“My life is like that of the early Christians – a perpetual battle.” said the Marchioness de Pompadour who lived from 1721-1764.
Romantic legend has this rose being named after the Marchioness of Pompadour, one Jeanne- Antoinette Poisson, mistress and favourite of King Louis XV. She was baptised as the legitimate daughter of Francois Poisson (who himself has a rose named after him), a steward of the Pâris brothers who ran the economy of France, and Marie de la Motte, although rumours at the time claim she was the daughter of a wealthy financier and speculator. When she was nine a fortune teller foretold that she would become a King’s mistress and was then called Reinette by her family.
She was a delicate child, often ill with coughs and colds. She spent a year in a convent, charming the nuns but learnt nothing of religion. She was quick and intelligent, cultured and educated in the arts and botany. She was an enthusiastic gardener, seeking knowledge about the wondrous plants coming into France at that time. She was married, at age twenty, to Charles Guillaume Normand d’Etoiles, with whom she had a daughter Alexandrine. He adored her but they separated after she began her association with the Royal Court. The King in seeking her favour gave her property and titles. She acquired the castle of Crecy in 1746 which she altered and greatly enlarged the house and grounds but spent only a little time there with the King.
Considered a great beauty with an oval face, green/brown eyes and chestnut hair, the court and the King were enlivened by her wit and beauty. But even as favourite she had to work hard at keeping the attention of a decadent King with a wandering eye. This all powerful king and his couturiers with their latent viciousness expected services that went beyond mere human pleasure and crossed over to orgies where she humoured his every whim. Although she is reputed to have been a cold woman sexually, not strong enough to cope with the King’s excessive appetite, she remained secure and influential at court as the King’s confidante. She undoubtedly worshipped him and in her prime as favourite, was feared and loathed in an environment where men and women rose or fell at her whim. The courtiers came to understand that there were two Queens in France and the one which reigned was not the lawful wife of the monarch. She often interfered in politics, using her power to disastrous effect.
She suffered many miscarriages which dragged her health down further. Certainly in her desire to maintain the King’s favour, she tried exhaustively to keep up with him.
She remained friendly with the Queen and lived at Versailles, where for
19 years she held sway, providing the king with a constant flow of young women to satisfy his needs and to make up for her own reputed frigidity and the queen herself had declined to continue marital relationships after the birth of her tenth child.
She fell ill with congestion of the lungs and lay between life and death for several days with the King beside her. Against the convention that none but royal persons may die at Versailles, he moved her back there where she prepared her will and awaited death without complaint. The Court of Versailles was said to be very dull afterwards.
The rose is said to originate from the gardens at Crecy.
There is some dispute about the classification of this rose but whatever her breeding, she is a reliable, vigorous grower albeit with a temperamental flower. She is either the most beautiful or the worst, depending on the weather, but I just adore the muddle purple grey of her blooms.
The colour is indescribable and very pleasing. Crimson buds which open a soft pink, become suffused with mauves, violets and greys as she ages in the sun. The bloom is flat and quartered with many petals and a clearly defined green eye surrounded by incurving inner petals. She is as highly scented as a mistress ought to be with a refined upright growth. Unlike her prickly namesake, she is relatively thornless with a few fine red thorns and carries leaves of grey green.
Joyeaux, in his book Rosa Gallica clearly believes she is a Gallica. However, Suzanne Verrier raises the possibility of her being a Gallica/China Hybrid.
Dickerson, in the Old Rose Adventurer, says she was bred by Monsieur Roeser, a fancier in Crésy and introduced by Hardy, and that she is a China Hybrid.
Her breeding, it seems, is as murky as the birth of Madame la Pompadour