Europe's History

The Affair of the Diamond Necklace

Versailles 1785
The faint smell of flowers drift through the summer night’s air, In the moonlit palace, gardens two lovers meet in secret, A rose changes hands, a fan hides a smile, But one of them is not who she says she is, The other has no idea what he s about to get himself into, And neither of them realize that they’re about to play a part in the coming revolution.
In 1772 King Louis XV, commissioned a diamond necklace for his mistress Madame du Barry, but this wasn’t a normal piece of jewelry, the king wanted the most exquisite diamond necklace the world had ever seen. So, he searched Paris for a jeweler who could create such a necklace, and when he did find a firm it took them years, and vast sums of money just to collect enough diamonds to meet the royal demand. The resulting necklace was truly a marvel, delicate, elaborate, and EXPENSIVE.

Worth two million Libra or 40 million dollars in today’s currency, it was exactly what the king had asked for; there was just one tiny problem. By the time, they finished the necklace Louis the XV was dead of Smallpox, and his heir Louis XVI banished du Barry from court. So, at this point the jewelers hoped that the new queen Marie Antoinette would take it off their hands.

Born in Austria, Marie s family sent her to Paris as a child, to be betrothed to the future French king and she married Louis XVI at the age of fourteen. Suddenly, becoming queen of an unfamiliar nation, Young and barely involved in politics. Marie quickly developed a reputation for spending vast amounts of money on her life in court, her tastes for fine clothes, exquisite parties, gambling, and decorations for her chateau, ran up enormous sums. Meanwhile, the common people were rioting over high bread, and flower prices, and the economy was in a tailspin. Although, France s economic problems began long before she was even born, many blamed the state of the economy directly on Marie’s, very visible lavish spending. So, yelled at in the streets, and buried by pamphlets decrying her spending habits, Marie was not really inclined to impulse buy a multimillion-dollar necklace, Not to mention Marie had known Madam du Barry before she had become queen, And let’s just say the two were not best friends, And wearing a necklace made for your dead Grandfather in Law’s mistress? That sounds bad.

1778 in Louis offered to buy it for her as a gift, But then to she refused to state that the nation had a greater need for naval ships than for necklaces, And then on the birth of Marie’s son, three years later the jewelers offered it yet again, and big surprise she turned it down a third time. Safe to say not too many people in France at the time had two million Libra to drop on neck bling, So the jewelers were in a bind, But while the jewelers might have been stumped someone else had a plan.

A con woman named Jeanne de la Motte, crafted an ingenious ploy that combined court politics, emotional, manipulation, disguises, forgery, and lies. Jeanne, who was passing herself off as an illegitimate child of King Henry II, became the mistress of the Cardinal de Rohan, a member of the wealthy political elite. Rohan was a former ambassador, who had gotten on Marie’s bad side before she had become queen, he d gone gossiping to Marie s mother about her life at court. THEN, turned around, and gossiped about Marie s mother to everyone else, And Marie… now queen was not one to forget an insult, But still looking to land a sweet job at court, ever since, Marie s coronation, Rohan had been desperate to repair his relationship with the queen, And Jeanne saw this as an opportunity. She started hanging out with a minor aristocrat who could get her into court, and then once there she convinced Rohan that she was now BFFs with the queen.

As they became better friends, Jeanne convinced him that she was making efforts on his behalf to repair his relationship with Marie Antoinette, Jeanne then started forging letters FROM the queen and delivered them to Rohan, They were cordial at first, and then a little flirty. Until, finally, Rohan was convinced that Marie was in love with him, and he with her. Next, Jeanne set up a clandestine evening tryst, under the cover of night in the Gardens of Versailles, and hired a sex worker who resembled the queen for the meet up, Rohan offered the imposter queen a rose and the imposter promised they could put the bad blood behind them, In return to this so-called favor to Rohan, Jeanne started asking to borrow significant amounts of money from him. She said she was using it for charity work on behalf of the queen, but in reality she used the cash to make her way into respectable society.

All the while, bragging so openly about her great relationship with the queen. Who, let s not forget” she likely hadn’t even met” that most people just believed that it was true, And THIS is where the necklace comes back into the game, The jewelers who created the diamond necklace were as desperate as ever to get it off their hands, and make their money back. When, they heard that Jeanne was such good friends with Marie, they offered her a commission if she could convince her pal to finally buy the necklace, So Jeanne forged several more letters to Rohan, pretending to be the queen telling him that she wanted to buy this necklace, but “felt awkward about doing so publicly when the times were so tough for the common people. So, would you terribly mind my little cabbage?”

Eger as ever to serve the queen, and prove his chances at that sweet court gig, Rohan met with the jewelers and bought the necklace, agreeing to pay for it in installments. After all, he had letters from the queen instructing him to purchase the necklace on her behalf, Happy to finally get it off their hands, they handed it over and Rohan cleared the first payment. Jeanne then arranged for some guy to pose as the queen s valet to pick up the necklace, and had him bring it straight to Jeanne s house.

And there, she promptly picked it apart, and sold the diamonds on London s Black Market. Rohan started to get suspicious, when he never saw the queen wear the necklace at court. Also, when the next payment came too, and the jewelers didn’t get their money they went straight to the queen herself who naturally didn’t have any idea what they were talking about, and was quite frankly VERY tired of hearing about this HECKIN necklace.

It didn’t take long for Marie to connect the dots, she had the Cardinal very publicly detained, and taken before the court to explain himself. He, then, showed them the letters signed by Marie Antoinette de France. Now, royalty in that time signed letters with their given names only. So, while it was clear that the Cardinal had been tricked, the king was still extremely disappointed, that a Cardinal trained in royal etiquette since birth could’ve missed such an obvious clue that something was up. So, he threw Rohan into the Bastille. Jeanne, and the sex worker that had impersonated Marie, were arrested three days later and underwent a sensational public trial, but although Marie had had absolutely nothing to do with the entire affair, the public sided against her. The Cardinal had been duped they said, and the sex worker was just an innocent girl, who had been tricked into participating, and newspapers even painted Jeanne as a sympathetic noblewoman driven by poverty into making bad desperate choices.

The Cardinal and the sex worker were both acquitted Jeanne was found guilty. And though, she was sentenced to life in prison, she escaped a year later disguised as a boy. Julie Dabney would’ve been so proud. But, the sensationalism of the trial had heavily influenced public opinion. Though, Marie again had had nothing to do with the matter, the French people still believed that the queen had not only used Jeanne as a pawn to destroy her enemy Rohan, but had also orchestrated the plan to get her hands on expensive jewelry she TOTALLY didn’t want. As a result, the queen s public image plummeted even further. While the French Revolution was still another four years away, the affair of the diamond necklace cemented public hatred of Marie Antoinette, and solidified her image as a symbol of the corruption, and extravagance, of a dangerously out of touch Aristocracy, not long for this world.