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Reviewed by Vera Pereskokova
When she was just a child, a gypsy at a fair foretold that Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson would be loved by the King. Charmingly beautiful, Jeanne was nevertheless a child of middle class parents, with no noble blood to speak of. In 1700s France, it was unheard of for someone of her background to even be introduced at Versailles. But, heeding the gypsy’s words, Jeanne’s mother and her mother’s lover – Jeanne’s father was exiled and not present in her life – made every effort to educate the girl and train her in social arts like dancing, singing, and playing instruments. Their goal, first and foremost, was to make her a suitable companion for the King.
As a teenager, Jeanne was married off to a man she barely knew and did not particularly respect. The marriage made her a Countess and gave her a much beloved daughter, Alexandrine. Through it all, Jeanne lived with an unwavering belief that she was destined for bigger things, that she was destined to be by the King’s side.
In 1745, Marie-Anne de Mailly-Nesle, the youngest of Nesle sisters and King Louis XV’s official mistress (after two of her sisters held the same “post”), died at a young age, leaving courtiers scheming to fill the King’s bed. The beautiful, educated and charming Jeanne was on the minds of many, but those closest to the King made it clear that her bourgeois background would preclude her from ever being officially acknowledged by the King. She’d be a mere plaything, nothing more. Steadfast in her convictions and her self worth, – and with the help of some well-placed connections – Jeanne paved her own way into Versailles and the arms of Louis XV, becoming his latest official mistress. In order to be presented at Court. Jeanne was also granted the title of the Marquise de Pompadour, a name that would become famous around the world and that is still widely recognized today.
As Louis XV’s lover and later simply a friend and a confidante, Jeanne triumphed over many enemies and rivals using her intelligence and understanding of human nature. When her weak health and multiple miscarriages precluded her from satisfying the King in physical ways, Jeanne even arranged for young (and typically uneducated and simple) girls to warm his bed. She knew that their lack of sophistication and wit would quickly make Louis lose his interest, and that they did not pose any serious threat. Considered to be one of three most powerful women of the 18th century, – alongside Catherine the Great of Russia and Maria Theresa of Austria – Jeanne essentially ruled alongside the King for nearly 20 years, advising him on everything from foreign affairs to appointments for important government posts.
The Rivals of Versailles is the second book in The Mistresses of Versailles trilogy by Sally Christie. While The Sisters of Versailles focused on the Nesle sisters and their roles in Louis XV’s life, The Rivals of Versailles is primarily the story of Marquise de Pompadour, with a few other fleeting love liaisons sprinkled throughout the pages. While I have read the books in order, it is not necessary to read the first book in the trilogy to follow the story in the second. Both books stand well on their own.
I greatly enjoyed The Sisters of Versailles but The Rivals of Versailles is definitely my favorite in the trilogy–so far. The Enemies of Versailles will be released in March, 2017. Sally Christie weaves an intriguing and at times salacious tale, making history come alive on the pages. And to me, Christie could not have picked a better subject to write about than Marquise de Pompadour. Jeanne used perhaps the only avenue available to women of meager beginnings in those days – sex – to claw her way to power, to a better life. But once there, it was her intelligence that made her a valued companion, even after sex was no longer on the table.
Review and giveaway copies were provided by Atria Books. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.