Madame de Pompadour: Getting to know King Louis XV’s favorite mistress

Back when European kings and queens married not for love but for bloodlines and political power, it was acceptable for them to choose lovers from people in their court. France’s King Louis XV had many courtesans, but only one was his favorite: Madame de Pompadour. Was it the sex? Her hair? Read on to find out what made her special.

  • Affairs! Fraud! Questionable paternity! Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson was born in 1721 Paris. Her dad was forced into exile over a series of unpaid debts. One of her mother’s many lovers became her guardian. That man was rumored to be Jeanne-Antoinette’s biological father.

  • Rated-R psychic prediction. At the age of 9, a fortuneteller predicted that little Jeanne-Antoinette would be the mistress of a king. From that point on, she was groomed for the role.

  • Enchanté. At 19, she was a beautiful, educated, talented patron of the arts and a newlywed. Five years later she would be introduced to the King of France at a masked ball at Versailles. Louis was immediately smitten. Three months later she would officially leave her husband and child for him.

  • Nice gift. She needed a title to be presented at court. Louis bought her the Marquisate of Pompadour estate and title, making her a marquise.

  • Easy access. At Versailles she was given a suite directly above the king’s. They were connected by a secret stairway.

  • Mean girls. The royal courtiers didn’t like the King hooking up with a commoner. Another courtesan tried to take her place, but the king was loyal to Madame de Pompadour and got rid of her rival.

  • The sex!? One biographer says that Madame de Pompadour wasn’t that into it. Eventually she’d just pick out new mistresses for Louis, making sure they were good in bed, but not after her power.

  • The hair!? The pompadour hairstyle was named after her. It’s been seen on Elvis, Harry Potter, models, and hipsters. (Here’s a modern spin on it with a how-to, in case you want the look.)

  • Seduction. They say she used the arts to seduce the king. She acted in flattering plays about him. She had portraits done to tempt him. She displayed ornate rococo porcelain and luxurious tapestries to create an uplifting mood. She joined him in doing all the things he loved. Hell, even the queen liked her.

  • Power. She wasn’t just a mistress. She had much influence in royal politics and international and domestic affairs. But it wasn’t always welcomed and she was blamed for France’s mistakes in the Seven Years’ War.

  • The end. Even after their five-year affair ended, Louis and she remained close platonic friends until her death from tuberculosis.

This is just a small glimpse into Madame de Pompadour’s fascinating life. To learn more, there are many books out there. And if you enjoy our Lusty Ladies series on women like Cleopatra, Josephine Baker, and Mata Hari, sign in to Bedsider and read them all to earn our Lusty Ladies of History badge.

À bientôt,

P.S. Have you tasted our Recipe for Love series on aphrodisiacs?

Want to learn more?

Select one of the related topics to find more.