December 29, 2012
Jeanne Antoinette Poisson was born on Dec. 29, 1721, in central Paris. She wrote that when she was nine a fortune teller told her that she would “someday reign over the heart of a king.” Her mother began calling her “Reinette,” or little queen.
Her father, Francois, was a buying agent to the Paris brothers, bankers and suppliers to the court of Louis XIV, and who fled France when he became embroiled in financial scandal; his daughter was four. Her mother was supposedly beautiful, and was protected by several prominent men during the eight years her husband was in exile. One was the rich tax collector Le Normant de Tournehem, whom many speculated was her daughter’s father, who became Jeanette’s legal guardian.
Her mother lavished an education on her, including painting, acting, dance, and playing musical instruments. When she was 19, she married Charles-Guillaume Le Normant d'Étiolles, the nephew of her guardian, and they had one child. The vivacious Jeanne became very popular in Parisian society, and her salon, at their home, Étiolles, was attended by notables such as Voltaire.
In February 1745, at the urging of her father-in-law, she was invited to Versailles for a masked ball, and King Louis XV, who was then 35 and already in the 30th year of his reign, was enamored. By March, Mme. d'Étiolles was the king’s mistress and living at Versailles in an apartment just below the kings.
The king’s court at Versailles was a construction of Louis XIV, the great-grandfather and immediate predecessor of Louis XIV, to limit the power and control of the French nobility. Part of the control was the elaborate etiquette, and required that Mme. d'Étiolles must have a noble title. The king purchased the marquisate of Pompadour in June, gave her the estate and title, which made her the Marquise de Pompadour. She was the king’s official mistress 19 years, though they ceased being regular lovers in 1750. She was the king’s fourth official mistress, and the only one who befriended the queen consort, Marie Leszczyńska, who was quoted as saying, "If there must be a mistress, better her than any other."
She was the king’s constant companion and wielded extraordinary influence in politics as well as society, perhaps even more influence after they ceased to be lovers. Her political influence was disastrous for France. She urged policies that landed France in the Seven Years War against Britain and Prussia, which cost France most of her American colonies and left the country with massive debt.
She established the porcelain works at Sèvres; helped design the Place de la Concorde in Paris; and set many fashion trends, including her hairstyle (the Pompadour) and her shoes.
During much of her adult life, she was the most powerful woman in France.
She died on April 15, 1764, when she was 42.