Jeanne de Valois-Saint-Rémy
The 1785 Affair of the Diamond Necklace is one of the most deliciously audacious scams in history, with the monumental conclusion that it collapsed the French monarchy and brought the guillotine down on the head of Marie Antoinette.
The story begins with a desperate French Cardinal Louis René Édouard de Rohan, a handsome but rather irresponsible head of the French Church, who had, through various social and political mishaps, smudged his card with the French monarchy. It was customary in those days for senior church figures to take up high political office, but Rohan’s poor relations with the French Crown seemed likely to frustrate this.
Then, in 1785, Rohan acquired as his mistress Jeanne de Valois-Saint-Rémy, a member of the illegitimate branch of the royal Valois family, better known simply as Jeanne de la Motte. The pillow talk between these two presumably touched on Rohan’s frustrated ambitions, and the resourceful Jeanne devised a scheme. She claimed to be a close friend and confidante of Marie Antoinette, and promised Rohan that she would intervene on his behalf. What followed then was a long correspondence ostensibly between Rohan and the Queen. Marie Antoinette forgave Rohan his transgressions, promised his rehabilitation in court and even hinted the possibility of a love affair.
The letters, of course, where the creation of Jeanne de la Motte and her husband, but Rohan was completely taken in. When he insisted on a meeting with the Queen, Jeanne secreted him into the gardens of the Versailles, and paired him up with a prostitute who looked somewhat like Marie Antoinette.
The payoff, however, was more subtle. King Louis XV of France, wishing to impress his mistress, ordered the royal jewellers, Boehmer and Bassenge, to create a diamond necklace of astronomical worth, which he died before he could take delivery of. Stuck with this white elephant of a piece, which only royalty could afford, the jewelers offered to Marie Antoinette, but she, perhaps aware of the tenor of the times, thought better of it.
Enter once again Jeanne de la Motte. If Rohan believed she was a close friend of the Queen, the jewellers were anxious to believe the same. They approached her to use her undeniable influence to persuade the Queen to buy the necklace before they were bankrupted. Jeanne immediately approached the love-struck Rohan, who, after his encounter with a prostitute in the gardens of Versailles, believed the Queen was in love with him. With majestic skill, he was manipulated into buying the piece on the Queens behalf, which he did, handing it then to Jeanne to deliver, and needless to say it was never seen again.
Marie Antoinette, wholly innocent of any crime, was deeply discredited, adding to the momentum of revolution, while Rohan and Jeanne were arrested and tried. Rohan escaped, thanks to his office, although much lighter in purse. Jeanne was sentenced to life imprisonment with flogging and branding. What happened to the necklace, of course, will never be known.