Marie Antionette’s Diamond Necklace: The Fraud That Killed A Queen
This is the story of Marie Antoinette, the 18 th century Queen of France, and a diamond necklace that was never actually hers. Although the story seems so outlandish as to be fiction, it is all true, and the scandal of the diamond necklace ultimately became the reason for her execution.
The most shocking fact is that the Queen was unaware of this scam, that was being carried out under her nose. The fraudsters used the name of Marie Antoinette to pin the blame. But in this affair, she was blameless.
The Fuss About the Necklace
The diamond necklace was made by the Parisian jewelers, Bassenge and Boehmer, and consisted of 647 diamonds. There were different carat diamonds with varying sizes and shapes to make the necklace look more appealing.
The necklace was considered to be the most expensive piece of jewelry in all of France. The diamond necklace was commissioned by Louis XV to give as a present to his mistress, Madame du Barry. But, the King died one year after he commissioned the jewelry. The necklace wasn’t completed by then and was not expected any time soon.
The creators were almost bankrupted from gathering the diamonds, assembling them, and completing the jewelry. When it was complete, the creators were then keen to sell off this necklace to recoup their costs. But as the cost was extremely high, the only potential buyer was the Royal Family of France.
Gift to Marie Antoinette
In the year 1778, the makers of this impeccable diamond jewelry approached Louis XVI. They offered the necklace for him to buy for Marie Antoinette. The Queen saw the necklace, tried it, and expressed her interest in it.
However, the sale did not go through, as the asking price was too high even for a King of France. Instead, Marie Antionette felt they should utilize the money to buy some battleships for the empire.
Boehmer and Bassenge then left France, to try and sell this necklace to the wealthy nobles and royal families outside France. But, as the price was so high, these makers had no luck in selling it.
The Clergyman And The Con
Jeanne de la Motte, who was descended from former French royalty through the Valois family, had no nobility in her nature. Bluntly, she was a young wife of a conman. In 1784, she came in contact with Cardinal de Rohan. He was a high-ranking clergyman and was also a diplomat.
Cardinal de Rohan (Unknown Author / Public Domain)
Rohan’s relationship with Queen Marie Antoinette was unpopular at court, which resulted as a barrier to his ambitions in the political world. He was eager to win the favor of Queen, but instead only welcomed his downfall!
Jeanne convinced Rohan that she is an agent for Queen Marie Antoinette. Eager to win the trust of the Queen, he used to write humble letters to Antoinette. He wanted to express devotion and loyalty towards the empire and the Queen. Rohan thought he was receiving replies from Her Majesty, but these were fraudulently written by Jeanne or her husband.
The letter replies were so humble and affectionate that Rohan believed the Queen was in love. Rohan asked Jeanne to make an arrangement for him to secretly meet with Marie. Jeanne responded positively and organized a night-time meeting with a Paris prostitute, who resembled the Queen.
The Diamond Jewlery Scam
Soon, Jeanne de la Motte became a member of high society, by borrowing large sums of money from Rohan. Not just Rohan, but soon, others started to believe that Jeanne was truly an agent to Queen Marie Antoinette. And amongst all those men, the diamond jewelry makers, Bassenge and Boehmer, also believed Jeanne.
In late 1784 the Parisian jewelers reached out to Jeanne and asked her to convince the Queen to buy the necklace. Jeanne and her conman husband couldn’t resist the opportunity and agreed to it. Jeanne then forged some fake papers and convinced Cardinal de Rohan to acquire the necklace on behalf of Queen Marie.
Replica of the necklace and portrait of Marie Antionette (Château de Breteuil / CC BY-SA 3.0)
The price for the diamond necklace was 1.6 million livres (c$12 million in today’s money), and the forged fake papers claimed that the amount would be paid in installments. The necklace was then bought by Rohan, and the jewelers were instructed to hand the necklace to Jeanne and her husband.
But that was the last Rohan or anyone else saw of the necklace. The diamonds and gold were chipped off and sold in London and Paris black markets by Jeanne and her husband.
The Swindle Is Uncovered!
The things came to light when the cardinal failed to make the first payment on the diamond necklace, and was also not able to produce the necklace. The makers of the diamond necklace then met with the Queen to raise a complaint against this fraud. But the Queen professed to be ignorant of the whole affair and had neither heard of nor received the necklace from Rohan.
The culprits were quickly arrested. Rohan, Jeanne, her husband, the forger of papers, other prostitutes, and a few people involved in this scandal were arrested. Jeanne was accused of being the ringleader.
Cardinal de Rohan was acquitted of the crime and was exiled to one of his properties in Southern France. The forger and the prostitute were also acquitted and exiled, and in fact all of the other culprits, except Jeanne, were exiled by the order of the King.
Jeanne was sentenced and imprisoned for life in a prison for prostitutes named Salpetriere. But she escaped the prison by disguising herself as a boy and fled to London. In the year 1789, she proposed yet another scam by releasing her memoirs and blaming Marie Antoinette for the entire fraud.
The Execution of Marie Antoinette
Louis XVI and the Queen were alarmed by this new scheme of Jeanne’s. Therefore, they decided to prosecute her in public to retrieve their honor. But it backfired, and the Queen lost her reputation amidst the empire. People believed that Queen communicated with Jeanne to take revenge on Rohan, who was considered her enemy.
The affair of the necklace hastened Marie Antoinette’s execution (Unknown Author / Public Domain)
In truth Marie Antoinette was not guilty at all! But the incident led to the dissolution of the ancient regime and catalyzed the French Revolution. And this corruption of the regime led to the execution of Queen by guillotine!
Top Image: Marie Antoinette was entirely innocent of the crime. Source: oksana_bondar / Adobe Stock.
By Bipin Dimri
How a Scandal Over a Diamond Necklace Cost Marie Antoinette Her Head. Available at: https://www.history.com/news/marie-antoinette-diamond-necklace-affair-french-revolution
Affair of the Diamond Necklace. Available at: https://www.britannica.com/event/Affair-of-the-Diamond-Necklace
THE AFFAIR OF THE DIAMOND NECKLACE. Available at: https://alphahistory.com/frenchrevolution/affair-of-the-diamond-necklace/