Monday, May 25, 2015

Comtesse du Barry: In London for the Last Time


Madame du Barry
Jean Jacques Carrieri, 1773


The Comtesse du Barry to the Duc de Brissac's daughter, the Duchesse de Mortemart, shortly after his murder:

No one has felt more than I the great loss which you have just suffered.  I hope you will understand the reason for my delay in mingling my own tears with yours.  The fear of adding to your grief prevents me from speaking of it.  Mine is complete.  A life which ought to have been so splendid and glorious!  My God, what an end!  The last wish of your father was that I should love you as a sister. This wish is very close to my own heart.  Never doubt the love which will attach me to you for the rest of my life.

And, the Duchesse's reply, dated September 30, 1792, three weeks after her father's murder:

"Your letter reached me this morning.  You have lessened my anguish and brought tears to my eyes. I have been meaning to write you and speak of my grief;  my heart is torn and broken.  I have been suffering ever since that day when my father was taken from Paris.  I still suffer more than I am able to say, but I felt it wiser to wait until I could have a grip on some of my feelings.  I must open my heart to you.  Only you can understand my grief.  I am eager to fulfill the last wish of him whom I shall mourn forever.  I will indeed love you as a sister.  The smallest of my father's wishes is a sacred command to me.  Excuse this scrawl.  My head is aching so that I can scarcely see..."

Two weeks after this exchange of letters the two women both traveled to England.  The du Barry, ostensibly,  returned to England to continue in her quest to recover her jewels.  Her movements and associations were tracked and reported back to the Committee of Public Safety.  Circumstantial evidence (I watch too much true crime tv) makes a case for the eventual crimes for which she was later tried - of being a courier, spy, and of anti-Revolutionary activities.  She gifted and loaned large amounts of money to men of the Church and to displaced Royalists.  Though her lawyers denied it, the Comtesse du Barry was accused of helping fund anti-Revolutionary uprisings.

In England, she was welcomed into the most distinguished society, French and English.  The Marquis de Bouillé wrote of her in his memoirs.:

"During the time in London when I used to dine with the mistress of the Prince of Wales, I used to see much of a lady who herself had one been honored with royal favors.  She had come to London to follow a lawsuit of the theft of her diamonds which had been occupying her for several years, and to flee the bloody scene where her lover the Duc de Brissac has some months earlier been murdered almost in front of her eyes, a scene to which she had the temerity and misfortune to return shortly after and where she herself suffered  a fate no less cruel than his...  Madame du Barry was then about forty-seven years old [she was actually fifty].  Although the freshness and first bloom of her charms had long since vanished, enough remained for one easily to imagine how lovely they must once have been.  She had blue eyes with an expression of the greatest sweetness, her hair was chestnut colored, Her elegant and noble figure, despite a tendency to embonpoint, had about it much suppleness and grace.  Her clothing, especially that which she wore in the morning, could not conceal her still-voluptuous form.  There was nothing at all common about her still less was there anything vulgar. We were all of deeply concerned of the situation of the King and Queen, and I was much surprised and touched to find that this lady whom they had treated so harshly upon their succession to the throne could now think of little but their sufferings.  The tears she shed for them were as sincere as they were constant."

Let me stop for a second and defend Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette who, according to Stanley Loomis, treated Louis XV's mistress better than might've been expected given the circumstances.  It may not have been widely known, at the time, but Loomis says that the lettres de cachet that sent her to the Pont-aux-Dames convent were ordered by Louis XV the day before he succumbed to smallpox, not XVI when he began his reign.

Next:  To the scaffold

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