At 7 am the place is empty, but, a creature of habit, I went around a satue-less pedestal to relieve myself. It was a matter of seconds for me to recognize that what I am urinating upon is not a graffiti. The interlaced letters of D and B stand for Du Barry, the last mistress of Louis XV. Why was the pedestal turned with its face toward the bushes? I am afraid this is no accident. We have two historic cult figures at Chateau Versailles, for the French — Louis XIV, and for the Japanese — Marie-Antoinette; Louis, being a man, is not afraid of anything; but anything that threatens the image of Marie-Antoinette has its initials toward the bush.
The quarrel is an old one. Marie-Antoinette, the teen-age Arch-Dutchess of Austria, couldn’t stand this resplendid beauty with a spurious title! The Countess Du Barry had concluded a blank marriage with her ex-boyfriend’s brother to be presented at Versailles. For all we know this could have been the king’s idea; anyway, it is not the title that puts a woman on the pedestal. At fifty-nine Louis XV was a connoisseur of the fair sex and had a discriminating taste; happily married at the age of fifteen, he was faithful to his wife for the first eight; but once Marie Leszsinska had shut her bedroom door in his face, the real adventure began: the Nesle sisters, Pompadour, Louise O’Murphey, Du Barry…, but who is counting?
Still Madame Pompadour was his favorite for some good twenty years, out of which the last ten she was not sexually active; and the rise of Du Barry has eclipsed whoever else was on the horizons; as far as the Nesle sisters, this could also be considered as a form of fidelity. So, let us not exaggerate the old-lecher image of the King. What do the fifteen-year-olds know about any of this? But upon Louis XV’s death the vengeful little Marie-Antoinette had talked her nineteen-year-old husband into locking Du Barry up in a convent; furthermore, these royal teenagers have ceased Du Barry’s personal papers and began a smear campaign that is lasting till today, for an average Frenchman is still convinced that the Countess had been discovered by Jean Du Barry in a brothel! As a matter of fact, Jeanne Becu never prostituted herself, at least not in an obvious manner. She was a hostess at a literary salon of Jean Du Barry where the aging libertine Duke Richelieu saw her!
The twenty-five-year old woman was an amature artist and her taste was to define what is now understood as the style of Louis XVI.”Ah!” thought the Duke, “You need to meet the Big Louis!” And he was right, with the dead wife and mistress, the King was a double widower; so, the day Jeanne Becu appeared at Versailles, her credit rating soared! Soon she was giving reception parties at her own little palace at Louveciennes, while living at the Little Trianon. Madame Du Barry never played any role in Versailles politics, but she endorsed Neo-Clacissism; her patronage and friendship promoted the cause of Vien, Drouais, Greuze, Fragonard, Vige-Lebrun, Boizot, Lecomte, Pajou and Allegrain; as far as her influence on the King, its only unhappy consequence was the marriage of Louis’ grandson, Count of Provence, and Marie-Josephine of Savoy. (See the next entry)