France before the Revolution

The Revolution changed France forever.  A whole section of society was eliminated in a maelstrom of fury and violence, accompanied by a random destruction of the buildings and records deemed to be associated with the monarchy's dominant rule.  Why did it happen, and who were the victims?  

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The Prince of Conti - a cousin of Louis XV.  A profligate charmer and natural schemer. He fell out with Madame Pompadour, the King's mistress, and then unsuccessfully plotted the overthrow of the King.  Owner of the Domaine de la Romanee-Conti. Died 1776. Read our short story

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Madame Pompadour.  The Official Mistress of Louis XV from 1745 to 1751 . A passionless, but intelligent woman, who told her husband on the occasion of their marriage, that she would only leave him for the King, which four years later she did.  She filled the vacuum created by Louis XV's inability to make a decision, and his lack of interest in the affairs of France. Died 1764.

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Madame du Barry.  Started life as Jeanne Becu, the illegitimate daughter of a seamstress and a monk. Saved from a life of debauchery by her appointment as Official Mistress to Louis XV. A passionate and compassionate lover and friend, who amassed one of the world's finest collections of jewellery.  Guillotined 8 December 1793. Portrait Elizabeth Vigee Le Brun. Read our short story.

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Marie Antoinette. One of the eleven daughters of The Holy Roman Empress Maria-Theresa. At the age of 14 she was married to Louis Auguste, the future Louis XVI, she became Queen of France on the death of Louis XV. Profligate, uneducated, and easily influenced, she lost her head to the guillotine in the Place de la Concorde on the 16 October 1793.  Portrait by Elizabeth Vigee Le Brun

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Louis XV.  Ruled France from 1715 until his death from smallpox in 1774.  At first a popular monarch, but his disastrous mis-management of the country's finances, personal profligacy, and perceived delegation of decision making to his mistress Madame Pompadour, made him deeply unpopular, and brought the country to the brink of financial ruin. 

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Elizabeth Vigee Le Brun.  An artist of the Royal Court, famous for her portraits of the Royal family, she lived through the entire period. This stunning image from 1782 is a self portrait. She died 0n 30 March 1842 in Paris. A collection of her work.

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Marie Leszcynska. The long suffering Polish wife of Louis XV. She bore him 10 children, and when a surfeit of procreational activity had exhausted her ability to satisfy her husband further, she was replaced in the Royal bedchamber by a succession of lovers and mistresses.  A popular Queen, she died in 1768.

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Louis XVI. A weak and incompetent monarch, found hopelessly lacking when faced with the troubled kingdom he inherited from his grandfather Louis XV.  Guillotined 21 January 1793.