Five Biographies: Some of the Women Who Lived at Versailles

So how did things go from great to good to so-so to bad to horrible during the years of the Bourbon reign at Versailles? Thes best way to find out is to find out about the people who lived there during its glory days and near the very end. Here are five biographies about five women who lived at Versailles and were even active in French politics.

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  • Athenais: The Life of Louis XIV’s Mistress, The Real Queen of France, by Lisa Hilton. Athenais de Montespan was one of Louis XIV’s maitresses-en-titres and perhaps the most wily of all of them. Sensuous and clever, she turned everyone’s heads, including the king’s. Unlike her predecessor, Louise de la Valliere, Athenais used her position to influence politics at the court of Versailles, and she made many enemies until her downfall in the infamous Affair of the Poisons.
  • Madame de Pompadour, by Nancy Mitford. Jeanne Antoinette Poisson, the Marquise de Pompadour, was the mistress of Louis XV for twenty years, though no one thought that she would remain in his heart for long. Jeanne was a young¬†bourgeoisie¬†and didn’t have the same sex drive as the king, but that didn’t stop him from loving her. She had a passion for art and literature, and she was able to be a comfort and helpmeet to Louis XV while wielding her own political power.
  • Madame du Barry: The Wages of Beauty, by Joan Haslip. No one ever thought that Jeanne Becu, the Comtesse du Barry, would ever rise as high as Louis XV’s maitresse-en-titre. Scorned for her low birth and past as a prostitute, Madame du Barry still managed to bewitch the king and hold her own in a court that would have liked to see her gone. One of her greatest rivals was the young Dauphine Marie Antoinette, who had her sent to a convent after Louis XV’s death. Nonetheless, Jeanne managed to live comfortably until the Revolution began.
  • Dancing to the Precipice: The Life of Lucie de la Tour du Pin, Eyewitness to an Era, by Caroline Moorehead. Lucie de la Tour du Pin had been a lady-in-waiting to Marie Antoinette when the French Revolution broke out. During the Reign of Terror, she and her husband were able to escape France with the aide of Theresia Carbarrus, and went to live in the New York wilderness where Lucie churned her own butter and her husband traded with the local Native Americans. The couple did return to France, where they became fixtures in both the courts of Napoleon I and the Bourbon Restoration.
  • Marie-Therese: The Fate of Marie Antoinette’s Daughter, by Susan Nagel. Marie-Therese was the sole survivor of her family at the end of the French Revolution. Hers is a tragic life, as she, a Daughter of France, went from princess to prisoner to friendless orphan in a matter of a few years. But she was a very brave young woman who had lived through much at a very young age, and the rest of her life is just as interesting.


These are all on my to-read list for this summer, but I thought I would just share in case anyone else was interested, too.

One reply on “Five Biographies: Some of the Women Who Lived at Versailles”

Oh, these all look really great, thanks!

If you’re in to YA fiction about the revolution, try “Revolution” by Jennifer Donnelly. (I think I have a post up that mentions it sometime later today.) It’s, in part, a fictionalized account of the revolution by the caretaker of Louis-Charles, the dauphin. It’s pretty great.

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