December 23, 2014

Les Poissonnnades Or How An 18th Century French Cinderella Was Seen By Her Rivals (And The Regular Populace)

What a mouthful of a title, eh? I apologize for not finding anything more pithy (blame it on my inherent laziness). OK, now...

I am talking today about Madame de Pompadour. But let not the noble name fool you, this lady's maiden name was Poisson.

Is anyone else reminded of The Little Mermaid?

Can anyone tell I've been on a Disney spree lately?

Anyway, Madame de Pompadour is better known for being THE mistress of none other than the King of France, Louis XV. Considering that she got to that exalted position after having been born the (illegitimate) daughter of a financier exiled for fraud, I must say I'm really impressed at her (ahem) dedication, but also her intelligence. Because the more one rises in society's ranks, the more enemies one makes. So if your past isn't immaculate-conception clean, they're going to find something to criticize you about (and even then, you're not safe). Add to that mix the fact that the general population's lost complete faith in the royalty and anyone doing business with it (even if it involves opening your legs for them), and you've got yourself a fine target stuck to your forehead. 
In that essence, many a song deriding her was created and sung in Paris in those days, which came to be known as the Poissonnades

Here is a (most of a) song that targets Madame de Pompadour and her low birth and physical attractions:

Les grands seigneurs s'avilissent,
The great lords are making themselves vile
Les financiers s'enrichisent,
The financiers are making themselves rich,
Tous les Poissons s'agrandissent.
All the Fish are growing fatter.
C'est le règne des vauriens.
It is the reign of the good-for-nothings.
On épuise la finance
The state's finances are being drained
En bâtiments, en dépense.
By construction, by expenditures.
Le Roi ne met ordre à rien, rien rien.
The King does not put into order a thing, thing, thing.

Une petite bourgeoise
A little bourgeoise
Elevée à la grivoise,
Raised indecently,
Mesurant tout à sa toise,
Judges everything by her own measure,
Fait de la cour un taudis;
Turns the court into a slum;
Le Roi malgré son scrupule,
The King, despite his scruples,
Pour elle froidement brûle,
Feebly burns for her,
Cette flamme ridicule
That ridiculous flame
Excite dans tout Paris ris, ris, ris.
Makes all of Paris laugh, laugh, laugh.                     

Cette catin subalterne
That lowly slut
Insolemment le gouverne
Governs him insolently
Et c'est elle qui décerne
And she is the one who awards [with top positions]
Les hommes à prix d'argent.
The men...for a price.
Devant l'idole tout plie.
Before this idol everyone bends [the knee].
Le courtisan s'humilie,
The courtier humiliates himself.
Il subit cette infamie,
He submits to this infamy.
Et n'est que plus indigent, gent, gent.
And yet is even more indigent, gent, gent.

La contenance éventée,
A stale composure,
La peau jaune et truitée,
The skin yellow and speckled,
Et chaque dent tachetée,
And all her teeth stained,
Les yeux fades, le col long,
Her eyes insipid, her neck elongated,
Sans esprit, sans caractère,
Without with, without character,
L'âme vile et mercernaire,
The spirit vile and mercenary,
Le propos d'une commère,
Her talk that of a village gossip,
Tout est bas chez la Poisson, son, son.
Everything is lowly with the Fish, ish, ish.

Si dans les beautés choisies,
If among the chosen beauties,
Elle était des plus jolies,
She were one of the prettiest,
On pardonne les folies
One pardons the follies
Quand l'objet est un bijou.
When the object is a treasure.
Mais pour si mince figure,
But for so inconsequential a figure,
Et si sotte créature,
And so silly a creature,
S'attirer tant de murmure,
To attract such ill words,
Chancun pense le roi f, f, f. [fou, fou, fou, [ou] fout, fout, fout]
Everyone thinks the king mad, mad, mad.

~Bibliothèque nationale de France, ms. fr. 13709, ff 29-30 and 71.

I don't know what you think, but I would probably like to get to know the one who engendered such jealousy (if only going back in time would be a riskless and possible venture...), especially considering she also loved the arts, fashion, architecture, and literature, and was the patron of many a great name (Voltaire, the , while also getting not only herself but the rest of her family ennobled. In fact, she was such an amazing woman that, despite ceasing to be the king's lover after 1750, the two remained good friends.

For the rest of the song and many others: Harvard website
Wiki bio
Madame de Pompadour via paintings at the National Gallery
More on the history of the times and the songs sung against Madame de Pompadour via the Guardian


  1. By the way, I just found out there's a rumor going on that the first champagne cup was molded in glass from the breast of Madame de Pompadour! Isn't that just a lovely picture? :)

  2. Well I don't drink these days, but if I did, I would rather modeled the champagne cup on Annie Hawkins-Turner

    1. Shouldn't those be called Champagne buckets then? :)