Madame de Pompadour (1721-1764) is probably one of the most overlooked women in the French history! She was the unofficial Prime Minister and unofficial Minister of Foreign Affairs of France under the rule of King Louis XV. Yet, she is only remembered as 'a mistress' often accused of spending excessive amounts of money on luxury goods. Well, let me make this clear once and for all; there was nobody in the French Royal Court who spent more money than the Kings! Not Marie Antoinette, not Madame de Pompadour.
I have read several books about Madame de Pompadour, and too many rely on 'homebaked' psychoanalysis, and the authors need to fulfill an idea of who Madame de Pompadour was, instead of exploring her real character. However, the book, Madame de Pompadour - Intelligence, Beauty, Power, written by Herman Lindqvist, is something very different.
It is in fact not only the best written, and best researched, book about Madame de Pompadour - it is also the most interesting book ever written about this extraordinary woman and talented politician. We all know Louis XV wasn't the most capable ruler, nor was he particularly smart or educated. Luckily for him, he met Madame de Pompadour who could do it all! There are of course only few historians who have acknowledged this.
Herman Lindqvist is a Swedish journalist and author, and has with this book produced a work full of authenticity and clarity. He is an excellent writer and shows an incredible loyalty towards historical facts, and how to place them in their actual historical context.
Madame de Pompadour's Legacy as a Patron of Arts is Often Overlooked...This is the headline of an interesting and new article I found about Madame de Pompadour a while ago. This article probably excited me more than usual because I'm so used to the constant 'she was raised to become a mistress and plaything of the king' kind of attitude - an attitude that has become rather tedious to be honest. There is SO much more to Pompadour's life history than that. However, the beginning of the article underpins this quite well:
"Madame de Pompadour is perhaps most associated with the dramatically upswept hairstyle, that bears her name today. The more historically informed might remember her as Louis XV's mistress in the mid-1700s. As the National Gallery of the U.K. writes, she was the "illegitimate daughter of a financier exiled for fraud…groomed from childhood to become a plaything for the King." But to stop there would be to do a disservice to the influence Pompadour held over the monarch and the country."
(Link to article here. Written by: Marissa Fessenden for Smithsonianmag.)
So, Madame de Pompadour was not only the unofficial Prime Minister and unofficial Minister of Foreign Affairs, she was also one of the most important Patrons of Art of her time! That's pretty big!
Groomed or not since her childhood, she certainly had brains and inner power enough to gain control of her life. Instead of becoming 'just a plaything for the king' Madame de Pompadour proved again and again her high level of intelligence, political talents and toughness.
One of the many things I liked about Lindqvist's book, was how he described the deep friendship and trust that existed between the king and Madame de Pompadour, and how much the king actually appreciated her; as a friend, an adviser, a lover and as a talented politician and strategist. So yes, she did live a very demanding life and played the role of a mistress to perfection, but behind it all, Pompadour ran the show with wit, intelligence and extreme cleverness.
Let's give her the credit she truly deserves!
Here's a related link you might enjoy:
The Wisdom of Women written out of History by Bettany Huges