Madame du Barry’s lurid story is straight out of a twisted period drama—yet so few people know it. Here are 42 facts about Madame du Barry, the last royal mistress of France.
Madame du Barry Facts
1. God’s Daughter
Fittingly, Madame du Barry was born into scandal. She was the illegitimate daughter of provincial French seamstress Anne Becu and a mystery gentleman. Although her father’s identity is still unconfirmed, he may have been the naughty friar Jean Jacques Gomard. Yeah, if I was the unholy friar, I guess I’d want to keep my love child a secret too.
2. Rags to Riches to Ruin
Some girls have it all—but Madame du Barry had even more. Her good looks, bawdy charms, and sheet smarts rocketed her through the ranks and into the arms of King Louis XV of France. Yet it wasn’t all fun and bedroom romps for this royal mistress. For all her joie de vivre, Madame du Barry still met an utterly tragic end.
3. The Suite Life
A typical day at Versailles for Madame du Barry would make our modern eyes pop. Her lavish rooms were conveniently located above King Louis XV’s official quarters. In them, du Barry breakfasted on liquid chocolate, chose her wardrobe from an arsenal of exquisite gowns, and had two separate hairdressers on retainer for different court occasions.
4. By Any Other Name
Before she was Madame du Barry, her full birth name was Jeanne Becu.
5. Daddy Warbucks
As a child, little Jeanne’s mother Anne was determined to do anything for her daughter. So when Anne’s old lover Monsieur Billiard-Dumonceaux graciously offered her a cooking gig for his current mistress Francesca—including room and board for the whole family—Anne had no choice but to thank him kindly and accept.
6. Toddlers in Tiaras
Francesca, also regally called La Frederique, loved luxe gifts, beautiful clothing, and big baubles, but she also loved her cook’s little daughter Jeanne. After taking a shining to the pretty toddler, La Frederique showered her with attention, presents, and pro-tips in flirting. She even paid for Jeanne’s education at the Convent of St. Aure.
7. A Paris 10
As a full-grown woman, Madame du Barry was one of the most famous beauties of her day. She had thick blonde hair that fell in ringlets, a heart-shaped face, and wide, blue eyes.
8. Expand Your Horizons
The low-born Madame du Barry was shockingly rough and tumble compared to the rest of King Louis XV’s mistresses. According to one story, the king once confided to his friend the Duc de Noailles that du Barry had shown him astonishing pleasures. “Sire,” the duke responded, “That’s because your Majesty has never been in a brothel.”
9. Sizing up the Competition
If you believe one version of events, La Frederique’s adoration of Jeanne had a disturbing dark side. Almost as soon as Jeanne turned 15 years old and left the convent, Francesca threw both her and her mother out on the street. Some historians believe that the Italian spitfire had grown too jealous of Jeanne’s blossoming looks.
Others, however, believe an even darker version of events. Monsieur Billiard-Dumonceaux may have turned his attentions back to Anne, enraging Francesca. Either way, she was not pleased with the Becu women.
10. Pleased to Meet You
When Jeanne was just starting out her career as a high-class Parisian courtesan, she went by the name Mademoiselle Lange.
11. All Fake Friends
It isn’t easy being the hottest girl in the room. As the king’s official mistress, Madame du Barry had very few real friends. Some, like Claire Francoise, tutored her in courtly manners out of the goodness of their hearts. But most of du Barry’s other “friends” were keeping a dark secret. They were paid to be nice to her, accepting bribes to be part of her coterie.
12. Making Ends Meet
Soon after she came of age, Jeanne found herself in a desperate situation. She had to beg for scraps just to live. During this period of her life, the beautiful girl roamed the streets selling trinkets from a box, or else working a stable of other odd jobs.
13. Pimp My Bride
As Jeanne’s looks started to kick into high gear, people started to notice—including the renowned high class “procurer” Jean-Baptiste du Barry. He sought out, er, talent to present to aristocrats looking for a good time, not a long time. In addition to recruiting Jeanne as a luxury escort, he also took her as his mistress for a time.
14. I Was Saying Boo-urns
Not everyone was a fan of Madame du Barry. The Marquis de Stainville never did see what the fuss was about, and found her appallingly ordinary. He once called her “middling pretty.” Okay, my dude.
15. The Princess and the Pro
When du Barry began her relationship with King Louis XV, he was an aging man, and his grandson Louis XVI was about to marry the most notorious woman in French history: Marie Antoinette. Antoinette and du Barry first met on the eve of the royal wedding—and it was hate at first sight. Marie Antoinette was an innocent 14-year-old, and when she found out du Barry was an immoral courtesan, she despised her immediately.
16. Family Affair
Madame du Barry’s legendary beauty often got her into trouble. When she was still a teenager, she worked as a companion to the elderly Madame du la Garde. That is, until both of the Madame’s sons started trying to pursue the pretty girl. Fed up with the headaches, de la Garde sacked Jeanne before she could cause more trouble.
17. Movin on up
Du Barry’s career as a high-class escort was phenomenally successful. In no time at all, she became the talk of Parisian drawing rooms, at least after midnight. Some of her most illustrious lovers included the aging Marechal de Richelieu, who had ties directly to the royal palace of Versailles…and of course, the extravagant king himself, Louis XV.
18. More Than Just a Pretty Face
Though Madame du Barry had expensive tastes, she also had a good heart. When her distant acquaintances the Comte and Comtesse de Lousene found themselves facing execution, du Barry begged the king to spare their lives. Her words touched Louis. He agreed, saying, “Madame, I am delighted that the first favor you should ask of me should be an act of mercy!”
19. Woman on Top
Once Jeanne became a success on the courtesan circuit, she started setting her sights even higher: to the official post of chief royal mistress, or maitresse-en-titre. King Louis XV was already aware of her, but there was one big problem. Any chief mistress to the King simply had to have a title, and, good looks or not, Jeanne was a commoner.
20. Unknown Pleasures
When a teenaged Marie Antoinette first asked who Madame du Barry was, a courtier replied that she “gave pleasure to the king.” The green Marie’s response was mortifying. Not realizing what this “pleasure” meant, the little girl responded with a disturbing reply. She said, “Oh, then I shall be her rival, because I too wish to give pleasure to the King.”
Her guffawing companion had to inform her that she’d better not give the old king that kind of pleasure.
21. A Marriage of Convenience
Jeanne’s pimp Jean-Baptiste had just the solution to their royal mistress issue. After all, his brother Guillaume just so happened to be a count. Accordingly, Jeanne and Guillaume wed on September 1, 1768, in a loveless ceremony. Jean-Baptiste also created a false birth certificate for Jeanne that shaved three years off her age and claimed she had noble blood.
22. Flying Solo
Jeanne’s first months at Versailles were absolutely miserable. Sure, she quickly started “entertaining” the king, but the other high-born courtiers refused to even talk to the tawdry upstart—and that wasn’t even the worst part. Because Madame du Barry hadn’t earned a formal introduction to the King, she couldn’t go into public with him. Poor Jeanne had to spend most of her days alone indoors.
23. Eh, She’ll Do
For all of the illicit affairs rollicking behind bedroom doors, 18th-century France sure had a lot of rules. To get an official introduction to the King, Madame du Barry needed to find and pay a female sponsor. Except no one wanted the job, at least not for cheap. After going through several pricy possibilities, du Barry finally settled on a Madame de Bearn…who had massive gambling debts and couldn’t really say no.
24. The Last of a Dying Breed
King Louis XV’s successor Louis XVI had no mistresses, which makes Madame du Barry the very last official royal mistress of France.
25. The Silent Treatment
Marie Antoinette loathed du Barry so much that for years, she point blank refused to speak to her for any reason. On a New Year’s Day ball, their feud thawed ever so slightly when Marie deigned to toss “There are many people at Versailles today” du Barry’s way, giving the mistress a chance to either respond or not.
26. The Talk of the Town
Madame du Barry made sure that she came correct to her first official meeting with the king. She wore a silver-white hoop dress embroidered with gold, the likes of which even the well-to-do courtiers had never seen before. Just to add to the absurdity, she also wore a heap of jewels the king sent to her the night before. Because…they had totally already met.
27. The King Is Dead
In 1774, the elderly King Louis XV succumbed to smallpox, throwing his official mistress into the political deep end. The newly-minted Queen Marie Antoinette wasted no time in turning du Barry out of doors. She immediately banished the king’s mistress to a convent.
28. Entitlement at Its Finest
One of du Barry’s many “indulgences” was a young Bantu slave named Zamor. She loved nothing more than to dress him up and show him off like a doll. Zamor tolerated du Barry’s condescension—but in time, he would have his revenge.
29. Third Time’s the Charm
Madame du Barry’s formal introduction to King Louis XV was an absolute disaster. During the first attempt, Madame de Bearn choked and couldn’t go through with it, faking a sprained ankle instead. On the second try, the King himself got injured and the meeting couldn’t take place. By the time du Barry actually managed it on April 22, 1769, it was the event of the season.
Crowds of gossiping courtiers stood in the Hall of Mirrors while a mob of commoners gathered outside the gates of Versailles, all to see the King’s sidepiece make it official.
30. The Great Escape
Though the charming du Barry eventually negotiated her way out of her holy prison at the convent, she was never again allowed to set foot within a ten-mile radius of her beloved Versailles.
31. We’ve Got Bigger Problems
On May 5, 1789, all Marie Antoinette and Madame du Barry’s queenly infighting meant nothing. The French Revolution had begun. Both women spent the next four years trying to stay alive in a world that absolutely detested them.
Even in the middle of her exile from Versailles, the still-spry Madame du Barry had her priorities straight. She still managed to find time for bedroom scandals. She was involved in a dramatic love triangle with the French solider Louis Hercule Timoleon de Cosse-Brissac and the British soldier Henry Seymour, managing to string both men along for months.
33. Shopping Spree
History often blames Marie Antoinette’s reckless spending for the French Revolution—but the blame may actually lie more with her rival Madame du Barry. Even though King Louis XV gave his sweetums an astonishing allowance of three hundred livres a month, she somehow always managed to be in debt. This girl could spend.
34. Ignorance Is Bliss
While the revered Madame de Pompadour was active in court politics, her predecessor du Barry had earthier tastes. Though King Louis allowed her to participate in state councils, du Barry much preferred to spend her time trying on pretty dresses and examining bigger and bigger baubles and jewels. Hey, can you blame her?
35. Spelling It out
Soon enough, one of du Barry’s lovers Henry Seymour got fed up with their tryst. He broke up with her in the most brutal way possible. Seymour sent a painting as a “present” to his unfaithful lover, but it was no innocent gift. Along the bottom of the picture, he wrote a short, vicious message in English: “Leave me alone.” Message received.
36. Started From the Bottom, Now We Here
Du Barry didn’t forget the little people when she found her place at the top. In good time, the king gave her mother Anne the title of the Marquise de Montrabe, as well as a lavish apartment to go with it.
37. A Grisly Gift
Even in the middle of the French Revolution, Madame du Barry’s lover Louis Hercule could never quite forget her—but his devotion had disturbing consequences. One evening, an angry mob showed up at du Barry’s chateau. When she looked out the window, they threw a bloodied cloth at her. When she opened it, she fainted.
It was the severed head of Louis Hercule, preserved as a token especially for his Madame.
38. Boy Toy Backstab
Colonial karma’s a witch, and eventually, du Barry’s human toy Zamor dealt her a bitter betrayal. After surviving the first years of the French Revolution, the courtesan found out that Zamor had joined up with the Jacobins, AKA the rebels. She promptly fired him, but no problem: Zamor turned around and denounced her to the powerful, revolutionary Committee of Public Safety.
39. Did I Do That?
Just before his death, King Louis XV commissioned a massively expensive diamond necklace for du Barry. When it was finally finished years later, the jewelers tried to foist it off on Marie Antoinette, who refused du Barry’s sloppy seconds. Antoinette’s actions triggered the infamous and utterly scandalous Affair of the Diamond Necklace.
During the affair, a con woman posing as a now-approving Marie Antoinette procured the necklace from the desperate jewelers and promptly sold it off on the black market. The scandal ruined the queen’s already fragile reputation, and voila, she had yet another reason to hate Madame du Barry.
40. This Is the End
Zamor’s testimony to the Council put Madame du Barry to her death. He accused her of financially assisting enemies of the state, and a tribunal charged her with treason in 1792.
41. Wicked Games
Du Barry’s biggest rival at court was the Duchesse de Gramont. The duchess had been waiting to move up the mistress ranks ever since Louis XV’s favorite (and legendary) mistress Madame de Pompadour died years before. Needless to say, Gramont did not take well to the enterprising Jeanne, and she went to disturbing lengths to ruin her.
Gramont slandered not only Madame du Barry but also the king in the gutter pamphlets of Paris, trying to turn public opinion against their relationship.
42. Madame du Guillotine, Meet Madame du Barry
On December 8, 1793, the beautiful Madame du Barry went to her dark fate at the guillotine. True to form, she did not go gentle into that good night. Tragically, the terrified girl cried out “You are going to hurt me! Why?!” She begged her executioner for “one more moment.” In fact, these were her very last words: “Monsieur le bourreau, encore un petit moment!”