Xenophon, the Ten Thousand, and the Myth of Er

The Anabasis is indisputably one of the greatest adventure stories of all time. A party of Greek hoplites, betrayed, leaderless, surrounded by enemies, and stranded thousands of miles from home, fight through all obstacles to reach freedom. This all begins when an ambitious satrap poured lies into the ear of the king of the Persian Empire, accusing his younger brother Cyrus of plotting against him. The King of Kings arrested him and was about to put him to death but Cyrus was freed by the intercession of their mother. Although he was released and restored to his position, he knew that Tisaphernes was never going to stop maligning him and that his brother was sooner or later going to believe his lies. His mother could not protect him forever, and his only salvation was to take the crown for himself. He began to gather an army. The lessons of Marathon, Thermopylae, and Plataea had been learned and Cyrus wanted Greek hoplites in his army.

He began recruiting in Ionia, offering generous pay to any Greeks who would fight under his banners and he soon accumulated a sizable band. He didn’t want to tell them how far into the interior he was about to take them, nor that he was leading them into battle against the King of Kings. He lied, claiming that they were going to fight one much smaller, weaker enemy, then another, and all the while he led them farther and farther away from the sea and into the heart of the Persian Empire. The army could be deceived only so often, and eventually realizing who their enemy truly was, they grew angry, fearful, and mutinous. Their generals, who were close to Cyrus, called them together and spoke to them. They pointed out to the men how far that they’d come and how much more difficult it would be for them to turn back and return the whole way by themselves rather than to go forward as part of a mighty host. They reminded them how good Cyrus had been to them up to now, and how much more he could do for them once, with their help, he became the richest and most powerful man on earth. They also conveyed Cyrus’ promise of a great sum in silver to every man who marched with him.

The Greeks saw that they could turn and go back through many dangers with nothing or push forward and perhaps win great glory and riches. Cyrus had treated them well, and his consideration and his generosity won them over and they stayed with him. The armies of the great king and the aspiring usurper came together and clashed at a place named Cunaxa, between the Tigris and Euphrates not far from the ancient site of Babylon in the very cradle of civilization. The Greeks advanced and they drove their enemies before them. Cyrus and Artaxerxes lined up opposite on another, and if the stories are to be believed, brother fought brother hand to hand. Cyrus wounded Artaxerxes, but he himself was struck down and killed. The Greeks had gone off in pursuit of their foes and they knew nothing of the fate that had befallen their benefactor and master. Convinced that they had shared in a great victory, they returned to their own camp only to find it plundered and learn that their benefactor and master was slain. The rest of Cyrus army had been scattered and the Greeks alone were left to face the wrath of the victorious King of Kings.

The Greeks were still intact as a fighting force and very formidable and Artaxerxes had no wish to needlessly maul his own army after it had already suffered through a great battle. He offered the Greeks safe passage back to their homes, sealing his word with solemn oaths to the gods. The Greek army and a host of Persians then began marching back along parallel tracks. There was great suspicion and animosity between the two sides, and the Greeks saw that the Persians observed them closely, as if waiting for some moment of weakness when the parts of their force became separated on the march or during some river crossing, or grown complacent and inattentive they neglected to post watch or conduct proper reconnaissance. The two camps were always sited miles apart, but foragers collecting firewood, water, and food ran afoul of one another and there were clashes between small parties.

The generals of the Greeks feared that one of these small brawls might embroil both armies into a full battle, and so their supreme leader had an interview with Tisaphernes who commanded the Persians. He explained the fears of the Greeks to the satrap. Tisaphernes answered by reminding Clearchus of the huge numbers of the Persian host. The Persians had cavalry and could strike the Greeks and ride away untouched as they, encumbered with their heavy helmets, cuirasses, and shields, could only lumber after them only making themselves more tired and thirsty than they already were. There were mountains after mountains, and if the Persians should ascend these heights they could never be dislodged. There was river after river and the Greeks could ford these only by their sufferance, and sometimes had to be ferried across. He could wipe the Greeks out whenever he wished, but rather than doing so he had sworn to the gods to conduct them back home. Why would he now bring on himself the retribution of the gods and the contempt of all mankind, simply to do what he could have done all along? Clearchus was convinced and he agreed that he and the other Greek generals would meet Tisaphernes for a formal parley. When they heard of this proposal, the other leaders of the Greeks were mistrustful but Clearchus reassured them. They entered Tisaphernes’ tent under the inviolable terms of parley, but he betrayed them, slaughtering the retinue that had accompanied them, seizing them, and later putting them to death.

 

After this treachery, there was an open state of war. The Greeks elected new leaders and they fought the Persians off as they marched for home. Horses before used as pack animals were mounted for cavalry, and some islanders among them skilled in the use of the sling, fashioned some of these weapons and outdistanced the slingers and archers of the Persians. Tisaphernes suffered so much in these encounters that he left off his pursuit. The Greeks pushed on into the high country and here they had to fight through one tribe after another. Day after day, mile after mile, they marched and fought, climbing over mountains, stumbling through snows, swimming across rivers. Clambering up yet another mountain, the Greeks heard their scouts shouting about something. Certain they were under attack, they rushed forward to their aid until they could hear their cries more clearly. The sea, the sea! The cry was taken up and passed down the column. From the vanguard to the rearguard, all began to run until reaching the summit they saw the waters glistening on the horizon. Their faces glistening with tears, they fell into one another’s arms, jumping and sobbing for joy. They erect a cairn to forever mark the spot where they sighted their salvation, and then descended to the Greek town that waited to welcome them.

A touching end to a moving story, but the Ten Thousand reach the sea only two thirds of the way through the story. In a five-act plot, the climax comes just before the end, but many tales have leisurely endings. The final act may be drawn out. Companions on the adventure will say their affectionate goodbyes. The long-lost son will be sighted from the front porch. Wives, children, and parents will run out to meet him. The one given up for lost, mourned, remembered, and cherished is now come back from the grave. He is embraced, hugged, kissed. The fatted calf is slain for the feast and there is joy all around. There is no such reunion. The Greeks keep heading for home but then they waver and ultimately turn back. The rulers of the cities they enter see them as pests if not as invaders. Some wish to recruit them, some to expel them. In the end, they enter the service of a brutal Thracian king, deposed but determined to retake his throne. The Greeks fight for him, and raise him to greater power, glory, and riches than ever before, and in so doing they butcher the Thracian peasantry, burn their villages, and take the youngest, strongest, and fairest among them for slaves. Seuthes proves ungrateful in his power and his pride, and he withholds their pay. The Greeks abandon his service and leave Europe going back to Asia to fight against their old enemy Tisaphernes.

This seems a disappointing and disgraceful ending to the story of men who only wished to go home in peace. Yet these Greeks only really longed for home when they despaired of life. They were few who fought against many, and we feel for them; we root for them; we forget that they are mercenaries. They fought their own way to freedom. They don’t owe anything to anyone. It is through their own strength and their own courage that they survived. We the readers might deplore their crimes but we the readers did nothing for them. If it is we who delivered them, we may have grounds to reproach them. These men never stopped being what they are. We forgot who they are as we were caught up in the story. And yet there is a story. Why?

Xenophon wrote his tale decades later. He told it because others were telling the same story, but he wanted his version to prevail, a version in which he and his comrades are heroes. Then, as now, the mercenary, a man who fights and kills for money and not for anger or conviction was regarded as a figure of odium. Xenophon tries to explain his presence in an army of mercenaries, and to make clear that he was neither a general, a captain, nor an ordinary soldier. He speaks of his camaraderie and solidarity with one Proxenus who was already involved in the enterprise and who persuaded him to come along. He expounds on the great qualities of Cyrus, his virtues, his magnanimity, his charms of character. He would have us believe that he took this Persian prince as a friend, and was personally loyal to him, that he was so dazzled by a claimant to a throne that he and every other Greek reviled that he journeyed to the ends of the earth in his service. These ten thousand Greek mercenaries had stolen food from peasants who were already starving, had seized captives as slaves, had put innocents to the sword all along their journey long before Seuthes, but Xenophon glides over these actions or tries to excuse them. He stresses that the army must find food to survive. This is true, but they’d come to these lands as paid combatants, greedy, rapacious, violent men lured by the prospect of slaves, booty and glory.

When the ten thousand saw the sea, they knew they’d survived their ordeal. But they were the same men as they were before. They’d taken nothing away from their sufferings, their misfortunes, or their remarkable escape. In The Republic, Plato recounts the story of Er, a man who came back from the dead to tell the living about what lay beyond. In his description, every soul comes back to this world, and these souls may pick the fate they wish in an order fixed by lottery. Every soul takes his turn and selects the life that seems best. Some pick beauty, some fame, some power, some wealth, some children and snug domesticity, some adventure and renown. The soul who fared worst of all in the lottery and who was made to wait and draw last was Odysseus. There were many souls, but far more destinies, and Odysseus sorted through many still left over and neglected by all the rest before he chose. The hero who had won the greatest war ever fought, who had outwitted monsters, who had been favored by gods and goddesses, who’d survived epic voyages, wanted nothing more than the quietest, most ordinary, and most unremarkable of lives. He’d learned from everything he’d gone through, and that wisdom taught him to eschew all human vanity. The saddest part of The Anabasis is that the Ten Thousand learned nothing.

George Thomas was the Greatest Battlefield Commander of the American Civil War

There’s a saying in the business community, “No one ever was fired for choosing IBM.”. This apothegm is quite true. Those who undertake important tasks are under close and extensive scrutiny, and their audience are very sure about how these tasks are best carried out. These public judgments are based upon what has happened in the past and what is generally accepted. There are sometimes new, unconventional, unproven approaches, clearly and demonstrably better than what has been done before, that are neglected because no one dares take them up. When the leader of some important endeavor takes the usual, established steps and fails, the failure is met with a shrug of resignation but if he tries something strange and unorthodox and it doesn’t work, that failure is met with indignation and vituperation. Because of this reaction, managers and directors often do what is least likely to bring them trouble and grief rather than what is most likely to succeed. The fear that if some new strategy miscarries, they will suffer blame and punishment often keeps them to the old ways sanctioned by tradition. These old ways are often, and perhaps usually, those of caution and prudence but not always.

During the first half of the American Civil war, the northern armies had an unfortunate history of generals who’d been dilatory in their operations and prone to offer excuses and delays when urged to go forth against the enemy. A Union commander who moved slowly was presumed to be timid, uncertain, and reluctant to come to grips with his dashing southern adversaries. Northern frustration and impatience was understandable and to some extent justified by the sluggishness of some of their generals, and Lincoln himself was not altogether untouched by its effects. Northern commanders who ordered ill-considered assaults, who hurled their men against inexpugnable positions, were often seen as showing a laudable boldness. The Union public had a general and largely correct apprehension that they far exceeded the Confederacy in population and resources and that attrition will work to their advantage. George Brinton McLellan, twice the Commander of the Army of the Potomac, the one general with whom they were most familiar was, for reasons of temperament and inclination, unwilling to avail himself of an overwhelming preponderance of strength to close with and destroy the enemy. His faults led the northern government and citizenry alike to seek his opposite, a swift and savage fighter who will crush the frail Confederacy and bring the boys home.

 

George Thomas did not match that ideal. The one and only southerner to hold high command in the Union army, he was always slow and methodical in his movements. His southern origins and his close ties to many of the Confederate commanders were certain to arouse some suspicion, and the deliberate pace of his operations confirmed to some that he hesitated because his loyalties lay with the south and he was doing everything he could to arrest the onslaught against his homeland. Others, without impugning his motives or his patriotism, simply considered him yet another example of a cautious, logy Union general, best to be replaced by someone younger, more active, and more daring.

Born and raised in Virginia, George entered the United States Military Academy at West Point where he shared a room with William Tecumseh Sherman, and after graduation fought in the Mexican American War. After the war, he served in South Florida, before returning to West Point as a cavalry and artillery instructor. The cadets under his instruction, wanting to show off, galloped their mounts nearly everywhere and exhausted them needlessly and cruelly. He put an end to these wasteful shows of bravado, teaching his cadets to conserve their horses’ strength for when it would really be needed, and earning himself the nickname ‘Old Slow Trot’. Robert E. Lee was the superintendent of West Point during Thomas’ tenure, and both men were later assigned to the elite Second Cavalry Regiment. The appointees to this regiment were personally selected by the Secretary of War Jefferson Davis from among the best soldiers in the United States Army, mounted on the finest horses and furnished the newest equipment the army could provide. The men Davis happened to select were almost always southerners and some in the government and the army itself feared that they were being groomed to become the military leaders of a newly born and hostile southern nation.

These suspicions were prescient, and when the great split did come, Lee and almost all the southern officers chose the Confederacy while Thomas chose to remain faithful to the Union. Although he’d taken a girl hailing from upstate New York as a wife, he always resented any implication that uxorious attachment rather than a solemn sense of duty was the reason for his remaining with the Union. Whatever his reasons, his allegiance remained and, promoted to brigadier-general, he fought and won the first major Union victory of the war at Mill Springs, Kentucky.  But it was as a corps commander under William Rosecrans that he made his greatest contribution.

Rosecrans was capable but eccentric, a Catholic when the rest of the nation was predominantly and violently Protestant, and he was all too aware that most found his faith exceptionable. Soldiers never get enough sleep and it’s more precious to them than anything, but Rosecrans was so keen to uphold his faith and fond of theology that he kept his officers up nearly through the night as he expounded the finer points of his Catholicism. As commendable as his long hours and hard work were, on the field he was excitable, sometimes becoming so agitated that his orders became nearly unintelligible. These lapses in communication led to disaster at Chickamauga. Rosecrans directed one unit in the center of his line to shift over in support of another regiment but the intent of the message was unclear and to follow its literal meaning would open a hole in the center. The officer leading this unit had been earlier excoriated for not obeying an order and in his pique, he decided to carry out this one to the letter. Conscious that what he was about to do was to have tremendous consequences, he made a great display of reading the order aloud to his fellow officers for evidentiary purposes in any court martial to come. Immune from legal retribution, he moved his regiment and the Confederate attack now roaring in met nothing but air. The attacking Confederates were initially perplexed that they encountered no resistance but coming to see that they weren’t lost but had cut the Union army in half by no effort of their own, they tore through the gap. The northern army routed, the southerners strove to encircle, trap, and destroy it, but Thomas with his corps took up a strong position on Horseshoe Ridge, and fighting off attack after attack by the entire Confederate Army, covered the retreat and saved the army.

The Army of the Cumberland had escaped, but it had done so only by running, and it was now in Chattanooga, besieged on all sides. The unfortunate Rosecrans had been replaced by the team of Ulysses Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman. The problems besetting them were myriad and complex, but having the larger, stronger force there was no convoluted solution needed, and they simply began hitting things until something dislodged. As part of these attacks, the Army of the Cumberland was sent to capture rifle pits at the bottom of Missionary Ridge. Having captured their objective, they found that they were under galling fire from the top of the ridge, and the only safe place being the slope itself, they began to ascend. The steep angle made it nearly impossible for the Confederate rifles or artillery to reach them and they reached the top and drove off the enemy in what seemed an impossible and miraculous victory.

The victor in the first major Union victory of the war, Thomas was also author of the last. Yet before winning the Battle of Nashville, he was nearly relieved of his command because he refused to set out until he was ready. The roads in Middle Tennessee were in fact impassible but the authorities in Washington couldn’t know this for certain and having contracted a habit of exasperation with listless, recalcitrant generals, they reacted precipitately. The War Department sent another to take his place but the slowness of nineteenth century communications gave the Virginian the respite he needed to crush the Confederate army facing him and justify the methodical preparations that had preceded and guaranteed his victory.

It is possible to forego the long baggage trains, magazines, depots, and other impedimenta that come with an established line of supply and choose to forage for food and fodder instead, living off the country for everything. An army so liberated moves so quickly and freely that it seems ridiculous to make war in any other manner. The generals not bold enough to do so and rely on obsolete methods are clearly too timid, conventional, and unimaginative to make this tactical leap. Thomas’ roommate at West Point, William Sherman, had his army live off the land during his famous March to the Sea, and it was the practice of Napoleon’s Grand Armee during its dazzling victories in central Europe. It is possible for an entire army to live off the land, but only in the most fertile of territories and the nearest of distances. What may do for Germany, Georgia, and South Carolina with their fine roads, clement weather, and rich farms will not do on the steppes of Russia or the deserts of Egypt. When the expedient of living of the land does fail, it fails utterly and catastrophically. Invaders can fall upon the farms along the march, steal their food and lead off their livestock, leave the inhabitants to starve but if they’re defeated and repulsed, forced to turn back and return the way they came, things will be much different. The farmers they left behind are now partisans who will follow them, hunt them, torture and kill them if them fall out or are separated from the main body however briefly. An enemy may also be desperate enough to burn their houses and crops, slaughter their cattle and sheep, poison their wells, leaving nothing for the invaders. Napoleon’s troops in Egypt killed themselves for thirst, and nearly the entire massive invasion force he brought into Russia perished there.

The Duke of Wellington ultimately defeated Napoleon by the outdated methods of established lines of supply, reliance on defensive fortifications, and fighting in line. The use of skirmishers probing ahead and disrupting, with columns of poorly trained zealots following and smashing through the traditional armies of the monarchies, worked only for a brief period. The traditional armies adapted to the new conditions and the new tactics. George Thomas was likewise traditional in his tactics, as well as slow and methodical in his movements, but he is vindicated by the results. He never ordered his men into a failed assault that should have never been attempted and ended only in slaughter, like Grant at Cold Harbor or Sherman at Kennesaw Mountain. He is the only Civil War commander on either side who won major battles and suffered far few casualties than he inflicted while doing so: Mill Springs 246 – 529, Nashville 3,061 – 6000. These lopsided victories and the performance of his corps at Chickamauga and Missionary Ridge place him ahead of Ulysses Grant, Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee, and anyone else.

A Defense of Madame du Barry

 

La Comtesse du Barry was neither a countess nor a du Barry. She was born Jeanne Becu in the Province of Champagne in the year 1743, to an unmarried seamstress and domestic maidservant. It is unknown who the father was, and it was likely a mystery to the young mother as well. The Province of Champagne is incidentally also the birthplace of Joan of Arc, but the two women have very little else in common. From the age of seven she was brought up in a convent, and after having left the cloister, she became an apprentice hairstylist, a companion to a wealthy dowager, and then a shop girl at a millinery. It was while she was working at Maison Labille that she was discover by the Comte Jean du Barry.

Du Barry operated a gambling house in Paris, filling its premises with the most beautiful girls in France, a distraction and a compensation for the rich and the titled who could marvel at them and flirt with them as they lost vast sums at cards. These lovely shills were to humor and keep company with the dukes, counts, princes, and magnates who patronized du Barry’s establishment. These meetings quickly went past flirtation and du Barry was the master procurer for the richest and most powerful men in France. As beautiful as his other girls were, Jeanne Becu outstripped them all, and when du Barry saw her he knew he’d made his fortune. She was so sublime in feature, and ravishing in form, that the only fit consort for such a miraculous beauty was the King of France himself. And so, after a few years of polishing and tutelage in du Barry’s household, she was dispatched to Versailles. In that age, the public was free to tramp about Versailles and gape at the enormous palace and its bedizened denizens, and it was no great difficulty to put Jeanne in a place where King Louis’ eye was certain to fall upon her.

Louis XV couldn’t properly be described as a philanderer or a womanizer. At the Parc-aux-Cerfs, he kept a house full of young, beautiful women, not a harem for that would imply a group of permanently abiding concubines, but rather a retreat to which girls were brought and then turned out after a few nights. Louis bedded and then grew bored with women by the hundreds if not thousands and in his satyriasis he more closely resembled Sardanapalus, Caligula, or Egalobalus than any contemporary European monarch.

Jeanne went to Versailles, Louis saw her, and from that moment on his bed and his heart were hers and hers alone. He was intent of bringing Jeanne to court, having her formally presented, and then making her his official mistress. There was one difficulty. None of this could be done without impropriety unless she were married. Du Barry, himself regrettably already married, found a solution in a rusticated older brother who was promptly brought to the capital and married to Jeanne, now the Comtesse du Barry. The nuptials concluded, the bridegroom eventually returns to the country, and Jeanne moves on to Versailles. The court was scandalized, not because the king was sharing his bed with a woman to whom he wasn’t married, but because the official mistress was expected to be of noble birth, and Jeanne was of the lowest extraction, daughter to a woman who washed other people’s clothes.

However much his courtiers and their ladies might be mortified to keep company with a guttersnipe, however much his new Austrian daughter in law Marie Antoinette might be appalled that he lives with a harlot, Louis is happier than he’s been for decades. It’s not only that Jeanne is the only woman alive who can bring him to an erection, she’s also rejuvenated him. He loves the girls, however mean her origins, however unsavory her reputation, however shadowy her past. She’s given a suite in the palace, and nothing that French artistry and craftsmanship can produce is spared in its appointment. The furniture, the chandeliers, the piano in the corner, the clock against the wall, are all masterpieces of the rococo style. A fortune is spent on her toilette, her clothing, her jewelry, rings, necklaces, pins, bracelets tiaras glittering with diamonds, rubies, emeralds, and sapphires. Now, more than ever before and ever since, Paris is the fashion center of the world and she is its cynosure.

The cost of all this is ruinous, but the ruin is still years away and it is disease not bankruptcy that puts an end to this insupportable arrangement. The king falls ill, the court physicians fall on him with their clysters and their leeches, and he grows worse. Red blisters appear on his face. Louis XV has smallpox and sixty-four year olds don’t recover from smallpox. Jeanne, at danger to her own life, sits with him and nurses him until nearly the end. Once he knows beyond any hope that he’s about to die, he summons a priest, confesses his sins, renounces his paramour, and receives the Sacrament. Jeanne is exiled from Versailles, and after Louis is dead, a triumphant Marie Antoinette has her shut away in a convent.

Decades pass and the Queen relents, remitting her old enemy’s exile, and Madame du Berry is living in comfortable retirement not far away from Paris at Louveciennes. She is popular with the local peasantry, feting them on the grounds of her estate or under her own roof, succoring them in their sickness and poverty. Outside this quiet setting, things are not well and great events are occurring. The Estates-General is convened, the Bastille is stormed, the King and Queen are made prisoners.

Jeanne has always been a true friend to the House of Bourbon and during the Revolution she becomes a supporter of the emigres abroad. She makes repeated trips to England, meets with exiled nobles and gives them money for their food and shelter. She meets leaders of the Counterrevolution, only in a social capacity but it’s clear where her sympathies lie. Many eyes track her passage and watch her movements and meetings. She sends these donations through her bankers, the Vandenyvers, and while they are not trained as secret agents, their activities lack not only tradecraft but common sense and prudence.

At the instigation of a Jacobin agitator who lusts for her body and her death with equal fervor, she and her bankers are arrested and questioned. Jeanne is very careful to implicate only those who have already been guillotined or are already safely across the English Channel. She is found guilty and sentenced to be guillotined. Back in her cell, she’s overcome with terror, and writes an abject letter, offering to buy her life in exchange for treasures brought away from Versailles and buried on the grounds of Louveciennes. Her jailers accept her offer and her life is saved. Or so she thinks. The letter names the exact locations of the valuables and as soon as she’s dead, her captors can dig them up at their leisure. She’s shocked and outraged when the executioner comes to cut the hair from her neck and bind her hands. Jeanne Becu was taken by tumbril to the Place de la Revolution and beheaded on December 8, 1793.

Historians have not been kind to the memory of Madame du Berry. Most who chronicle the French Revolution abhor and despise her. Contrary to the facts, they claim that she implicated many of her former friends to save her own worthless life. They paint how she went to her end sobbing, begging for mercy and contrast it with the dignity and courage with which her betters faced the same death. They contend that in disgracing the crown and draining the treasury, she helped to bring on the Revolution to which she fell victim.

While she was never a working prostitute, she did sell her body for a life of ease, comfort, and luxury. All the gold, porcelain, crystal, and silver garniture of her apartments, the endless gowns sewn by an army of ateliers, the gilded carriage, the thousands of gemstones that hung in chains around her body or studded everything that surrounded her, the retinue of liveried servants that attended her, were all a drain on the finances of the state that the French nation couldn’t afford. While she enjoyed her exquisite, pampered lifestyle, the poor starved and died. And in the end, she went to her death, whimpering, and blubbering, and screaming as they dragged her to the guillotine.

It’s easy for the historian, in the safety and comfort of his study, to deplore her morals, and to shake his head over the cowardice with which she met her death. Jeanne Becu had no physical courage. She wasn’t brave nor did she ever pretend to be. She spent her life avoiding violence, and when it was in her power, preventing it. She used her influence with the most powerful man in Europe, not to punish or imprison those who libeled her, but to plead for the pardons of men and women about to be executed whose relatives had come to her in their behalf. She was always kind, generous, amiable and merciful.

A fallen Chief Minister to Louis, a man who’d set pamphleteers to call her a drunkard, wretch, whore, filth, to print canards and false stories about her, who’d tried to devise her ruin, is now close to bankruptcy. Having always felt entitled to live like royalty, he has done nothing to curb his spending now that he’s lost his position. Although his means are great, his prodigality is even greater. One of his friends comes to Jeanne and ask that she use her influence with Louis to secure him a pension. She agrees and only after much pleading and many tears, she gains a pension for her former enemy, a man who’s always hated her and will always hate her, even now.

The manner of her death is not dignified but it would only be contemptible if she herself had dealt in violence. As to the charge that she turned the French people against the monarchy, it might be remembered that Kennedy’s dalliance with Marilyn Monroe did more to burnish than to tarnish his legend. There was great tenderness and feeling between Louis and Jeanne, despite the more sordid trappings of their years together, and while we can’t look upon their relationship with admiration, we can view the failings of a man and woman who loved one another with indulgence. Madame du Berry always showed kindness and forgiveness to strangers and enemies, perhaps posterity will do the same for her.