Madame de Pompadour – her rise to prestige and power in the court of the King of France.
Madame de Pompadour was the long-time mistress of King Louis XV of France.
Madame de Pompadour (1721-1764) was born Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson – often ridiculed because poisson means fish. At the age of nine, a fortune-teller predicted that she would steal the heart of a king. This was a far-fetched notion. She was not from aristocracy. Instead, she was from the bourgeoisie – from the rural boroughs.
In her teens, Jeanne-Antoinette could act, dance, sing, play the clavichord, and paint. She was an enthusiastic gardener and botanist, and collected rare and exotic birds. In fact, she had everything, except good health. She was described by biographer Nancy Mitford (1904-1973) as pretty, although her looks depended on ‘dazzle and expression rather than bone structure.’ She was pretty enough for Monsieur Charles-Guillaume Le Normant d’Etoiles to marry her.
Financier Charles-Guillaume Le Normant d’Etoiles (1717-1799) married Jeanne-Antoinette in 1741. They had two children; a son in 1741 who died within a year, and a daughter in 1744. Alexandrine-Jeanne, nicknamed Fanfan, died when she was nine years old from a stomach illness.
Charles-Guillaume and Jeanne-Antoinette lived in a relatively modest place next to the Senart forest. It was in the forest that she ‘stole the heart of a king.’
King Louis XV hunted in the grounds of the forest. And that’s where he saw Jeanne-Antoinette.King Louis (1710-1774) was also known as Louis the Beloved – le Bien-Aimé. He was the King of France from 1715 until his death at the age of 64. His reign of almost 59 years was the second longest of any ruler of France. The longest ruler, for 72 years, was his great-grandfather Louis XIV.
King Louis XV was married to Marie Leszczynska, the daughter of the deposed King of Poland, when he met Jeanne-Antoinette. He also had a mistress, Marie Anne de Mailly, called Madame de Chateauroux. But Marie Anne died in 1744, so he was looking for someone to replace her. Jeanne-Antoinette instigated the meeting with the king by riding her carriage right in front of the king’s hunting party. Not once, but twice. In February 1945, the king sent her an invitation to attend a masked ball at the Palace of Versailles.
At the time, the mistress to King Louis XV lived in the king’s palace, and just as Marie Anne did, so did Jeanne-Antoinette, and she officially separated from her husband Charles-Guillaume two months after she moved into the king’s palace in March 1745 – the Palace of Versailles. Hence, she became known as Madame de Pompadour.
Madame de Pompadour lived in the king’s court for 20 years, becoming the undisputed royal mistress. Her room was directly above the king’s bedroom. As vistors enter the garden of Versailles through the main entrance, they should turn left and count the nine top windows from the north-west corner to locate Madame de Pompadour’s room.
She was even promoted. King Louis XV gave her the title of Duchess in 1752, and in 1756 she had the position of Lady-in-Waiting to the Queen. Historians say that this position was effectively like being the Prime Minister !
Madame de Pompadour was influential in the king’s palace. She was kind to the Queen, but loathsome to the bourgeoisie who resented her rise to power and prestige. The Queen had 10 children, and one survived. Her son Dauphin Louis was born in 1729 and died in 1765 at the age of 36. Madame de Pompadour had no children with King Louis XV.
Madame de Pompadour died in 1764 of tuberculosis at the age of 42. The Queen died in 1768 at the age of 65.