Anecdotes on the Countess du Barry (1775)

Since the royal family’s ability to procreate was crucial to the perpetuation of the reign and thus to the continuity of the monarchy, the obsession shown in pamphlets about the bodies and sexual activities of King and Queen must be seen as having not just prurient interest for readers but also political overtones.This particular pamphlet, by a journalist named Mathieu Pidansat de Mairobert who had been an active supporter of the pro–Parlement party in the magistrates’ recent conflicts with the crown, was published anonymously early in the reign of Louis XVI. It purportedly described the liaison between the recently deceased Louis XV and his long–term mistress, the "Countess" of Barry, a common courtesan who had supposedly been procured to satisfy the aging King’s lusts. The entire book could be (and was) read as a parody of the mounting problems facing Louis XV, all of which center on the disorder he had created at Versailles by giving such a prominent place to a wholly inappropriate person, a woman, a courtesan, and a commoner.Whether or not the "anecdotes" were true is of less historical interest than the wide readership they drew and the negative influence they had on the reputation of the current King, Louis XVI, and the Queen, Marie Antoinette.


Because of successive losses that he had experienced, the King had emptied the Parc-Aux-Cerfs [the location for the harem] and yielded himself entirely to grief [over the loss of his wife and children from 1765 to 1768]. Advancing age and the ability of a great prince to satisfy all his passions had dulled his attraction towards women. But this need, though diminished, continued; and the courtiers judged it necessary to distract His Majesty from the long and grievous spectacle which the illness of the Queen had created. The doctors assured the King that it was dangerous to give up so abruptly a pleasure necessary for his existence. The monarch believed his doctors since the decline of the state and the loss of his companion, (such as he called the Queen in his letter to the archbishop to tell him of her death) had left him despondent.

He told the Sieur le Bel to take care of this responsibility. This very zealous servant often undertook research to better serve His Majesty. It was on one of these hunting trips that le Bel spoke to the Count du Barry of his fatigue from these efforts. The latter, who had a sure sense in such matters and who was also known by le Bel as a man who could be useful, had no trouble in coming to his assistance. Le Bel told him of his despair of having found nothing in all these trips which could be desirable for his master. . . . -- "No," the impudent Count said to him, "I’ve got your business for you. You know I don’t lack taste. Trust me: you come to dinner at my house and tell me that I’m a cad if I don’t give you the most beautiful woman, the most fresh, the most seductive; a true morsel for a king." The King’s purveyor, enchanted with a proposition so consoling, embraced him and promised to go to find a convenient time. Du Barry had nothing more pressing than to return to his house and getting Mademoiselle l’Ange [the Angel] all dressed up. (This nickname, "the angel" was used by Mademoiselle Vaubernier following the practice of courtesans who also took a nom de guerre when they entered and displayed themselves before the world.) Du Barry taught her the role she had to play, giving her the hope that he regarded as chimerical but which was, however, realized. He gave her the picture of a brilliant destiny: he declared to her that it wasn’t a question of simply appearing at Versailles and satisfying incognito the desires of the King; he wished to make her mistress in title and to have her replace Madame du Pompadour. For this, it was necessary that she pretend to le Bel that she was his sister-in-law, married to his fat brother. She had to sustain well this persona, while deploying all the coquetterie and gracefulness that she had at her disposal. In such a case, all would go well.

Mademoiselle L’Ange, for a joke, had already posed several times with the title Countess du Barry. It’s a current usage among kept girls to esteem themselves with the titles of their lovers. It was scarcely difficult to take on this persona with Sieur le Bel, who delighted by the face of this young person, who by her playfulness, by her lascivious look and various remarks, soon understood how to rejuvenate the old man. Through his experience he conceived what a happy effect a woman with such resources would have on his master. The dinner was exceptionally delightful, and the valet would have been glad to try himself so that he could vouch for his discovery. The Sieur du Barry profited from the enthusiasm of this lecher to make him understand that his sister-in-law could not be presented to the King like a common prostitute. And that she could not be simply disposed of without difficulty. This was a woman of quality who would doubtless be very honored with the bed of a prince or of such a desirable great king. However, she had the ambition to conquer his heart, as she already felt a terrific attachment for his sacred person -- an attachment which could only grow with greater intimacy. The valet was not too love struck to not see immediately this truth and thus to lend himself to all the arrangements which would appear necessary. It was decided from this moment that the so-called Countess would be a sacred morsel for the King. And that the Sieur le Bel would report to the monarch what he had seen. He would represent to His Majesty the desire of the woman in question to please him and the entire devotion of her husband to the will of the sovereign. Further, he would tell of the happiness that this faithful couple aspired to add to his pleasures. However, this beauty flattered herself to be able to be able to prove her love over a long time. And she would have the right to expect the same from her august lover and the general exclusion of all competitors. Evil courtiers have claimed that, according to the conversation, the valet was permitted to take possession of this future mistress in the name of the King. Others avow that du Barry induced the ambassador by promising a reward were he successful in presenting the woman. Whatever it be, as he was very smitten himself and he placed in his story to the King so much heat and energy that he strongly excited the love of the prince. But to inflame him more and before His Majesty had actually had an encounter, he proposed to have him see the object without the woman knowing of it, so that the King would be in a position to judge himself.

The valet had a small house arranged where he invited the Countess to dine. It appears that the latter was warned of the secret observer who was to be there. The company fitted the scene, and the meal so voluptuous that the monarch couldn’t hold back. On that very night, he had Mademoiselle L’Ange come to him and he found in her possession more secret charms than exterior ones. In effect, those who preceded the King in this sexual pleasure unanimously attest that she had all that was necessary to reanimate the dullest existence. And she was effective with this jaded lover, overcoming the general disgust that he found with women who, up to then even in the middle of his pleasures were restrained by respect and adoration. Thus he really didn’t know the diverse resources that he could find in a new world of voluptuousness which offered him inexhaustible delights. In such a situation, what discovery, what treasure!

Without doubt there had been in the bed of the prince, women as instructed as Mademoiselle L’Ange, but they did not have a character so free, so true, so adventurous that they could flaunt their savoir-faire and dare to use it. On the contrary, this ingenue, candid and focused, was also led by a man experienced in the most refined libertinage. He anticipated that this prodigious sensation would produce a striking contrast between the lessons that he had given his student and the cold and inhibited caresses of the initial mistresses of the King. All he had to do was await the effect of this indoctrinated nymph; the success of the first triumph would marvelously encourage her to deploy the total extent of her art. If men accustomed to the techniques of prostitutes with their lively and energetic style still feel with them sensations of pleasure, what an impression must these powerful methods produce on a voluptuous person who had never experienced them! Such was the case of the monarch, according to the courtesans who knew the most of his private life and secret amusements.

This daughter of Venus was so able that the King could no longer do without her, and he had to take her along through the entire trip to Compiègne. She was totally incognito, because His Majesty being still in official mourning over the Queen, did not find it convenient to publicize his pleasures. Besides the King was very committed to appearances, in that on the exterior his behavior would comport to the maintenance of good morals. But these little inconveniences only aroused his passion and gave it more force to the point that Sieur le Bel, seeing the decided taste that his master took for Mademoiselle l’Ange and that things were going much farther than he would have believed, somewhat repented having become involved in the Count’s maneuver, especially as he understood it. He believed it was his duty, before this new favorite could be set up, to throw himself at the knees of the King and to declare to him how he had discovered this beauty: that he had been surprised; that she was no woman of quality; and that she wasn’t even married. "So what!" exclaimed the King, following the usual tradition among the courtiers. "So what! Let someone marry her promptly, so that one could keep me from having an indiscretion." Someone added that his counsel [the valet] wanted to go into more details, but that a severe look from the King obliged him to be silent. Struck with grief to have produced such a creature and envisioning the results that such a violent passion could create in a prince who approached old age, this zealous servant developed a grief that led him to the grave. Others claimed that in order to prevent indiscreet revelations that he could make, his enemies had him poisoned.

Whatever the case may be, the words of the King greatly heated up the hopes of the Count du Barry, called the Great du Barry to distinguish him from his brothers. He had one sibling, that we will name the Fat du Barry, a drunkard, a pig, wallowing night and day in the dirtiest debauchery. It was decided that he would be the one who would marry Mademoiselle l’Ange. He was warned in advance, and he had no trouble accepting, as he easily understood that this willingness on his part would allow him to lead more freely the kind of life which agreed with him and would procure him all the money that he would need. This hope would have been able to corrupt a less vile soul. He submitted to the ceremony, and the marriage was made in the parish Saint-Laurent September 1, 1768. The notary Pot of Auteil drew up the contract. He did not yet know the high destiny of the beauty whose civil alliance he constructed. But struck by her charms and her graces, he wished to enjoy the customary privilege among his colleagues in such a situation: he gallantly advanced to embrace the young person who, not expecting this, resisted as her role of maiden required. Her future brother-in-law encouraged her to permit this public officer to brush her cheeks, and then said to him, "Remember this favor well, sir, because it is the last that you will receive from Madame."

The august lover was enchanted to learn that the ceremony was complete. He appeared to yield himself with more confidence to the new Countess; and each day his passion, far from diminishing through pleasure, so augmented that the du Barry brothers raised their expectations to the most vast ambition. But they had to carefully direct the favorite, the new Madame du Barry. And this plan demanded a lot of care and circumspection.

Madame du Barry had no inclination for this, especially a sense of intrigue that her position demanded. One sees by the course of her adventures up to the moment of her elevation, that she was lacking the ploys that are found commonly among courtesans and which serve them well in their attack on men. As she was neither self-interested nor ambitious, she was not caught up in the powerful webs of these two passions, so energetic in most spirits. Rather the new Countess carried in the role that she undertook a quality that was perhaps better: it is a sort of good sense to adopt the opinions that one gave her to make the situation worthwhile and to profit from it. In a word, she had a marvelous docility to the counsels of her brother-in-law whose success in the project that he had developed assured more than ever the confidence of his sister-in-law. The only point of difficulty was then concealing from the eyes of the courtiers the secret wire managing the favorite. Too much assiduousness on his part might have made the monarch suspicious of her and would lay her open to the malignity of the courtiers, yet the unexpected expulsion of this counselor would leave the favorite unprotected and in the position of making a lot of foolish mistakes.

The Count du Barry imagined then a plan of conduct that one can regard as a political chef d’oeuvre. This was to appear to absolutely abandon his sister-in-law to her brilliant destiny and to not show himself at court. At the same time he placed near her Mademoiselle du Barry, his sister, that he judged totally proper for the job he wanted her to do. The latter was too ugly to awaken any jealousy in the Countess, nor would she involve herself in the amorous intrigues which would turn her away from her principal object. She had besides some spirit; it was a certain virtuosity which evidenced itself in literary talent and she had even had a letter published in the Mercure. She was very ingratiating and did not hesitate to master the favorite, which was essential. There was thus established a continual circulation from brother to sister, from the latter to the Countess, from the Countess back to Mademoiselle du Barry, and then from sister to brother. Young emissaries, trained by the Count, were continually on the road from Versailles and carried his orders, verbal or written, according to circumstances. The messengers were multiplied as needed; and by that, the favorite was led from minute to minute. Sometimes she made little trips to Paris where not having a house, she lodged at that of her brother-in-law and received general instructions which she applied in particular circumstances.

[The story continues and leads Madame du Barry to increasing heights. Here she is credited with felling the ministry of Choiseul and replacing it with the anti-Parlement Triumvirate that would exile the magistrates in 1770.]

It was especially at Fontainebleau that the Countess du Barry triumphed in all her glory and humiliated the Duke of Choiseul. The regiment of the King had come to camp near this city to be reviewed by His Majesty. This review required the minister of war. Madame du Barry assisted, escorted by the Duchess of Valentinois and the Marquise of Montmorency. The Court du Châtelet, a lieutenant colonel, held a supper party in his tent with these women in attendance. Madame du Barry sat beside His Majesty and replaced the Dauphine who was supposed to be there but did not arrive. This was the first spectacular schism between her and the favorite. The Duke of Choiseul, who was beside himself with rage, claimed to be indisposed to avoid the review and the meal. [Yet] the King; even in the most minor things showed the interest that he took in all that concerned his charming mistress. . . .

All these little individual favors were only a prelude to the important acheivement that Madame du Barry was going to develop in the revolution [a change in the ministry] which was going to occur, and to which the Duke of Aiguillon and the Chancellor worked together, to serve separately their respective ambitions. Both used the Countess as the person most able to get the King to agree to the plan. They made her understand that it was absolutely necessary that she second their views for her own interest; and that she would not be secure at all as long as Choiseul remained in place. Further, he could not be sacked until he became suspect to the King because of his connections to the Parlement. Finally, to blacken him better, it was necessary to blacken this company and to represent it to the monarch as an ambitious body, always ready to trash and invade his authority and to usurp the rights of the throne. His expulsion would produce first the attack on the Duke and then, not less essential, of facilitating taxes, and consequently the general appreciation of her by her august lover. So many advantages, presented under a point of view so sensitive and seductive, strongly alienated the favorite from the magistracy. She soon made pass into the heart of the monarch the hate that she had conceived for the Parlement and to which he was already strongly disposed. At this point, this feeble prince, who had no free will, finally took the decision to relax the new law that emerged as the famous edict of December 1770, registered by a lit de justice the third of that month. [This effectively quashed the political powers of all parlements.]

But the Chancellor and the Duke of Aiguillon knew well the pusillanimous character of the monarch and did not at all rely on his apparent firmness. They profited from it only by making the important coups that they contemplated, in order to go so far that it was impossible to withdraw. Madame du Barry served them marvellously in that. As the King supped almost every evening with her, they warned her what she had to say to him. When her lover -- his mind muddled from the exquisite wines she poured him, and his heart burning from love as he rested in her arms -- begged for her ultimate favors and could do nothing to refuse her, she extorted the fatal signatures and nothing went to the council for discussion. At least the other ministers complained loudly to have no knowledge of these violent acts, exerted against the Parlement of Paris. Thus as well was finally expedited the lettre de cachet [direct arrest by monarchical order] of the Duke of Choiseul. This was a letter signed several times in moments of drunken love-making, and the king repented [too late] the next day.

[And the memoir heads toward its end with the following passages.]

It was time that so many depredations be stopped; France tended toward inevitable ruin if the death of Louis XV had not changed the face of the kingdom. What is most unusual about the event is that it issued from those who had the most reason to save him.

His Majesty was the most despondent in some time. The sudden death of the Marquis of Chauvelin, one of his favorites, enjoying a flourishing health, a friend in all the King’s pleasure parties, had died right before his eyes. He ceaselessly thought about it. The death of the Marshal of Armentières, very similar to Chauvelin and the same age as the King, had augmented the melancholy. He was also racked by the remorse created in his heart by the Bishop of Senes, from a sermon that was extremely strong and pathetic. The committee of the favorite decided that it was necessary to redouble their efforts to draw the King from this condition, even by lively orgies that could give a shake to his system. Consequently, it was decided to propose a voyage to the Trianon [a small palace on the Versailles grounds], where they would be more at ease inspired by the liberty of the place. One noticed that the King had admiringly lusted over a little daughter of a carpenter. They sent for the child, cleaned her up, perfumed her, introduced her to the bed of the august lecher. This morsel would have been hard from him to digest if they hadn’t administered some strong stimulants. For the moment this gave him sweet assistance, and procured more pleasure than a libertine in his sixties might ordinarily experience. This child, unfortunately was already sick, and had a lot of trouble doing what one demanded, and only went through with it because of threats and in the hope of receiving a fortune. No one knew that she had the smallpox germ which soon developed in her in the cruelest manner, and she promptly died. The venom was communicated to the King and on the next day His Majesty felt sick without foreseeing its cause. Consequently, they advised Madame du Barry to keep him there and to remain in charge of him. But the sieur La Martinière, his first surgeon, insisted that he be immediately transported to Versailles. The next day everyone knew that the King had smallpox. It was easy to see he would not recover.

Source: [Pidansat de Mairobert], Anécdotes sur la comtesse du Barry, Nouvelle édition augmentée et corrigée (London [Paris], [1775] 1776).