Well, not really. At first she was a prostitute.
Then she became the maitresse-en-titre, or the official mistress of the king. King Louis XV to be exact. She was his last mistress, and he was the next to the last king of France. He was the grandfather of the ill-fated Louis XVI.
Her name was Jeanne Becu, and she was the illegitimate child of a seamstress and most probably a friar. Yes, the clergy likes to do it too! Convent trained, and sent into the world at her ‘coming of age’, she was on her own at 15.
She made her way as a hairdresser’s assistant, a paid companion to an elderly woman, and as an assistant milliner. Hats were very, very in back then.
And she was beautiful.
Her beauty did not go unnoticed by Jean Baptiste du Barry, a pimp and procurer and casino owner, who met her at the rival brothel/casino owned by Madame Quisnoy, a famed Parisian whore and madam.
du Barry installed her in his household as his mistress, introduced her to Parisian society, where she became a courtesan, what we would call a ‘high class call girl’ today.
Going about as Mademoiselle Lange, she became a sensation in Paris, took lovers and clients, all of them wealthy, and most of them aristocrats.
Meeting the king was inevitable, she slept with most of his cabinet. She met King Louis XV in 1768 while on an errand to Versailles for du Barry. But, alas, her station in life kept her from the King, she was a commoner, and could not become his mistress.
du Barry, no fool when it came to power, married her off to his brother, Guillaume, the Comte du Barry. While he was at it, he forged a birth certificate which made her three years younger than she really was, and added legitimacy and nobility with the stroke of a pen.
After all, it was just paperwork.
She was immediately installed at Versailles, but lead a lonely life since she had not been formally presented to the King. The French Royals were a tad over etiquette conscious, having invented it and all.
She was presented to the King in 1769 by Madame de Beam, another whore with an aristocratic background and title, and was a smashing success in jewels provided by the King the night before and a dress ordered especially by Armand de Vignerot du Plessis, or Marechal de Richelieu a statesman, soldier, adviser to the King and the nephew of Cardinal Richelieu, as well as her former client.
She had powerful friends, and replaced the late Madame de Pompadour as the King’s mistress in no time. Her adaptation to a life of luxury was legendary, but her sweet nature remained. Her first favor from the King was to spare the life of a friend of a friend, whom she thought unjustly accused. He was as guilty as sin.
Not every one liked her. You know, people can be so catty. Marie Antoinette, the grand-daughter-in-law of the King refused to speak to her because of her whoring past. Finally, many years later, the Dauphine threw her a bone on New Year’s Eve and said, “There are many people at Versailles today.”
The thaw began, and Jeanne’s acceptance was complete.
du Barry was the last mistress of King Louis XV, and the one of his old age. He doted on her by buying her a necklace that would equal $8 million in today’s money. When she ran UP debts, bailed her out, and spoiled her mercilessly.
But, alas the old King died, and his grandson, Louis XVI took the throne. Louis was more pious than grandpa – being the only French king never to take a mistress. He thought du Barry a whore, and she was sent into exile.
In her banishment she found love, twice. Henry Seymour a married man and the Duc de Brissac were both her lovers. Henry tired of her, broke it off with a precursor to the text by sending her a painting with the words “Leave me alone” painted at the bottom. The Duc remained loyal through her affair with Henry. He was killed by a mob while visiting Paris. The mob promptly high tailed it to Jeanne’s chateau and threw his head wrapped in a bloody rag through her open window.
As the French Revolution intensified, Madame du Barry, like most of the aristocracy, became a suspect. It didn’t take much. She was accused of aiding emigres, people who tried to leave France. She was tried in the kangaroo courts of the Revolution, condemned and sentenced to die.
She did not die well. On her way to the guillotine, she collapsed in the cart and cried aloud, “You are going to hurt me, why?”
Her last words to the executioner were, “Encore un moment.” One more moment.
The blade fell on December 8, 1793. du Barry was no more.
Her jewels were smuggled out of France, sold by Christie’s in London and the money was used to finance the Hessian soldiers who fought against the American Revolution.