The 76th International Film Festival at Cannes, France featured the Maiwenn Le Besco film “Jeanne du Barry” as its star attraction. The film features Johnny Depp and Maiwell Le Besco in the titular role. But who is Jeanne du Barry? The notorious mistress of the French king Louis XV. In this post, we will find out about her life and her cultural relevance. Let’s get started.
Jeanne du Barry: The Mysterious Madame
Who is Jeanne du Barry?
Jeanne du Barry’s full name is Jeanne (Gomar) de Vaubernier or Jeanne (Becu) de Cantigny. Her mother’s name was Anna Becu. She was a seamstress who made linen to order. One of the customers turned out to be a Franciscan monastery, and Jeanne’s father was the monk of this holy monastery, Jean-Jacques-Baptiste Gomar, by the name of de Vaubernier. So says the biographical legend. No reliable information about the father has been preserved.
How did Jeanne Becu become Jeanne du Barry?
The surname of the monk began to be used when the patron of the girl, Count du Barry, decided to introduce her to the world. From his point of view, Wobernier sounded more harmonious than Cantigny. More precisely, the count did not risk getting a challenge to a duel or a lawsuit from the de Cantigny family.
More is known about the mother’s ancestors. Jean Becu, an ancestor, worked as a roaster (butcher) during the reign of Louis XIII. Then the position passed to his son Fabien.
The guy was incredibly handsome. He led a wild life until he met Severine Bonnet, Countess of Montdidier de Cantigny. The couple decided to forgo the class difference and got married. For an inappropriate status connection, Severina was deprived of her inheritance and titles. The girl may have died in childbirth, leaving her lover only a noble surname, which the young widower added to his family name without any real rights, becoming Becu-Cantigny.
Therefore, the first accurately recorded fact in Fabien’s biography was the marriage certificate. He married Jeanne Husson in December 1693. The girl served as the mistress of Louis XIV, the famous Marquise de Ludre. Fabien by that time had become a head waiter, who was also responsible for food supplies. The marriage produced three sons and four daughters. One of them, Anna, is the future mother of Jeanne du Barry. All children, and later grandchildren, inherited the beauty of Fabien and at the same time using the name of Severine – de Catigny.
When was Jeanne du Barry born?
Jeanne du Barry was born in Vaucouleurs on August 19, 1743. Anna went to give birth in the province because she was not married and they decided to hide the birth. In Vaucouleurs, until the beginning of the 19th century, house number 8 stood on Paradis Street. It was considered the birthplace of Jeanne. The girl was named after the godmother Jeanne Biraben. In 1747, Anna still lived in Vaucouleurs, and here, on February 14, the brother of a lovely girl, Claude, was born.
Why was Jeanne du Barry known as “Angel”?
It is known that for some time the girl bore the name Mademoiselle Lange (which means “angel” in French). According to legend, as a child, those around were fascinated by the delightful appearance of the girl. Jeanne du Barry looked like an angel with blond curly hair and blue eyes.
The second version of the origin of the nickname says that the father, after taking the monastic ordination, was called Brother Angel.
According to the third version, such a nickname was received from Count du Barry, who bought the girl from the brothel.
How did Jeanne du Barry arrive in Paris?
In 1749 Anna returned with her children to Paris. Here she enters into marriage with a certain Nicolas Ranson. Her social circle is the servants of the nobility, small merchants, and partly known as customers of garments.
Where did Jeanne du Barry study?
At some point, young Jeanne was sent to study at the Benedictine monastery of Saint-Or, that is, Holy Communion. It was founded in 1687, and then the monastery served as a religious community that took in prostitutes and poor Parisians who lost their livelihood. At the beginning of the 18th century, Father Lefevre reformed the community and opened a boarding school for girls in the building of the monastery.
The building still stands at the intersection of 20 Tournefort and 24 Pau-de-Fer streets. It is a four-story structure with massive walls, more reminiscent of the Bastille than a monastery. But Saint-Or was glorified not by Madame du Barry, but by the writer Victor Hugo, who portrayed him in the novel Les Misérables.
The reasons why Jeanne ended up in school are not known for certain, like many facts from the life of the poor. It is believed that Anna was taken from the province by the army treasurer and inspector Billard Dumonceau. In Paris, a woman lived in his house as a seamstress.
The treasurer himself lived with a mistress who liked the lovely Jeanne, and she happily played with the child. She taught her dancing, etiquette, grooming, and other knowledge necessary for girls. The third in the Billiard-Dumonceau triangle was the artist. Part-time lover mistress. He painted paintings to order, and the charming Jeanne joyfully posed as nymphs and cupids for his paintings. Realizing how such an idyll would end, Anna sent her daughter to study in Saint-Ora. In the monastery, the girl studied history, arithmetic and the Word of God, writing, music, and painting. She has the best memories of this period.
What was Jeanne du Barry’s first job?
Jeanne du Barry’s Education in the monastery ended in 1758. The 15-year-old beauty returned to her mother. She assigned her as an apprentice to a women’s hairdresser, and then, in 1760, Billard-Dumonceau sent her as a companion to a wealthy widow in a literary salon. From there, Jeanne was soon fired. The men who visited the salon paid more attention to the young charmer than to the hostess, which aroused the woman’s indignation. In a letter to Billard-Dumonceau, Madame Dede de la Garde accused Jeanne of debauchery and that her two brothers had become her lovers.
How did Jeanne du Barry build her professional career?
Jeanne soon becomes a saleswoman in the La Toilette fashion store. It was managed by the mother of Adelaide Labille-Guillard. She is also known as Labile de Vertus. This is a famous artist who specialized in painting miniatures – cameos and portraits in medallions. But at that time, Adelaide was not yet an artist, and Jeanne was not a favorite.
Indirectly, Madame de Lange agrees with the secret police. It was founded by Louis XV. The secret police conducted the affairs of all dissenters and those who in one way or another came into contact with the king’s courtiers. In Jeanne’s dossier, they wrote: “A grisette who receives money and gifts from men, but by no means a street girl.”
One of the shop’s customers was Count Jean-Baptiste du Barry. The man was pimping at the level of the highest nobility. He led a rather dissolute and frivolous life, for which he received the nickname Le Roué in society, which can be translated as “tumbleweed”. The count found suitable candidates, and introduced them into secular society as mistresses. When a suitable party turned up, the “mistress” switched to a new gentleman with the payment of a commission to the count, i.e., interest on gifts.
How did Jeanne du Barry meet Louis XV?
The count takes Jeanne to balls, to the opera. In a police report from her file, written in 1765, there is a phrase that accurately reflects the number of admirers of the young beauty: “All our high herd crowds around her.”
On June 24, 1768, Queen Mary died. The court, along with the king, plunged into mourning. 4 years before this event, the Marquise de Pompadour, the favourite consort of the king, passed away, and the heir to the throne died three years ago. Louis XV was depressed.
In 1768, King Louis XV met Jeanne du Barry. The exact circumstances of the acquaintance are unknown. It is believed that the first minister, the Duke de Choiseul, sought and implemented in the palace all the ways to entertain the king. He was introduced to Comte du Barry, who suggested Jeanne. The valet of the ruler Lebel, who was engaged in the supply of mistresses, at first abandoned the idea because of the girl’s origin. A commoner could not become the beloved of a king. Then he agreed, believing that nothing would come of the idea.
However, Louis was seriously interested. It turned out that now the vacant place of the favorite belongs to Jeanne. Then the duke decides to tell the king the truth about the origin of the beauty, hoping for the completion of the novel. Louis was angry but did not live up to expectations. He ordered that Jeanne be urgently married to a nobleman.
Comte du Barry takes into account the benefits of the position and plans to marry Jeanne to his son. However, Adolphe du Barry is too young for Jeanne – he is only 15 years old. Then he tells his brother Guillaume about the problem and offers to enter into a fictitious marriage. For him, Guillaume du Barry received a large sum of money from the treasury and undertook to leave Paris, and also not to claim the attention of the newly-made wife. The wedding took place on September 1, 1768, in Paris.
How was Jeanne du Barry’s life at the court?
Jeanne du Barry was 25 years old in 1768. She is young, beautiful, and cheerful. The king settles her next to his apartments. Gives jewels and lands. The courtiers react accordingly to the location of the king, that is, they hate him. Jeanne is not invited to dinner parties at her place and they do not come if she invites.
There are many descriptions in the literature of what a terrible place the royal court was. Some sources note “bad court ladies” and the nasty things they did. Topping the list is Princess Marie Antoinette, who will become the wife of Louis’s grandson and the last king of the Bourbon dynasty. In others, they emphasize what a scoundrel Jeanne was, flaunting expensive jewelry donated by her lover. That is, the reader is presented with equal values - women of approximately the same age are offered to scold one side and sympathize with the other.
But, in essence, this is a story that demonstrates why France has matured for the revolution. Marie Antoinette is the daughter of the Austrian Empress Maria Theresa. 15th out of 16 children. All of them were brought up very strictly, emphasizing the main qualities of the “virtuous queen.” Non-compliance with the proposed rules is not only a reproach “otherwise no one will marry you”, but also an obligation to repent and fast as a sign of repentance for many hours in a row. Maria Theresa was an overly strict mother with all the children.
In 1768, Marie Antoinette, who had already arrived in France, was only 13 years old. She does not understand why old King Louis (he is 58 years old) needs to sleep with du Barry or with someone else. But he understands that one of the king’s daughters (youngest daughter Louise) is leaving for a monastery because she considers it important to atone for the sins of her father’s unrighteous life. If one prays, and the other continues to sin, then you need to “fight evil.” And the girl begins to fight in the ways available to her – ignoring and contempt.
The abbess of the Carmelite monastery, Mother Teresa (this is the name by which the royal daughter Princess Louise went down in history) understood the situation better. She hated the court and in her letters compared the need for kings to communicate with courtiers with cruel slavery, from which one cannot escape by moving to another castle.
Mother Teresa lived as long as Jeanne du Barry, 50 years old. But even in the monastery, she did not find herself in a safe separation from intrigues. In 1787, she was poisoned by sending a parcel allegedly from Rome with holy relics. According to the records of the monastery chronicle, the abbess opened the parcel, where she found some hair sprinkled with white powder. Accidentally inhaled it while touching the contents and died a couple of days later. So Jeanne du Barry was still lucky to survive among the French courtiers. For Louis, she became a breath of clean air, which was so lacking in a musty room.
How did Louis XV die?
It is believed that the monarch died of smallpox, but he began to get sick earlier. Jeanne du Barry noticed the first signs of the problem during Lent in 1773. Louis lost weight but continued to lead a familiar lifestyle. A year later, physical activity began to tire him. On April 26, 1774, after the hunt, the ruler got tired and went with Jeanne to the Petit Trianon. Soon a fever set in, and on the third day the king’s face was covered with pockmarks. Realizing the seriousness of the situation, Ludovic sends the favorite away and begins to prepare for death. He died on May 10, 1774.
According to legend, the church promised the king forgiveness of sins on the condition that he renounces du Barry and sends her into exile. So, on May 10, Jeanne went to the abbey of Pont-au-Dames. At first, the nuns do not treat her too well, but her cheerful disposition and easy-going nature quickly turn enemies into friends. In October 1776, the new king allowed her to leave the abbey and return to the castle, presented to Jeanne by Louis XV, Château de Louveciennes.
The castle still exists. In the 1980s, he was at the center of a scandal. The building was purchased by a family from Japan for further commercial use. However, something did not work out, and the Japanese put up antique furniture from the castle for auction. A judicial investigation began, and the Japanese were accused of fraud and extradited. In the 21st century, the Château de Louveciennes was filmed in the French documentary series Secrets of History, in an episode dedicated to Madame du Barry. It was first released in November 2016.
How did Jeanne du Barry die?
After returning to Paris, Jeanne du Barry lived with the Duke de Brissac. At this time, she approaches the traditions of high patronage of the rulers. Enlightenment philosophers (such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau) are received in their house. Liberal ideas and calls for reforms sound in her salon. Nevertheless, de Brissac, like Jeanne, at heart remains a supporter of absolute monarchy.
After the storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789, the duke went to Anjou. Jeanne yearns and writes letters to him daily. On the way back, his carriage is stopped by a revolutionary crowd. De Brissac manages to break through with a fight.
On the night of January 10-11, 1791, the estate was plundered by another crowd of revolutionaries. They took all the jewels they found. Jeanne was in Paris at this time. She hurried to the estate and called the police. But the investigation “drowned” in the desire of every guardian of the law to catch the thief to profit from the loot. Then let go, and then someone else will catch him. As a result, the jewelry disappeared, but in this case, there were hundreds of denunciations of law enforcement officers and caught thieves against each other.
In 1792, the duke became commander of the royal guards. In May of the same year, the guardsmen were disbanded, and the commander was arrested. In September, while being transported from one prison to another, de Brissac will be killed, and his head will be thrown through the window into the salon of the countess in Louveciennes.
According to legend, Jeanne buried the duke’s head in the garden among rose bushes, along with unstolen jewels. Soon, on the denunciation of the former page, she will be arrested and imprisoned. On December 6, a trial will take place, and Jeanne du Barry will die on the guillotine as an enemy of the revolution.
Given the circumstances surrounding the robbery of the estate, Jeanne expects to save a life if she gives in to the jewels hidden in the garden. She utters the phrase “Just a minute, mister executioner” when she is led to the guillotine, and Zhanna tries to tell the jailers where the treasures are buried. This phrase first appears in the memoirs of Charles Henri Sanson, a Parisian executioner who is also credited with having an affair with Jeanne du Barry during the period when she was allegedly engaged in prostitution.