In the final installment of Sally Christie’s “tantalizing” (New York Daily News) Mistresses of Versailles trilogy, Jeanne Becu, a woman of astounding beauty but humble birth, works her way from the grimy back streets of Paris to the palace of Versailles, where the aging King Louis XV has become a jaded and bitter old philanderer. Jeanne bursts into his life and, as the Comtesse du Barry, quickly becomes his official mistress.
“That beastly bourgeois Pompadour was one thing; a common prostitute is quite another kettle of fish.”
After decades of suffering the King's endless stream of Royal Favorites, the princesses of the Court have reached a breaking point. Horrified that he would bring the lowborn Comtesse du Barry into the hallowed halls of Versailles, Louis XV’s daughters, led by the indomitable Madame Adelaide, vow eternal enmity and enlist the dauphine Marie Antoinette in their fight against the new mistress. But as tensions rise and the French Revolution draws closer, a prostitute in the palace soon becomes the least of the nobility’s concerns.
Told in Christie’s witty and engaging style, the final book in The Mistresses of Versailles trilogy will delight and entrance fans as it once again brings to life the sumptuous and cruel world of eighteenth century Versailles, and France as it approaches irrevocable change.
About the Author
Sally Christie is the author of The Sisters of Versailles and The Rivals of Versailles. She was born in England and grew up around the world, attending eight schools in three different languages. She spent most of her career working in international development and currently lives in Toronto. Visit SallyChristieAuthor.com to find out more about Sally and the Mistresses of Versailles trilogy.
Read an Excerpt
The Enemies of Versailles
In which little Jeanne Bécu is exposed to life
I slip away from the warmth of the kitchen and out into the deserted hall. Behind me, my mother is elbow-deep in a giant bowl of flour and spices, gossiping to a neighbor, while four chickens roast over the fire. Out here, life is colder and grander. I creep up the marble staircase that rises before me like a giant ladder to Heaven, the banister smooth under my hand. I reach the landing and crouch in silence, but I heard Frederica leave earlier. She left behind a trace of her scent when she wafted down the elegant staircase, her special blend of roses and grace.
I creep along the passageway and peek into Frederica’s boudoir. If she were here, I might get a kiss and a bonbon, or a slap depending on her mood, but now the room is deserted. I enter and the plush carpet softens my steps. A painting of Monsieur Dumonceaux, who owns the house and Frederica and everything in it, looks down on me. Monsieur Dumonceaux is an old lover of my mother’s, and he brought us to Paris and gave us our lodgings. He’s not a lover anymore—Frederica is now his lover—but he is always kind to us, and Ma says he is a good man.
His portrait watches over Frederica, but when she has a new guest, she asks the footman to cover it. The rest of her room is cozy and sumptuous: a fire still licking lazily in the hearth; a wardrobe so big I once slept in there, hidden for hours; crimson curtains hanging over the tall, airy windows; a marble table set with a decanter of a wonderful-smelling potion called brandy, which always makes me think of men and candy. I sniff at the little array of perfume bottles on her table then head to my destination: her bed with its layers of green silk sheets and heavy white furs, lace and velvet trimming the pillows. A mattress as soft as a dream welcomes me down in its embrace, so different from my pallet in the kitchen. I burrow under the heavy blankets and nestle in. Ma always says I am lazy, but I’m not lazy, I think as I drift off to sleep, just . . . happy.
“And what have we here?” says Frederica in her bright, charmed voice, the one she uses with Monsieur Dumonceaux and her other gentlemen. Frederica has dark, curling hair, and laughing blue eyes that can turn as cold and hard as gems. The man with her this evening is not Monsieur Dumonceaux but an older gentleman with watery eyes, wearing an orange coat that reminds me of the skin of a cat.
I am sleepy and dreaming under the pile of furs. I smile up at Frederica, then at the man as well; Frederica’s moods are always changing, but men are generally pleasant.
“Little scamp,” says Frederica fondly, and tousles my hair. “Now go on back to your mother, and tell her that Monsieur de Braque here will want a juicy chicken later.”
“Such a charming child!” declares the man, who must be the Monsieur de Braque who wants a juicy chicken. “And what harm would there be, were she to stay?” he asks, raising his brows at Frederica, as though making a joke, though I know he isn’t.
“Oh, quiet, Jérôme,” says Frederica, laughing and picking me up roughly. I avert my eyes from the man’s gaze and struggle to pull down my dress that is now tangled around my waist. “She’s only a child.”
“Ten?” asks the man eagerly. “How lovely she is!”
Seven, I want to protest, but I don’t say anything, for suddenly I want to get out of the room and away from the man’s watered green eyes. The color of scum on a pond, I think with a shudder, and squirm against Frederica to let me down. I hear the soft tinkle of her laughter, raindrops on smooth glass, and she pushes me out. “Get back to the kitchens,” she hisses before closing the door. “Now, la, monsieur, to be so interrupted . . .” I hear her say as she turns back to her evening entertainment.
I lean against the door but the thick oak muffles the scene behind. I imagine what they will be doing, dogs rutting in the street that stay together, joined and panting, even after slops are thrown on them.
Joined and panting, I think, traipsing languidly down the corridor now that Frederica is safe with her guest. I stand at the top of the staircase and imagine, for one moment, that the house is mine, and that Frederica is my mother and instead of sleeping in the kitchen that reeks of raw chicken and mold, I have a room next to Frederica’s, and my own bed is as soft and glorious as hers.
A few days later, another push, but this time out onto the streets. We hear Frederica shouting at Dumonceaux that I am a little tramp, tempting her clients, and claiming she has no more use for us. Ma loses her position as cook and now we have to leave the comfortable house and all her clients in the neighborhood who buy her chickens.
“Snozzle-faced bitch,” complains my mother. We gather our belongings off the street and prepare for the long walk to my stepfather’s house. My feet are bare, though it is cold out; I can’t ruin my only pair of shoes in this mud.
“What sort of a woman is threatened by a seven-year-old child?” Ma continues, spitting and glaring up at the impassive windows of the little house.
A porter from next door watches us without curiosity. “An angel in the making,” he says, gesturing to me. “She’ll be trouble all her life.”
“Come on, dears, let’s get going.” Ma’s lover, the monk Guimard, stands beside us in our distress. He leans over and hoists a sheet filled with heavy iron pots, my mother’s treasure and trade. “I never liked her, but at least Dumonceaux still does right by us.”
“But how does he do right by us if we cannot live in his house anymore?” I ask, but no one answers. I am dragging a basket filled with our clothes, vainly trying to avoid puddles and the deep mud as we start our journey. It will take us two hours at least to cross the city and already the October night is cold and the streets grim.
“Well, aren’t we a raggedy bunch!” says the monk Guimard in his jolly way, always ready with a kind word or funny story. I wish he were my father, but whenever I say that my mother tells me to be quiet, or he will be arrested for indecency. “Joseph and Mary without an inn,” he continues, “and with a little babe in arms. That’s you, Jeanne. But time will be our friend; chickens are always in demand and your skills are beyond compare,” he adds kindly to my mother, wobbling slightly under his burden as he steps over a dead dog.
“Rançon will take us in,” says Ma, carrying her enormous copper kettle and a heavy gridiron, referring to her husband and the man she says I must call father. “And at least we don’t have to worry about Jeanne.”
“Why don’t you have to worry about me?” I ask, jumping quickly out of the way as a magnificent six-horsed carriage roars by.
“Monsieur Dumonceaux has agreed to take on your education,” my mother says.
I stop. “What do you mean, Ma?” I ask, thinking, I don’t know why, of the man’s green watery eyes and the hungry way they devoured me.
“He has agreed to send you to a convent, where you’ll be educated and even learn your letters. Imagine that!”
“A convent! Oh no!” I cry, thinking of the convent on the corner of our street and the grim black-clad nuns that circle in the courtyard. Nothing goes in or out: What do they even eat?
“Ah, now don’t cry,” says the monk Guimard kindly. “Nuns can be dear ladies, I remember one particularly fine young novice when I was young—”
“Shhh,” hisses Ma. “You talk too much. It’ll be the Bastille for you, one of these days. Careful—I know that pig—took a chunk of Madame Fargé’s ankle last week.” She pulls me away from a snortling boar that has started following us.
I trundle on, crying now, because I don’t want to disappear into a convent and leave Ma and the monk Guimard. And I may never see Frederica’s room again, never burrow in her soft sheets, never be treated to butter bonbons and little drops of her scent. My fate has been decided, I think, sobbing openly now as we walk wearily through the dark streets. I am to go to a convent, and I’m quite sure they won’t have any satin sheets for me there.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This third book brings us into the latter years of Louis XV’s life, and the perspective in this story is provided by his daughter, Adelaide. Unusual for the court (although not, perhaps, for the women of the day) Adelaide is prim, proper, uptight and perhaps more than a bit resentful of those who choose or dare to be otherwise. What I adore about this series, and this book, is Christie’s ability to present facts mingled with fiction in voices that are far from the normal speakers of history. Granted, each narrative voice has an agenda from minor and wanting to be heard, to elevating or preserving their own position in the court. While you never really come to the story thinking “this is only from X perspective, now that the series has come to conclusion, it is easy to see just how well-planned the narrative voices were. None of the views present Louis as more than a spoilt child, more concerned with pleasures and lazy days fueling his hedonistic desires than fairly, or even halfheartedly, ruling his country. Most of the rule of Louis was performed by those interested in feathering their own nests, with cognizant or callous acquiescence of the king himself. Adelaide is different, seeking to persuade her father to reform and reframe at least the end of his reign in more than licentious behavior and bone-idle luxury. To no avail, his mistress Jeanne Becu is far more interesting than his daughter’s imprecations and constant questions. While the narrators of this series are not people I would want to spend time with, it is obvious that they had brains and talents, and even outlooks that were surprisingly astute: were they men in the era, they would have ruled, perhaps not to a different end than the bloody revolution, but perhaps been cognizant of the unrest and anger fermenting in their people. It was an interesting, if foregone, conclusion in the revolution but the journey was more than worth the time. I received an eArc copy of the title from the publisher via NetGalley for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.
I enjoyed this book about the last years of Louis XV's reign, especially the rise & fall of Jeanne Becu, aka Madame du Pompadour. How she pulled herself from poverty and was reinvented by her "protector" who attached himself to her "skirt-tails" as an entree into Court life. Her absolute obliviousness to anything beyond her small social circle, including the populace's growing discontent & impending revolution. Multiple points of view, including Louis XV's oldest daughter & courtiers, provide backdrop to court intrigues and political maneuvering as well as historical perspective told from oft-silent sources. An entertaining look behind the curtain of the French court in its twilight...
I knew very little about this part of French history, aside from the very basics of Marie Antoinette's story (though as I recently read Will Bashor's new book, I know a lot more about Marie Antoinette and her time in prison, I've begun to know more), and I had only passing knowledge of the Comtesse du Barry, and less still of the king's daughter, Adelaide. I should have known there'd be scheming, and lots of it. Even from prim and proper Adelaide, though a lot of hers seemed to stem from her desire to be pleasing to her father and to have his company. The scheming of the du Barrys (and not just the Comtesse) was staggering, and even a bit cringe-worthy. From the first (getting Jeanne married to a du Barry) and then further one (trying to get the king to marry her), sometimes I wanted to slap her (and her associates) and other times look on in wide-eyed admiration for their nerve/gall. And yet, all the women in this book, particularly the main players, seem somewhat let down by their circumstances. If only they'd been able to do something with their lives beyond scheming and men and position. But given the period, of course, women weren't even full citizens yet, if I recall correctly. So their roles are not surprising. This is a great book, very rich in detail, and entertaining. It's a good way to get an introduction to the period that won't bore you with a dry history tome. I really need to make a point of reading the other two books in the series, because they sound quite good.
VERDICT: Fabulous conclusion of this trilogy on Versailles. Through the author’s careful study and lively style, a major page of French history is made fascinating and easy to understand. I recently reviewed Marie-Antoinette’s Darkest Days, focusing on Marie-Antoinette’s last months in prison. Now with The Enemies of Versailles, we are looking at an earlier period, coinciding with Marie-Antoinette’s arrival in France, as a young 14 year old. But this historical novel is far more than that, it’s a large fresco on the end of Louis XV’s reign as well as the end of an era. This is actually the third and last book of a series, the Mistresses of Versailles. This “trilogy examines the personal life of a controversial monarch through the lives of his many mistresses”. I regret that the unity of the trilogy was aesthetically broken by the publisher who decided to change the cover of this third volume. It would have made so much more sense to have three similar covers. Especially as covers 1 and 2 were had a unique style, and cover 3 had already been designed! I think Sally Christie did a marvelous job through this trilogy at highlighting something unique in the life of King Louis XV. As she explains in the Afterword, his “preferences in women coincided neatly with the emerging egalitarianism of the Enlightenment: after the Nesle sisters (from the high nobility- see The Sisters of Versailles), he was the first king to have a bourgeois mistress (Madame de Pompadour – see The Rivals of Versailles) and then followed that scandal by becoming the first king to install at Versailles an official mistress from the lower classes (the Comtesse du Barry)”. This collision between different worlds is astutely presented in this last book, with its double narrators: chapters alternate in the first person, between Jeanne Bécu’s (Comtesse du Barry) point of view and milieu, and Adélaïde’s (one of the king’s daughters). Jeanne is a nobody at first, her mother cooks and sells chickens. After eight years spent in a convent for her education, she works in a shop and is noticed by du Barry. He uses her as a “milk cow”, a courtisane, but then manages to have her enter the world of Versailles, where she quickly becomes the king’s mistress. Adélaïde is the most strict of the six sisters, “a paragon of virtue and discipline”, adamant at maintaining the etiquette at court. Her hate of La Pompadour (dying near the beginning of the book) will soon be replaced by her disdain for Jeanne, and even for Marie-Antoinette, when she realizes the young Austrian dauphine (brought in France to marry young Louis-Auguste, future Louis XVI) is much too informal. You already have here several ways of understanding the title of The Enemies of Versailles. There are many more layers to it, as little by little, you feel the winds of change rising, that will end up with the killing of King Louis XVI, Marie-Antoinette, Jeanne, and many representatives of the monarchy. Christie did a great job at describing life at court and then the shift of mentality throughout her book. This is nicely illustrated in the shift in mood: at first, the tone is light, funny even at times (for instance with the use of some hilarious subtitles for chapters, in the old mode of writing titles chapters, for instance: Chapter 6, in which Jeanne falls, but lands quite comfortably). Little by little, things get serious and dramatic, with the Revolution looming then destroying all that the characters knew.
I received this book from NetGalley for an honest review. The whole Mistresses of Versailles Trilogy was made for me to be honest. I love historical fiction a lot, even though I don't read it that much. For one I'm obsess with royal history, I don't know why, it's my favorite type of historical fiction to read. Also, they're told in the prospective of the mistresses of King Louis XIV and I haven't heard of any books like that, though I'm sure there is some out there. I had never read a book bout Madame du Berry. Heck, I didn't know much about her besides her being a mistress of King Louis. This book dives into her history, on her childhood and how she became who we know her as. Not only do we get Du Berry's POV we also get one of the King's daughter POV as well, oh and I didn't like her one bit, though I can see why she's angry, but still. I felt so bad for Du Berry even though I didn't care for as much. This was a strong ending for this amazing series and I'm so sad to see it end. I can't wait to read more of this author works in the future.
Having read the two previous books from the Mistresses of Versailles Trilogy, I was ecstatic when asked if I'd read and review the third and final instalment. I thoroughly enjoyed the previous two books and this one did not disappoint. The Enemies of Versailles begins with Jeanne Becu leaving the convent as a young teen. Because of her beauty she is quickly snapped up to sell ladies finery to the nobility of France. Jeanne becomes enamoured of the Compte du Barry who seduces her into a lifestyle of debauchery. He quickly sees her value in enticing the nobility to his salon and card games at which point he offers her to the many men who attend in the hope of an invitation to Versailles. When this happens, Jeanne quickly comes to the attention of Louis XV who is mourning the death of the Pompadour but also awaiting the death of his pious Queen. Du Barry marries Jeanne to his brother so that she can be presented to the King, thus begins their love affair that ends only with his death. Whilst Madame du Barry is the primary character of equal standing in this story is Louis's daughter Adelaide. The two stories are intertwined beautifully to create an understanding of the intrigue, politics and etiquette of a debauched French Court. Adelaide's hatred of Jeanne is relentless until the final moments of Louis's life where there is an understanding of Jeanne's love of her father. But the story does not end with the death of Louis. It is during this component of the story that you feel the impending doom creeping up as the story continues through the French Revolution and the final days and eventual fall of the Bourbon family. Jeanne's life after Louis, then her eventual imprisonment and her death are both heartwarming and sad. Adelaide and her sister were able to escape France to Italy where they lived until their eventual deaths. Despite survival, you feel the sadness of their situation and the loss of most of their family members. The Enemies of Versailles is a wonderful end to a brilliant series. I thoroughly enjoyed all three books and this final instalment was a fitting epitaph to a very sad time in history.