Here’s a little look into the secret world of Versailles’ cozy nooks, closets, apartments and attics….where the last great mistresses of the reign of Louis XV laid their heads, sipped hot chocolate and champagne, batted their eyes, whispered sweet nothings and encouraged alliances.
Jeanne Antoinette Poisson, Marquise de Pompadour (1721-1764) was Louis XV official mistress from the time she was 25 until her death at age 42. Very intelligent, artistic and passionate woman. She was extremely fond of the Enlightenment, Voltaire and the Encyclopédie. Born into the high middle class, her role as mistress was scandalous for the time. Over their 20 year relationship she became more of Louis XV’s best-friend than his lover. She was directly involved in the building of the place Louis XV in Paris, the present place de la Concorde and the Petit Trianon as well as the establishment of the porcelain factory at Sèvres.
Madame de Pompadour also played a role in the alliance of Austria and France with the marriage of Marie Antoinette to the dauphin, Louis Auguste, Louis XV’s grandson. She died of tuberculosis on 15th of April 1764 at Versailles–another great testament to her position. After her funeral she was laid to rest in a convent in Paris, which didn’t survive the redesign of Paris by Haussmann. Currently, it is theorized that her tomb lay underneath rue de la Paix near Place Vendome. More specifically #3 rue de la Paix. It pains me to think she’s covered over with asphalt and cement!
Madame de Pompadour’s rooms are more intimate and cozy. It shows another dimension to Versailles. She owned many other properties in France due to her high middle class background and personal wealth. One being-the Elysee Palace, now home to the presidents of France. Located on the top floor under the attic these rooms are quite agreeable. The windows look out on the north gardens of Versailles and one can see from her dining room a small property she owned in the town of Versailles. Before her death she relocated to the ground floor apartments, which I hope will one day be accessible.
Comtesse du Barry…Madame du Barry (1743-1793) was the last mistress of Louis XV before his death in 1774. Unlike Madame du Pompadour, du Barry came from a lower class of society. Before her role as official mistress, du Barry was known to work the streets of Paris selling small trinket like items, its speculated that she may have worked in prostitution–but not solely. She took on the role of actress, model–an overall fun loving girl. She had a very sweet nature and loved all things pretty and sparkly–especially diamonds! She was known for her beauty–golden hair and almond blue eyes. Very pleasing lady, no wonder Louis XV found her enchanting. Marie Antoinette’s arrival in 1770 proved difficult for du Barry–as she was never accepted by the dauphine. Marie Antoinette felt she was not worthy of court and that her upbringing was revolting. The only words uttered to du Barry came on New Year’s day 1772 when Marie Antoinette was forced to speak to du Barry (her mother’s iron fist from Vienna came slamming down). It was either offend the King or live a somewhat pleasant existence at Versailles–the latter was the obvious choice. Marie Antoinette walked up to du Barry during the New Year’s ball and uttered less than 10 words “”There are many people at Versailles today.”
After Louis XV came down with small pox in 1774 du Barry was sent away from Versailles to live out her life first at the Abbey du Pont-aux-Dames and later her country chateau of Château de Louveciennes . She later came under the protection of the Duc de Brissac. Both Brissac and du Barry met their end with the Revolution. Brissac being killed by a mob in Versailles and du Barry suffered the same fate of Marie Antoinette. She climbed the steps of the guillotine just a month and half after Marie Antoinette. Her body and head was buried in the Madeleine Cemetery in Paris along with all the other unfortunate aristocrats.
And finally–the view from the roof tops of Versailles–looking out the same widow these high ladies once glanced…down on the marble courtyard of Versailles…priceless!
And then for a stroll through the sweet aromatic rose gardens…