Also known as The Queen's Necklace, the Affair of the Diamond Necklace was a royal controversy in the 18th century that rooted in the scheme initiated by Jeanne De La Motte, accusing Queen Marie Antoinette of France as the key player of defrauding the Parisian jewelers. The affair was believed to have been triggered the French Revolution and the destruction of the French monarchy. It remained one of the most scandalous affairs that happened in the European royal court.
The necklace intrigued historians down the centuries that its story gradually tainted with tales of black magic. But whether the misfortune attached to the necklace was under the spell of a witch's magic or plainly the result of the public mistrust against the French monarchy, history would prove that the leading personalities in the necklace's drama suffered a gruesome fate.
The story of the diamond necklace started in 1770 when King Louis XV of France commissioned Parisian jewelers, Boehmer and Bassenge, to create a splendid necklace, that has no match in the world, for his mistress Madame du Barry. The jewelers began collecting precious diamonds for this project and crafted an intricate design that magnified luxury beyond imagination.
In 1772, before the necklace could be completed, Louis XV died, the precious necklace was not paid and the King's mistress was banished from the court and imprisoned at the instigation of the new Queen consort, Marie Antoinette.
The splendid design of the Diamond Necklace originally commissioned
by King Louis XV of France for his mistress, Madame du Barry.
The intricate design composed of large diamonds elaborately arranged in festoons, pendants and tassels. This necklace was surrounded
with intrigues and scandals that ultimately led
to the destruction of the French monarchy
Desperate to recover their investment, Boehmer and Bassenge tried selling it to the new King, Louis XVI, for his wife, who was known with her extravagance and excesses. The young King initially agreed but when Marie Antoinette knew the amount of the jewelry (1,600,000 lives, almost $100 million in today's currency) she declined and advised the King to spend the money instead on some serious business like buying armaments.
Everything seemed rested in peace and the Parisian jewelers threw their effort in finding buyers across Europe, to no avail. In 1785, the story began to change. Jeanne De La Motte, a distant relative of King Henry II of France, created a scheme that would ultimately open the door of the destruction of the French royals, particularly Queen Marie Antoinette.
De La Motte was a swindler and a schemer who dreamed a life of comfort and wealth. Her expertise in the field of swindling was considered high end that not long after, a French nobleman called Cardinal de Rohan, fell into her trap. This nobleman was a former French ambassador to Vienna and had a fallout with Marie Antoinette. She detested the fact that he furnished her mother, Empress Maria Theresa of Austria, with detailed information of her misconduct in the French royal court.
But De Rohan had an ambition to become one of the King's courtiers so he longed to patch up the difference between him and the Queen. He saw an opportunity of fixing this problem in the person of De la Motte who by then became his mistress. The woman was not the sweet girl he thought to be. Later, she initiated a scandalous fraud that would ultimately trigger the angst of the French populace against Queen Marie Antoinette.
De La Motte convinced De Rohan to pose as a buyer for the jewelry in the name of the Queen and started a correspondence with Boehmer and Bassenge. Marie Antoinette was appeared to have no knowledge with this negotiation. The jewelers were convinced with this scheme and agreed to the installment arrangement until they handed the necklace to De La Motte and De Rohan. The balance of the amount was not paid and the jewelry was transported to London by the De La Mottes, dismantled and sold the diamond by piece.
When the Jewelers did not receive the unpaid balance, they decided to go to the Queen to demand for payment. The Queen and her husband were incensed when they found out the fake negotiation and demanded an investigation. The controversy created an unprecedented intrigue all throughout France.
The increasing public mistrust of the French towards the monarchy that commenced the French revolution rolled into animosity and anger. Although the result of the investigation was favorable to Queen Marie Antoinette (De La Motte was imprisoned, De Rohan was exiled and the Queen was cleared), the rumor that she had been the primary figure of defrauding the Parisian jewelers could not be shaken off.
It triggered a series of events that ultimately led to the imprisonment of the royal family and the culmination of the French revolution. In 1792, King Louis XVI was forced to abdicate and France declared republic. He was tried, found guilty of high treason and condemned to die by guillotine. He was beheaded in January 1793. His wife was beheaded nine months later. Madame du Barry was also beheaded, for a separate offense, on December the same year.
Asking what happened to the primary schemer of the scandal? Jeanne De La Motte escaped from her prison cell in Paris and went to live in London. In 1791, two years before the death of the King and Queen, Jeanne leaped to her death from a hotel window and died from massive physical injuries. Reports had it that her body was severely mangled suggesting that she was killed by royal agents although this allegation was not substantiated.
The black magic story surrounding this necklace began in 19th century when historians presented their views how the primary figures attached to the story of this jewelry suffered a terrible fate. Affair of the Diamond Necklace remained one of the most notorious scandals in European monarchy.
More of this story and some of the most scandalous affairs in the European royal court are included
in my royal book,
in my royal book,
TRAGEDIES IN THE ROYAL COURT.