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Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V22, Page 50 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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JEANNE ANTOINETTE POISSON LE NORMANT POMPADOUR D'ETIOLES, MARQUISE DE (1721-1764), mistress of 'Louis XV., was born in Paris on the 29th of December 1721, and baptized as the legitimate daughter of Francois Poisson, an officer in the household of the duke of Orleans, and his wife, Madeleine de la. Motte, in the church of St Eustache; but shewas suspected, as well as her brother, afterwards marquis of Marigny, to be the child of a very wealthy financier and farmer-general of the revenues, Le Normant de Tournehem. He at any rate took upon himself the charge of her education; and, as from the beauty and wit she showed from childhood she seemed to be born for some uncommon destiny, he declared her " un morceau de roi," and specially educated her to be a king's mistress. This idea was confirmed in her childish mind by the prophecy of an old woman, whom in after days she pensioned for the correctness of her prediction. In 1741 she was married to a nephew of her protector and guardian, Le Normant d'Etioles, who was passionately in love with her, and she soon became a queen of fashion. Yet the world of the financiers at Paris was far apart from the court world, where she wished to reign; she' could get no introduction at court, and could only try to catch the king's eye when he went out hunting. But Louis XV. was then under the influence of Mme de Mailly, who carefully prevented any further intimacy with " la petite Etioles," and it was not until after her death that the king met the fair queen of the financial world of Paris at a ball given by the city to the dauphin in 1744i and he was immediately subjugated. She at once gave up her husband, and in 1745 was established at Versailles as " maitresse en titre." Louis XV. bought her the estate of Pompadour, from which she took her title of marquise (raised in 1752 to that of duchess). She was hardly established firmly in power before she showed that ambition rather than love had guided her, and began to mix in politics. Knowing that the French people of that time were ruled by the literary kings of the time, she paid court to them, and tried to play the part of a Maecenas. Voltaire was her poet in chief, and the founder of the physiocrats, Quesnay, was her physician. In the arts she was even more successful; she was herself no mean etcher and engraver, and she encouraged and protected Vanloo, Boucher, Vien, Greuze, and the engraver Jacques Guay. Yet this policy did not prevent her from being lampooned, and the famous poissardes against her contributed to the ruin of many wits suspected.of being among the authors, and notably of the Comte de Maurepas. The command of the political situation passed entirely into her hands; she it was who brought Belle-Isle into office with his vigorous policy; she corresponded regularly with the generals of the armies in the field, as her letters to the Comte de Clermont prove; and she introduced the Abbe de Bernis into the ministry in order to effect a very great alteration of French politics in 1756. , The continuous policy of France since the days of Richelieu had been to weaken the house of Austria by alliances in Germany; but Mme de Pompadour changed this hereditary policy because Frederick the Great wrote scandalous verses on her; and because Maria Theresa wrote her a friendly letter she entered into an alliance with Austria. This alliance brought on the Seven Years' War, with all its disasters, the battle of Rosbach and the loss of Canada; but Mme de Pompadour persisted in her policy, and, when Bernis failed her, brought Choiseul into office and' supported hini in all his great plans, the Pacte ' de Famille, the suppression of the Jesuits, and the peace of Versailles. But it was to internal politics that this remarkable woman paid most attention; no one obtained office except through her; in imitation of Mme de Maintenon, she prepared all business for the king's eye with the ministers, and contrived that they should meet in her room; and she daily examined the letters sent through the post office with Janelle, the director of the post, office. By this continuous labour she made herself indispensable to Louis. Yet,' when after a year or two she had lost the heart of her lover, she had a difficult task before her; to maintain her influence she had not only to save the king as much trouble as possible, but to find him fresh pleasures. When he first began to weary of her she remembered her talent for acting and her private theatricals at Etioles, and established the " theatre des petits cabinets," in which she acted with the greatest lords about the court for the king's pleasure in tragedies and comedies, operas and ballets. By this means and the concerts spirituels " she kept in favour for a time; but at last she found a surer way, by encouraging the king in his debaucheries, and Louis wept over her kindness to his various mistresses. Only once, when the king was wounded by Damiens in 1757, did she receive a serious shock, and momentarily left the court; but on his recovery she returned more powerful than ever. She even ingratiated herself with the queen, after the example of Mme de Maintenon, and was made a lady-in-waiting; but the end was soon to come. " Ma vie est un combat," she said, and so it was, with business and pleasure she gradually grew weaker and weaker, and when told that death was at hand she dressed herself in full court costume, and met it bravely on the 15th of April 1764, at the age of forty-two. See Capefigue, Madame la marquise de Pompadour (1858) ; E. and J. de Goncourt, Les Mattresses de Louis XV., vol. ii. (186o); and Campardon, Madame de Pompadour et 1a tour de Louis X V. au milieu du dix-huitieme siecle (1867). Far more valuable are Malassis's two volumes of correspondence, Correspond ance de Madame de Pompadour avec son Pere M. Poisson, et son frere M. de Vandieres, &c. (1878), and Bonhomme, Madame de Pompadour, general d'armee (188o), containing her letters to the Comte de Clermont. For her artistic and theatrical tastes see particularly J. F. Leturcq, Notice sur Jacques Guay, graveur sur pierres fines du roi Louis X V.: Documents inedits emanant de Guay et notes sur les &uvres de gravure en taille douce et en pierres durs de la marquise de Pompadour (1873) ; and Adolphe Jullien, Histoire du theatre de Madame de Pompadour, dit Theatre des Petits Cabinets (1874). See also P. de Nolhac, La Marquise de Pompadour (1903).

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