ARTICLES: The role of Madame de Pompadour in the Seven Year War

The role of Madame de Pompadour in the Seven Year War   

Interview to: Mr Albert by Lorenzo Crivellin

Who decided to destroy the alliance?

Maria Teresa of Austria. There were a lot of reasons but basically the Austria didn’t agree with the intention of Frederick II of Prussia, and did want to have its lost territories back. The Prussia, a traditional French ally, was courted by England the enemy of France in the colonies: the two nations were preparing a secret alliance, which could have been reinforced by the previous France-Prussia alliance. The Austria discovered these negotiations and took advantages by convincing France to leave the friendly Prussia and offered itself as the main ally.

To negotiate the “overturning of alliances”, the Empress engaged her ambassador in France, Starhemberg, by the Prince of Counts a cousin of the King. It was Starhemberg who said to the Empress that Counts lost any influence at court and that it would have been better to use Madame de Pompadour...Despite being openly against Austria (the country had always been an enemy of France in every European war), the ministers of the King Louis XV were refined negotiators and very useful at this stage. The Austria had only beginners as negotiators: Madame de Pompadour (who admitted not to be right person and were going to regret this task) and the Abbot of Bernis (also called Babet la Bouquetiere).

Could you please make a brief chronology of the military events?

All began with a violation of a few territories by Frederick II, who invaded Saxony to prevent Austria from any attack (this event seemed an anticipation of the nazi invasion in 1939). Then he occupied Bohemia and entered in Prague. The invasion involved France immediately, because the wife of the Dauphin came from Saxony: she asked her father in law, Louis XV, to help her relatives and was so worried that had an abort. Frederick had an arrogant behaviour with the Saxon court, stole all of the goods of the royal family and forced the King to run away. His attitude was very distant from the one of Napoleon I, who was respectful and gentle with his enemies. The Saxon Queen remained and suffered so much for the various insults that died. At this point the Seven Year War became inevitable.

I would say that France couldn’t afford the war properly because of the lack of a strong headquarter, as the marshals Saxe (a friend of the Marchioness) and Lowendal were dead. Louis XV didn’t have any more generals, only captains... The French army fought without any co-ordinate. Almost at the end of the war, Louis XV introduced Richelieu who had a remarkable quality: luck. Despite being so lucky Richelieu was a bad negotiator, too close to the King, and wasn’t able at taking into consideration his fortunate actions so became easily cheated by the English (with the cardinal De Bernis, at that time Foreign Minister) and the Prussians: they promised a so-called surrender treatise of Closter-Seven.

This war was devastating for the most part of Europe; France didn’t suffer any destruction, but lost the colonies. The country apparently didn’t care, even the encyclopaedists described Canada as “a country inhabited by bears and barbarians, covered with snow for eight months a year”. Only during the XIX century France thought about the importance of those colonies, blaming the King and Madame Pompadour for their loss.

Have Maria Teresa made fun of the Marchioness with her gift? (a desk with diamonds). Have she tried to take advantages with the King?

To tell the truth, the desk was a poor gift compared with the richness of the Marchioness: it is reported that she denied any sum of money and suggested the Empress to make that present. To add more value to the gift, Maria Teresa enriched the desk with lacquer and gold, and with a small portrait of her framed with diamonds. She spent the sum of 77000 livres.

Madame de Pompadour thought that the gift was too pretentious (she loved simpler things, like flowers or porcelains) and hid it. It was found listed among her goods, but unfortunately lost later. This gift was donated after the overturning of the alliance, to thank the Marchioness for her “service”. Madame Pompadour felt very happy when Prussia left the alliance with France, she hated Frederick II but this hate was mutual: he gave her name to one of his dogs...

After the war (and the defeat) the French-Austrian alliance was stronger than ever, with the Duke of Stainville (who became the duke of Choiseul) working in the Foreign Office. Choiseul managed to keep this alliance despite many divergent ideas, until the wedding of Maria Antonietta.

What kind of mistakes did Madame Pompadour?

The first was to choose De Bernis as secret negotiator with Starhemberg...It was too late when she became aware of his incapacity at negotiating with Austria. Although the biggest mistake was made by the King, who let the Foreign Office to a few “apprentices”. The ministers had a real choc on knowing the points of this alliance (France didn’t have any guarantee), but the treatise was already signed!

Unfortunately a King couldn’t be blamed for any mistake, so Madame Pompadour seemed to be the only one responsible for that sad episode. Since the beginning of the war, she was the central point of the whole event. Her apartment was full of military maps and she used to mark the moves of the army with her false hair. She was able at giving enthusiasm in order to win against Frederick II and felt very disappointed at the defeat. Then Madame Pompadour started to have health problems. When she died Versailles became a real sad place, until the arrival of Maria Antonietta.

Taking into consideration our common experience with Germany during the Second World War, do you think that she judged Frederick II in the right way?

She saw him as he really was, a liar and an intriguer. Frederick cheated the philosophers with his liberalism; he cheated France with his secret alliance with England. He even cheated the army with false negotiations. Frederick was disgusting with his enemies, like Hitler he wanted and demanded everything for his country: but he was more intelligent than the nazi chief, because he looked for the friendship of a few literates in order to hide his real political intentions to the world. Hitler, on the contrary, started as a fanatic and attracted only hate from all over the world. Well, I have finished, this comparison could have been a bit strange.