Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson, Marquise de Pompadour and Duchess of Menars, known as Madame de Pompadour, was a mistress-in-title of King Louis XV, born December 29, 1721 in Paris and died April 15, 1764 at the Palace of Versailles.
Introduced to the court through connections, she was noticed by King Louis XV and became his mistress-in-waiting for six years, from 1745 to 1751.
Louis XV had the Petit Trianon built for her as a residence and offered her the estate of Pompadour, which allowed her to become a marquise and acquire nobility. Her bourgeois origins brought her criticism from the aristocracy.
From the 1750s, the marquise was no longer the king”s mistress, but retained her influence as a confidante and friend of the sovereign. In this sense, she encouraged the development of the Place Louis XV – today”s Place de la Concorde – or the creation of the Sèvres porcelain factory. Mme de Pompadour particularly appreciated architecture and decorative arts. In 1753, she acquired the Palais d”Évreux in Paris, now called the Palais de l”Élysée. The marquise was also interested in literature and encouraged the publication of the first two volumes of the Encyclopedia by Diderot and d”Alembert.
In poor health, she died of pulmonary congestion at the age of 42.
The future Marquise de Pompadour was born in Paris on Tuesday, December 29, 1721: “On Wednesday, December 30, 1721, was baptized Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson, born yesterday, daughter of François Poisson, esquire of His Royal Highness Monseigneur the Duke of Orleans, and Louise-Madeleine de La Motte, his wife, residing in the street of Cléry. The baptism is celebrated in the church of Saint-Eustache. Jeanne-Antoinette owes her first names to her godfather, Jean Pâris de Monmartel, and to his niece, Antoinette Justine Pâris, her godmother. François Poisson, son of weavers from Provenchères near Montigny-le-Roi, had married three years earlier, on October 11, 1718 at Saint-Louis des Invalides, with Madeleine de La Motte who belonged to a higher family. From this union two other children will be born: Françoise Louise Poisson, rue Thévenot on May 15, 1724 and baptized in the church of Saint-Sauveur, and Abel-François, on February 18, 1727 in the parish of Saint-Jean-en-Grève in Paris.
His father, François Poisson, began as a driver in the food service. Noticed by the Pâris brothers, financiers linked to the de La Motte family, he rendered great services in Provence during the plague. But, as food commissioner in charge of the supply of Paris during the famine of 1725, he was accused of trafficking and fraudulent sales. François Poisson was forced to leave the country and went into exile in Germany. On April 23, 1727, a commission of the Council declared him a debtor for the sum of 232 430 livres. On August 12 of the same year, a sentence of the Châtelet of Paris decides the separation of property with his wife, but their house rue Saint-Marc is seized. Before his departure, François Poisson entrusted his daughter Jeanne-Antoinette, who was 5 years old, to the Ursuline convent of Poissy in 1727. This convent is known for the education of young girls from the bourgeoisie. Jeanne-Antoinette”s health was fragile. But she also suffers morally from a double absence: that of her exiled father, and that of her mother who leads an eventful life to say the least. In January 1730, Madame Poisson took her daughter back to Paris, rue Neuve des Bons-Enfants. Jeanne-Antoinette received a careful education and the teaching of pleasure arts, such as drawing, music, painting, engraving, dancing, singing lessons given by Pierre de Jélyotte but also declamation by Jean-Baptiste de La Noue. In this context, she discovered the literary salon of Madame de Tencin, a friend of her mother, who would become her daughter”s godmother, and befriended her young neighbor, Marie-Thérèse de La Ferté-Imbault. It is in this circle that the young girl will learn the art of conversation and the values of the spirit.
While François Poisson was away, his wife Madeleine de La Motte, “beautiful to a fault”, had among other lovers the rich farmer general Charles François Paul Le Normant de Tournehem, a bachelor and art lover. The notorious infidelity of Madeleine gave rise to the hypothesis of an earlier affair with Jean Pâris de Monmartel or Le Normant, hence the suspicion that Jeanne-Antoinette was their natural daughter.
A legend tells that at the age of nine, she went to consult a fortune teller with her mother who exclaimed: “You will be the king”s mistress”. However, when the will of the future marquise was opened, it was discovered that a lady Lebon, a Parisian clairvoyant, had been granted a pension of 600 pounds per year.
Le Normant, after having taken care of the education of the two children of his mistress, Jeanne-Antoinette and Abel-François, for whom he was the legal guardian, had the former married as soon as she was 19 years old, on March 9, 1741 in Saint-Eustache, his nephew and heir Charles-Guillaume Le Normant d”Étiolles, twenty-four years old.
The couple had a son, Charles Guillaume Louis, born on December 26, 1741, baptized in the old parish of Saint-Paul but who died in his first year. On August 10, 1744 a daughter was born, named Alexandrine, after her godmother Mme de Tencin. She was baptized in Saint-Eustache.
The lieutenant of the Hunting Department of Versailles considered Jeanne-Antoinette Le Normant d”Étiolles to be quite beautiful, “of an above-average height, slender, well-to-do, supple, elegant; her face was of a perfect oval, her hair rather light brown than blond. Her eyes had a particular charm, which they owed perhaps to the uncertainty of their color. She had a perfectly shaped nose, a charming mouth, beautiful teeth, a delightful smile, the most beautiful skin in the world.
Jeanne-Antoinette”s beauty and wit made her known and she became the hostess of the cultivated and worldly salons of Paris. Mme de Tencin introduced her to Madame Geoffrin and her daughter, the Marquise de La Ferté-Imbault. She gave intimate performances in the small theater she had built in her castle of Étiolles, near Sénart where the couple settled. This property is located in the royal forest and the king frequently comes to hunt in the vicinity. Madame d”Étiolles had the statutory right to attend these hunts in a phaeton (carriage) and was accompanied by one of the lieutenants of the royal venery, who informed her precisely of the king”s passages so that she could attract his attention. It was during one of them, in the summer of 1743, that Louis XV noticed her.
Close to Jeanne-Antoinette”s father, Joseph Pâris had been exiled from 1726 to 1729 under the government of Cardinal de Fleury. The death of the latter, in January 1743, gave the opportunity to the Pâris brothers, the Cardinal de Tencin, his sister the Madame de Tencin and the Marshal de Richelieu to return to grace. This circle has an opportunity to place itself near Louis XV. The young Jeanne-Antoinette, who is very close to the Pâris family, seems likely to please the king. The stratagem set up worked and bore fruit in 1745.
On February 23, 1745, the religious marriage of the king”s son, the dauphin Louis, to the infanta Maria Theresa of Spain was celebrated. Festivities were organized for eight days for this event. On February 25, a masked ball was held in the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles, to which Jeanne Antoinette was invited under the guise of Diana the Huntress. The king and his closest courtiers were dressed as yew trees and the court observed that one of them was having a long conversation with this beautiful stranger. The conversations crystallize around this couple and one thinks to recognize the sovereign. The scene is immortalized by the painter Charles-Nicolas Cochin and “those who pronounce half-heartedly the name of Mrs. d”Etiolles believe in a simple caprice. Three days later, on February 28, during the ball offered at the Paris City Hall by the municipal body, a new meeting between Madame d”Etiolles and Louis XV confirms the king”s interest in her.
Jeanne-Antoinette became a regular visitor and on September 10, 1745, Louis XV installed her at the Palace of Versailles in an apartment located just above his own, connected by a secret staircase.
On June 24, 1745, the king donated to her the estate of Pompadour, acquired on June 15 by the Crown from the Prince of Conti, the king raising the title that had fallen into disuse for lack of a male heir, thus creating her marquise, while Jeanne-Antoinette obtained a legal separation from her husband. Indeed, the Châtelet of Paris pronounced on June 15, 1745, a ruling of separation of body and property. The official presentation of the new favorite in Versailles, September 15, 1745, requires a princess of blood. For this very formal ceremony, the Princess of Conti agreed to be the godmother of Jeanne-Antoinette, in exchange for the extinction of her debts. She was 23 years old. To initiate her to the “good manners” of the Court, she was chosen two masters of conduct, Charles-Antoine de Gontaut-Biron and the abbot of Bernis. She gradually tried to conquer the various circles of the king, but remained hated by the royal family, the dauphin nicknamed her “mother whore. The devout circles on the one hand and the conservative aristocratic circles on the other concentrated their attacks on the new mistress of the king, who was certainly a sinner, but above all, she was an upstart, since she came from the upper middle class and not from the ancient nobility, as were the previous favorites of the king. On Christmas Eve, December 24, 1745, his mother Louise Madeleine de la Motte died at the age of forty-six.
On May 21, 1746, Louis XV bought his castle from Louis-Alexandre Verjus, Marquis de Crécy, for the sum of 750,000 pounds, as a gift to Madame de Pompadour. She commissioned the architect Jean Cailleteau, known as “Lassurance”, and the landscape architect Jean-Charles Garnier d”Isle to embellish her estate by remodeling the castle and redesigning the entire village. She commissioned the painter François Boucher to paint trumeaux illustrating the arts and sciences and had the trompe-l”oeil facade of the Bellassière mill put up, having a real overall landscape vision. Also in 1746, Louis XV gave the Marquise de Pompadour a six-hectare plot of land in the park of Versailles, at a place called “Les Quinconces”. In 1749, she had her architect Lassurance build a charming residence there, with a French garden, a fruit garden, a botanical garden and aviaries, which she called her Hermitage. Located on the road from Versailles to Marly (at 10 rue de l”Ermitage, under her name since 1835), this flowery estate contained a famous pink marble basin that belonged to Louis XIV.
Her political influence grew to the point that she favored the highly diplomatic marriage between Marie-Josèphe de Saxe and the Dauphin Louis, son of Louis XV, celebrated on February 9, 1747. Her social ascension earned her the criticism of insulting pamphlets, called “poissonnades”. In this context, Madame de Pompadour obtained the disgrace of the minister, the Count of Maurepas, accused of searching with so little zeal for the authors of these libels, especially since she suspected him of complicity. Her family also suffered from ridicule, such as Jeanne-Antoinette”s maternal grandfather, Jean de la Motte, a grocery contractor, nicknamed the “butcher of the Invalides”, used by her enemies to remind her that it was the first time that a French king had taken a woman of the people as his favorite.
In February 1748, the marquise acquired the castle of La Celle, a few kilometers from Versailles, for the sum of 260 000 livres. The Queen and the Dauphin, supported by devout circles, urged the King to stop this notorious adulterous relationship and finally made him give in after many years of resistance. However, although she ceased to share the intimacy of the king, her career received a new promotion: in 1749 she obtained the royal privilege to live in the apartment of the Duke and Duchess of Penthievre on the first floor of the central body of the Palace of Versailles, while the King”s daughters coveted it. In the same year 1749, she chose as her personal doctor François Quesnay, the future leader of the physiocrats, who obtained the title of consulting physician to the king and a place to live at the court (an “entresol” located on the second floor) close to the first floor where Mme de Pompadour lived.
After 1750, if the relationship between the king and his favorite took a platonic turn, even simply friendly, Jeanne-Antoinette did not leave the court and remained in the immediate entourage of the royal family, aligning her conduct with that of the Marquise de Maintenon in her time. Madame de Pompadour excelled at entertaining Louis XV, introducing him to the arts, organizing parties and theatrical performances, maintaining the sovereign”s taste for buildings and gardens, and multiplying her residences outside Versailles. This explains why, after having been his mistress for five years, she remains the favorite in title. With her power, she obtained from the king to give titles and favors to her brother, Abel-François Poisson, who became successively Marquis of Vandières, Marigny and Menars. The latter was finally appointed in 1751, director of the King”s Buildings.
Jeanne-Antoinette does not satisfy the sensuality of the king and she fears to be supplanted by a lady of the court. This role she cannot fulfill, Madame de Pompadour delegates it obscurely to subordinates. There are “in the entourage of Louis XV, competent providers”, like the Duke of Richelieu or Dominique-Guillaume Lebel, first valet of the king. Young women and girls were presented to the king and lodged in the Parc-aux-Cerfs house, the current Saint-Louis district in Versailles. The most famous mistresses were Charlotte Rosalie de Choiseul-Beaupré, Anne Couppier de Romans whose son, Louis Aimé, was recognized by the king without legitimizing him, which made the marquise tremble, and Marie-Louise O”Murphy de Boisfailly, called Morphyse, who gave birth to a daughter, Agathe Louise.
In 1753, she bought the Hôtel d”Évreux (today the Palais de l”Élysée) and marked the place by her choices in decoration and furnishing.
On June 15, 1754, the only daughter of the marquise, named Alexandrine in homage to Mme de Tencin, died. Born from her marriage, she had obtained the custody of her and raised her since like a royal princess. The nine year old child had just contracted an acute peritonitis in the convent of the Ladies of the Assumption, rue Saint-Honoré in Paris, where she was being educated. Madame de Pompadour, who was detained in Versailles, was not present at the time of her devastating illness. When the news reached her, Louis XV urgently sent two of his personal doctors to the child”s bedside, but they arrived too late. The marquise, deeply affected, never really recovered from this tragedy. A few days later, on June 25, 1754, her father, François Poisson, also died.
On Saturday, February 7, 1756, the king announced the appointment of Madame de Pompadour as lady of the Queen”s palace and the presentation took place the next day, after vespers.
The castle of Saint-Ouen, which is little known and rarely taken into account, is a masterly embodiment of Madame de Pompadour”s dazzling social ascension, both by the illustrious quality of its owners and by its unique interior design. A fabulous object, with the Pompadour coat of arms, kept in the Musée des Arts et Métiers, reminds us of this.
Strange as it may seem, the Marquise de Pompadour, after having sold her château of Crécy, only bought the usufruct of the château of Saint-Ouen from 1759 until her death in 1764. She was therefore neither a tenant (as was the case with the château of Champs-sur-Marne) nor an owner in the strict sense of the word.
Built between 1664 and 1672 by Antoine Lepautre, this castle was built for Joachim de Seiglière de Boifranc, before passing by marriage into the prestigious family of the dukes of Tresmes and the dukes of Gesvres during all the XVIIIth century, then to be destroyed in 1821 by Louis XVIII
The castle built in the 17th century had a classical U-shaped plan, and a long façade, with two wings extending the central body, on the garden side facing the Seine.
The originality of Saint-Ouen lay in its interior layout; the central body was in fact composed of a series of three Italianate salons, the decor of which had been entirely redesigned by the Slodtz family in the 1750s. The Italian salon is a device illustrated with great pomp at the Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte, of which the large oval salon is the most famous example – a room occupying the entire height of the building.
With this reference in mind, the three Italian-style salons in Saint-Ouen must have been impressive, with their decorations decorated with portraits of the entire royal family. This spectacular device, created for the Duc de Gesvres, served the Marquise de Pompadour”s desire for social recognition. In 1752, she became a duchess “à tabouret” (giving her the privilege of sitting in the presence of the Queen).
In parallel to this existing décor, Mme de Pompadour implemented a major restructuring project as soon as she acquired the house, the cost of which reached more than 500,000 livres. The outbuildings were entirely rebuilt and many modifications were made.
Due to the lack of iconography and by cross-checking different sources, a reconstruction of the first floor plan could be established, making it possible to grasp the scope of Mme de Pompadour”s architectural project; it would seem that the architect who supervised this restructuring was none other than Ange-Jacques Gabriel, the king”s first architect, who was then in charge of the construction sites of the various residences of the marquise.
Using the central Italian salon as a pivotal point, an apartment for the king was created as a counterpart to that of the now Duchess de Pompadour, making the prestigious Château de Saint-Ouen a reflection of his status and a symbol of his social and political victory.
On June 30, 1760, the Marquise de Pompadour acquired, by a deed passed before Me Alleaume and Delamanche, notaries in Paris, the castle and marquisate of Menars, the land of Nozieux and all their dependencies, properties of Mesdames de Lastic and de Castellane. The total amount of this vast estate is 880 000 livres.
During her twenty-year “reign”, she maintained cordial relations with the queen. Mme de Pompadour also maintained relations with the ministers whom she sometimes invited to her apartments.
She supported the career of the Cardinal de Bernis and the Duke de Choiseul and supported the reversal of alliances from Prussia to Austria, which resulted in the Seven Years” War and the loss of New France. Legend has it that the marquise, in order to console the king, who was very affected by the rout of Rossbach, urged him not to be overly distressed, concluding with these words: “You must not be distressed: you will fall ill. After us, the deluge!
End of life
Exhausted by twenty years of life, work and intrigues at the court, her health faltered and she contracted tuberculosis. In Versailles, she constantly complained about the cold and humid air of her large apartments, regretting the small apartment in the northern attic, easier to heat, which she had occupied for the first five years of her installation. During the night of April 14-15, 1764, the priest of the Madeleine de la Ville-l”Evêque confessed the marquise and administered extreme unction. Believing her to be asleep, the priest withdrew and the Marquise de Pompadour whispered: “One more moment, Monsieur le Curé, we will leave together”. Jeanne-Antoinette died of a pulmonary congestion, at the age of 42, on April 15, 1764 in Versailles, the last privilege, since it is forbidden for a courtier to die in the place where the king and his court reside.
Madame de Pompadour was taken on a stretcher to her hotel at the Reservoirs, where she was laid to rest for two days and two nights in her room, which had been transformed into a chapelle ardente. On Tuesday, April 17, 1764, in the late afternoon, the first funeral service took place in the church of Notre-Dame in Versailles. The death certificate was written by Jean-François Allart, the parish priest (see the section Old sources):
It is said that, considering the bad weather as the funeral procession of Jeanne-Antoinette left Versailles for Paris, Louis XV made this remark: “The marquise will not have good weather for her trip” and seeing the procession leave without having been able to pay official homage to the one who had been his confidante for so long: “These are the only duties I could pay her!
Jeanne-Antoinette is buried in Paris, in the chapel of the Capucines convent, next to her mother Louise Madeleine de La Motte (died on December 24, 1745) and her daughter Alexandrine (died on June 15, 1754). The location of the vault would be at the level of the building number 3 of the rue de la Paix. The writer Michel de Decker evokes the future of the marquise: “Thus Jeanne-Antoinette, who remained in her tomb, still sleeps today under the pavement of the former rue Napoléon – which became rue de la Paix in 1814 – and probably in front of the building bearing the number three”.
In her will, Mme de Pompadour offered part of her residences to the king, as she had no descendants. She also bequeathed life pensions to her friends and servants. The rest of her property, including the castle of Menars, is transmitted to her brother Abel-François.
Danielle Gallet, philologist, historian and curator at the National Archives, attempts to provide an objective assessment of Louis XV and Madame de Pompadour:
“The royal affair has been considered by writings sometimes benevolent, most often perfidious and venomous. The person of Madame de Pompadour is portrayed in broad strokes, according to the immemorial archetype of the princely courtesan. Enveloped in the decline of the monarchical institution, she was charged with the errors and misfortunes that preceded the agony of the Old Regime.”
From her husband, Charles-Guillaume Le Normant d”Étiolles, Madame de Pompadour had two children: a son who died in infancy and a daughter, Alexandrine, who died at the age of 9 of acute peritonitis. The marquise never had any other children.
From her affair with King Louis XV, she had three miscarriages (accidental or not, the hypothesis of abortions to meet the king”s wish not to have bastards being not excluded) between 1746 and 1749. Suffering from gynecological problems, she stopped all sexual relations with the king and became the organizer of his pleasures to avoid being replaced by another official favorite, by organizing the Parc-aux-cerfs.
Charles-Guillaume Le Normant d”Étiolles, on the other hand, lived in concubinage with a dancer whom he married once he became widower of the marquise. The whole family was imprisoned during the Terror. Charles-Guillaume was then 74 years old.
Madame de Pompadour gives her unwavering support to Voltaire. The marquise reconciles the writer and Louis XV. This return to grace with the king, allows Voltaire to obtain a post of historiographer in 1745 and a seat in the French Academy in 1747.
Madame de Pompadour was particularly favorable to philosophers and the intellectual party. Writers could thus have the relative freedom to spread dissenting ideas by praising the English political system and advocating an enlightened monarchy. It favored, for example, the publication of the first two volumes of Diderot and D”Alembert”s Encyclopedia, which had been condemned by the Parliament of Paris. While a decree of the Council of King Louis XV forbids the printing and distribution of the first two volumes of the Encyclopedia on February 7, 1752, the same Council recognizes “the usefulness of the Encyclopedia for the Sciences and the Arts”, Madame de Pompadour and some ministers can solicit d”Alembert and Diderot to return to the work of the Encyclopedia in May.
Madame de Pompadour will also defend Montesquieu against the critics, during the publication of his book De l”esprit des lois, published in 1748. One of his opponents, Claude Dupin, farmer general and owner of the castle of Chenonceau, is the author of a work Réflexions sur l”esprit des lois in 1749 which refutes the arguments developed by Montesquieu. Claude Dupin, with the help of his wife Louise de Fontaine, defends the financiers attacked by Montesquieu while taking care not to name the philosopher and observing for himself the anonymity as a prudent and wise man. Montesquieu”s reaction was not long in coming and he asked Madame de Pompadour to intervene on his behalf. Thanks to her help, Montesquieu obtains the suppression of the edition of Claude Dupin. Madame de Pompadour, who protected Montesquieu, is represented in the painting of Maurice Quentin de La Tour with, placed on a table, the work De l”esprit des lois? But Montesquieu”s book was put on the index in 1751 and the pope forbade its reading.
Having chosen as her doctor François Quesnay, leader of the physiocrats and founder of political economy, Madame de Pompadour became the patron of the young physiocratic movement. The first meetings of the school took place in Quesnay”s mezzanine just above the marquise”s apartments.
Madame de Pompadour had a library where we found the Grand Testament of François Villon.
The Marquise de Pompadour was always represented by portraits with a book in hand, next to a globe or leafing through a musical score… She made many craftsmen work, as well as the porcelain factory of Vincennes, and allowed the reorganization of the porcelain factory of Sèvres to compete with the porcelain of Japan, China or Saxony. It promoted artists from Sèvres, such as Jean-Jacques Bachelier or Etienne Maurice Falconet, who developed original colors (daffodil yellow, Sèvres blue or the “lilac” pink called “Pompadour rose” and invented by Philippe Xhrouet), motifs in “natural flowers” or “Sèvres cookie”. She was in favor of the construction of monuments such as the Place Louis-XV (now Place de la Concorde) and the Petit Trianon. She also participated in the project to finance the construction of the Military School with her friend Joseph Paris Duverney. Personally, she learned to dance, engrave and play the guitar. Her brother, the Marquis de Marigny, was superintendent of the king”s buildings and, as such, one of the promoters of the “antique” style.
The “Pompadour style” was in full bloom before she became the king”s mistress.
She exercised a real patronage by numerous commissions to Boucher painters. She encouraged a large number of artists such as the painter Nattier, the engraver Cochin, the cabinetmaker Oeben, the sculptor Pigalle, the sheath maker Jean-Claude Galluchat and the writer La Place.
During her life, the Marquise de Pompadour resided in the following castles, successively and sometimes simultaneously:
In 1762, under the impulse of the marquise, Louis XV ordered the construction of a new Trianon in the park of Versailles. Madame de Pompadour supervised the plans and the construction of what was to become the “Petit Trianon” and was to be her future residence at court. But her death in 1764 did not allow her to attend the completion of her work and it is the new favorite of the king, Madame du Barry, who inaugurates it alongside the king and moves in.
: document used as a source for the writing of this article.
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