It has often been said that it is the mistress who truly wields the power on the throne. According to the BBC article The King’s Mistress – A Royal Tradition (2005), “… for centuries, kings across Europe have turned to mistresses for sex, advice and conversation” (BBC News, n. pag. ). In exchange for the sex and companionship that they provided to their respective paramours, these women were able to obtain “great personal wealth, security and a rare chance of political power” (BBC News, n. pag. ).
But in the case of Madame du Barry (1743-1793), a king’s mistress can also bring about the end of his regime (BBC News, n. pag. ). Madame Jeanne Becu Comtesse du Barry was born as Marie-Jeanne Becu at Vaucouleurs, Lorraine on August 19, 1743 (Wikipedia, n. pag. ). She was the illigitimate daughter of Anne Becu, who was said to have worked either as a seamstress or a cook in Paris (Wikipedia, n. pag. ). Marie-Jeanne’s biological father was believed to be Jean Baptiste Gormand de Vaubernier, a friar who went by the name of “Brother Angel” (Wikipedia, n. pag. ).
However, it was Anne’s lover, Monsieur Billard-Dumonceaux, who paid for her education at the convent of St. Aure (Wikipedia, n. pag. ). Marie-Jeanne left the convent at age 15 and moved to Paris, where she assumed the name Jeanne Rancon (Wikipedia, n. pag. ). She held various jobs during her stay in Paris, which included being an assistant to a young hairdresser named Lametz (with whom she was rumored to have a daughter), a companion to Madame de la Garde (known to be a lonely aristocrat) and a miliner’s assistant in A La Toilette, an enterprise of a certain Monsieur Labille (Wikipedia, n.
pag. ). In 1763, her beauty caught the eye of well-heeled pimp and casino owner Jean du Barry (Wikipedia, n. pag. ). He then proceeded to turn her into his mistress and groomed her career as a courtesan that catered only to the Parisian elite (Wikipedia, n. pag. ).
Marie-Jeanne became a courtesan for four years (Marie Antoinette, n. pag. ), working under the alias of Mademoiselle Lange (Wikipedia, n. pag. ). Although several of her wealthy customers eventually became her benefactors, Du Barry wanted to use her to control King Louis XV (1715-1774) (Wikipedia, n.pag. ). Du Barry’s ambition was realized when Marie-Jeanne and his brother, Comte Guillaume du Barry, were married in 1769 (Wikipedia, n. pag. ). Marie-Jeanne’s marriage to a nobleman qualified her to become Louis XV’s official royal mistress (Wikipedia, n. pag. ).
On April 2, 1769, Madame du Barry was formally intoroduced to the family of the king and the French royal court (Wikipedia, n. pag. ). In sharp contrast to Madame de Pompadour (1721-1764), another of Louis XV’s mistresses, Du Barry had minimal political clout over the king (Wikipedia, n.pag. ). Her only participation in politcs was her membership in the faction that deposed Etienne Francois de Choiseul from his position as Minister of Foreign Affairs in 1770 (Wikipedia, n. pag. ).
Du Barry instead spent her time “having new gowns made and ordering jewelry of every shape, size and colour” (Wikipedia, n. pag. ). She also took the place of De Pompadour as Louis XV’s favorite mistress (Marie Antoinette, n. pag. ).