I Would Have Thrown Myself At The Feet Of Zamor

In her memoirs, Madame Campan remembers many of Marie Antoinette’s good and charitable deeds. Here’s an example of her benevolence:

In the month of July, 1770, an unfortunate occurrence that took place in a family which the Dauphiness honoured with her favour contributed again to show not only her sensibility but also the benevolence of her disposition. One of her women in waiting had a son who was an officer in the gens d’armes of the guard; this young man thought himself affronted by a clerk in the War Department, and imprudently sent him a challenge; he killed his adversary in the forest of Compiegne. The family of the young man who was killed, being in possession of the challenge, demanded justice. The King, distressed on account of several duels which had recently taken place, had unfortunately declared that he would show no mercy on the first event of that kind which could be proved; the culprit was therefore arrested.

His mother, in the deepest grief, hastened to throw herself at the feet of the Dauphiness, the Dauphin, and the young Princesses. After an hour’s supplication they obtained from the King the favour so much desired. On the next day a lady of rank, while congratulating the Dauphiness, had the malice to add that the mother had neglected no means of success on the occasion, having solicited not only the royal family, but even Madame du Barry. The Dauphiness replied that the fact justified the favourable opinion she had formed of the worthy woman; that the heart of a mother should hesitate at nothing for the salvation of her son; and that in her place, if she had thought it would be serviceable, she would have thrown herself at the feet of Zamor*.

*A servant of Madame Du Barry

Further reading:
Memoirs Of The Court Of Marie Antoinette by Madame Campan

Marie Antoinette Acknowledges Madame Du Barry

Marie Antoinette first saw Madame du Barry, King Louis XV’s mistress, at a dinner at La Muette. It was the day before her wedding to the Dauphin, and the mistress’ presence at the event had caused a lot of discontent. Not that the King cared. “She’s pretty and she pleases me,” was all he would say when people complained to him about Madame du Barry. And pretty and charming she was indeed. Marie Antoinette noticed her and asked the Comtesse de Noailles who she was. The embarrassed Comtesse replied that “the lady was there to give pleasure to the King”*, to which the young Dauphine exclaimed: “Oh, then I shall be her rival, because I too wish to give pleasure to the King.”

It wouldn’t be long before Marie Antoinette discovered how Madame Du Barry exactly pleased the King. And when she did, she refused to speak to her. This was due, in part, to her Catholic upbringing and prudish and chaste nature. The court of Maria Theresa was very different from Versailles. At Vienna, men, including the Emperor, had mistresses, but they didn’t parade them so openly in front of everyone. Marie Antoinette was disgusted at the behaviour of the French and felt sorry for the King’s weakness for his mistress.

In vain, Count Mercy explained to her that things were done differently in France. Marie Antoinette, egged on by the King’s daughters, who despised Madame Du Barry, remained stubborn. The young Dauphine, alone and lonely in a foreign court, spent a lot of time with her husband’s aunts and was easily led by them. The old ladies weren’t particularly fond of Marie Antoinette, whom they called L’Autrichienne, either, and they were all too happy to led her “into offending Louis XV by simply upholding decency”*.

But Marie Antoinette couldn’t afford to offend the King. Her husband still refused to consummate the marriage, which left her in a vulnerable position. Her mother Maria Theresa and Count Mercy realized how important it was for Marie Antoinette to be in favour with the King, and that meant acknowledging Madame Du Barry. They pointed out to her that, by refusing to even greet her, she was publicly questioning the King’s behaviour. All she had to do was say a few words to her.

At last, Marie Antoinette was prevailed upon to give in, but the King’s daughters weren’t willing to let her do so easily. Minutes before the brief greeting was about to take place, they summoned the young Dauphine to join them, providing her with a good excuse to avoid Madame Du Barry.

But on New Year’s Day 1772, Marie Antoinette finally surrendered. She approached Madame Du Barry, amid a big crowed of courtiers, and, speaking in her direction, remarked “There are a lot of people here today at Versailles.” The deed was done, the King pacified.

Marie Antoinette, though, was furious she had to give in and vowed never to speak to the courtesan again. She wrote to her mother than she had addressed Madame Du Barry, sacrificing “all her prejudices and repugnances”, only to avoid a rift between the French and Austrian royal houses, and only after she had been reassured that there was no dishonor in her gesture.

Marie Antoinette kept her resolution and, in the future, whenever Madame Du Barry was present, she would make general remarks in her direction. She may not have been speaking directly to her, but she wasn’t avoiding her either, and this ambiguity was enough to please the King. And this made the young Dauphine realize how the King’s daughters weren’t always right, and how dangerous it could sometimes be to follow their advice.

*Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Antonia Fraser

Further reading:
Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Antonia Fraser

Madame Vigee Lebrun On Madame Du Barry

Madame Du Barry was the last mistress of King Louis XV. After the King’s death, she retired to the Château de Louveciennes and it is here that, a few years before the start of the French Revolution, Madame Vigée LeBrun, one of the most famous and successful portraitists of her time, painted the former courtesan. It is also here that she was arrested during the Terror. On 8 December 1793, Madame Du Barry was guillotined. Madame Vigee Lebrun remembers her famous model in her Memoirs:

It was in 1786 that I went for the first time to Louveciennes, where I had promised to paint Mme. Du Barry. She might then have been about forty-five years old. She was tall without being too much so; she had a certain roundness, her throat being rather pronounced but very beautiful; her face was still attractive, her features were regular and graceful; her hair was ashy, and curly like a child’s. But her complexion was beginning to fade. She received me with much courtesy, and seemed to me very well behaved, but I found her more spontaneous in mind than in manner: her glance was that of a coquette, for her long eyes were never quite open, and her pronunciation had something childish which no longer suited her age.

She lodged me in a part of the building where I was greatly put out by the continual noise. Under my room was a gallery, sadly neglected, in which busts, vases, columns, the rarest marbles, and a quantity of other valuable articles were displayed without system or order. These remains of luxury contrasted with the simplicity adopted by the mistress of the house, with her dress and her mode of life. Summer and winter Mme. Du Barry wore only a dressing-robe of cotton cambric or white muslin, and every day, whatever the weather might be, she walked in her park, or outside of it, without ever incurring disastrous consequences, so sturdy had her health become through her life in the country. She had maintained no relations with the numerous court that surrounded her so long. In the evening we were usually alone at the fireside, Mme. Du Barry and I. She sometimes talked to me about Louis XV. and his court. She showed herself a worthy person by her actions as well as her words, and did a great deal of good at Louvecienes, where she helped all the poor. Every day after dinner we took coffee in the pavilion which was so famous for its rich and tasteful decorations. The first time Mme. Du Barry showed it to me she said: “It is here that Louis XV. did me the honour of coming to dinner. There was a gallery above for musicians and singers who performed during the meal.

When Mme. Du Barry went to England, before the Terror, to get back her stolen diamonds, which, in fact, she recovered there, the English received her very well. They did all they could to prevent her from returning to but France. But it was not long before she succumbed to the fate in store for everybody who had some possessions. She was informed against and betrayed by a little Negro called Zamore, who is mentioned in all the memoirs of the period as having been overwhelmed with kindness by her and Louis XV. Being arrested and thrown into prison, Mme. Du Barry was tried and condemned to death by the Revolutionary tribunal at the end of 1793. She was the only woman, among all who perished in those dreadful days, unable to face the scaffold with firmness; she screamed, she sued for pardon to the hideous mob surrounding her, and that mob became moved to such a degree that the executioner hastened to finish his task. This has always confirmed my belief that if the victims of that period of execrable memory had not had the noble pride of dying with fortitude the Terror would have ceased long before it did.

I made three portraits of Mme. Du Barry. In the first I painted her at half length, in a dressing-gown and straw hat. In the second she is dressed in white satin; she holds a wreath in one hand, and one of her arms is leaning on a pedestal. The third portrait I made of Mme. Du Barry is in my own possession. I began it about the middle of September, 1789. From Louveciennes we could hear shooting in the distance, and I remember the poor woman saying, “If Louis XV. were alive I am sure this would not be happening.” I had done the head, and outlined the body and arms, when I was obliged to make an expedition to Paris. I hoped to be able to return to Louveciennes to finish my work, but heard that Berthier and Foulon had been murdered. I was now frightened beyond measure, and thenceforth thought of nothing but leaving France. 

Further reading:
Memoirs of Madame Vigée Lebrun