Madame du Barry

Jeanne Bécu
Countess of Barry
Madame Dubarry1.jpg
Madame du Barry by Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, 1781
Born(1743-08-19)19 August 1743
Vaucouleurs, France
Died8 December 1793(1793-12-08) (aged 50)
Paris, France
Spouse(s)Comte Guillaume du Barry
OccupationMaîtresse-en-titre to Louis XV

Jeanne Bécu, Comtesse du Barry (19 August 1743 – 8 December 1793) was the last Maîtresse-en-titre of Louis XV of France and one of the victims of the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution.[1][2]

Early Life

Madame du Barry by Auguste de Creuse

Jeanne Bécu was born at Vaucouleurs, in the present-day Meuse department in Lorraine, France, as the illegitimate daughter of Anne Bécu, a seamstress.[3] Jeanne's father was possibly Jean Jacques Gomard, a friar known as frère Ange.

During her childhood, one of her mother's acquaintances (possibly briefly a lover), Monsieur Billiard-Dumonceaux, and possibly father of Jeanne's half-brother Claude (who died in infancy when only ten months old) took both Anne and three-year-old Jeanne into his care when they traveled from Vaucouleurs to Paris and installed Anne as a cook in his Italian mistress's household. Little Jeanette was well liked by Dumonceaux's mistress Francesca (known in French as Madame or La Frédérique), who pampered her in all luxury. Dumonceaux funded Jeanette's education at the Couvent (convent) de Saint-Aure.[4]

A portrait of Madame du Barry by Francois-Hubert Drouais

At the age of fifteen, Jeanne left the convent, for she had "come of age". For some reason – possibly due either to La Frédérique's jealousy of the former's beauty or because Dumonceaux's passion for Anne revived – both mother and daughter were thrown out. They then moved into the very small household of Anne's husband, Nicolas Rançon. Jeanne had to find some sort of income to help herself live, and thus traveled the dingy streets of Paris carrying a box full of trinkets for sale. Over time she worked at different occupations; she was first offered a post as assistant to a young hairdresser named Lametz; Jeanne had a brief relationship with him that may have produced a daughter, although it is highly improbable.[5] On the instigation of a Gomard (possibly the brother of her supposed father), Jeanne was then employed as a companion (dame de compagnie) to an elderly widow, Madame de la Garde, but was sent away when her youth and beauty began to meddle in the marital affairs of both la Garde's two sons. Later, Jeanne worked as a milliner's assistant (known as a grisette) in a haberdashery shop named 'À la Toilette', owned by Madame Labille, and run by her husband. Labille's daughter, the future famed painter Adélaïde Labille-Guiard, became a good friend of Jeanne.

As reflected in art from the time, Jeanne was a remarkably attractive blonde woman with thick golden ringlets and almond-shaped blue eyes. Her beauty came to the attention of Jean-Baptiste du Barry, a high-class pimp/procurer[6] nicknamed le roué. Du Barry owned a casino, and Jeanne came to his attention in 1763 when she was entertaining in Madame Quisnoy's brothel-casino.[7] She introduced herself as Jeanne Vaubernier. Du Barry installed her in his household and made her his mistress. Giving her the appellation of Mademoiselle Lange, Du Barry helped establish Jeanne's career as a courtesan in the highest circles of Parisian society; this enabled her to take several aristocratic men as brief lovers or clients.[8]

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