Sunday, March 25, 2007

Madame du Barry

Fallen women being the topic of the day, I thought it might be interesting to discuss Madame du Barry. Madame du Barry was a courtesan and the successor of Madame de Pompadour in Louis XV's affections. Unlike Madame de Pompadour, however, Madame du Barry always considered herself to be a Catholic, strange as that may seem. At the court of Versailles she belonged to the party opposing the Choiseul/Pompadour clique which had arranged the marriage of the Dauphin Louis-Auguste with Marie-Antoinette of Lorraine-Austria. Madame du Barry was actually allied with the royal family, who were against the Austrian marriage. The daughters of Louis XV, although she was on their side, would have disliked anyone who was their father's favorite, on solely moral grounds. It was they who encouraged the teenage Marie-Antoinette not to speak to Madame du Barry; Antoinette in her adolescent prudery went along with it.

Much has been made of Antoinette's refusal to speak to the royal mistress, but really, it was the kind of power play and petty misunderstanding that happened in courts all over Europe. I sometimes wonder that if Antoinette had lived to be an old lady and had died peacefully in her bed, if anyone in posterity would have given the incident between her and Madame du Barry a second thought. But because Antoinette died stripped of all human dignity, after being destroyed in every way a woman can be destroyed, just about; her reputation in shreds, people are always looking for reasons that led to such a dreadful fate. Hence the focus on the early rift with Du Barry, which but for the debacles that followed, would have been forgotten.


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