Saturday 13 May 2023

Madame du Barry: Street Seller to King Louis XV’s Last Mistress-Versailles Palace to Guillotine- Died as Victim of French Revolution

A Mistress's Tale-Rag to riches

Madame du Barry, the last official mistress of King Louis XV of France, was executed by guillotine in Paris at approximately 50 years old.

She had lived quietly away from court since the King's death in 1774. Madame du Barry's end was not a dignified one; she screamed and pleaded for her life right up until the last moment. 

It was a freezing cold December day and the crowd was perhaps a little more thin than usual due to the weather and the lateness of the hour but there were still enough people curious enough to see the former King’s favourite die for there to be a sizeable mob gathered to witness her execution.


The life of Jeanne Bécu Du Barry (1743-1793) was a cautionary tale full of twists and turns. Popularly known as the last mistress of Louis XV of France (1710-1774).

Victim to the brutality of the French Revolution.

Madame du Barry rose from modest origins to become one of the most powerful women in France. But the glory didn’t last long as she later fell victim to the brutality of the French Revolution. Let’s go through various roles that Jeanne Bécu Du Barry played throughout her life.

Madame du Barry

The illegitimate daughter of a seamstress and (possibly) a monk

Jeanne Bécu Du Barry was born as the daughter of a poor provincial seamstresses. In fact, she was an illegitimate daughter and it is not known who her true father was. Her birth name was Jeanne Bécu.


Her mother, Anne Bécu, was a seamstress, while her father is usually presumed to be a monk called Jean Jacques Gomard de Vaubernier.


Anne Bécu moved to Paris with her young daughter in the company of Monsieur Billiard-Dumonceaux, a financier and supplier to the royal army.

Dumonceaux funded Jeanne’s education in a convent school for indigent or wayward girls run by the nuns of Sainte-Aure.

As a child, she was forced to work on the street as a sales girl. She grew into an extremely attractive girl with blonde hair and almond-shaped blue eyes.


Jeanne left the convent at the age of fifteen. She later served as a companion to an elderly widow, Madame de Delley de La Garde, but was soon dismissed.

Madame de Pompadour

When her youth and beauty meddled in the marital affairs of La Garde's two sons. For a time, Jeanne made her living by working in a haberdashery shop named 'À la Toilette'.

The Mistress of Jean-Baptiste Du Barry, a high-class pimp

In around 1763, she caught the attention of Comte Jean Baptiste du Barry, a high-class pimp who owned a casino and made Jeanne his mistress.

Comtesse du Barry

Du Barry made the young beauty firstly his own mistress – courtesan.

He found her wealthy lovers and clients. As a courtesan, she became sensationally popular in Paris and even the king’s ministers came to her.

Jean-Baptiste du Barry noted that she could influence the king, so to this end he married her to his brother – Count du Barry, and in that way she received the title and could join the royal court.

 saw the huge potential of influencing Louis XV by installing Jeanne at court.

In order to make Jeanne maitresse-en-titre (the chief mistress of king of France), Du Barry had to give Jeanne a title.

Maria Theresa

He solved the problem by arranging a marriage between Jeanne and his brother, Comte Guillaume du Barry. He even created a fake birth certificate that made Jeanne a noble descent and listed her three years younger than she really was.


Official mistress of Louis XV

Until this time, Louis’s official mistresses had been either of the highest aristocracy or, in the case of Madame de Pompadour, of the highest ranks of the moneyed class.

 King Louise xv of France
Madame de Pompadour, the official chief mistress of Louis XV from 1745-1751, died at the age of 43 of physical exhaustion and tuberculosis in 1764.

Madame de pompadour

By the time Louis XV met Madame du Barry, he was an old man in his late fifties.

Jeanne was formally presented at Court on 22 April 1769. She was assigned luxuriously appointed apartments in Versailles and other royal residences.


One of her most famous rivals was Marie Antoinette Rival of Marie Antoinette

Versailles Palace of France

Despite winning the heart of the king, Jeanne had great difficulty to gain recognition from many other nobilities due to her scandalous past.

One of her most famous rivals was Marie Antoinette (1755-1793), daughter of Empress Maria Theresa of Austria. She became Dauphine of France in May 1770 at age 14 upon her marriage to Louis-Auguste (1754-1793).

Marie Antoinette

Du Barry and Antoinette first met each other in a family supper on the day before the great wedding. Many thought Jeanne would not be included in the guest list given her low origin but they were wrong.


Jeanne was invited to the exclusive event and stood out from the rest of the crowd with her attractive extravagant appearance.

After learning that Jeanne’s role was to give pleasure to the king, Antoinette was disgusted by the fact and refused to speak to her.


Marie Antoinette did not speak to du Barry for a long time. After Maria Theresa of Austria learnt about the tension between the two, she knew it couldn’t go on forever because Antoinette’s marriage was still unconsummated, which means it could be annulled anytime and jeopardise Austria's interests at the French court.


Therefore, Maria Theresa pressured her daughter to gain support from the King by acknowledging Madame Du Barry.


At the New Years’ reception on 1 January 1772, Marie Antoinette finally surrendered. She casually turned to Jeanne and merely commented, ‘There are a lot of people at Versailles today.’ It was enough for Madame du Barry, who was satisfied with this recognition.


King Louis XV died of smallpox in 1774

The four years of her tenure as official mistress of the king were the highpoint of Madame Du Barry’s life. After Louis XV died of smallpox in 1774, Jeanne Du Barry was disgraced and banished from Court.

Last King of France Louise xvi and his queen Marie Antoinette

After the death of the king, Du Barry was banished by order of Louis’s grandson and successor, King Louis XVI.

After a period of confinement in a convent, she lived in retirement at Luciennes, where she was visited by new lovers, most prominent among them was, the Governor of Paris.

Victim of the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution

As the political situation in France deteriorated, Louis XVI was executed by guillotine on 21 January 1793 on the Place de la Revolution.

The widowed former queen Marie Antoinette was on trial in mid-October. She was convicted by the Revolutionary Tribunal of high treason and executed by guillotine on 16 October 1793.


Denounced for crimes of aristocracy and treason, du Barry was arrested on September 22, 1793. At first incarcerated in the prison of Sainte-Pélagie; she was later transferred to the Conciergerie.

On 8 December 1793, Jeanne Du Barry and her Flemish bankers, the Vandenyvers, father and two sons, were executed. She became a famous victim of the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution.

The End

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