The Affair of the Necklace

‘Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.’ ~ Sir Walter Scott

I recently watched, on Netflix, of course, The Affair of the Necklace.  The movie came out ten years ago, but I’m rarely current with my viewing, although I did catch the latest and final Harry Potter, in the theater no less.  But back to The Affair of the Necklace, not one of the best movies ever but decent and very well acted.  I enjoyed it.  Hilary Swank did a fabulous job.  The film involves a fascinating event that ultimately helped to topple Marie Antoinette from her throne.

I’ve done a lot of research into the French Revolution for my soon-to-be released historical romance, Into the Lion’s Heartcoming out August 17th!  Set in Georgian England against the backdrop of the explosion across the channel, the story features a French heroine,  an émigré, escaping the revolution.  I’d come across the story of the necklace during my studies, but not really taken in the complex series of events. The movie sparked my interest, a bizarre tale as to seem utter fiction, and much of the film is, starring two women at it’s center, Jeanne of Valois-Saint-Remy and the ill-fated queen.

Affair of the Necklace is a romantic drama based on the controversial true story of Jeanne De La Motte Valois, a countess whose name was stripped from her by the Royal Family during the late 18th Century. The story of her fight to restore her name and proper place in society is filled with mystery, intrigue and desire, with an infamous diamond necklace at the center of it all.”~

From The Affair of the Diamond Necklace: “The “Affair of the Diamond Necklace” was the scandal which raised French hatred of Marie Antoinette to a fever pitch.  As Napoleon once commented, “The Queen’s death must be dated from the Diamond Necklace Trial“.

The trial, and the subsequent Memoirs of its chief feminine player, the Comtesse de la Motte, are also credited by many historians with being the gust of foul wind which finally fanned the long-smouldering fire of popular discontent into the uncontrollable conflagration of the French Revolution.”~

So what, exactly, did Jeanne of Valois-Saint-Remy do?  That depends on whether you accept Jeanne’s version of the events or the historians, but they have quite a lot of information on her.  And she doesn’t look good.

From the above site: “Although she claimed to be descended from royalty, it is now generally agreed that Jeanne de Saint-Remy de Valois, Comtesse de la Motte, came of what might be termed “humble origins” and basically talked, schemed and slept herself almost all the way to the Royal Chambers at Versailles.”

I’ve gathered that whatever her background, Jeanne was an adventuress and a con artist.  Although the movie portrays her in a most sympathetic light.  She would have loved the movie.

From good old Wikipedia: ”

The marriage between Jeanne and her husband Nicholas de la Motte was unsuccessful although they continued to live together. Jeanne took a lover, Rétaux de Villette, a common gigolo and Nicolas’s fellow officer in the gendarmerie. Around 1783, she met Cardinal Prince Louis de Rohan. The thoroughly unscrupulous Jeanne quickly became his mistress and confidante. (*I must pause here to add that the Cardinal wasn’t of much better character.)   As a result of this liaison, Jeanne became aware that the Prince, already one of the richest men of France, wanted nothing more than one more financial favour from Marie Antoinette. Nevertheless, the Queen shunned the Cardinal because he had spread rumours about her when she was dauphine and she was aware of his flawed character…

Jeanne obtained some money from the Cardinal, and a commission for her husband in the Comte d’Artois’s bodyguard. But these were not enough to enable the de la Mottes to live in the princely state that Jeanne aspired to.

At the same time, Jeweler Charles Auguste Boehmer was trying to sell a particularly expensive and luxurious diamond necklace originally designed for Madame du Barry. He had invested a fortune into this piece of jewelry and had to sell it fast to avoid bankruptcy. He soon realized that only the King could possibly buy such an item. But Louis XVI and the Queen refused the necklace.

With the help of her husband and lover, Jeanne concocted a plan to use this situation to their financial advantage. Her lover, Rétaux de Villette, was a master forger and wrote letters from ‘the Queen’ to the “comtesse”. She stated that she wanted the necklace, but was aware of the reluctance of the King to buy it due to the current dismal financial situation of the country. She hoped that the Cardinal could lend her the money, and she would grant him the stipend he wished for. Jeanne de la Motte was named as the Queen’s agent. The Cardinal believed these letters to be authentic and agreed to buy the necklace for the Queen. The Cardinal knew very well that the Queen never met Jeanne in public, but believed that she was her trusted agent due to their secret liaison. A late night rendezvous was arranged, where the Cardinal met ‘the Queen’ (in reality a prostitute who resembled her, called Nicole le Guay d’Oliva) and received forgiveness. The jeweler was contacted and asked to bring the necklace.

The necklace was given to Jeanne de la Motte to pass on to the Queen. Her husband promptly began selling the diamonds in Paris and London. The affair came to light only when the Cardinal was arrested. Jeanne de la Motte, Rétaux de Villette, Nicole d’Oliva and Count Cagliostro (a self-proclaimed holy man who had helped Jeanne persuade the Cardinal to purchase the necklace) were all arrested. “Comte” Nicholas de la Motte stayed in London.

While they were not directly implicated and could have tried the swindlers without publicity, the King and the Queen insisted on a public trial.

Nevertheless, the trial actually had the opposite effect and destroyed the reputation of the French Queen because the public saw her as the guilty party. The Cardinal was found not guilty and acquitted. King Louis XVI promptly had him exiled. Rétaux de Villette was found guilty of forgery and exiled. Nicole d’Oliva was acquitted. Count Cagliostro was exiled. Jeanne de la Motte was found guilty and sentenced to be whipped, branded and imprisoned. The public sympathized with her. She was condemned to prison for life in the Salpêtrière, but soon escaped, disguised as a boy, and made her way to London, where in 1789 she published her memoirs, entitled Memoires Justificatifs de La Comtesse de Valois de La Motte, recalling false sexual encounters with the Queen.

Jeanne died in London after falling from her hotel room window. Some people believed she was killed by royalists, but she was probably trying to hide from debt collectors when she fell. She died on 23 August 1791, two years before Marie Antoinette, who went to the guillotine in 1793. Jeanne is buried in St. Mary’s Churchyard in Lambeth, London.”~

For all the intricacies and intrigue of these amazing events refer to The Affair of the Diamond Necklace, mentioned above, a well researched site.  I just touched on the highlights.

*Image of the real Jeanne de la Motte

About BethTrissel

Married to my high school sweetheart, I live on a farm in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia surrounded by my children, grandbabies, and assorted animals. An avid gardener, my love of herbs and heirloom plants figures into my work. The rich history of Virginia, the Native Americans and the people who journeyed here from far beyond her borders are at the heart of my inspiration. In addition to American settings, I also write historical and time travel romances set in the British Isles. And nonfiction about gardening and country life.
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2 Responses to The Affair of the Necklace

  1. monarisk says:

    Interesting post, Beth. I read about the Affair of the Necklace years ago, but didn’t see the movie. The scandal is what prompted the French revolution, toppled the monarchie and lead to the execution of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette by the guillotine. It was said that Marie-Antoniette’s hair turned white overnight after she was thrown in jail. Her son, the Dauphin, grew up in jail, was pushed to drink since the age of eight by his jailer and died at seventeen. The daughter was released later but never married.

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