Affair of the Diamond Necklace
Diamond Necklace, Affair of the
DIAMOND NECKLACE, AFFAIR OF THE
DIAMOND NECKLACE, AFFAIR OF THE. Though ostensibly unconnected to serious politics, the Affair of the Diamond Necklace damaged the French monarchy's standing in public opinion and thus constituted an important step toward the Revolution of 1789. The case centered on a series of deceptions. In 1785 a young woman living at Versailles persuaded Louis de Rohan, a leading courtier and churchman, that Queen Marie Antoinette (1755–1793) wished him to purchase on her behalf a famous and fabulously expensive necklace. He would have to make the purchase secretly since King Louis XVI (ruled 1774–1792) had previously indicated his disapproval. Forged letters and a brief appearance by a prostitute disguised as the queen had already softened Rohan for a request of this kind; he acquired the jewels and handed them to the plotters, who promptly sold them abroad. When the deception became known, he proclaimed himself an innocent dupe, but the outraged king and queen insisted that he be tried for fraud. Despite their efforts, in 1786 France's highest court, the Parlement of Paris, voted narrowly for Rohan's acquittal, a public rebuke to the monarch.
Historians have emphasized the widespread public discussion the case generated and the impact that such discussions had on eighteenth-century politics. Contemporaries from all levels of society eagerly bought pamphlets and lawyers' memoranda retelling the story; and many of these defended Rohan and the plotters by suggesting Marie Antoinette's involvement with all of them. These pamphlets attracted readers, it appears, because they expressed widespread fears about royal despotism and about women's influence over the monarchy. The affair made the queen seem greedy and possibly promiscuous, the king weak yet vengeful. From 1785, such images would increasingly dominate public discussion of the monarchy.
See also Louis XVI (France) ; Marie Antoinette .
Kaiser, Thomas. "Who's Afraid of Marie Antoinette? Diplomacy, Austrophobia and the Queen," French History 14, no. 3 (Sept. 2000): 241–271.
Maza, Sara. Private Lives and Public Affairs: The Causes Célèbres of Prerevolutionary. France. Berkeley, 1993.
Mossiker, Frances. The Queen's Necklace. New York, 1961.