Murphy, Marie Louise (DNB00)

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MURPHY, MARIE LOUISE (1737–1814), mistress of Louis XV, was born at Rouen 21 Oct. 1737, being the fifth daughter of Daniel Murphy, an Irishman who had served in the French army, but had become a shoemaker. Her mother's name was Margaret Hickey. Her parents removed to Paris, where her mother, after her father's death, became a secondhand clothes dealer near the Palais Royal. The daughters, all handsome, were disposed of by the mother as soon as they became marketable. Two are said to have been actresses. The eldest was a model at the Academy of Painting, and Marie Louise, to whom the reversion of that post had been promised, sat to Boucher, and in this way fell under the notice of Madame de Pompadour, who contrived that she should pose for the Virgin in a Holy Family painted for the queen's oratory. The king, as was expected, was smitten with the portrait, and in March 1753 Marie Louise was lodged, as its first occupant, in the small house at Versailles, styled the Pare aux Cerfs, round which so many legends have gathered. There on 21 May 1754 she gave birth to a child, described by some contemporaries as a girl, but probably a boy. Witty as well as handsome, 'la petite Morfi' is said to have aimed at supplanting Madame de Pompadour, but was dismissed in disgrace, and was married, on 25 Nov. 1755, to Major Beaufranchet d'Ayat, a man of good connections but poor. She retired with him on a pension to Ayat in Auvergne, being forbidden to reappear at Versailles. According to Argenson, her sister, Marie Brigitte, succeeded her in the Pare aux Cerfs. Her husband, promoted general, was killed at Rossbach in 1757, shortly after which she married Frai^ois-Nicolas Le Normant, a revenue official at Riom. Valfons alleges (Souvenirs, Paris, 1860) that Louis XV, after giving his consent to this marriage, revoked it, the revocation, however, arriving too late. Le Normant, probably after the king's death, when his wife's banishment would no longer be insisted upon, obtained the treasurership of the Marc d'Or, a Paris office which levied first-fruits on fresh appointments. Marie Louise again became a widow in 1783, and was accorded a pension of twelve thousand francs. During the Reign of Terror she was imprisoned as a 'suspect,' under the name of O'Murphy, at Sainte-Pelagie and at the English Benedictine convent in Paris. On her release she married Louis Philippe Dumont, a Calvados deputy in the convention, nearly thirty years her junior. He obtained a divorce in January 1799. Marie Louise died at Paris 11 Dec. 1814. Her son, General Beaufranchet, has been taken by some writers (Revue Blew, 13 Sept. 1890; Notes and Queries, 7th ser. xi. 302, 429) for her child by Louis XV, but that child was probably brought up under an assumed name, and Beaufranchet was most likely the issue of her first marriage. He was a royal page in 1771, lieutenant of infantry in 1774, was probably present as chief of Berruyer's staff at Louis XVI's execution, and served as brigadier-general in Vendee. Suspended as a cidevant in July 1793, he addressed remonstrances to the minister of war, excusing himself for having been born in a class justly disliked, and mentioning his mother, then at Havre with her grandchildren, but making no reference to his father. Through the influence of Desaix, his cousin, he was in 1798 allowed a retiring pension; he sat in the Corps Legislatif in 1803, and died at Paris 2 July 1812.

[Journal du Marquis d'Argenson, Paris, 1859-1867; Goncourt's and Vatel's Lives of Madame de Pompadour; Livre Rouge, Paris. 1790; Soulavie's Anecdotes de la Cour de France (untrustworthy); Casanova's Memoirs, chap. xiv.; Alger's Englishmen in French Revolution, London. 1889; Revue Historique, 1887, xxxv. 294; Revue Retrospective, October 1892, which throws doubt on the commonly received version of her introduction to Louis XV.]

J. G. A.