Jeanne Bécu, comtesse du Barry (1743–1793) was the last Maîtresse-en-titre of King Louis XV of France and was one of the victims of the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution.
She was the illegitimate daughter of Anne Bécu, a seamstress of apparently enticing beauty; her father was possibly Jean Baptiste Gormand de Vaubernier, a friar known as ‘frère Ange’. During her childhood one of her mother’s acquaintances, & possible lover, Monsieur Billard-Dumonceaux took both Anne and three-year-old Jeanne into his care and installed Anne as a cook in his Italian mistress’s household. Dumonceaux also funded Jeanette’s education at the convent of Saint-Aure.
Jeanne grewn into a remarkably attractive blonde woman with thick golden ringlets and almond-shaped blue eyes. Her beauty came to the attention of Jean-Baptiste du Barry, a high-class pimp/procure nicknamed le roué. Du Barry owned a casino, and Jeanne came to his attention in 1763 when she was entertaining in brothel-casino calling herself Jeanne Vaubernier. Du Barry installed her in his household and made her his mistress. Giving her the appellation of Mademoiselle Lange, du Barry helped establish Jeanne’s career as a courtesan in the highest circles of Parisian society; she quickly became a sensation building up a large aristocratic clientele, including some of the King’s ministers and courtiers.
In 1768 she caught the eye of Louis XV while she was on an errand at Versailles but she could become an official royal mistress without a title; this was solved by her marriage on 1 September 1768 to du Barry’s brother, comte Guillaume du Barry, and a false birth making Jeanne threee years younger and of noble descent. She was installed below the King’s quarters and was presented to the Court at Versailles in April 1769. Jeanne was a tremendous triumph, wearing extravagant gowns of great proportions both in creation and cost and became the King’s maîtresse déclarée.
Although she was part of the faction that brought down the duc de Choiseul, Minister of Foreign Affairs, unlike her late predecessor, Madame de Pompadour, she had little interest in politics. But she she grew increasingly unpopular because of the King’s financial extravagance towards her & her relationship with Marie Antoinette, who was married to the Dauphin of France, was contentious.
In 1772 Louis XV asked Parisian jewellers Boehmer & Bassenge to create an elaborate and spectacular jeweled necklace for du Barry at an estimated cost of two million livres. The necklace, still not completed nor paid for when Louis XV died, would eventually trigger a scandal involving Jeanne de la Motte-Valois & Queen Marie Antoinette.
In May 1774 the dying King asked her to leave Versailles as he prepared for confession and receiving the last rites. She retired to her estate near Rueil but after the King’s death she was exiled to the Abbaye du Pont-aux-Dames near Meaux-en-Brie. But two years later she was able to move to the Château de Louveciennes near Versailles.
In 1792 Madame du Barry was suspected of financially assisting émigrés who had fled the French Revolution and she was arrested in 1793. The Revolutionary Tribunal of Paris accused her of treason and condemned her to death. Madame du Barry was guillotined at the Place de la Révolution (nowadays Place de la Concorde) on 8 December 1793. She was buried in the Madeleine Cemetery along with many other victims of the Terror, including Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.