Episode 19: Madame de Pompadour


We attempt to be as PG13 as possible during this episode’s discussion of a woman who won the favor of a King, and is remembered as one of the most influential mistresses France has ever seen.

But before she could hold such a lofty position, Madame de Pompadour was a fair maiden with an interesting family. Jeanne Antoinette Poisson was born December 29, 1721 to Madeleine de La Motte and Francois Poisson. Or maybe to Madeleine and Paris de Montmartel. Or maybe Madeleine and le Normant de Tournehem.  Ah, yes, Mama got around. But Francois was her husband and the father of record , so we shall call him,Papa. Tournehem was a very important part of Jeanne Antoinette’s life, so we shall call him, Uncle. And de Montmartel? He doesn’t show up much in our tale, so we don’t call him anything (although he was, technically, her Godfather.)

We discuss the education of this young woman. What was life like in this time for a child of a not titled,  but wealthy family? We also discuss various versions of her early years that are floating around. How long did she study with the Urseline’s just outside of Paris?  How much influence did her father have in her life? Did she really visit a fortune teller at the age of nine and what did that woman say?

But this we know: Thanks to a number of people, she got a very fine education despite Papa being sent to Germany for ten years for a financial scheme gone very wrong, and Mama losing most of their fortune in his absence. Hey! She was pulling single mom duty for not only young Jeanne Antoinette but also a younger son, Abel. She did the best she could given her circumstances, connections and, er, talents. Jeanne Antoinette was raised to be a delightful, well spoken, dignified, entertaining and educated young woman who charmed with a beauty from within. Not too shabby for growing up Kardas…Poisson.

Eventually Papa returns to Paris, Mama decorates a new beautiful home, and our girl Jeanne Antoinette is married to the nephew of potential daddy, Le Normant de Tournehem. All is well, although Jeanne Antoinette has set her sights a liiiittle higher than her husband, the father of her child. She wants the King.

And by “wants” we mean…claim his heart and serve France at court.

This is the King she has her sights on. Louis XV

Snares him she does. We go into the juicy details, but basically he just so happened to have an opening for a Maitress en Titre ( the chief mistress to the king), and Jeanne Antoinette (although married…and with a child) is the woman for the job! But she needed a title. He gets his people on it, finds one that wasn’t being used, and voila!  Marquis de Pompadour. A little training in life at Versailles, a presentation to court and she moves into the palace and gets to work. Such as it is.

by Francois Boucher
Hard at work (Boucher)

For the next twenty years she is at the King’s side. Oh, yes, he had a Queen….but Madame de Pompadour understood and inspired the King like no other woman in his history. He listened to her on matters of state, of design, of art, of leisure, of just about anything that he was involved in- so was she. Sometimes the endeavors were successful, sometimes notsomuch.

We try to not get too bogged down with the wars and the politics, but those were just two of the things that Mme de Pompadour’s opinion was sought by Louis. We do name drop a little during the podcast, seriously, when the woman’s bestie is Voltaire, you KNOW there are going to be some A list parties!

She suffers sadness, uncertainty,  a lot of bad press, a loss of sexual abilities but maintains a close, deep friendship and love with Louis for the remainder of her days.  In 1764, at the age of 42, she dies in Versailles (which was forbidden, btw) of either lung cancer or tuberculosis.

Final portrait  begun just days before death, finished after it (by Francois Hubert Drouais)

Time Travel With The History Chicks

As always, there is so much more to the life of this woman than we can cover in an hourish. If you are intrigued, we suggest your first stop should be over to Madamedepompadour.com (There really is a dotcom for everything, isn’t there?) Lots and lots of info and links to get you cruising along.

If you are as fascinated with Versailles as we are, or even just a little, here is a direct link to purchase the book we told you to get waaay back when we talked about Marie Antoinette:  Versailles, A Biography Of A Palace, by Tony Spawforth. Get it now, you are going to want it. (And, we do not get paid by Amazon, or anyone else that we recommend in this section, but that’s how much we want you to have this book!)

Get this book.

Not Mme de Pompadour specific, but we also would recommend The Bourbons: A History of a Dynasty by J.H. Shennan

Want some historical fiction to go with your newfound Mme de Pompadour knowledge? The book Beckett recommended is To Dance with Kings, by Rosalind Laker; the book that Susan’s friend Melissa recommended is The Philosopher’s Kiss by Peter Prange.

Here is a link that we promised to l’ecole Royale Militaire, the military school begun by Louis XV, ( with the encouragement of Mme de Pompadour, of course).  L’ecole Militaire.

And finally, what discussion of Madame de Pompadour would not be complete without a TARDIS?

We are not endorsing this product. We don’t have one, don’t know if it works well, know nothing about it other than…how cool is that?!

Get it here, and tell us if it’s as cool as it looks. Seriously though, Mme Pompadour appeared in the Dr Who storyline…read all about it here.

As always, music comes courtesy of Music Alley. Visit them at Music.mevio.com