If we think social media has too much influence on public opinion these days, we might reflect on the unfortunate Marie Antoinette’s experience in the famous “Diamond Necklace” scandal. There might have been lots of things for the common people to hold against Marie Antoinette, but this shouldn’t have been one of them. It was all down to a conwoman known as Jeanne de la Motte.
A necklace commissioned by Louis XV for his mistress at a cost of around $14 million in today’s money was looking for a buyer after Louis’ death. Marie Antoinette wasn’t interested in buying it, but Jeanne de la Motte was offered a commission by the jewellers if she could get it sold. She convinced an out-of-favour courtier, Cardinal de Rohan, to buy it, supposedly on behalf of the Queen. To do this she hired a prostitute who looked like Marie Antoinette to meet with the Cardinal in the palace gardens by moonlight, and faked letters from Marie Antoinette asking him to buy the necklace secretly. He did, on credit, but Jeanne’s husband took the necklace to London and broke it up to sell the diamonds. Meanwhile, de Rohan was expecting thanks and repayment from the Queen. When he didn’t get either the whole thing blew up.
In the subsequent trial of de Rohan, de la Motte and the prostitute Nicole Leguay, public opinion was soundly on the side of the defendants. Cardinal Rohan had been duped because he was too innocent and eager, the prostitute was an innocent girl sucked into a sordid world, even Jeanne was painted as a sympathetic noblewoman down on her luck who had been driven by poverty to make bad choices. Everyone, it seems, was given a pass except the Queen, who somehow came off as a vindictive harpy who had purposely set the whole thing in motion to destroy Rohan…
Jeanne de la Motte was found guilty and there was no finding against the queen. But to the public she was a rotten manipulative shrew, who was all too eager to destroy anyone who stood between her and some shiny things.
The Revolution was only four years away. Who needs Facebook?
The quotes are from Mike Duncan’s podcast Revolutions, which is highly recommended.
Image: By Jebulon – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11383484