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A NECKLACE WITH LEGS   PART 1

“IF ‘SOMETHING HAS LEGS,’ ” says VOA Learning English, “it means people have interest in it.” 

Here, in Parts 1 and 2 today and tomorrow, I offer an example of a diamond necklace with legs. It’s commissioned by Louis XV of France for his mistress Madame du Barry in 1772. It causes a major scandal, with a tart impersonating Queen Marie Antoinette, a phony correspondence between the Queen and a Cardinal of the Church, a con woman getting branded with a “V,” and the French Revolution. And, some two centuries later, an Orson Wells flick and a John Corigliano opera.

Now that’s legs.

The Original Commission. According to Wikipedia, Louis XV commissioned Parisian jewelers Charles Auguste Boehmer and Paul Bassagne to “create a diamond necklace that would surpass all others in grandeur.”

A zircon reconstruction of the original. Image from the Château de Breteuil.

Thomas Carlyle described the jewelry in The Diamond Necklace, 1890, as “a row of seventeen diamonds, as large almost as filberts… a three-wreathed festoon, and pendants enough (simple pear shaped, multiple star-shaped, or clustering amorphous) encircle it… around a very Queen of Diamonds.”

As Wikipedia notes, “It would take the jewelers several years and a great deal of money [perhaps 2,000,000 livres, about $15.1 million] to amass an appropriate set of diamonds. In the meantime, Louis XV died of smallpox and his grandson and successor banished Madame du Barry from the court.”

Marie Antoinette, a Hot Prospect? In 1778, the jewelers tried to fob the necklace off to Louis XVI as a present for his wife Marie Antoinette. 

Marie Antonia Josepha Johannna, 1755–1793, youngest daughter of Empress Maria Theresa and Emperor Francis I of Austria, last queen of France before the French Revolution.

The fob was unsuccessful, some said, because Marie Antoinette wanted no Du Barry leftovers (who by then was flitting in and out of the Abbey du Pont-aux-Dames convent).

Enter Jeanne de Valois-Saint-Rémy aka Jeanne de la Motte. Jeanne, as we’ll call her for short, was not without pedigree: She was a descendant of an out-of-wedlock son of Henry II of France. Jeanne was also a trickster of the highest order, with a plan to transform the necklace into personal wealth and more. 

Jeanne de Valois-Saint-Rémy, 1756–1791, self-professed Comtesse de la Motte, notorious French adventuress and thief.

In 1785, Jeanne became the mistress of Louis René Édouard de Rohan, aka Cardinal de Rohan, aka Édouard for short. At the time, he had need of mending bridges with Marie Antoinette on other matters entirely.

Louis René Édouard de Rohan, Cardinal de Rohan, Prince de Rohan-Guéméné, 1734–1803, French bishop of Strasbourg, cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church, Grand Almoner of France, duped after fallen in with the likes of Jeanne Saint-Rémy.

Jeanne convinced Édouard that she could help. And, sure enough, a faux correspondence between him and the Queen ensued. What’s more, Jeanne set up a night-time interview for Édouard with Marie Antoinette in the gardens of Versailles.

Well, sort of. The woman was actually Nicole Le Guay d’Oliva, a prostitute who excelled in her profession through resemblance with Marie Antoinette.

Quite a scam on Nicole’s behalf, eh? 

Tomorrow in Part 2, we’ll continue with the tale of this lame-canard necklace. ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2021

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