her only son, the Due de Penthievre. But,
a year later, the duke's heir, the young Prince de
Lamballe, who had recently married Marie Therese
de Savoie, Princesse de Carignan, the beautiful and
unfortunate lady who met so horrible a fate during
the Revolution, died there also, the victim of a pain-
ful disease; and his father, unwilling to reside any
longer in a house which possessed for him such pain-
ful associations, gave the property back to the King.*

said dame comtesse du Barry may enjoy during her life the said
pavilion and such dependencies as belong and appertain to it,
in conformity with the plan deposed at the office of Director-
General of his Majesty's Board of Works. . . . And, in assur-
ance of his will, his Majesty has signed with his own hand the
pres'ent brevet, and caused it to be countersigned by me, under-
secretary of State and his orders. (Signed) Louis (and, lower
down,) PHELY-PEAUX." Archives nationales, Registre des Bre-
vets, cited by E. and J. de Goncourt, La Du Barry, p. 64 note.

6 The Due de Luynes, who describes the view from Louve-
ciennes as charming and the house as very beautiful, says that
the Queen had asked for it, but had been refused.

6 Histoire de Madame du Barry, i. 254.



MADAME DU BARRY 95

It is somewhat difficult to understand why Louve-
ciennes should have been chosen as the country-seat of
a royal favourite, as the enjoyment to be derived from
the beautiful view which its windows commanded must
have been largely discounted by the fact that the
hydraulic machine, with its unceasing clang, was
situated immediately below the house ; while the build-
ing itself was far too small to accommodate even
Madame du Barry's retinue of servants, to say noth-
ing of the numerous entourage which etiquette de-
manded should accompany the King whenever he
honoured one of his subjects by a visit.

The hydraulic machine, unfortunately, could not well
be removed even to gratify Madame du Barry, but
everything that money could effect towards remedying
the architectural deficiencies was done, and extensive
additions and alterations were designed by Jacques
Ange Gabriel, first architect to the King, and carried
out by his son, the Comptroller of Buildings at
Marly.

These additions and alterations, which included the
restoration of part of the chateau and the making of
a bath-room and an orangery, were commonly re-
ported to have involved the expenditure of enormous
sums, but, according to a memoir of Gabriel, the total
cost of the work was under 139,000 livres.

'The principal dispositions of the building having
remained unchanged," says M. Vatel, "one is still able
to give a description of this residence. It consisted, on
the ground floor, of an entrance-hall or vestibule 20
feet by 18, the lofty ceiling of which is decorated by a
frieze, delicately sculptured, representing children at
play. Then comes the dining-room, adorned with a
beautiful old wainscot, ornamented with all the at-
tributes of the country and the chase. Harvesters'
rakes and hats, hunting horns and cymbals, arrows and



96 MADAME DU BARRY

quivers, all indicate the pleasures of the fields. In the
centre of one side of the room is a magnificent marble
chimney-piece.

"The salon is decorated in the same style. Its
length is 4 toises, its height 2^ toises ; it is lighted by
two large windows, and is approached by a glass door
giving on to a flight of steps. The wainscot shows the
same intersections as the dining-room, violins and
shepherds' pipes, bagpipes and guitars, phcenix and
peacock, and all around a frieze representing figures of
women and children.

"Above, on the first floor, was situated the apart-
ment of Madame du Barry, which faced north, while
on the south side was that of the King; later, the
Due de Brissac's. 7

'The main building was prolonged by a gallery of
considerable length, which was used as an orangery,
and at the end of this was a chapel."

The visit of the Court to Compiegne did not termi-
nate without an unpleasant incident, occasioned by
the continued hostility of Choiseul to the new fa-
vourite.

For the purpose of giving the Dauphin and his
brothers some instruction in military matters, a
"pleasure camp" was formed at Verberie, in the plain
of Royal-Lieu, under the command of Baron Wurm-
ser, Lieutenant-General and Chief-Inspector of the
German infantry regiments in the French service.
The manoeuvres, which lasted three days, were wit-
nessed by Louis XV., his three grandsons, Mesdames
and Madame du Barry; and Dumouriez, who had
known the lady in the days when she presided over the

T Louis H'ercule Timoleon de Cosse, Due de Brissac (i734"
1792), the penultimate lover of Madame du Barry.
8 Histoire de Madame du Barry, i. 264.



MADAME DU BARRY 97

menage of the "Roue" and had lately returned from
Germany, was profoundly shocked at "the sight of
the old King of France degrading himself by stand-
ing with doffed hat beside a magnificent phaeton, in
which the Du Barry was reclining."

Among the troops assembled at Verberie was the
Regiment de Beauce, in which Elie du Barry, younger
brother of Jean and Guillaume, held a commission.
An exchange of civilities took place between the
favourite and the officers of her brother-in-law's regi-
ment ; the officers invited Madame du Barry to dine in
the camp, and she, in her turn, entertained them to a
magnificent banquet. Indeed, so excellent an under-
standing prevailed that when, on the last day of the
manoeuvres, the favourite's carriage passed down the
line, the Chevalier de la Tour-du-Pin, the colonel of
the Regiment de Beauce, thought that he could do no
less than order his men to present arms, an honour
hitherto expressly reserved on these occasions for the
King and members of the Royal Family.

Choiseul, who, in his capacity as Minister of War,
had also attended the manoeuvres, was highly incensed
at the unprecedented marks of distinction accorded to
his enemy, and severely reprimanded all concerned.
His action was duly reported to Louis XV., who there-
upon wrote him the following letter :

LOUIS XV. to THE DUG DE CHOISEUL.

"As I have promised to tell you all that occurs to
me concerning you, I now acquit myself of that task.

"It is said that you rated Wurmser, for what reason
I know not, but that you let fall a good round oath*

"It is said that you rated the Chevalier de la Tour-

* La Vie et les^ memoires du General Dumouries (edit. Berville
and Barriere), i. 141.
10 The word in the original is too coarse for modern print.



98 MADAME DU BARRY

du-Pin, because Madame du Barry dined in the camp,
and because the majority of the officers dined with her
on the day of the review.

"You also reprimanded Foulon, 11 in his turn.

"You promised that I should hear no more from
you about her."

"I speak to you in confidence and friendship. You
may be inveighed against in public; it is the fate of
Ministers, especially when they are believed to be
antagonist to the friends of the master; but, for all
that, the master is always very satisfied with their
work, and with yours in particular."

Choiseul replies at great length, endeavouring to
justify his conduct; which, he maintains, has been
grossly, and purposely, misrepresented, and expressly
disclaiming all hostilities to Madame du Barry.

After acknowledging, in suitable terms, the expres-
sions of kindness and confidence which the King's
letter contained, he declares that his Majesty must
know, "in the bottom of his soul," that he (Choiseul)
is the particular object of the hatred of those about
Madame du Barry. These he divides into two classes :
"persons of seventy years of age and upwards" ' and
"young persons." His Majesty, he says, will know
how much credit to attach to the statements and
motives of the former ; as for the latter, "who imagine
that they are doing something wonderful in deriding
and braving your Minister," they merely excite
contempt.

11 Joseph Francois Foulon de Doue, who said, or was reported
to have said, that if the poor lacked bread, they could eat grass,
and was hanged by the mob of Paris, July 22, 1789. He was at
this time commissaire des guerres.

"From this it would appear that Choiseul had at length at-
tempted some remonstrance with the King in regard to Madame
du Barry, very probably after the supper at Bellevue.

18 The "Due de Richelieu.



MADAME DU BARRY 99

He denies that he rated Baron Wurmser, for it is
not rating to say, "My dear Wurmser, hasten; the
King has been waiting half an hour." Never had
he used improper language towards any officer.
"Wurmser is here and can speak the truth."

He continues :

"As regards the Regiment de Beauce, there is no
more truth in that, though there is more appearance
of truth. I never rated the Chevalier de la Tour-du-
Pin; I never spoke to him about either giving or
accepting a dinner. I am, Sire, a thousand leagues
ibove such wretched trifles. The day on which your
Majesty witnessed the manoeuvres of the forty-two
battalions, word was brought me that the Regiment
de Beauce, after your Majesty had passed down the
line, had saluted and rendered the same honours to
Madame du Barry as to yourself. I did not say a
word to the person who brought me the information.
In the evening, in my apartments, the same thing was
repeated, but I appeared to pay no attention to it.
The following day, on going to see this brigade ma-
noeuvre, I told M. de Rochambeau that it had been re-
ported to me that the Regiment de Beauce had saluted
other carriages than those of the Royal Family while
his Majesty was in front of the line; that that was
not right ; and I charged him to warn M. de la Tour-
du-Pin that he ought not to salute any one else when
the King was in camp."

The Minister then points out that La Tour-du-Pin
has been promoted to the rank of brigadier, and that
all the requests made by the officers of his regiment
(presumably for leave) have been granted, "which
proves that there is no ill-humour on my part."



Online LibraryH. Noel (Hugh Noel) WilliamsMemoirs of Madame Du Barry of the court of Louis XV → online text (page 7 of 28)