Marie Antoinette: How a Diamond Necklace Ruined a Queen

book-cover

Marie Antoinette has been described as a beautiful, witty, wasteful, out of touch, the list can go but in How to Ruin a Queen by Jonathan Beckman, he describes a view of the Queen I never saw her as, clueless. Beckman details and pieces together the history of Marie Antoinette and the Diamond Necklace Affair as though you are part of the jury. He presents the different angles of the story that seem like unrelated events but combined created an unbelievable domino effect that lead to the end of the French monarchy.  There were three key parts that created this incredible story. The first transports you to 18th century France where you learn about a little girl named Jeanne whose father was the illegitimate son of priapic Henri II. Henri II was a king who ruled France from 1547 to 1559.  The family lost their right to reign in 1562 and the France was filled with uncertain times as the War of Religions took over the country.

Thankfully the family did not try and put Jeanne’s father in power, he was lazy and squandered his money. He married a beautiful maid that worked at his family’s home when she became pregnant. This woman was Jeanne’s mother and wanted to live an entitled life. This was not to be the family was broke and Jeanne and her siblings spent their early life begging and being beat by their mother. Jeanne’s father died and not long after Jeanne’s mother left her children, Jeanne age 6, to fend on their own.

Jeanne found a couple with children who took Jeanne and her younger sister in. The family tried to teach Jeanne a trade so she could make a modest living but that did not satisfy the wants of a girl who remembered her father’s tales of being a descendant of a King of France. Jeanne thought marriage would be a good escape except she got pregnant by a man with no fortune and little promise of moving up in his situation. The children died at birth and Jeanne was left with a husband she did not care for or would provide her the lifestyle she wanted. Both her and her spouse spent money quicker than they could make it and were always in debt to someone.

It did not seem that their future held any promise of living with little care of money.

The second part was Cardinal Rohan; he had come from a long line of family members whom had held high offices in the Royal Court. The role of Bishop for the French Court was the job Rohan was striving for. His downfall was he loved the excitement of court and got caught up in the gossip. He was working in the Austrian court when he overstepped his bounds and spoke rudely of Empress Maria Theresa. Her daughter, Marie Antoinette never forgot the slight and embarrassment to her mother. She held a grudge against Rohan from then on. That episode occurred around 1772.

The third part, the makers of the necklace. Louis the XV, Louis the XIV’s (the Sun King) son, wanted to have a special gift made for his long-time mistress Madame du Barry. Louis XV wanted Boehmer and Bassenge, a Parisian jewelry company to create a necklace so grand the likes had never been seen before. They took to the task of collecting the diamonds for a necklace named ‘The Necklace of Slavery’.

Sketch of Diamond Necklace
Sketch of Diamond Necklace

 

It had 647 stones and weighed 2800 carats. The streamers to the side went down the wears back to balance them out, so they would not fall forward! The cost today for this necklace would be around $14 million dollars. Unfortunately, Louis XV died two years later and Madame du Barry was banished from court. Louis XVI offered to buy the necklace for his wife and Queen Marie Antoinette but she refused it. From other sources the reasons were the money should go to other parts of the government/country. Another was she did not want jewelry made for another woman and a woman the current Queen did not like. So the jewelers were stuck with a necklace and no buyers.

Replica of Diamond Necklace
Replica of Diamond Necklace

This is where the stories intertwine, Jeanne wants money and feels entitled to have her share of prestige that was denied her due to her past. She lies about knowing the Queen. Rohan is desperate to get back into the Queen’s favor for his promotion that the possibility that this woman could help was an opportunity that he could not walk away from. The jewelers heard of Jeanne’s connection and got an opportunity to see if she could convince the Queen to rethink buying the necklace.

Jeanne gets her hands on the necklace and she and her husband try to pawn off a few stones at a time. They are not too successful and time is running out to keep fooling the jewelers that the Queen owns the necklace and will pay for it soon. When the news reaches the Queen about the necklace and its payment the King has Jeanne and Rohan arrested and a trial take place about all the secrets. One interesting idea that was mentioned was that the Queen would never have wanted that necklace, not because of the previously mentioned reasons but because it wasn’t her style. She was mentioned to like leaving her graceful neck free of adornment.

I looked up some photos to see about her taste in jewelry.

marie-antoinette-portraits

Other evidence is put out there but that was something I had not thought could be a major insight into Marie’s style.  What do you think a good point or not?

I won’t go on with how it ends for the major players but obviously, it tarnished Antoinette’s already fragile reputation. The trail started in August of 1785 and judgement was passed in May of 1786. For those that know important dates in 1791 the French Revolution, ended the monarchies major influence and in 1792 the family was arrested with Marie Antoinette being beheaded on October 16, 1793.

Today though is Marie Antoinette’s birthday, born November 2, 1755. The book had a statement that seemed fitting when looking at the lives of those involved in this scandal, either knowingly or unknowingly. You are never more unwittingly in peril than when you think you’re the author of your own fate, but are in fact a character in someone else’s plot. Something to think about in our own lives.

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painting of Marie Antoinette

I’d love to know your thought on this piece of history! Have you read the book or seen any of the movies that mentioned the necklace? Hilary Swank starred in a movie based on the scandal, The Affair of the Necklace (2001), did you see it? I hope you enjoyed this post return soon for more Data in the Rough!