The biography by Mario Frejaville taken from his book: “ de Pompadour mi ha detto...”

A brief biography by the late lamented Mario Frejaville taken from his book: “Madame de Pompadour mi ha detto...” (“ de Pompadour told me...”)

By permission of Schena Editore and Angelina Frejaville, thanks for her kindness.
Mario Frejaville: " de Pompadour mi ha detto ..." - Schena Editore
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Louis XV, the 68th king of France crowned at the age of five, faces up to a difficult moment in his Royal House. He had the misfortune to succeed to his grandfather, Louis XIV, who had given new enthusiasm and hope to the country thanks to his victories, conquests, a smart and lively politics.
According to the thoughts of Roi-Soleil the ‘will of a King create his country’. The people trusted him and felt protected. The army and the colonies gave work and a general welfare. The poverty was kept at the edge of a rich and flourishing society. Obviously the other European Powers lost their reverential fear towards France when Louis XIV died. The former-enemies reorganized against the new king who, through the years, showed a weak personality and a lack of good advisers and generals.
England resumes the old politics against France and works to find allies to keep the country busy in continental Europe, in order to win naval battles weakening France and be ready to take French colonies in America. To be sure to increase French commercial power as well as the colonies, Louis XV is forced to get married to princess Maria Leczinski from Poland, the daughter of King Stanislaus: a cold, detached woman, without any interest or feeling towards her new country.
After a brilliant beginning, the King soon loses the affection of his people. He finds himself trapped in his illusion of still being at the top the kingdom and finds comfort only among his faithful courtesans, distant from the disappointment of the citizens. Having been educated by priests he tries not to fall out with Rome and the Pope, continually fighting against personal ghosts about a hard, demanding future. Due to his weakness a few courtesans take personal and economical advantages, not caring about the real needs of the country. This isolation prevented the King from having any support and help against his hungry enemies.
In this state of mind, Louis XV is obviously looking for a new relationship with an attentive, caring woman, a sort of ‘wife-lover’, a real friend able to give love and support. Despite the number of ladies who try to please him, the King is not interested in their miserable attempts, he is looking for a woman who is not greedy, hypocrite and far from any conspiracy. This dream becomes true as he soon meets this woman, the ‘last uncrowned Queen of France’.
Her name is Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson, born in Paris in December 29th 1721, daughter of Francesco and Luisa Maddalena De La Motte. In 1741 marries Guglielmo Lenormand de Tournehem (the grandson of her mother’s lover) and receives as a wedding present, the Etioles Castle. Her husband takes care of her education and wants her to study like a princess.
She is a beautiful woman, like her mother and her grandmother. She meets the King at a ball for the first time in 1745, at Hotel de Ville, in honour of the Dauphin’s wedding, after the death of Madame de Chateauroux, the previous King’s mistress.
A year after Jeanne Lenormand-Poisson becomes Marchioness of Pompadour (this title belonged to the Prince of Conti who inherited it from an ancient Limoges family), and, as Queen’s Lady of Honour she has the right to live at Choisy Royal Castle with an annual income. Her apartment is just below the King’s own apartment, in the north wing of the Castle, the same as the last King’s mistress, Madame De Maintenon. Everything is perfect and Madame de Pompadour keeps her role until her death.

Despite being considered whimsical and the referee of advantages and disadvantages of politicians, she conquers her position due to a certain incapacity of the Queen and to her ability in supporting the King’s weakness. Louis XV who miserably lives in the shadow of his grandfather, needs the presence of a strong woman, capable of guiding and inspiring, and finds balance in her positive attitude, while his Kingdom is collapsing. Madame Pompadour is the manager of business and benefits, alone against ambitions and hypocrisy.

If this theory is right, who is this woman that, according to a few reports, seems to play a character and make fun of the King just for her own pleasure? Is she superficial, cynical, ambitious? A comedian? Or is she a generous, maternal, honest and sensitive woman? Does she really supply the lack of the Royal political guidance? Probably she is a little of everything, probably she is a sensitive woman, who really cares and protects the King. Before judging her behaviour is vital to know her closely.

The Marchioness of Pompadour suddenly faces the isolation in the court, which opens up to new ideas, a certain renewal in the old way of thinking, leaded by new men. She is the victim of a mocking, derisive attitude, which is one of the main details of that culture. She is offended by the contents of a few epigrams, and punishments soon arrive: the Minister Maurepas is banished and the caustic La Tude imprisoned. Madame Pompadour has many friends among men of letters and authors, and hopes to put them under the protection of Louis XV, like his grandfather did. She manages to, as Voltaire becomes Gentleman of Chamber obtaining a pension, asks for him the status of Chamberlain plus the Order of St. Louis, while he enjoys the privilege of sitting at the King’s table.

Being very good at drawing and singing, she is invited by the Queen to sing during a party: she chooses the Armida’s monologue, “He is in my power”, making the Queen quite uncomfortable. The Marchioness loves sharing these interests with several artists. Despite her passion in promoting various artistic branches, she is in contrast with the King who says “I don’t have enough space in my Castle to gather everybody”.

She loves collecting pictures in her house in Paris, as well as precious objects and books; beyond being an instinctive artist, she shows uncommon spiritual qualities as the various portraits, that she personally draws, reveal. The Marchioness has a beautiful voice and sings in few concerts with the most important singers of the period. She founds a theatrical company, which is very appealing for many actors, and builds two theatres in Versailles beside the Royal Chapel. She loves changing clothes many times a day, to underline her shining beauty. Madame Pompadour administers personally her properties and estates in Crecy, La Celle, Aulnay and Saint-Remy, and has the most beautiful Castles at her disposal: Fointanbleau, Compiègne, Bellevue, Brimborion and the property of the Earls of Evreux. Thanks to her refined, personal taste, and lively intellect, Madame Pompadour improve these properties with new architectural projects that make them real ‘gems’. Many artists work for her, following her innovative ideas: like Jean-Baptiste Oudray (who likes painting animals), Françoise Boucher (called “the painter of grace” because of his spiritual touch), Joseph Vernet (a seascape painter), Charles Vanloo (whose masterpieces are in St. Sulpice in Paris). Today is still possible to admire many of these creations in churches and castles.

Sculptors like Adam Lambert (who creates impressive busts), Guillaume Coustou, Jean-Baptiste Pigalle (author of the busts of Louis XV and Madame Pompadour), Jean-Marie Falconet (renowned for the statue of the Tsar Peter the Great in St. Petersburg), and work intensely for their rich and generous client. In this way, despite being criticized and isolated by a certain envy and intellectual mediocrity, this extraordinary woman leaves her personal, strong imprint not only in fashion but also even in the architecture and furniture fields. What her enemies call “useless and expensive whims”, put the basis for a series of incredible masterpieces in the French art of the 18th century. She spends considerable sums of money to give life to ideas not only in her own properties, but even to build new squares, buildings and avenues in Paris: the Champs-Elyses are an impressive example. Although her generosity towards artists and friends, the Marchioness invests a lot of money in Banks for her own living.
Many scientists and men of letters are under her wings, safe from the negative judgements which come basically from the Church: thanks to her protection is possible for them to publish new and stunning works, like the first Encyclopedia.

The Marchioness spends her time with these brilliant men quite often, she likes talking and comparing ideas with Charles Duclos (historian and Secretary of the Academy of France), Bernard Fontenelle (writer and Secretary of the Academy of Letters), Denys Diderot (philosopher and mathematician, a member of the Academy of Science), Bernard Pierre (librarian at the Royal Choisy Castle) and the great Voltaire. Therefore, beyond any gossip and envy, Madame Pompadour is a real leader during the French cultural revolution that gives birth to the European Liberalism: if she wasn’t the favourite of the King, she could be certainly considered the Greatest Actress, with the highest meaning.
The King becomes more and more reserved, sad and often talks about death and cemeteries. On realizing that she is much more than his lover, his only friend actually, Jeanne-Antoinette tries to amuse Louis without results. She arranges for him the Park of the Deer, on the road to St. Germain, where he can meet inoffensive (from the intellectual point of view) girls, just for his pleasure: many people say that Louis XV is the King of this place, while Madame Pompadour governs France.

This is a brief account about the life of the Marchioness of Pompadour, an eclectic, charming person at the court of the King of France. Why is she so popular and famous? It is an interesting subject to investigate. She was born in a very simple family of the middle-class. She is granted with uncommon beauty and grace, not to mention a sensitive soul, a strong will and a lively intelligence. She is aware of possessing rare qualities and looks beyond her normal life. Being ambitious she strongly wants her dreams to come true. Even her husband and her daughter don’t represent an obstacle to her projects. Having sensed these desires, Jeanne-Antoinette’s mother supports her, and makes sure that she doesn’t give up in her quest for success. The French court is appealing to any young woman, the splendour of its parties, the richness, the power are tempting. Despite the first, disappointing result, this charming lady soon becomes the lover of the lonely King and the substitute of the Queen.

Why? Maybe to take personal and economical advantages from being the King’s lover, but her fate changes her plans: from feeling protected and supported, she soon becomes the personal advisor of a bored and weak King and almost in charge of an entire country that is going adrift. Jeanne-Antoinette must face the corruption and the envy and tries everything to get rid of disloyal people.
Intelligent women are often put aside by the male vanity and power, but not Madame Pompadour, because she has chosen a man without any will and who is in need of protection and understanding. At this point the ‘bedroom’ takes a secondary role, as she has to care for a collapsing kingdom, taking the place of an absent Queen. She finds courage from her loyalty towards her King and her country and puts all her enthusiasm in this task. The Marchioness meets ambassadors, generals, keeps in touch with other countries: even Mary Therese, the Empress of Austria, refers to her as “a dear cousin!”.

She wins a personal battle against the old, distorted mentality that considers women hopeless at doing anything. Actually in this historical period, women improve their power through the art of seduction and, using it as a weapon, move kings and men of power like pawns in a chess-game:
as Cato said, twenty centuries ago “The Romans govern the world while women govern the Romans”. Therefore the feminine influence during the Kingdom of Louis XV is not a news, with less hypocrisies than previously: at the time of Louis XIV Madame Maintenon is not openly recognised as his lover, while Madame Pompadour and King Louis XV live their relationship ‘en plein air’. Madame Pompadour is so aware of her power that becomes a sort of icon for other women, even if a lot of them fail because “cerebrum non habent”, they are not very clever. Basically alien to this unfriendly Royal environment, she judges and criticizes the faults and insincerity, undoubtedly keeping a certain balance within a corrupted and compromised Society, being considered a sort of scapegoat as a result. Because of her courage and lack of fear in managing the Kingdom, she becomes a perfect target and offers an opportunity for the aristocracy to escape responsibilities once more, quickening the terrible events of 1789.

Madame Pompadour is really worthy thanks to her intelligence, her clever thoughts, her impressive opinion about the future of Russia, which is absolutely stunning until today. She is at the same level with the most important politicians, who looks beyond superficial behaviours, and carefully tries to mend her own King and country. Deeply devoted to God, the Marchioness doesn’t hesitate to accuse the Church for its vulgar, low interests. She discourages dishonesty enlightening pride and will. Influenced by Voltaire and Montesquieu, she eagerly follows their culture and ideas, and feels quite frustrated in her useless search for men who are worth the glory of the past.

The Marchioness is constantly busy putting everything right as the King follows the bad suggestions of his corrupted ministers. She effortlessly claims for the pride and the loyalty of anybody in order to help France, acting always with kindness and commonsense even when she is openly despised. She is against the various battles and wars that weaken and make the Kingdom poorer and speaks about peace and prosperity for everyone, which is the only way to keep the country strong and unified. Madame Pompadour hopes, through replacements and removals, to find the right men for the vital tasks of a nation, unfortunately without success. She stands beside the victims, the poor people and doesn’t give up even when she realizes that she can’t win this battle alone. She makes a lot of attempts in foreign politics with the European Chancellors.

The weakest point in the French Army is the Navy, so Madame Pompadour suggests new projects in order to strengthen it: England is very powerful and France can’t fight for peace with such a poor fleet. Despite her effort nobody seems to possess the proper ability or loyalty towards France. Many of them are badly punished by the King but she stands for their rights nevertheless. This incomparable woman finds herself disappointed, hopeless and thinks to leave her role to find peace and serenity away from any conspiracy, but instead of giving up, keeps on fighting for her country once more. Only Mary Therese of Austria can compare with her in Europe, though the Empress has a different story and background, but her destiny is to inherit an Empire with all its problems and difficulties. While Jeanne-Antoinette is absolutely beautiful and attractive, strongly sensitive, who fights against internal enemies, Mary Therese is quite rational and is victorious against foreign enemies and disasters.

Despite being very concerned about the welfare of her country, the Favourite of France doesn’t reach many positive results; the Austrian Empress is busy restoring the façade of her polyhedral nation as well as weaving relationships with the European aristocracy through marriage-contracts for her children. At the age of 28 Madame Pompadour is almost forgotten by the King but keeps on managing France and following the ‘new wave’ of French culture, the Illuminism. During her twenty years of ‘reign without a crown’, the Marchioness goes through the French victory in the Flanders Campaign (1744-47) to the Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle (1748), which is the first step towards the loss of the French colonies. The Family Terms (1761) and the Peace of Paris (1763) bring the Seven Year War to an end.

Mary Therese lost her husband at the age of 44 and finds herself at the top of the Empire, trying to come to terms with the various internal riots; she promotes an economical reformation for the benefit of the Empire, keeping new ideas at bay. She is victorious in military campaigns and always caring: the people call her Mother of Homeland. The Marchioness of Pompadour reaches the French throne because of her skill and is very active in many fields, such arts (she plays the lute and the harpsichord, sings, dances and plays in theatre), diplomacy, politics, army, showing ability and steadiness.
The Austrian Empress is crowned at the age of 24, gives birth to 16 children and is always concerned only about her nation and foreign affairs.
Thanks to their difficult, demanding lives both women become examples of female strength: Jeanne -Antoinette embody the cleverness and fantasy which are typical of the Latin civilization, while Mary Therese represents the rational will of the German culture.

When her daughter Alessandrina and her brother Abel take up a snobbish, arrogant attitude, Madame Pompadour suddenly reminds them of their humble origin and suggest to be more sensitive to the needs of the common people. With the support and the esteem of the Cardinal De Bemis, the Marchioness succeeds in changing the direction of the foreign affairs and finds an ally in the Royal House of Austria, which was an historical enemy of France since Henry IV. Therefore after the Versailles Terms (1May 1756 and 1757), Mary Therese writes enthusiastically to her (like Frederick the Great once did). Along with the Duke of Choiseul, Foreign Minister, Madame Pompadour works hard to find contacts between a certain new philosophy and the monarchy, looking for a renewal to save the Royal House. The first, useful result, comes from the Parliament of Paris that dissolves the Company of the Jesuits with the agreement of the King and the Pope: soon all the European Royal Courts follow this example freeing themselves from the power of the “Christ’s Soldiers”.

The peace of 1763, at the end of the Seven Year War, weaken France as England’s demanding impositions and the politics of the Duke of Choiseul, lead France to an economical collapse. Madame Pompadour is blamed for the disaster although she has always looked for an enduring peace with England. After a few, difficult months, with the Revolution in perspective (1789 is not so far), the Marchioness decides to leave the political scene; she resigned to her incurable disease and wait for death to be free from any anxiety. Supported by her strong faith in God, she forgives her enemies and hopes to be considered loyal an honest by her descendants. The tuberculosis quickly dissolves her beauty. Overwhelmed by her condition, Madame Pompadour chooses to spend her last moments at Choisy before being taken at Versailles Castle to die as a Queen. To the priest that assists her she confides: “Please wait, we will go away together”. The Marchioness died in April 15 1764, during a rainy Palm Sunday, with the comfort of the Catholic Religion as her will confirmed:
“I recommend my soul to God and I implore His mercy, I ask Him to forgive my sins and through my penance to granted me with His grace to die in peace and with His compassion, hoping in His justice because of the Holy Blood of Christ, my Saviour, through the intervention of the Blessed Virgin and all the Saints in Heaven”.

Her funeral is short and quick. The King is observing from a window and, on seeing the coffin, says rather coldly: “She will be in Paris by ten o’clock”. To him she is a mere package of no importance to hand to anyone in order to get rid of it as soon as possible. The Marchioness is buried in the plain and dark crypt of the Church of Capuchin Friars in Place Vendòme, beside her daughter.
Ten years after, 10 May 1774, in Versailles Castle a candle on the window of his bedroom announces the death of the King, while the Guardian of the Palace stops the big clock in the Marble Courtyard. Louis XV dies alone and forgotten, like his Favourite. His body is devastated by the smallpox and is carried away by night without honours and with an escort of forty men only, to be buried in the Church of St. Denis.