1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Du Barry, Marie Jeanne Bécu

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DU BARRY, MARIE JEANNE BÉCU, Comtesse (1746–1793), French adventuress, mistress of Louis XV., was the natural daughter of a poor woman of Vaucouleurs, and was born there on the 19th of August 1746. Placed in a convent in Paris at an early age, she received a very slight education, learning little but the catechism and drawing; and at the age of sixteen entered a milliner’s shop in the rue St Honoré. Subsequently she lived as a courtesan under the name of Mdlle Lange. Her great personal charms led the adventurer Jean, comte du Barry, to take her into his house in order to make it more attractive to the dupes whose money he won by gambling. Her success surpassing his expectations, his hopes took a higher flight, and through Lebel, valet de chambre of Louis XV., and the duc de Richelieu, he succeeded in installing her as mistress of the king. In order to present her at court it was necessary to find a title for her, and as Count Jean du Barry was married himself his brother Guillaume offered himself as nominal husband. The comtesse du Barry was presented at court on the 22nd of April 1769, and became official mistress of the king. Her influence over the monarch was absolute until his death, and courtiers and ministers were in favour or disgrace with him in exact accordance with her wishes. The duc de Choiseul, who refused to acknowledge her, was disgraced in 1771; and the duc d’Aiguillon, who had the reputation of being her lover, took his place, and in concert with her governed the monarch. Louis XV. built for her the magnificent mansion of Luciennes. At his death in 1774 an order of his successor banished her to the abbey of Pont-aux-Dames, near Meaux, but, the queen interceding for her, the king in the following year gave her permission to reside at Luciennes with a pension. Here she led a retired life with the comte de Cossé-Brissac, and was visited there by Benjamin Franklin and the emperor Joseph II., among many other distinguished men. Having gone to England in 1792 to endeavour to raise money on her jewels, she was on her return accused before the Revolutionary Tribunal of having dissipated the treasures of the state, conspired against the republic, and worn, in London, “mourning for the tyrant.” She was condemned to death on the 7th of December 1793, and beheaded the same evening. Her contemporaries, scorning her low birth rather than her vices, attributed to her a malicious political rôle of which she was at heart incapable, and have done scant justice to her quick wit, her frank but gracious manners, and her seductive beauty. The volume of Lettres et Anecdotes (1779) which bears her name was not written by her.

See E. and J. de Goncourt, La du Barry (Paris, 1880); C. Vatel, Histoire de Madame du Barry (1882–1883), based on sources; R. Douglas, The Life and Times of Madame du Barry (London, 1896).