Madame de Pompadour, also known as Jeanne Antoinette Poisson, was born on December 29, 1721. The Marquise is most famous as the head mistress on Louis XV from age 24 to her death at only 42 years old. As a child, she was nicknamed Reinette, or Little Queen, based on a fortune teller’s promise that she would reign over the heart of a king. Jeanne Antoinette was unusually well educated for a girl of the time, with particular emphasis given to memorizing full plays.
She was married at the age of 19 to her guardian’s nephew, Charles-Guillaume Le Normant d’Étiolles. As a married lady, she was able to move freely in society and soon founded her own salon, attended by Voltaire, among others. Her father-in-law was in the group of courtiers who put her name forward as a candidate to replace the king’s recently deceased mistress. (How gross is that!) In no time flat, she was officially installed in an apartment right below the king’s, she was officially separated from her husband, and the king had purchased the title and estate of the Marquisate de Pompadour so that she could be presented at court. She was the new “it girl.”
Just as it made news when Kate Middleton, a commoner, won the heart of a future king, so it was when the “Fish” girl (Poisson, her family name, means fish) gained access to the king’s ear as it rested on his pillow. The horrible stories spread by her enemies became known as “Poissonades.” She is rumored to have influenced the king to enter into an alliance with Austria. The new allies ultimately ended up in the Seven Year’s War, during which France lost its colonies in the New World and was nearly bankrupted. Madame Pompadour allegedly comforted the king with one of the most famous lines in history, “après nous, le Déluge” (ahpreh noo luh daylooj) meaning “after us, the flood” or the end of life as France knew it. Britain had now clearly surpassed France as a colonial power, and Madame le Pompadour was openly blamed.
But as disastrous as her influence was on the king, she remained his favorite through very careful strategies. She befriended the Queen, which made life easier for the unfaithful King and she went out of her way to keep the king amused with plays, parties, and hunting expeditions. There are numerous portraits of her, because she commissioned them so that the king would be reminded how lovely she was. Her keen interest in the visual arts and the Rococo style, led to the founding of the Sèvres porcelain factory, still in existence. She is responsible for the Place de la Concorde, known prior to the Revolution as the Place Louis XV, and for the Petit Trianon on the grounds of Versailles. She died of tuberculosis at the age of 42, on April 15, 1764. She left her mark in the pompadour hairstyle, the signature of another King, the shape of a coupe de champagne, the cup of which is said to be modeled after her breast, and the marquise cut in diamonds, which Louis XV compared to the shape of the mouth of his favorite mistress.