Marie Louise O'Murphy (Rouen, 1737- Paris, 1814), also known as ‘Louison’ or 'Morphise', was not Irish strictu sensu, but the fact that a girl born of Irish parents should end up as King Louis XV’s favourite “floozie” for a time and bear him a daughter before she was 17 is enough to secure her place in this exclusive guide to Irish Paris. Besides, ‘Morphise’ herself did not miss an opportunity to allude to her purportedly noble Irish lineage to reinforce her own image and advance the career of her son.
| 15, rue Dussoubs
|| rue Sainte-Appolline|
Alas, while of good Irish stock, the life stories of the O’Murphy’s are less than exemplary. Louison’s father was a Jacobite official called Daniel O’Murphy and her mother was Marguerite Hicky (or Hickey). Both parents, plus their daughter, were to end up in prison at different stages of their lives. Before Louison’s birth, her father—secretary to viscount Charles O’Brien at the court of King James III at Saint-Germain-en-Laye—was sent for seven months to the Bastille for trying to blackmail the pretender to the English throne. Louison’s mother, Marguerite, earned her place in the Salpêtrière women’s prison in 1729 for prostitution. She is also suspected of having later managed her daughters’ careers in the same line of business.
Some say Louison was introduced to king Louis XV by Casanova, others that the king summonsed her after viewing the 1752 painting of her by François Boucher. But a recent exhibition on Casanova in Paris suggests that Boucher's picture of a naked girl reclining on a sofa is not a portrait of Louison at all and that it was a different portrait of Louison—commissioned by Casanova from a German artist for the sum of 6 ecus—that aroused the king's well-developed libido. Camille Pascal, in his meticulous, definitive biography of Louison suggests that any number of people—including Boucher and the king’s ‘official’ mistress, Mme de Pompadour—could all have facilitated her introduction to the King as a way of currying favour with him. With the help of a series of entremetteuses—responsible for negotiating a suitable financial settlement with girls’ parents—Louis XV was thus supplied with a constant supply of young flesh. These girls were often, like Louison, parked in houses outside the palace gates in Versailles.
Casanova “came into contact” (a euphemism) with Louison O’Murphy—then aged 13—at the house of one of her sisters on the rue Deux-Portes-Saint Sauveur (now 15, rue Dussoubs, 2nd arrondissement) in the summer of 1752. But by the end of 1753—by which stage Louison’s career at Versailles had reached a climax—some of Louison’s sisters, plus her parents, were living in more luxurious accommodation not far away in rue Sainte Appolline (2nd arrondissement).
| 30, rue du Faubourg Poissonnière|
Inevitably, perhaps, the King’s interest in Louison waned, even though (or because?) she bore him a daughter before her 17th birthday. This daughter, Agathe-Louise, was christened on the day of her birth, June 30, 1754, in the church of Saint Paul, rue Saint-Antoine (4th arrondissement) and promptly taken from her mother to be raised in a convent. Louison herself was kicked out of her lodgings in Versailles in November 1755, awarded a substantial pension and quickly married off to a member of the provincial nobility called Jacques de Beaufranchet, who was killed two years later at the battle of Rosbach.
Louison remarried in 1759 and, when not at her husband’s domain in the Auvergne, travelled to Paris. Camille Pascal suggests that Louis XV was also the father of Louison’s daughter, Marguerite-Victoire, born in January 1768, citing as proof the substantial financial gifts showered on Louison by members of the Versailles court after the child's birth. Whatever the case, by 1780 Louison and her second husband, the count of Flaghac, were sufficiently wealthy to acquire a superb hôtel particulier at 30, rue du Faubourg Poissonnière (10th arrondissement). Two years later, they bought the Château de Migneaux at Villennes-sur-Seine, just north-west of the capital, which Louison (by now a widow again) sold in 1785 to buy another substantial property at Soissy-sur-Seine (since destroyed). Also during the 1780s, Louison abandoned her city address at Faubourg Poissonnière for a fine apartment belonging to relatives situated close by in rue du Sentier (2nd arrondissement).
The French Revolution did not treat Louison kindly. She was the mistress of Antoine Valdec de Lessart, who became finance minister under the revolutionary government. However, his fall from grace and murder at the beginning of the Terror (1792-1794) left Louison without protection. She was imprisoned in Paris, first at Sainte Pélagie prison and then in the English convent on rue de Lourcine (neither places now exist). Yet Louison, the eternal survivor, avoided the guillotine and was released five months after her imprisonment. In the following years, Louison sold her castle at Soissy-sur-Seine and moved into an apartment at 29, rue du Saint Honoré (8th arrondissement), finally dying in December 1814 at the ripe old age of 77 at 34, rue Laffitte (9th arrondissement, building no longer exists).
| Château de Migneaux|
Louison’s funeral mass was held by Saint Roch church (rue Saint Honoré, 1st arrondissement). Traditionally considered the ‘artists’ church’, by the time of Louison’s death Saint Roch had hosted a commemorative service for at least one other scion of an Irish émigré. Jean-Baptiste MacNamara (or MacNemara), was a second-generation Irish immigrant who rose through the ranks of the French navy to become vice-admiral just before his death in Rochefort in 1756 at the age of 68.
| Jean-Baptiste McNemara's tomb in Saint Roch|
Le goût du roi—Louis XV et Marie-Louise O’Murphy (2006)