Tag Archives: Madame du Berry

At the mercy of the times

The cats and I were talking about the books I’ve read lately: four about queens and princesses and royal mistresses, and the cats agree, only the role of mistress was worth the price life extracted. (As Camilla has proven.) Madame du Berry, Catherine de Medici, Princess Diana, and Mary Queen of Scots were the heroines.

Their lives were hard—Madame du Berry the exception, more later—at the mercy of the times, the mores, the power held by husbands, hard even for our beautiful 20th century Diana, who broke the mold by rebelling against her role–– refusing to passively sit by while Charles loved his mistress. Because of Diana, Charles was able to marry Camilla in 2005. I wonder if either of them, or should I say, the three of them, appreciate the irony? Mary Queen of Scots is the most hauntingly written: a sense of other worldliness, of Fate, of goodness unable to out maneuver the cunning of the French Guises or overcome the barbarism that was Scotland in the 1500s, its bonechilling misogyny, incarnated in preacher John Knox, who wrote a book called First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women.

Du Berry was another story, beautiful and lazy, mentored (some might say pimped) by someone who parlayed that beauty and easy laugh into her becoming Louis XV’s last mistress. She was essentially an 18th century call girl, and she made the big time, and she enjoyed every moment of it, and apparently, so did Louis XV. In the end, she probably stepped out of her role as pampered beauty to help those struck down by the French Revolution. I like that act of courage. She died on the guillotine, shrieking, “Don’t hurt me.”

The books:

  • Catherine de Medici, Renaissance queen of France by Leonie Frieda
  • Mary Queen of Scots by Carol Schaefer
  • Madame Du Barry: the wages of beauty by Joan Haslip
  • The Diana Chronicles by Tina Brown