Madame du Barry, or Jeanne Becu (19 August 1743 – 8 December 1793), was the last chief mistress (or maitresse-en-titre) of Louis XV of France. At the high point of her career she was one of the most influential women in France. Although her origins do not reflect this, as the illegitimate daughter of a seamstress she came from a fairly lowborn family. Her predecessor, Marquise de Pompadour, had set a precedent for girls who weren‚Äôt a part of the French nobility becoming the maitress-en-titre, although Jeanne had further to climb than de Pompadour.
In her youth she had a variety of different jobs including milliners assistant and companion for an elderly widow. But it¬†was her job in a brothel-casino where she caught the eye of Jean-Baptiste du Barry, a high-class pimp. She became his mistress, and he helped her to become a high-class courtesan, with her new name Madmoiselle Lange. Due to her incredible beauty she was an immediate success, and her many lovers included government ministers and courtiers of the King.
She was introduced by Richelieu to the ageing King Louis, who had not taken an official court mistress since the death of Marquise de Pompadour four years prior. However, to be the King’s official mistress she needed to have a title, so to do this she married Jean-Baptiste‚Äôs brother, Comte Guillaume du Barry, becoming¬†Madame du Barry. She was installed above the Kings’ rooms, but was initially very lonely. She needed a sponsor to introduce her to court and struggled¬†to find anyone willing due to her background. Eventually Madame de Bearn was persuaded, in return for the payment of her exorbitant¬†gambling debts.
Once in a position of wealth and power Madame du Barry lived extravagantly but generously. She far outspent the King’s generous allowance, but she was very caring, intervening to save people from the gallows on several occasions. One of these was a young girl sentenced to death for infanticide for having a stillborn baby and not telling the authorities.
Louis XV fell ill in 1774 after contracting smallpox. Knowing he was close to death he requested Madame du Barry leave Versailles so he could repent his sins and receive last rites. When his grandson Louis XVI ascended the throne, his wife Marie-Antoinette ensured she was exiled to the ‚ÄòAbbey du Pont-aux-Dames‚Äô. She had long despised Madame du Barry for her immorality and background. Two years later she retired to Louveciennes.
During the French Revolution she was accused of financially helping those who had fled France and was arrested. She was beheaded by guillotine on 8 December 1793 on Place de la Revolution, she was buried in the Madeleine cemetery the same place Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were buried.
Girl Museum Inc.