Marie Antoinette
Home Up

Rhône River 2014 Home Passengers The River Cruise Experience Story Watching the World Go By

Versailles Part Two: Marie Antoinette


Story written by Rick Archer
May 2014

Rick Archer's Note:  Welcome!  I assume you have read Part One which covered the story of my visit to Versailles with Marla.

Part Two is the incredible story of Marie Antoinette.  Let me alert you right now that you will absolutely drop your jaw at the story of Antoinette and the Necklace Affair.  It is one of most interesting stories I have ever run across. 

Before we get to the Necklace Affair, I will take you through some of the historic events that led up to the French Revolution and the tragic executions of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.  However, if you can't wait, click Necklace Affair and go straight to the story.


The Seven Years War - The French and Indian War

Not many Americans realize the American Revolution essentially laid the groundwork for the French Revolution.  Our Independence would cost King Louis XVI his head... which is pretty sad considering the same man won the war for us.

Many historians point to the Seven Years War as the beginning of the long march to the French Rebellion.  Considering Louis XVI was all of 2 years old when the war started, it is safe to assume he was not responsible for this particular war. Instead, responsibility for the Seven Years War can be laid at the footsteps of Louis XV, the do-nothing king.

The Seven Years War actually began in North America. 

Once the greatest power in Europe, Spain never regained its glory following the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588. Having superseded Spain, France and Britain were now engaged in an intense global rivalry. 

The main battle ground was North America.  France and Britain went toe to toe as the leading colonial powers in North America. Hoping to establish supremacy, both countries were engaged in hostilities throughout North America. 

By the mid-1700s, French colonies in Louisiana, Illinois, and Canada had largely surrounded the British colonies concentrated along the Atlantic coast. All the French needed to totally stop the Colonies from further expansion was to gain control of the Ohio Country near the Great Lakes plus a heavily-disputed "no man's land" stretching north from the Gulf to Ohio. 

The fighting took place in Quebec, Montreal, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York and the Great Lakes.  While Great Britain had the support of the American colonies, France had built a complex system of alliances with the area's Native American tribes.  The Indians had every reason to join the fight due to the rage they felt at being displaced from their homelands at every turn.

Since the British American colonists fought on the side of the British and because the French and the Indians were on the other side, the American version of this struggle is called the French and Indian War.  However, to the French, the North American battle was a part of their Seven Years War

The war began after a dispute near today's Pittsburgh area of Pennsylvania.  The dispute erupted into violence in May 1754, during which Virginia militiamen under the command of 22-year-old George Washington ambushed a French patrol.

This skirmish would soon turn into a battle of nations.

France had the upper hand at first.  The disastrous British campaigns of 1757 included a failed expedition against Louisbourg (Nova Scotia) and a French victory at the Siege of Fort William Henry (central New York state). 

Then something terrible happened. After the British surrender at Fort William Henry, they yielded their arms to the French.

At some point Louis Montcalm, the French commander, lost control of the Indians.  To the horror of the French onlookers, the Indians proceeded to torture and massacre countless helpless British victims.  This massacre included the savage practice of scalping.  The death toll has been estimated at between 200 and 1500 men (and women and children). 

The events of this massacre were detailed in James Fenimore Cooper's classic Last of the Mohicans.  It was a brutal slaughter to be sure.  The French had been worried about their limited control over the Indians due to the language barriers. However, the French never anticipated a disaster of this magnitude.  The French intervened where they could, but much of the killing was done because the French were outnumbered.

The British government in New York collapsed after the loss of Fort William Henry, but the war was not over.  Not by a long shot.  Indeed, this marked the turning point in the war.  The outraged Prime Minister William Pitt used the slaughter to persuade the British Parliament back in England to increase British military resources in the colonies.  It was time to "teach the French a lesson in how civilized countries conduct warfare".

William Pitt also had a trick up his sleeve.

His move to increase the effort in North America came at the exact same time when France was unwilling to risk the necessary aid to the limited forces it had in New France, aka Canada.  In other words, Britain's efforts were expanding as France's efforts decreased.  Any why was that?

William Pitt had succeeded in persuading Prussia (Germany) to enter the war against France.

France was suddenly forced to fight a battle on two fronts at once.  France had no choice but concentrate its best forces against dangerous Prussia in the European theater of the war.  Although France was able to at least neutralize Prussia, they were badly outnumbered and decimated in North America.

Between 1758 and 1760, the British military successfully penetrated the heartland of New France and took control of Montreal in September 1760.  The war would be over soon.

It had been a brutal fight, but in the long run France never really had a chance.  Once Britain got Prussia into the war, France could not afford to match the overwhelming British presence in North America.

In retrospect, it doesn't seem like a fair fight.  Great Britain had the complete loyalty of the American colonies.  Everyone spoke the same language and fought a common enemy.

France had far fewer troops plus allies that they could not trust, control or even speak to most of the time.  In other words, France never had much of a chance.  So why were they fighting?

Britain now held the supreme position as the dominant colonial power in North America.

What a colossal defeat.  France had lost all of its possessions in North America to the British.  Even more important, for its troubles, France finished the war with very heavy debts, which they struggled to repay for the remainder of the 18th century. 

The blame for this ill-considered blunder was placed directly at the feet of King Louis XV, but he didn't take the blame.  Instead he blamed his ministers.  Why did no one foresee the entrance of Prussia into the war?  One would assume someone would have had the sense to anticipate the move by predatory Prussia.

Louis XV may have had a point.  Or for that matter, why didn't anyone realize that counting on the Indians to win the battle against the unified British and colonists wasn't the brightest idea either.

Considering the North American fight nearly bankrupted the nation, it was an incredibly stupid move for France to be involved in a widespread battle in the first place.  France never had the resources in the New World to have a fighting chance.

The King was a weak personality who was easily manipulated by his advisors and confidants.  Believe it or not, Louis relied on his mistress, Madame Pompadour, to make many of his military decisions.  No doubt that women are just as shrewd and cunning as men.  However one can ask the extent of Mme Pompadour's military training prior to offering her thoughts.

Considering the enormous influence she exercised over appointments and matters of grand strategy, one can wonder if the proverbial Battle of the Sexes was sufficient training to plan military strategy in the Battle of the Nations. 

On the other hand, considering the frequency with which Louis XV changed ministers, Mme Pompadour may have been the best advisor he had. 

Other advisors rose and fell with rapid succession.  This revolving door continued the lack of the stability which had also plagued the monarchy of Louis XIV.  The serious leadership vacuum cost France the war.

Oh well, c'est la vie.  France pretended to attach little value to its North American losses. Philosopher Voltaire wrote that Louis XV had lost "a few acres of snow" (Canada).  So what?

Secretly however, France was not in a philosophical mood.  King Louis XV absolutely seethed over the military defeat to its worst enemy and the financial burden of the war. 

Naturally the French were extremely bitter towards Great Britain. And if it is one thing the French are good at, it is holding a grudge against its military enemies.  Ask Germany.

In the French and Indian War, France lost all of its holdings in North America.  Take a look - the area once controlled by France was equivalent to at least three Frances... and they lost it all.

Napoleon briefly regained Louisiana from Spain, but then he turned around and sold it to Thomas Jefferson (Louisiana Purchase 1803).

It was Napoleon's idea to sell; he needed money to pursue his conquests in Europe.  Plus Napoleon doubted he had the manpower to hang onto it for long.  Why not sell it while he could??

The Last of the Mohicans

Notice the unarmed men in the background.  Here a French officer tries to restrain the Indians from attacking unarmed British soldiers

Celebrating the French victory at Carillon, 1758.  This would be one of the last victories for the French to celebrate.

Once Prussia attacked France in the Seven Years War, this forced France to lose its focus in its North American French-Indian Battle and defend its European interests instead.


The Great French Tragedy

When Louis XVI came to the throne in 1774, he was only 19 years old.  France was just beginning to recover financially from the Seven Years War that had ended 11 years earlier.

To be honest, no one had ever expected young Louis to be in this position.  As a potential King, Louis XVI had been a total afterthought.  He only became King due to the tragic death of his father Louis (confusing, isn't it?)

Let's clear this up. Louis XIV was father of Louis XV.  Louis XV was father of Dauphin LouisDauphin Louis, the father of Louis XVI, had once been the direct heir to the throne. 

Dauphin is the title for the eldest son of a king, i.e. "the king in waiting"). Dauphin Louis had been groomed from birth to take the place of his father, King Louis XV.

A handsome, strapping man, Dauphin Louis was in many ways the exact opposite of his womanizing father.  A devout man with a keen sense of morality, Louis was very much committed to his wife, Marie-Josèphe, as she was to him.

It was now 1765.  At age 36, Louis had five children of his own.  He was extremely popular in France.  The entire country eagerly awaited the rise of this handsome, clean-cut Prince to the throne.  Then suddenly Dauphin Louis fell sick. He had smallpox, the scourge of Europe in that day.  Louis died quickly.

France was in shock.  The pain from the loss was nearly unbearable.  To see a man who was so vibrant and held so much promise simply die without warning made no sense.  The cruelty of the loss left the country in despair.  His parents were heart-broken. The Queen mother turned to the church for solace while his father the King took solace in the arms of his mistress.

Meanwhile Louis XVI had it even worse than that.  He was 11 years old when his father died.  To this point, he had received little of the rigorous training that his father had received.  No one ever expected his vigorous father to be taken so suddenly, so the boy had not been groomed at all for the responsibility.

In fact, no one in the French court had ever paid much attention to Louis XVI.  Louis had always been a shy, reclusive boy.  This temperament would not change much over the years.  There was nothing wrong with him. He was bright and he was healthy. His only problem is that he had never received much tutelage. 

Boys were supposed to grow up fast in those days.  Just five years after his father's death, Louis XVI was married to Marie Antoinette.  He was 16.  Four years later he ascended to the throne in 1774.  At age 19, Louis was completely overwhelmed by his responsibilities.

Costigan, our guide, pointed out that the neglect of the Kingdom during the 60 year reign of Louis XV had forced his unprepared grandson to face an entire series of huge problems.

Costigan explained that Louis XVI was not a bad man at all.  In fact he was a huge improvement on the previous two kings.  At least he cared about his job.  His problem was that he just wasn't very good at it. 

Louis was bright enough to be a ruler, but as a teenager taking the throne, he lacked confidence.  That makes sense. How many teenagers can remember to brush their teeth much less know the right path to take on complex issues?

So, at the start, rather than take the reins himself, the son allowed far too many affairs to be handled by his ministers.  Not surprisingly, these were men who didn't always pursue the best interests of the state but rather what was in their own best interests instead.

The great tragedy of France - the handsome prince dies young.
Had this talented man lived to become King, France might still be a monarchy today.

King Louis XVI at the age of 20 


Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette

King Louis XVI (1754-1793), House of Bourbon

Marie Antoinette (1755-1783), House of Habsburg


The Embarrassment of Louis XVI

Costigan told us an anecdote that quietly spoke volumes over just how ill-prepared for life this young man really was.

Costigan had us laughing in stitches over the sexual problems between Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette.  However, now that I know more about his life, I feel guilty for laughing. 

Marie Antoinette was the daughter of Queen Maria Theresa of Austria, the so-called Godmother of Europe.  Queen Maria Theresa had 16 children!  And she married every single one of them into pairings that were politically advantageous to Austria.

Marie Antoinette was a perfect example.  Antoinette was only 10 years old when her mother arranged for her to wed Louis Auguste of France.  This was a carefully orchestrated union that would join the Austrian Hapsburgs and the French Bourbons.

Five years later, the couple wed in May 1770.  The ceremony and ensuing celebration had all the trappings of a lavish royal fête.

At Versailles, custom permitted the king's courtiers to accompany the newlyweds to their bedroom, where they reposed on display. The gaze of the attendants did little to stoke the fires of passion of the newlyweds. Apparently nothing happened.

Things didn't get any better.  Both of them were so young (16, 15) plus neither of them had any previous experience. 

It doesn't appear Louis had much of a sex drive either.  As months turned into years, Louis showed little interest in sex. 

Marie Antoinette was frustrated.  Antoinette would go hide on the toilet for privacy and write letters to her mother asking for advice.  She told her mother she was willing and able to receive her husband sexually, but the man wouldn't pursue her.

Antoinette lived in a state of anxiety that her husband would never warm up to her and that she'd be sent home to Austria as an utter failure.  She would be a laughingstock, the woman who could not inflame her King to passion.

The domineering Queen of Austria reminded her daughter of this danger at every possible juncture in their correspondence.  She wrote to Marie Antoinette to "lavish more caresses" on Louis.

What's more, it was painfully clear to all of France that something was wrong with the couple.  The stakes were high. France was waiting for Marie Antoinette to produce an heir to the throne.  It didn't help matters that the French press had a field day speculating what might be the problem.

The prevailing thought was that Louis was impotent.  News of Louis' impotence spread from the court of Versailles to the streets of Paris, where pamphlets mocking his powerlessness were distributed. The propaganda planted the notion that if Louis couldn't perform in the bedroom, he certainly couldn't perform on the throne.

This public disrespect of the King was a dark omen because it emboldened the press to go much further in later years.  The lack of respect for the Royal couple allowed deliberate lies to spread among the people unchecked.  The best example, of course, was the infamous "Let them eat cake", a phrase incorrectly attributed to Antoinette.  However, the public didn't know that.  They believed the lies which led to the executions.

Meanwhile, King Louis XV, grandfather to Louis, watched in abject horror.  There was a four-year window between the 1770 royal wedding and the 1774 death of Louis XV.  During this time, Louis XV, the sexual lion who had probably had sex with every woman in France at some point during his 60 year reign, could not believe the inadequacy of his grandson.

Here he was, Louis XV, the man with his rapacious sexual appetite and his insatiable mistress, Madame du Barry, and this pathetic King XVI.  How was it possible that a grandson of his could fail to execute a mission that came so effortlessly to him (and he had 40 children to prove it)? 

Believe it or not, the problems of the Royal Bed reached the level of an international crisis.  A 2002 article in the Guardian had this to say about Louis and Marie:

Concern at the failure to consummate a marriage, essential for a military alliance between the Bourbons and Hapsburgs, was a matter of recorded clinical analysis from the first weeks.

By 1772, Louis XV, notorious for his love life and generous genitalia, tackled his grandson, a virgin at marriage, about his barren union.  Louis, then 18, told him that he had tried several times to deflower his wife 'but was always stopped by painful sensations'.

A year later, Louis achieved what was called a 'demi-succès', telling his grandfather that Marie-Antoinette was now 'my wife' after a rare night in the same bed. But she was still considered a virgin in 1777 when Austria's Joseph II, the queen's older brother, came to France to question the couple about their failure to produce an heir.

The Austrian ruler then wrote to his brother Leopold to say that the French king, who succeeded to the throne in 1774, 'had well-conditioned, strong erections and introduced his member, stayed there for two minutes without moving, withdrew without ejaculation, and then, still erect, wished [his wife] good evening. He should be whipped like a donkey to make him discharge in anger'.

The Guardian article reviewed the list of theories for the continued failures.  The first theory was that Louis was impotent.  The next theory was that Louis was gay.  The next theory said that Louis had a condition known as 'phimosis' which made it painful to have an erection.  Rumor has it that Louis refused to undergo the painful surgery necessary to correct the problem (there was no anesthetic in those days).

The Guardian article said the newest theory was that Louis was simply "too large" and Antoinette was "too small" to receive him.

Another fascinating Guardian tidbit was the possibility that Louis was too inexperienced to understand that sex required more than simply inserting the penis into the right place. 

Doesn't it seem preposterous that 250 years later people still investigate the sexual problems of the mismatched couple?

The one thing that everyone seems to agree on is that it was the intervention of Marie's brother Joseph that turned the tide.

Whatever the problem, the solution came when Austrian Queen Maria Theresa lost all patience.  She sent her son Joseph to assess the damage.  Mind you, Joseph probably had better things to do than intervene in his sister's love life.  He was, after all, the Holy Roman Emperor at the time.  However, no one said 'no' to his powerful mother, so off to France he went.

Joseph took Louis, poor plump awkward Louis, into the garden and asked the young man what the hell was wrong.  At the end of the conversation, Joseph gave Louis some advice - "Put your back into it, kid".  In other words, push harder, stay longer.

He called them "two complete blunderers" and surmised that nothing else stood in their way of consummation.

Joseph's advice worked wonders.  Louis got the message.  Even if it hurt him or hurt her, screams, pain and all, he had to stay the course till something happened.  It was his duty! 

Sure enough, not long after Joseph's visit, Marie Antoinette was indeed pregnant.  It had taken them 7 long years to have their first child, but they would go on to have four children.

Fascinating stuff.

Marie Antoinette and Louis Auguste were without a doubt the most star-crossed royal couple since Antony and Cleopatra

We have heard about the French Kings and their mistresses.  Not this King.  There is no record of him having a mistress.  In time, he grew very fond of Antoinette.  There was little passion, but the two definitely came to care about one another.

On their wedding night, Louis and Marie were forced to get into bed together with attendants posted to watch to make sure they consummated their marriage.  No details have emerged, but it seems likely Louis failed in his task... as would most men.

Once Louis and Marie figured out how sex worked, they had four children. Costigan said this picture had an interesting story.

It was painted when Marie Antoinette was pregnant with her fourth child.  However the child died in birth, so they simply painted over the baby in the crib. 

That explains why there is a boy pointing at an empty crib.

Marie Antoinette may have had her faults.  However, she was said to be a loving mother.

At her trial, in an attempt to accuse her of something evil enough to justify the cruelty of murdering her, the Court accused Antoinette of molesting her son and committing incest.

Marie Antoinette, to whom motherhood had been sacred, addressed the crowd: “I appeal to all mothers present – is it true?"

Apparently the power of her stare and the conviction in her voice was so powerful that even her enemies backed down in shame.


The Downfall of Louis XVI

So what about Louis XVI?  We know he became the chief sacrificial victim of the French Revolution, but did he deserve his fate?  What was the extent of his responsibility?

Wikipedia gives the facts, but keeps things pretty dry.  Sometimes I have to poke around a little.

I ran across a web site that listed some of the small things that Louis XVI did.

  He was a good father to his children.

  He was the first one to establish a fire station in Paris.

  He ordered the establishment of well equipped nurseries in prisons.

  He fund-raised for Valentin Hauy, the first blind school where Louis Braille would develop a system of reading for the blind.

  He opened the first children's hospital known today as Hopital des enfants malades (Hospital for child sickness).

  He financed the experiments of the brothers Montgolfier which led to the first air balloon.

  He first implemented the idea of giving retired people money for their service.

  He financed L'Hotel Dieu in order that each patient should have their own bed.

  He first had the idea of giving people an indemnity in case that they were found innocent of a crime.

  He ordered a military hospital to treat "the enemy's wounded as if they were "les prope sujets du roi" (proper subjects of the King).  This enlightened attitude was 90 years before the first Geneva Convention.

Simple gestures, yes, but telling nonetheless.  This is not the typical behavior of an evil monarch.  Trust me, no one would have ever said these nice things about Peter the Great.

Oddly enough, America would inadvertently play a huge role in the downfall of King Louis XVI.  Thanks to America, one of the most significant moves of his 15-year reign would backfire terribly on Louis.  Strangely enough, it was his sympathetic nature that did him in.

The infamous Boston Tea Party took place shortly before Louis XVI took the throne at age 19 in 1774.  The Boston rebellion - no taxation without representation!! - would of course lead to the 1776 Declaration of Independence.

We already know the Seven Years War had left France nearly bankrupt.  However, there was one other highly significant consequence to the war.  It happened that Britain had suffered financially due to the war almost as much as France.

The Seven Years War had practically doubled Britain's national debt. The British Crown, seeking sources of revenue to pay off the debt, imposed new taxes on its colonies.  Their attitude was that Britain had gotten rid of the Indians and the French for the colonists, so why not help them pay the bills? 

When put that way, the American position doesn't seem quite so righteous any more.  In addition, if anyone had any idea how little the hated tea taxes actually amounted to, they would break out laughing.  The colonists were without question the least-taxed people in the entire Western world.  It was the heavy-handed way the British Government approached the tax issue that had incensed the firebrands in Boston and New York.

In the end, it was not the burden of higher taxes that motivated the political opposition to the Tea Act, it was the principle of self-governance.  No one likes to pushed around.

More and more the taxation attempts were met with stiff resistance in the Colonies.  Fed up with the spoiled brat antics of the Colonies, British troops were called into Boston so that representatives of the Crown could safely perform their duties.  Next came Paul Revere's Ride, Concord, Bunker Hill, and so on.

So there you have it.  The French-Indian War had forced Great Britain to overplay its hand in the Colonies with heavy-handed taxation.  Now the American Revolution had begun and things weren't going very well for the upstart Colonists.

In 1776, just two years after Louis XVI was crowned, a goofy-looking, white-haired foreigner with not a clue how to dress properly was seen hanging around the French court.

His name was Benjamin Franklin. Franklin had come to Versailles seeking help against the British in the Revolution.

Louis XVI and his advisors knew why Franklin was there, but considered the American Revolution a lost cause.  So Louis XVI refused to even see Franklin.  Nevertheless, Franklin hung around.  And why not?  The accomplished Franklin was feted throughout scientific and literary circles and he quickly became a fixture in high society. 

Furthermore, although Franklin was now in his 70s, his fame, wit and charm made him a huge favorite with the ladies at French court.  Rumor has it that Franklin greatly enjoyed the attention.

The King kept Franklin at arm's length for over a year, but the remarkable October 1777 victory at Saratoga softened the King's cold shoulder.  This was the first signal that backing America in their revolution might not be a waste of money after all.

Still smarting from their embarrassing loss to Britain in the Seven Years War (known as the French-Indian War to the Americans), the French definitely held a grudge.  That damn war had left France unbelievably bitter towards Great Britain.

Therefore the thought of backing the colonists against England was very appealing indeed.  England had said it would teach French how to fight civilized warfare, well, remembering Prussia, France would show the English what it felt like to fight two opponents at once. 

Now we see the silver-tongued devil himself, Benjamin Franklin, working his persuasive magic on the 22 year old French king. 

Franklin says, "Louis, France has a chance to teach those damn British a lesson they will never forget!  Great Britain has stolen Canada from France.  Now, Louis, here at last is your chance at revenge.  Let history remember you as the King who made sure that Great Britain lost the Colonies."

At this point, Louis XVI began to nod.  Yes, indeed, let's teach England a lesson.  From this point forward, he would support the Colonies with money, arms, expertise, and even French soldiers and French Navy.

And why would he do this?  His French advisors liked what Franklin was saying.  The enemy of our enemy is our friend!  They were keen on any plot that might weaken and humiliate England, the bitter enemy of France.  And perhaps France could regain Canada in the process, right??  Yes, mais oui, maybe so! 

Few Americans have any idea just how instrumental the French were in the eventual victory. All historians agree that France's decision to help America was the turning point in the war. 

Money, arms, Marquis de Lafayette and so on made a huge difference.  Indeed, it was the French naval blockade of Chesapeake Bay at Yorktown in 1781 which set the trap that ended the American Revolution.

In late summer 1781 Lord Cornwallis led the main British army of the South onto the Yorktown Peninsula, Virginia.  Now he confidently awaited rescue by the British fleet.  He knew a British fleet of 19 ships under the command of Admiral Thomas Graves was on its way to rescue the troops.

Unbeknownst to the British, the French admiral Comte de Grasse was simultaneously heading north with his entire fleet of 24 ships from the West Indies to Chesapeake Bay at Washington's request.  The French got to Chesapeake Bay first.

On 5 September 1781, the two navies squared off in the Battle of Virginia Capes.  Although the initial fight was a stand-off, Comte de Grasse had an ace up his sleeve.  He knew that French Admiral de Barras was bringing additional French ships and siege cannons down from Rhode Island. 

So de Grasse played cat and mouse in the waters for several days to keep the British occupied. When de Barras arrived, Thomas Graves realized he was outnumbered.  He rushed back to New York for reinforcements.  By then, it was too late. 

Cornwallis had no choice but to surrender before help could come.  The story of the naval battle at Chesapeake Bay is largely unknown in America which is strange because it was pivotal.  British naval historian Sir William James labeled it the “decisive battle of the war” because it sealed the fate of Cornwallis and the British cause in America. The war was over.

And what was France's reward?  Strangely enough, absolutely no spoils of war came to France.  No Canada.  No British-held Caribbean islands.  Other than the satisfaction that came from seeing its arch-rival England humiliated, France got absolutely no land and no money in return for its massive investment.

Few Americans have any idea just how costly the French intervention had been for the French.  France did of course receive a heart-felt 'thank you' on the part of the former colonies.  However, that didn't help the bank account. 

The National treasury of France was now empty and the nation was nearly bankrupt.  Louis XVI was about to learn a bitter lesson - no good deed goes unpunished.

There were suggestions of new taxes in the air that inflamed the already superheated hostility in Paris... but the angriest people were not the peasants, but rather the nobility.

The taxation system was burdensome upon the middle class and the peasants.  Worse, the nobles were largely able to exempt themselves from taxes.  And it wasn't just the nobility that got off scot-free.  The peasants were expected to support the Church as well.

As with the nobility, the Church paid no taxes.  It merely contributed a grant to the state every five years, the amount of which was self-determined. The upper echelons of the clergy had considerable influence over government policy.  Together, the Church and the nobles made sure everyone in France kept paying the bills as long as it wasn't them.

Under Louis XVI, radical financial reforms suggested by his ministers, Turgot and Malesherbes angered the nobles.  These moves were blocked by the parliaments who insisted that the king did not have the legal right to levy new taxes.

So, in 1776, Turgot was dismissed and Malesherbes resigned. They were replaced by Jacques Necker.  Necker, a foreigner, had been appointed Comptroller-General of Finance.

Necker realized that the country's extremely regressive tax system subjected the lower classes to a heavy burden, while numerous exemptions existed for the nobility and clergy. Necker argued that the only solution was to reduce tax exemptions for the nobility and clergy. 

This suggestion was not received well by the King's ministers. They were furious that Necker had made the bold move of proposing new taxes on the wealthy and restricting the power of the parliaments. They strongly suggested Necker be dismissed.

Charles Alexandre de Calonne took Necker's place. Calonne spent liberally for a time, but he soon realized the financial situation was just as critical as Necker said it was.  Now he too proposed a new tax code.

The proposal included a consistent land tax, which would include taxation of the nobility and clergy.

Louis convened the Assembly of Notables in 1787 to discuss the revolutionary new fiscal reform proposed by Calonne. Calonne's idea was remarkably similar to Necker's.  And it was received with remarkably similar opposition from the parliament.

Exasperated by the short-sightedness, Calonne decided to tell everyone once and for all just how desperate the situation was.  When the nobles were told the extent of the debt, they were shocked; however, the shock did not motivate them to rally behind the plan – but to reject it.  Calonne's gamble had failed.

Turgot, Malesherbes, Necker and now Calonne.  All four ministers had stated the urgent need for reform and all four times Parliament had rejected them.  The moneyed class and the Church liked things just the way they were. 

Wealth was concentrated in a very small percentage of the citizens who held all the power and refused to make the system more fair to all. 

When Calonne was turned down in 1785, this negative turn of events signaled to King Louis that he had lost the ability to rule as an absolute monarch.  He fell into a deep depression.

The dissatisfaction in France had been growing for some time. France was nearly bankrupt; the people knew it.  Furthermore, the people knew no progress was being made to solve the problem.  The situation that pushed things over the top was hunger.  There was a great scarcity of food in the 1780s. A series of crop failures caused a shortage of grain, consequently raising the price of bread. Because bread was the main source of food for poor peasants, this led to wide spread starvation.

The two years prior to the revolution (1788–89) saw meager harvests and harsh winters.  While the poor people went hungry, the streets of Paris were filled with agitated people worried about the paralysis of their government to do anything.

It was about this time that Marie Antoinette was said to have uttered the famous words, "Let them eat cake".  Although history has perpetuated the myth, modern historians say it is absurd to think she ever said any such thing. 

Antoinette's may have liked clothes a bit too much, but by all accounts she had a sympathetic heart. 

Nevertheless, someone started the rumor and the rumor stuck. Due to Antoinette's role as scapegoat for all problems, the phrase acquired great symbolic importance. Any time the revolutionary historians needed a simple way to demonstrate the callousness and selfishness of the French upper class, they merely trotted out this anecdote.

After the defeat of Calonne's reforms, none other than Jacques Necker was recalled back to the office of Director-General of Finance.  During his absence from office, Necker had acquired a myth-like status as a fiscal hero.  He was seen as the saviour of France, the only man who could stop the deficit and save the country standing on the brink of financial ruin.

Unfortunately, all Necker succeeded in doing was angering the powerful nobles again.  Necker's dismissal on 11 July 1789 made the people of France incredibly angry. It sparked rumors that the King meant to attack Paris or arrest the deputies.  Keep in mind that rumors had more power than fact at this point in time.

When the news spread of Necker's ousting, the people in the street began open rebellion.  The arrival of foreign mercenaries further inflamed them.  They assumed the King had brought these troops in to control the crowds so they couldn't be heard.

Well, they were going to be heard anyway.  Paris was consumed by riots, chaos, and widespread looting. The mobs were not contained because they had the covert support of some of the French Guard who were assigned to control them.

But what to do about the threat of the foreign soldiers? 

On 14 July 1789 the insurgents set their eyes on the large weapons and ammunition cache inside the Bastille fortress, widely perceived to be a symbol of royal power.

The medieval fortress and prison in Paris known as the Bastille represented royal authority in the center of Paris. At the time of its storming the prison only contained seven inmates, but it remained a symbol of the abuses of the monarchy.

After several hours of combat, the prison fell that afternoon. Despite ordering a cease fire, which prevented a mutual massacre, Governor Marquis Bernard de Launay was beaten, stabbed and decapitated; his head was placed on a pike and paraded about the city.  The violence was way out of hand.

The Bastille had served as a potent symbol of the hated Ancien Régime.  Its fall was the flashpoint of the French Revolution because it represented open rebellion.  Now the rioters were emboldened to go even further.

As civil authority rapidly deteriorated with random acts of violence and theft breaking out across the country, members of the nobility feared for their safety.  Many fled to neighboring countries.  These émigrés, as they were called, funded counter-revolutionary causes within France and urged foreign monarchs to offer military support to a counter-revolution.

There was a looming battle of the rich against the poor.

Wild rumors and paranoia caused widespread unrest and civil disturbances that contributed to the collapse of law and order. For example, in rural areas, many commoners began to form militias and arm themselves against rumors of a likely foreign invasion.  Anarchy reigned.  Citizens attacked the châteaux of the nobility as part of a general agrarian insurrection known as "la Grande Peur" (The Great Fear).

The final straw came on 5 October 1789.  Crowds of women driven by a variety of agitators converged on the Hôtel de Ville in Paris.  They demanded not only bread, but arms.  The women were responding to the bread shortages and harsh economic situations they faced on a daily basis.

Getting unsatisfactory responses from city officials, the mob decided to take their protest to Versailles. As many as 7,000 women joined the march to Versailles.  They brought with them cannons and a variety of smaller weapons. 

During the long twelve mile, six hour March of Women, wild rumors flew back and forth.  Threats of an "aristocrat plot" to starve the poor and stories of Antoinette's orgies were rampant and readily believed. Inflamed, the mob of mostly Parisian women began calling for Marie Antoinette’s blood.

Although the French war hero Marquis de La Fayette had 20,000 National Guardsmen under his command, he discovered to his dismay that his soldiers were largely in favor of the march.  They refused to obey his commands to immediately move to Versailles to protect the king.

Oddly enough, when the mob finally did reach Versailles, they were too tired to do anything else but surround the Palace and lay siege.  Hungry, fatigued, and bedraggled from the rain, they just wanted to be fed.  Assuming the siege was a simple demand for food, the protectors underestimated the danger.

At six o'clock in the evening, King Louis XVI made a belated effort to quell the rising tide of insurrection: he announced that he would accept the August decrees and the Declaration of the Rights of Man without qualification.  That seemed to calm the crowd.  Everyone relaxed, the worst seemed to be over for now.

At this point, someone literally let their guard down. The bulk of the royal guards were withdrawn to the far end of the park of Versailles to get some much need rest.  They had been deployed under arms for many hours facing the hostile crowd.

However, the crowd was subdued.  In the words of one of their officers: "Everyone was overwhelmed with sleep and lethargy; we thought it was all over."

This left only the usual night guard of sixty-one posted throughout the building while 7,000 angry people slept outside.

At 6 am, some of the protesters discovered a small gate to the palace was unguarded. Making their way inside, they searched for the queen's bedchamber. The royal guards raced throughout the palace, bolting doors and barricading hallways.  Guards in the compromised sector fired their guns at the intruders, killing a young member of the crowd.  Big mistake. Infuriated, more protesters surged towards the breach and streamed inside.

Meanwhile a screaming death squad lunged straight toward the Queen’s apartments. They swore to slice her to pieces. Her guards gave their lives to protect her.  Two guardsmen attempted to face down the crowd and were overpowered. The violence turned into savagery as one guard's head was severed and raised on a pike to the screaming delight of the attackers.

As the terrifying screams filled the halls around her, the queen ran barefoot with her ladies to the king's bedchamber. The door was locked for safety!! 

Antoinette spent several agonizing minutes banging on its locked door, but no one on Louis' side could hear the pounding due to all the noise in the halls.  Meanwhile the attackers could hear Antoinette's screams and used her voice to located her.

The Queen's the frantic calls went unanswered until literally the last possible second.  Just as the attackers closed in, the doorway opened to allow the women to barely escape.   Antoinette narrowly missed a certain death.

The chaos continued as other royal guards were found and beaten; at least one more was killed and his head too appeared atop a pike.  Once more guards appeared, order was restored.

On 6 October 1789, the King and the royal family moved from Versailles to Paris under the "protection" of the National Guards. The Royal family was now held prisoner at the Louvre, a building which was the royal residence before Versailles.

The 1773 Boston Tea Party

Benjamin Franklin and John Adams proofread Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence

In 1781, Lord Cornwallis was pinned down in Yorktown, Virginia, thanks to a clever naval trap suggested by George Washington. 

This political cartoon shows the Church and the Nobles hitching a ride on the back of a peasant farmer. Political cartoons have an interesting way of getting right to the heart of the matter

After Costigan finished explaining how nearly all wealth had become concentrated in a small group of French nobles that refused to make the necessary changes, he had a little surprise for the group. 

He said the hot book here in France was Capital in the Twenty-First  Century by French economist Thomas Piketty.  Piketty's specialty is wealth income and inequality.  Piketty claims that America's economic situation today is a lot more similar to the economic situation of the French Revolution than most people realize. 

Costigan added the October 2013 Senate shutdown of the American government over "Obamacare" was eerily reminiscent of French Parliament's refusal to pass legislation to alleviate the tax burden.  


There is no evidence Antoinette actually said this

The Bastille was where political prisoners were sent.  It became the hated symbol of royal oppression.

Storming the Bastille, 14 July 1789.

The French Revolution took place just eight years after the British surrendered at Yorktown.  Historians agree it was the success of the American Revolution that encouraged the French to rebel as well.

The angry attack on Hotel de Ville in Paris, 5 October 1789

The Women's March on Versailles, 5 October 1789

By all accounts, Antoinette missed death by mere seconds.  The door opened just as her assailants were closing in.

Furious at their prey's narrow escape, the mob contented itself with destroying the Queen's bedchambers and stealing any souvenir light enough to be carted off.  


Marie Antoinette

The miserable story of Marie Antoinette has transfixed generations of darkly fascinated readers curious to know if her horrible fate was indeed justified. 

According to Costigan as well as my own research, I think the woman's treatment was totally unwarranted.  I could find no acts of crime or cruelty on her record to justify taking her life. 

Plain and simple, they wanted to kill her; it didn't matter that they didn't have a reason.

Antoinette was shoved around from the very start by the people of her adopted nation.  When Marie Antoinette was 12 years old negotiations for her marriage to the Dauphin began. Portraits, rings and dowries were discussed. Unfortunately Antoinette’s teeth were too crooked for French taste.  So oral experts were called to perform several painful operations without anesthetic.

The moment finally arrived for Marie Antoinette, now in possession of perfect teeth, to cross the border from Austria to her new life in merry Paris.  She had to walk away from her own staff, into the arms of the French representatives… naked. 

She was forewarned she’d have to undress, walk across and curtsey to the delegate holding her underclothes.  Not a single scrap from her Austrian life could enter her French one.  How ridiculous to intimidate the young girl (14) like that! 

Antoinette submitted to the foolishness nonetheless.  She crossed the border naked and grabbed her new underwear from powdered French hands.

When she came of age five years later, the young Queen threw herself into a life of pleasure, hosting opulent parties and going to masked balls in Paris.  She fully embraced France’s style and fashions.  She spent lavishly on her appearance, influenced fashion throughout Europe with her high headdresses, plumes and voluminous dresses. Her elaborate hairstyles which reached 3 feet in height, exemplified the monarch’s love of luxury.

She began to order clothes from the fashion house of Rose Bertin. While her husband built up debt by helping to finance the American Revolution, Marie did the same with her wardrobe. It came to 300 new dresses a year.

At the height of her glamour (prior to the birth of her first child), Marie Antoinette spent a fortune on clothes, accessories and pouf hairstyles. Although she received an allowance of 120,000 livres per annum to cover these expenses, she often spent far more than that. In 1786, she earned the nickname "Madame Deficit" for spending more than twice her allowance. Her shy, indecisive husband covered her overages without complaint.

Madame de Campan was her lady in waiting.  According to Campan's memoirs, Marie Antoinette typically ordered twelve grand habits, twelve robes with paniers and twelve undress robes each season. Everything was given away at the end of the summer and winter seasons to make room for the new. There were three rooms allocated in Versailles for her clothing.

In one year alone, she ordered 172 new gowns.  It wasn't only dresses; her perfumes from Jean-Louis Fargeon and her lavish parties all helped to create negative.  Resented by the French citizenry for her foreign birth and extravagant lifestyle, Marie Antoinette has gone down in history as an arrogant and apathetic monarch.

Antoinette began to develop her bad reputation around the time she first became Queen.  She had come to court as a young teenager.  She was married at 15.  For the next several years, Antoinette continued to do as told. 

One day a light bulb clicked on.  I am the Queen! 

Antoinette had just realized she didn't have to listen to these awful biddy matrons ordering her to do this and do that any more.  Now she began to exercise power as queen.  Her first decision was to rebel.  Sick and tired of being ordered to conform to the strict rules of French etiquette, she decided from here on out she would do things "her way". 

While of course no one could stand in her way, her rebellion had its price.  The ladies of the French court, arbiters of all things dignified, made sure to let the whole world know that Antoinette had failed to master the intricacies of French etiquette.

This terrible faux pas resulted in her bad reputation.  Antoinette was not dignified enough to deserve to be a French Queen.

Pretty nasty games, yes??

From the moment she had come to Versailles, Antoinette had been intensely lonely.  Now she was unhappy in her marriage as well.  She was a Venus, but he was no Mars. Louis was homely, awkward and lacking in any sexual skills whatsoever.  His devotion to the hunt, his beloved clocks and his workshop stood in stark contrast to her pursuit of the arts, fashion and dance.

In her pursuit of French nightlife, Marie Antoinette sought escape from her marital frustration and the boredom of court life.  Spending spent less time at court, Marie surrounded herself with a wild and dissolute clique.  She lavished expensive gifts and positions upon these friends and in doing so ignored the great houses of the French nobility.  She did not play politics well.

With her young friends, Marie Antoinette threw herself into a life of pleasure and careless extravagance. These included masked balls in Paris, gambling, theatricals and late night promenades in the park. Her circle included the King’s frivolous young brother the Count of Artois, and handsome young courtiers such as the Duc de Ligne, Counts Dillon, Vaudreuil and Axel Fersen.

The Queen’s indiscretions with her circle of friends led to scandals and rumors concerning her relations with that circle including Axel Fersen, a man she likely had an affair with.

Her misbehavior during her Wild Child period became legendary.  Today Marie Antoinette is the leading symbol for the wanton extravagance of the 18th century monarchy. 

While there can be no denying that Antoinette overdid the fashion-party thing, let's cut her some slack. As the beautiful Queen of the wealthiest, most stylish country in all Europe, Marie Antoinette did exactly what was expected of her! 

Simply put, the Queen of France as head of the most glamorous court in Europe, was expected to look divine.

I remember reading how Antoinette's contemporary, the Tsarina Elizabeth of Russia, did exactly the same thing.  Elizabeth owned 15,000 dresses! 

Antoinette was guilty of doing nothing more evil than what was expected of her - to look like the Queen of France. If you stop and think about it, that was her duty. 

Yes, a woman who was politically more astute than Antoinette, Lady Diana for example, might have known when to tone it down.  Growing up as protected as she was from the real world, it is likely Antoinette did indeed live inside a separate world... and so did most of the other French nobles who behaved just as poorly.  The rich have long had their ways to isolate themselves from society's problems and the pain of the poor.

But is Antoinette's lack of sensitivity any reason to whack off her head or murder her in cold blood at Versailles?  Of course not.

Let's face it - the people of France were full of hate. 

It wasn't just Antoinette and Louis who were unlucky enough to be caught under the blade during the Great Fear.  They were joined in death by 16,000 other people who died. Many of these victims were completely innocent of any particular treason or crime... their only sin was being born to families with money.

What is particularly sad about Marie Antoinette is that she got blamed for everything that went wrong.  She became the lightning rod for the vast sea of resentment built up over centuries due to royal exploitation.  While the Royals were well fed and greatly pampered, the peasants were doing all the work.  Through their suffering, they were expected to support the few fortunate people who believed it was their right by birth to maintain this unbalanced system.

No matter what went wrong, Antoinette was blamed. When the poor people were starving, it was her fault.  When the nation went broke, it was her fault.

After the French citizens were finally let in on the national shame that the State was bankrupt thanks to its military stupidity, it became the fault of "Madame Deficit" as if she alone had actually bled her country dry with dress spending.

Notoriety nipped at Marie Antoinette’s heels no matter what she did.  Referred to as the La Autrichienne (Austrian bitch) behind her back, this woman simply could not win. 

There is a great story known as the Necklace Affair that makes this perfectly clear.  You will not believe the ending.

Marie Antoinette was known for her elaborate dresses

Someone did a nice job on this picture.  The picture says it all -
the dress, the big hair, the masked balls, the necklace affair, the extravagance of Versailles, the cake, Antoinette's reputation as Madame Deficit, and of course the guillotine and the blood.

The young Marie Antoinette was said to be quite beautiful and quite vain. 

This is Tsarina Elizabeth of Russia, daughter of Peter the Great. Perhaps a bit vain, Elizabeth was said to own 15,000 dresses - none of which she ever wore twice!   Elizabeth changed outfits two to six times a day. While Antoinette was criticized, Elizabeth was admired.
 (Rick's History of Russia).

Here is a list of some of the awful things done by Marie Antoinette. 

If these are the worst things people can say about the woman, then I would conclude the treatment of Antoinette was downright cruel.


The Affair of the Diamond Necklace


This is a replica of the necklace at the center of the Necklace Affair,
a scandal that put Antoinette in a bad light.  And what is its value?

One source claimed the necklace was worth $100 million dollars.

Rick's Note:  It was extremely difficult for me to believe any piece of jewelry could possibly be worth $100 million dollars. 

I mean, c'mon now. 

Personally, I think someone got their conversion rates mixed up.

I decided to see what some of today's most expensive jewelry costs in case I wanted to buy something special for Marla's birthday.

Unable to contain my curiosity over the $100 million price tag of the French necklace, I decided to see if any piece of modern jewelry could fetch that kind of price.

Well, here we go.  The Graff Pink, the most expensive piece of jewelry in the world, is priced at $46 million.  Now that is so much more reasonable than $100 million!  What a bargain. 

Several sources suggested the value of the French necklace was equivalent to the value of an 1800 French warship.

I think we can assume the value of the French necklace was somewhere between $5 - 10 million dollars in today's money. 

While that isn't $100 million dollars, it is still quite a fortune to be spending on jewelry... especially at a time when France was broke.


Madame du Barry


Our tale begins with Jeanne du Barry, the exotic mistress of King Louis XV.

As reflected in art from the time, Jeanne was a remarkably attractive blonde woman with thick golden ringlets and almond-shaped blue eyes.

Nicknamed 'le roué' (libertine), Monsieur Jean-Baptiste du Barry was a casino owner.  He was also a high-class pimp and procurer who ran a high-class brothel. 

The lovely Jeanne came to his attention in 1763 when he found her entertaining in Madame Quisnoy's brothel-casino.  Jean-Baptiste du Barry quickly realized her kind of beauty could make him a lot of money. 

Monsieur du Barry lured her over to his own establishment which had a much higher price clientele.  Her installed her in his household and made her his mistress.  Giving her the appellation of Mademoiselle Lange, Monsieur du Barry helped establish Jeanne's career as a courtesan in the highest circles of Parisian society. 

Madame du Barry was a very ambitious woman who didn't mind using people to get where she wanted to go.  Considering she got her start in a high priced brothel, du Barry quite literally slept her way to the very top of the social pyramid, stepping on quite a few people to get there while being impudent to anyone she saw as beneath her.

Jeanne immediately became a sensation in Paris, building up a large aristocratic clientele. She had many lovers from the king's ministers to his courtiers.  King Louis XV first noticed her in 1768 and wanted her immediately.  However, due to the intricate rules of French court, Jeanne was not high-born and therefore currently ineligible to be the King's mistress  (one has to wonder where these rules come from).

Not surprisingly, the King found a way around the rules.  In 1769, the King and his sex toy began a torrid affair.  Now 60, Louis XV was shocked at the intensity of their lovemaking.  He was astonished that this enticing woman had made him feel young again and reawakened his sex drive.

Simply speaking, the aging King could not believe the power this attractive woman had to turn him on.  He just couldn't get enough.  The king quickly became very fond of du Barry and lavished gifts on her. 

Some reports suggest that in 1772 the besotted and infatuated King approached Parisian jewelers Boehmer and Bassenge to create an elaborate and spectacular jeweled necklace for his mistress, one that would surpass all others in grandeur.  Other reports suggest that these same jewelers took note of the King's fervor and had the bright idea to create the world's most fabulous necklace with the expectation that the besotted and infatuated King wouldn't dream of turning the gift down when it was ready.

Given that the jewelers didn’t receive a commission for this necklace, it seems more likely the second scenario is correct. It seems the jewelers had taken upon themselves the risk of purchasing the diamonds and assembling it in a gaudy setting.  Since this is a key point, let me repeat that several sources confirm the jewelers created the necklace on the assumption that the king would automatically buy it for Madame du Barry once it was made.

The necklace was comprised of 647 diamonds that weighed 2,800 carats.  The jewelers believed they would fetch anywhere from 1.6 million to 2 million livres for the stunning necklace, a vast sum.  Assuming $2,500-$3,000 per carat, it cost perhaps $7-10 million in today's money.  Boehmer had invested a fortune into this piece of jewelry. 

This price was a bit steep, but then King Louis XV was not known for his frugality.  One can only assume that the two jewelers had let the aging King know about the project and had received at least a nod. 

Unfortunately for Böhmer and Bassenge (and Madame du Barry), the king died in 1774 before he could purchase it, supposedly from smallpox, but more likely from an overdose of sex. 

The French get Madame du Barry and the best the Americans can do is Monica Lewinsky.  On the other hand, assuming the rumors about Marilyn Monroe are correct, maybe America can hold its own after all.

Louis XV, the greatest womanizer in French history, met his match in Madame du Barry, said to have insatiable sexual desires.  Must have been interesting.


King Louis XVI offers the necklace to Antoinette

King Louis XV began his affair with the sexy Madame Du Barry, 27, shortly before Marie Antoinette was married to his grandson Louis XVI in 1770.

Antoinette and Du Barry did not get along well.  Antoinette was only 15 at the time and not happy at all at sharing the Palace of Versailles with a woman more beautiful and far more vivacious than she.  In Du Barry's presence, Antoinette had to take a back seat.

The two women managed an uneasy coexistence for four years during the heyday of Madame Du Barry's sensational reign of seduction.

However, du Barry made a serious mistake.  By being nasty to Marie Antoinette, Madame Du Barry would pay for her insolence once her lover died.  When King Louis XV passed away in 1774, Du Barry was sent away from court never to return. At the age of 31, Madame du Barry, suddenly found herself whisked off to a nunnery.

Meanwhile, the death of Louis XV was a shock of the highest magnitude for Boehmer and Bassenge.  They were suddenly stuck with an expensive necklace and no buyer.

So what does a jeweler do when left holding a necklace as expensive as this??  One would assume they had a deposit of some sort to undertake such a task, but apparently not.  Instead, the jewelers hoped that the new king, Louis XVI, might agree to buy the necklace for Marie Antoinette.

To their dismay, the Queen turned them down.  Marie Antoinette is on record as discouraging Louis from purchasing the necklace. According to Madame Campan, the Queen told her husband this much money would be better spent on the French navy.

More likely, the Queen refused to have anything to do with a necklace originally meant for her wicked rival.  Who could blame her for that?

The jewelers Boehmer and Bassenge spent the next seven years attempting to unload the expensive necklace outside of France.  They had no takers.  One can assume they were deeply worried. 

In 1781, the men took note that Marie Antoinette had just given birth to the dauphin Louis-Joseph.  France now had an heir to throne and there was great rejoicing in the land.

Sensing the good mood might give them an opportunity,  the jewelers again attempted to sell the necklace to Antoinette. 

As a young woman, Antoinette had expensive tastes and flashy ways.  However, she had changed and settled down.

The Queen was tempted, but she again refused. 

Jeanne de la Motte-Valois

Every good swindle needs a rogue.  In 1785, a woman named Jeanne de la Motte conceived a bizarre long-shot plan to use the necklace to gain wealth and possibly power and royal patronage.   In a story straight out of Ripley's Believe it or Not, here is how the our tale unfolded.

Jeanne de la Motte was born into a pathetic family.  Her father Jacques had an ounce of royal blood in him, but mostly he was a poverty-stricken wastrel and drunkard.  Her mother was described as a debauched servant girl.

The family had little going for them other than that single drop of royal blood.

Fortunately, that blood paid off for them.  After her father's noble Valois ancestry was researched by a genealogist at Versailles, it was determined he was a distant relative of the King.  This was a huge break.  It not only meant a stipend, it gave them a title.

Antoinette's personal assistant Madame Campan assists with the necklace while Boehmer and Bassenge watch hopefully

As a result of legal dispositions set up to help children from "poor nobility", Jacques was granted a yearly stipend of 1000 pounds and a post in a military academy. 

This grant was nonsensical at best:  "I am noble and I am poor. Because I am noble and need money, I deserve money." 

Who thought this system up?  No wonder the legitimately poor people of France were so damn angry!

In June 1780 Jeanne de la Motte married Marc Antoine-Nicolas de la Motte, an officer of the gendarmes. While the de la Motte family's claim to nobility was dubious, both she and her new husband assumed the title comte and comtesse de La Motte Valois.  ('Comtesse' is French for 'countess').

Now she was a "Countess", Jeanne de la Motte had become a fringe noble with just barely enough credibility to stick one toe inside the door to the French court.  Once she reached French Court, she realized this was the life she had longed for. 

As a poverty-stricken child, La Motte had dreamed of a life like this.  Now she wanted higher status.  In order to get more status, she needed more money.

When it became clear that husband Nicolas was unable to meet Jeanne's extravagant style, Jeanne resolved to ask for an even more generous pension from the royal family due to her royal blood.  In other words, La Motte was already getting something for nothing, but it wasn't enough for French Court, so now she wanted even more something for nothing. 

Jeanne de la Motte's story serves as a perfect example of the corrupt system whereby the lifestyles of the "nobles" were supported by the peasants.  The system was a strange form of reverse welfare for royals.  How pathetic.

In her desire to get more something for nothing, Jeanne de LaMotte decided to approach Marie Antoinette directly.  She felt the Queen, known for extravagance herself, would be sympathetic to her terrible plight of not having enough money to do Court extravagantly.

Jeanne therefore made frequent visits to Versailles in the hope of catching the Queen's attention.  At that time, any ordinary citizen dressed in suitable attire could enter the palace and its gardens and observe the royal family.

Unbeknownst to LaMotte, Marie Antoinette had noticed her hanging around.  Antoinette had asked who she was and what she wanted.  After being been told of Jeanne's questionable nobility and scheming ways, Antoinette refused to meet her. 

Although they continued to live together, the marriage between Jeanne and her husband Nicolas was unsuccessful.  Jeanne took a lover, Rétaux de Villette, a common gigolo and fellow officer to Nicolas in the gendarmerie.  Villette would play a major role in the story.

Comtesse Jeanne de la Motte


Cardinal Louis Rohan


Thanks to her "nobility", Jeanne de la Motteto had gained access to the fringes of French Court.  Although she was still dirt poor, this allowed her to hang around rich people.  In 1783, she used her new-found prominence to meet Cardinal Prince Louis de Rohan.

The Rohan family was one of the most influential in France... and La Motte knew it.

Prince Louis was destined for the Church from an early age. His uncle was a Cardinal and bishop, and Louis was the designated successor of these offices. As a talented scion of one of the most important families in France, he had a bright future to look forward to. As a child, he was raised to think of himself as a possible prime minister of France.

Religious figures were often much more lax in their morals than a modern person would expect. Priests, bishops, and cardinals were known to have mistresses and illegitimate children. Madame du Barry, for example, was the daughter of a wayward priest.

Positions in the church were often hereditary and were granted based on social status rather than piety; as such, it isn’t surprising that these men of the cloth were not all devoted men of God.  As a footnote to history, the bad behavior of the clerics would eventually lead to the rampant anti-clericism during the Revolution.

Prince Louis de Rohan was no exception. He was very worldly and not particularly spiritual.  Rohan lived in luxury and was known for his sexual exploits. This was frowned upon but not unexpected. It certainly did not stop Rohan from remaining the shining star of the Rohan family.

However, whatever hopes Rohan had of political ascendancy were sabotaged – by Rohan himself.

The moment Jeanne de la Motte met Rohan, the unscrupulous woman wasted no time becoming his mistress.  A clever woman, she made an effort to become his confidante.

As it turned out, Cardinal Rohan had a big mouth.  He liked to talk.  So Madame de la Motte listened.  And such a tale she heard!

LaMotte learned that Cardinal Rohan had once been the French ambassador to the court of Vienna.  She also learned that he had made a powerful enemy - Marie Antoinette. 

The Queen shunned the Cardinal for several reasons.  Her mother Maria Theresa couldn't stand the man because he had attempted to have sex with practically every woman he met in the Austrian court. 

Antoinette had also learned of a letter penned by Rohan in which the Cardinal spoke of her mother the Austrian Queen in a way that Marie Antoinette found offensive.  This letter was the move that sunk his career.  

During his time as the Austrian ambassador, Rohan had written a letter involving the annexation of Poland to none other than Madame du Barry, the flamboyant mistress of King Louis XV and hated rival of Antoinette.

Learning that Rohan was saying bad things about her mother to her rival was bad enough, but it was worse than that.  One night at dinner du Barry read the letter out loud to a group of people at her table.  It was a top-secret report on the imminent partition of Poland at the hands of Russia, Prussia, and Austria.  The letter said:

“I have just come from an audience with the Empress of Austria, and I found her weeping for the woes of the persecuted Poland. In one hand she clutched a handkerchief to stanch her tears, in the other a sword to hack out Austria’s slice of poor butchered Poland.”

The people roared with laughter at the insult.  However, now they passed on the story until eventually it reached Antoinette who seethed.  Du Barry's faux pas was unforgiveable.  By insulting Maria Theresa, she was also insulting Marie Antoinette.  However, it was Cardinal Rohan who had given Du Barry the information by which Antoinette's mother had been seen in this bad light.

And if that wasn't enough, Antoinette was also aware of Rohan's scandalous and venal lifestyle.  From that point on, Marie Antoinette refused to have anything to do with Rohan. So, despite his family connections, he could not achieve everything he wanted.  Since the new king was easily led by her, all favors flowed from the Queen.  His dreams of being Prime Minister were shattered.

At this point in the conversation with Madame de la Motte, Cardinal Rohan hung his head.  This incident had taken place over ten years ago and his career was still frozen.  Rohan admitted he was dying to resurrect his diplomatic career by becoming one of the King's ministers.

But as long as Antoinette opposed him, he had no chance.  Rohan was well aware he had to regain the Queen's favor first.  Otherwise she would block any move he tried to make.  Rohan was at a loss to know how to accomplish this since he had no contact with the Queen.

La Motte listens to Rohan's tale of woe

LaMotte was intrigued. There was some very interesting potential here.

Now fully aware of the Cardinal's burning desire to win Marie Antoinette's approval, LaMotte smiled and reached out for the man's hand.

Looking Rohan in the eye, LaMotte said she could help him.  Jeanne de la Motte persuaded Rohan that she had been received by the Queen and enjoyed her favor. 

Rohan took the bait.  He stared back incredulously with a flicker of hope in his eye.  "Really? You know the Queen?"

La Motte smiled and nodded. "Yes, I do."

Rohan obviously had no idea how close LaMotte was to the Queen.  What he did know was that he had noticed the Comtesse leaving the Petite Trianon, Antoinette's favorite hideout, as though she had just been in conference with the queen. 

Unbeknownst to Rohan, this was one of La Motte's very favorite tricks. La Motte would literally hang around Versailles attempting to run into people "by chance". 

She would simply wait in the shadows at the entrance of Petite Trianon until someone important came along.  Then she would suddenly appear.  Not only did this "chance encounter" give her an opportunity to start a conversation, but she was also able to give the illusion that she had just been in private conference with the Queen.  LaMotte had deliberately used this trick on Rohan several times. Now it had just paid off in a big way.

In reality, LaMotte was about as close to the Queen as Pluto is to the Sun.  Yes, LaMotte was in French Court, but only at the distant edge.  But Rohan didn't know this.

Apparently his desperation was greater than his common sense.  Because right now Cardinal Rohan had resolved to use Jeanne's help to regain the Queen's goodwill and possibly a high position in government.

Clear and simple, LaMotte was playing a dangerous game.  LaMotte wanted to convince Rohan to give her money in exchange for peddling her “influence” with the Queen.

In order to pull this off, she needed to show Rohan something in return.

LaMotte assured the Cardinal that she would make efforts on his behalf.  "Let's begin immediately.  Why don't you write a letter to the Queen while we are together?" 

Rohan indeed wrote a brief letter while LaMotte coached him on what to say.  She took the letter with her and said she would make sure the Queen received it. 

Countess la Motte-Valois was a cunning woman
who by hook or by crook was hell
 bent on finding a way to become wealthy.
She eventually settled on "crook".


Correspondence with the Queen


To Cardinal Rohan's delight, several days later LaMotte handed him a letter.  Noticing the letter was written on exquisite gilt stationary, he had no doubt who the letter was from.  The Cardinal read the letter and smiled.  The Queen seemed to be of an open mind to clear their differences.  Rohan was unbelievably relieved.  This might just work out!

So how did Rohan come to believe he and the Queen were exchanging letters? 

Here is how it worked.  Rohan would write a letter. Then Rétaux de Villette, LaMotte's boyfriend and forger extraordinaire, would write a flowery reply to Rohan's notes in the Queen's handwriting.  Rohan was completely fooled.

Villette was apparently very good at this. He had a flair for romantic writing. The tone of the letters became very warm.  Villette's words were so seductive in fact that the Cardinal was becoming convinced that Queen Marie Antoinette was in love with him!

Of course Cardinal Rohan wanted that job, but now in addition he became excited at the outside possibility of a love affair with none other than the Queen of France.  Not for a moment did it bother him how absurd it was that a woman who had previously thought so little of him had suddenly fallen for him based on several letters.

That's the male ego for you.  Sadly, Rohan was over the top.  He became obsessed with meeting the Queen face to face.  Rohan begged LaMotte to arrange a secret night-time interview for him with the Queen. 

Truth be told, maybe Rohan was a little worried his fortune was too good to be true.  Even a man as vain and foolish as Rohan can still entertain doubts.  If he could just meet with the Queen, that would calm his fears and stoke his fantasies as well.

LaMotte saw how determined Rohan was to meet Antoinette.  She had not foreseen this twist, but knew it was unavoidable.  LaMotte had to produce the Queen herself or kiss this scam goodbye.  LaMotte kept her cool and said no problem.  Then LaMotte added that this had to be kept a very big secret.  Rohan nodded knowingly.  Absolutely!

LaMotte knew exactly what she was doing.  She had a trick up her sleeve.  By chance, her lover Villette had recently met a prostitute whom he swore was a dead ringer for Marie Antoinette.  With the right dress, a proper wig and some serious coaching, LaMotte was optimistic they could pull this disguise off... especially if it was in the darkness!!

Jeanne de la Motte hires Nicole Lequay d'Oliva to portray Marie Antoinette


Midnight Rendezvous in the Garden

It was now August 1784. The meeting was scheduled to take place late at night in a remote garden at the Palace of Versailles.  LaMotte instructed Rohan to hide behind a tree.  She wanted to take no unnecessary chances the Cardinal might be seen.  

Rohan's heart beat fast when out of the darkness a beautiful woman appeared.  Rohan saw the two women converse for a moment.  Now LaMotte beckoned for Rohan to appear, made the introduction and disappeared into the darkness. 

Cardinal Rohan could hardly believe this was happening.  He had his chance to be alone with none other than Marie Antoinette, the Queen herself. 

In reality, this woman was indeed Nicole Lequay d'Oliva, the prostitute hired by LaMotte due to her resemblance to the Queen.  However, in the darkness, Rohan never had a clue.  In the murky light, D'Oliva was indeed the stunning image of the Queen herself.

Rohan presented himself.  He received a warm smile and then the Queen handed him a rose... a trademark gift of Antoinette.  She whispered, “You know what this means.”

Rohan's heart leapt.  Surely this was a symbol of the long-awaited reconciliation.

Rohan blushed and smiled.  Overcome with emotion, he dropped down to one knee.  Taking her hand in his, Rohan begged the Queen to forgive his rash and uncalled for actions in the past. 

D'Oliva had been coached to say as little as possible, so she simply listened and smiled warmly as Rohan spoke.  In her role as the Queen, D'Oliva had practiced three lines over and over again. 

"My Cardinal, I promise to forget our past disagreements. There has been a misunderstanding. Isn't it amazing the lies that people spread at French Court? 

Rohan was overwhelmed with relief.  He could not believe the Queen was so kind.  All the rumors had pegged her as "The Austrian Bitch", yet in person she was nothing like what people said about her.  Rohan was actually grateful for the darkness because huge tears came to his eyes.  Now Rohan kissed the hand of his Queen in gratitude. 

D'Oliva thanked Rohan for his loyalty to the Crown. She touched him lightly on the shoulder and said she had to go.   And with that, the Queen slipped into the darkness and was gone.   

For his part, Cardinal Rohan bought the scam hook, line and sinker.  He was absolutely convinced this had been none other than the Queen herself. 

In the days that followed, Jeanne de la Motte pressed her advantage.  Thanks to the Cardinal's rock-solid belief that she had a direct line to the Queen, LaMotte began borrowing large sums of money from Rohan.  She told him this money was targeted directly for the Queen’s "charity work". 

LaMotte assured him that in addition to his letters, "actions spoke louder than words".  His generosity was certain to warm the Queen's heart.  LaMotte promised that the Queen would know exactly where this money was coming from and that the Queen was certain to respond by getting him that ministerial job just as soon as one opened up. 

The Cardinal was very generous indeed.  Besides, he didn't care.  After all, it wasn't his money.  The Cardinal was more than happy to make liberal use of Church funds to assist LaMotte in advancing his career. 

Jeanne de la Motte advanced a career all right, but it wasn't the Cardinal's career she was advancing.  That career would be her own.

Jeanne de la Motte whispers to Rohan to keep quiet as he hides behind a tree.

Rohan kisses the hand of his Queen and weeps profusely.


Presenting the Countess Jeanne de la Motte-Valois



Jeanne de la Motte was quick to put the Cardinal's generosity to good use.  She improved her life style by renting a new apartment in the best section of town.  She purchased a new carriage.  Then she purchased expensive clothes and jewelry.  By spending her money wisely, LaMotte was able to impress more people.  She was determined to climb to the highest levels of French society. 

To her surprise, LaMotte discovered her old trick worked just as well with the new people she met as her old crowd.  By openly boasting about her close relationship with the Queen, she accelerated her rise to the top. 

And why would Jeanne de la Motte take a chance of being discovered? 

One would assume that during her rise in society, LaMotte would meet someone who actually knew the Queen and be challenged, but that never happened. Indeed, she met many gullible people who mindlessly assumed the relationship was genuine.  Soon she had all kinds of people convinced that LaMotte had a direct link to the Queen.

LaMotte discovered that every time she dropped the Queen's name, LaMotte was invited to another party at a better estate.  LaMotte was finally living the life she had dreamt of back when she was an abandoned child with an ounce of royal blood as her only gift.

She was a con artist to be sure, but she definitely had guts.  If nothing else, one must give La Motte credit for her brazenness because it worked wonders. 

Now, suddenly, out of nowhere, her rash claims unexpectedly led to a grand windfall.

The Parisian jewelers Boehmer and Bassenge were still desperate to unload that damn necklace.  13 years had passed!  Worse, there was no end in sight.  In these depressed times, no one but the King had that kind of money.  But how to approach him?

So when they heard about LaMotte's close connection with the Queen, they wondered if she could help.  So the jewelers approached LaMotte to ask her help in selling their necklace to the Queen.  LaMotte smiled.  Why certainly!  She would love to act as their intermediary... for a small price of course... which they promptly paid. 

After the men left, LaMotte instructed
Rétaux de Villette to construct a letter on the finest gilt stationary fit for a queen.  It was time for "The Queen" to ask her newest best friend the Cardinal for his utmost discretion in handling an order to buy the necklace.  The letter was signed 'Marie Antoinette de France'. 

Thanks to her incredible brazenness, Jeanne de la Motte had finally achieved the life of luxury she had always hoped for. Only one problem: she wanted more.  She obsessed with ways to succeed.


The Master Stroke

Madame de la Motte was a worrier by nature.  She knew she was taking an enormous risk.  It was one thing to bilk that buffoon Rohan out of countless church dollars.  If he ever got wise to her, so what?  He wouldn't dream of calling the authorities.

If he said a word, all she had to do was suggest the Archbishop would be curious to know what Rohan had been doing with the Church's money. 

Rohan was the least of her problems.  He could be effortlessly blackmailed into silence.  However, this necklace scam could easily backfire.  One mistake and she could be in prison or worse.  Her worst fear was that Rohan would get wise to her.  But how likely was that?  He didn't suspect a thing.

La Motte sighed.  It was time for the 'le coup de maître', the master stroke.

On 21 January 1785, LaMotte visited the Cardinal at his residence.  She handed him the fateful letter "from the Queen" requesting his help with the necklace.  The Cardinal's eyes grew wide as he read the contents.  He couldn't believe it.  Marie Antoinette, the Queen herself, had authorized him to purchase the expensive necklace on her behalf.  Unbelievable.

Madame de la Motte weighing the chances of success

Rohan put the letter down and asked Madame de la Motte to clarify what was expected of him.

Jeanne de la Motte explained that Marie Antoinette keenly wanted to buy the necklace.  However, Antoinette was fearful of any more negative publicity.  Not wishing to publicly purchase such an expensive item during the country's time of need, the Queen wanted her friend the Cardinal to act as a secret intermediary.  Knowing this action required the utmost discretion, the Queen could only think of one man capable of assisting her.

It was a lie, but it was also a very plausible lie, especially to a vain buffoon like Rohan.  It never seemed to cross his mind why he of all the people had been chosen to undertake such a sensitive mission.  Instead, he believed the Queen was right. Rohan was surely the only man in France smart enough to pull off this clandestine purchase.

Rohan stared at the Queen's signature for a time.  Little did the forgers realize that the addition of "de France" had been a mistake - French queens signed with their given names only.  Villette and LaMotte had no way of knowing this, but the Cardinal should have known.  Unlike LaMotte or Villette, in his role as former ambassador to Austria, Rohan had actually seen stationary with a royal signature on it.  But Rohan wasn't smart enough to catch the error.  He was too busy thinking of another meeting in the darkness with the Queen and what that might entail. 

Finally Rohan nodded.  This was his big chance to resurrect his career.  And what else?  This was no ordinary favor. Could this lead him into the arms of the most sensational woman in all of France?   His heart pounded with his fantasies.

Rohan began to nod.  Yes, he would do this.  Rohan told LaMotte he would be delighted to help and agreed to be guarantor of the purchase from the jewelers, Messieurs Boehmer and Bassenge.

Cardinal Rohan got right to work.  He visited the office of the jewelers and claimed to have the Queen's authorization for the purchase of the valuable necklace.  Then he showed the jewelers the conditions of the bargain in the Queen's own handwriting.  

The jewelers were surprised, of course, but it didn't take long before they began to smile. They were pleased.  Very pleased.  Contacting LaMotte had been a shrewd move on their part. 

They had been stuck with this damn necklace for over thirteen years!!  Making this necklace had been the most foolish thing they had ever done.  Now finally they had a chance to unload the cursed thing.

Little did the jewelers suspect that the letter they were reading was a forgery written by Villette. The letter was convincing enough.  In fact, it was quite convincing.  The words sounded exactly like the Queen!

So now the jewelers bought the scam as well, especially since a man of the cloth was involved.  Swearing the men to absolute secrecy and discretion, Cardinal Rohan negotiated the purchase of the necklace for 2,000,000 livres, to be paid in installments. Then he wrangled the release of the diamonds from Böhmer and Bassenge on credit.

There is no explanation why the jewelers trusted the Cardinal enough to release the expensive necklace without even a down payment.  They must have been so befuddled by the extraordinary hush-hush circumstances that they took leave of their senses.

Throughout this story it never ceases to amaze what people can believe if it just happens to be what they want to believe.  The Cardinal of course was the primary dupe, but Boehmer and Bassenge bit on the same hook as well. 

Now Rohan took the necklace to LaMotte's apartment.  Soon a well-dressed, well-mannered gentleman came to fetch it.  Rohan had seen this man before at Versailles.  In fact, he had noticed him at the side of Countless LaMotte at least twice. 

The gentleman had exquisite manners. He bowed and introduced himself to Rohan as “Desclaux”, the Queen’s confidential messenger and trusted valet.  Without a second thought, Rohan handed Villette the necklace. 

The valet, of course, was none other than Rétaux de Villette, LaMotte's partner in crime.  The necklace never came anywhere near the Palace.  Instead, Villette quickly smuggled the necklace to London.  Once there, he had it broken into separate pieces to sell off the large individual diamonds individually.  The necklace was never seen again.

Rétaux de Villette


All Hell Breaks Loose


Incredibly, it took over six months for the grand theft to come to light. 

The sale was made in February 1786 and the first payment was due on July 30.  Four-hundred thousand francs were due.  The jewelers had invested everything in obtaining the diamonds that made up the necklace, which was said to equal the value of a giant naval warship.

Boehmer and Bassenge were already selling the necklace at a deep discount. They needed the money on the agreed date in order to meet their own debts.  After 13 years of frustration, one can imagine how anxious they were on July 30.

Recently Cardinal Rohan had received a new forged letter from "The Queen" via Madame de La Motte.  Accompanying the letter was 30,000 francs. Little did he know that LaMotte had sold some of her diamonds to generate this pittance.  Rohan's eyes grew large.  This was not even one tenth of what was due! 

The letter... as usual in the Queen's beautiful handwriting... explained that "The Queen" was low on cash, but would catch up on the next payment.  Apparently even Queens have trouble paying bills.  Rohan frowned when he saw how little money had been sent, but at least it was a start.  What other choice did he have?

It may be hard to believe, but the value of that necklace was said by several different sources to be equivalent to one of those naval ships.


Madame Henriette Campan, an intelligent, decent woman who was Antoinette's lady in waiting and 'right hand man'. 

It is through her invaluable Memoirs of the Private Life of Marie Antoinette that we know so many details of Antoinette's life.  Indeed, her comments on the Necklace Affair have added to this story immensely.

So Rohan passed on the money to the jewelers.  Boehmer and Bassenge were insulted; they were due more than ten times that amount. The irritated jewelers went to Cardinal Rohan’s palace every day after that to harry him about the payment. 

Unfortunately for the gullible Cardinal, he had signed as guarantor for “the Queen’s” purchase, so he was responsible for the expense.   Imagine Rohan's distress when no new money was forthcoming.  Now he was just as worried as the jewelers themselves.

Incredibly, La Motte's typically clever stories about the Queen's financial difficulties kept him from realizing the truth.  He still had no idea that the necklace was long gone.

The jewelers were becoming frantic because they had received no credible explanation for the shortfall from either the Queen or Rohan.  Something wasn't right here.

Their next move was to send a letter of thanks to the Queen for the purchase.  Their note, of course, was actually a 'reminder' of sorts to pay for the necklace. Antoinette was perplexed by the letter because she had nothing to do with the purchase.

Unfortunately, in typical Antoinette fashion, rather than investigate, she chose to ignore the strange letter.  Apparently she simply burned it; this was her custom so discarded correspondence would not fall into the wrong hands.

More time passed.  Now the jewelers waited to see the if the queen would wear their necklace in public, but of course no such thing took place. 

At this point, Boehmer lost his patience.  According to Madame Campan, Boehmer came to speak to her and said that the Queen owed him money.  Campan insisted the Queen did not. Boehmer said it was for a diamond necklace and that Cardinal Rohan had acted as go-between for the purchase.  Now Madame Campan realized something was amiss.  She told Boehmer to go to Baron de Breteuil, Minister of the King’s Household.

But Boehmer ignored her and went to the Queen instead.  According to Madame Campan, the Queen lost her temper at being bothered. She dismissed the jeweler after he insisted that she owed him money which she was sure she didn’t owe.

The next day Madame Campan learned about the jeweler's visit to the Queen. Madame Campan told the Queen all she had heard the other day about the diamond necklace and Cardinal Rohan.  The Queen simply stared at Campan in confusion.  One can hardly blame her. The jewelers had pressed her for years to buy this necklace, which she had constantly refused to purchase, and now they were telling her she had bought it from them even though she hadn’t.  How could this be?

However, now the Queen was finally alarmed enough to bring the matter to the King.


On August 9, Boehmer and Bassenger were brought to the Palace to explain themselves.  Now that the jewelers realized Antoinette knew nothing, for the first time they guessed that Rohan was behind this... and maybe LaMotte as well.   

Rohan was quickly summoned to account for everything that had happened.  Deeply shaken, he finally understood how badly he had been duped.  As Rohan explained what had transpired, Madame de La Motte’s plot to steal the necklace finally came to light.  Except that Antoinette did not believe him

So Rohan produced a letter to prove his innocence. It was signed "Marie Antoinette de France

Upon reading this, the King became furious.  How could Rohan have been so easily fooled?  Cardinal Rohan of all people should know that royalty do not use surnames on signatures!

Antoinette still didn't buy any of his explanation.  She thought he was the thief and the mastermind behind the entire sordid affair.  The King agreed.  He ordered Rohan arrested.

Rohan protested mightily, but his reasons were ignored.  Now even his family connections couldn’t help him.

Antoinette points the finger; Cardinal Rohan's moment of shame

Rohan was arrested and taken to the Bastille; on the way he sent home a note ordering the destruction of his romantic correspondence.  It would not look good to have the King or the public discover those letters revealing his infatuation with the Queen.

LaMotte was arrested three days later.  She was in serious trouble.

[Note: No explanation was uncovered explaining how LaMotte was caught or why LaMotte wasn't hiding in London by now.]

The Sensational Trial

The king insisted on a full trial in French Parliament to clear the queen’s name. This would turn out to be a serious error in judgment.  The king had the power to declare his own ruling on the matter.  By keeping the necklace affair quiet, scandal would be avoided and any damage to the queen’s image that followed.

But the case went to trial instead.  Not surprisingly, Jeanne de la Motte did not fair very well. She was condemned to be stripped naked and whipped to within an inch of her life.

Afterwards she was branded with a V (for voleuse, "thief") on each shoulder. No more strapless gowns for her.  Then she was sent to life imprisonment in the prostitute prison at Salpêtrière.

In June 1787 of the following year, La Motte escaped from prison disguised as a boy.  She went to live in London and got her revenge by writing a pretty nasty tell-all book.  In her version, Antoinette - no friend of hers - was painted as the bad guy.

Indeed, Antoinette came out of this affair in very poor shape.  As we have read, Marie Antoinette was completely blameless in the matter.  But no one bothered to let that inconvenient fact get in the way of their insidious rumors.

Madame de la Motte being hauled off to jail




Lèse-majesté is French for "injured majesty". In France, this was a term for the crime of violating "majesty", i.e. an offense against the dignity of a reigning sovereign.  In simple terms, it was a crime for people to say untrue things about Kings and Queens.

At Rohan's trial, after listening to the testimony of different witnesses involving Rohan's behavior, it was obvious to everyone that the man had indeed been duped.  Rohan was most certainly an idiot, but at the same time he had committed no direct crime.  After all, there is no law against being stupid.  Once all the facts had been collected, Rohan was cleared of criminal behavior. 

However, Rohan faced one more charge - Lèse-majesté; disrespect to the Queen.

This curious aspect of Cardinal Rohan's trial hinged on whether the man had offended Marie Antoinette's dignity or not.  Surely it was slanderous to assume the Queen would stoop so low as to grant Rohan a midnight rendezvous alone in the garden. Surely this act was totally beneath the dignity of her Highness. The Queen had been insulted!

In other words, Cardinal Rohan should have realized that the "willingness" of the Queen  to meet with him in the garden was all the proof he needed to know this was a set-up.

It was a fascinating legal point indeed.  The previous Queen Marie Leszczynska was so highly respected throughout the Kingdom that no one in their right mind would have ever believed her capable of such an act.  Had Queen Leszczynska offered to meet Rohan in the garden, he would have known instantly this woman had to be an imposter.

But what about Marie Antoinette?  Was she capable of such an act?  Did Cardinal Rohan have the right to believe it was "possible" for Queen Marie Antoinette to actually desire to meet with him ALONE in the garden in total darkness? 

If he was guilty of anything, Rohan was guilty of having such a poor opinion of Antoinette's morals that he deemed her capable of behaving in this despicable way.

The charge was that Rohan was guilty of criminal audacity for presuming the Queen would entrust him as an intermediary in the sale of the diamond necklace.  The recommendation was that Cardinal Rohan be forced to give her a public apology. 

He was further charged for his audacity in believing the Queen would meet him at midnight in the palace gardens.  If found guilty, Rohan was to give special alms to the poor, to lose all of his many offices, and to be exiled from royal residences for life.

After much debate, the vote was taken at 9 o’clock at night. By the margin of 26 to 23, Cardinal Rohan was acquitted of any slander.  He was free to go.  


The acquittal of her enemy Rohan was an enormous slap in the face.  After the verdict was read, Antoinette was very upset. She collapsed in a sea of tears. 

Antoinette was incredulous. 

How was it possible this idiot Rohan was found 'not guilty'?  The Queen was so distraught at the verdict that she fainted.

By not convicting Rohan, these men were in essence impugning the Queen’s honor.  All illusion of respect for the Queen was shattered. 

By their way of thinking, the Cardinal had not been out of his mind when he thought he was meeting with her in the gardens of Versailles; therefore the conclusion was that she was morally loose, given to midnight rendezvous, and possibly even involved in the theft of the diamond necklace even though there was no proof suggesting she was.

It was a terrible blow to her reputation, a blow from which she never really did recover.   It was a very bad sign that the public was so quick to believe the worst of her and to support this fool Cardinal Rohan.  (No doubt Rohan's move to burn the love letters had saved him).

The Parlement was, in effect, saying that Marie Antoinette was widely known to be dishonorable and had such a bad reputation that the Cardinal was perfectly justified in believing he had arranged a midnight rendezvous with none other than the Queen of France.  From this point on, all the nasty rumors and tales floating around the Kingdom were given official sanction.

This was a very bad outcome for the Queen.  Indeed, sensing immediately the wide-ranging implications of the verdict, Antoinette collapsed in tears.


Conclusion to the Story

Rick Archer's Note: It took me a long time to truly understand why this necklace story had gripped me from the start. 

There were all kinds of lessons to be learned.  For starters, one shocking part of this story was the foolish credulity of a man who should have known better.  It is ridiculous to think a man of the world like Cardinal Rohan, a former ambassador for crying out loud, was so easily deceived thanks to his ambition and his pathetic male ego.  Just the thought that he actually had the nerve to imagine Marie Antoinette was in love was him says it all. 

It is chilling to see how easily this man was fooled into believing what he wanted to believe and seeing what he wanted to see. The Cardinal wanted to believe he was back in the Queen’s favor. He wanted to see the Queen there in the gardens, so that is what he saw.

In addition there can be little doubt he actually entertained thoughts of a possible sexual affair.  Reality was warped by this filter of his own ambitions and expectations. 

On a personal note, I was fascinated by how difficult it was to write this story.  On the one hand, the Internet is an incredible resource.  However, each person who wrote about the Necklace Affair had a different version of what really happened. 

1. As one example, one web site had Rohan giving the rose to d'Oliva in the garden.  I eventually realized it was d'Oliva who gave the rose to Rohan instead. 

2. As another example, one web site had the prostitute d'Oliva having sex with Rohan in the garden... on several occasions!  This seemed absurd.  As rotten as Madame de la Motte was, she was undeniably clever.  LaMotte would not dream of allowing d'Oliva to behave in any such way that would diminish Rohan's respect for the Queen.  Having the fake Queen behave like a tawdry slut would certainly not advance the purchase of the necklace.  Nevertheless, some people... most likely male writers... let their imagination get carried away.

3. A third contradiction was whether King Louis XV asked the jewelers to make the necklace or whether it was their own idea to make it in expectation that he would likely buy it.   I eventually settled on the jewelers coming up with the idea on their own.  That said, to me the story would make more sense if King Louis XV initiated the project himself.  This was a tough call,

I hope the reader will forgive any inaccuracies. Having to negotiate between a half-dozen contradictions, I have to believe I missed the call on at least a couple points.   But please realize I did the best I could to get it right.  This story was so good I didn't have to add a single piece of deliberate fiction to improve on it.

I realized what I was really looking for was an "explanation".  The grisly execution of Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette was so repulsive to me that I had to wonder what on earth these people had done to deserve such a horrible fate.

After studying the Affair of the Necklace, I felt like I understood what really happened to these two people.  To me, they were victims of circumstance.  Like the people on the Titanic, they were doomed by forces far larger than either person could control.

In the end, my conclusion was that neither of the two did anything to deserve having their heads chopped off.  It may be funny to see the angry Queen scream "off with their heads" in Disney's Alice in Wonderland, but to see it happen in real life is very disturbing.

I found that I was angry at myself for spending the majority of my life believing that Marie Antoinette had indeed uttered the immortal phrase "Let them eat cake".

This story was fed to me by my history teacher when I was at the impressionable age of 14.  Judging by the sincerity with which he related the story to our class, I have no doubt my teacher completely believed the story himself.

I suspect if 20 people on the street with any knowledge of Antoinette were asked, at least 16 would say they believe she made the statement. It would be interesting to ask.

I have come to the conclusion that well-placed lies and propaganda have enormous power. 

The simple truth is that majority of us are nowhere near the people we read and hear about through the media.  We are completely dependent on the accuracy of our news sources.

In addition, most people are not trained to question everything they read or hear. 

I think the American people are fed a steady stream of lies and half-truths on a daily basis.  Call it "propaganda".  But since few of us have any way to disprove what is being said, these lies are able to develop a life of their own and do vast damage.

This is the lesson of Marie Antoinette, a woman who never grasped the importance of public relations.  By allowing the myths about her to stand unchecked, she paid a huge price.

If King Louis XVI had been more aggressive at punishing the people who spread the lies, he and his wife would have likely lived much longer.

 My final point deals with the danger of widespread public ignorance.  Call it the "Cassandra Principle".  Cassandra was the Trojan princess who stridently warned her people not to bring the Trojan horse inside the walls of Troy.  Her voice was drowned out.

I have long been fascinated with stories dealing with a public gone insane.  A prime example would have to be Nazi Germany.  How was it possible for all those Christian people to take total leave of their senses and allow the barbaric behavior of their leaders?

And what about Salem Village?  Brought on by the lies of a hysterical teenage girl, before the dust had cleared, 19 people were dead by the cruelest of means (they were crushed to death by huge stones) and more than 200 people were unjustly accused of practicing witchcraft.

And now we have a King executed in France for really nothing more than being overmatched for the job.  And a Queen was executed because she spent too much money on clothes.  What in the world were the French people thinking?  

As the French mob slowly moved to Versailles, rumors of Antoinette orgies rocketed through the crowd like wildfire.  The mob was so angry at her they nearly killed her in her own bedchambers the next morning.  As far as 'orgies' are concerned, I never read a word about a single orgy.

So the death of the Queen was a riddle to be solved.  In the end, I got what I wanted - the Queen died because she had little natural talent for public relations.  That's really what it boiled down to.

Antoinette went through a bad phase in her early twenties.  After being constantly controlled and bossed around as a teenager, once she got old enough to tell people to go to hell, Antoinette behaved much like our modern bad boys and bad girls (Brittany, Miley, Justin, etc).

However, once she matured, Antoinette became a decent person and a good mother.  Her flaw was that she lacked the sense or perhaps the skill to turn her public image around. 

I think the Necklace Affair dealt her a crushing blow.  Antoinette was confronted for the first time with the truth of what the common people really thought about her... and she was devastated to discover how miserable her public reputation was.

To Antoinette, it was unthinkable that people would believe her capable of any such tawdry behavior.  But they did...

Now a sense of acute pain came over her with the realization that the French people believed their Queen was not only capable of meeting a man in the dark at midnight, but was almost certain to do if given the chance. This was in essence the ruling of the jury.

So what is the answer to the enigma?  Why did the plot to steal the necklace ultimately hurt an innocent Queen and does the story help explain why the Queen ended up losing her head?  It appears that her public reputation was mostly erroneous, but it also appears that Antoinette had not the slightest clue how to repair the damage. 

Even though Marie Antoinette wasn’t on trial, the trial backfired on her nonetheless.  Antoinette was shocked to see her reputation inadvertently put to a public test and shattered by the verdict.  The public had judged her a slut.

In the end, the Necklace Affair led to a huge decline in the Queen's popularity.  It further reinforced her image among the masses as a manipulative spendthrift, a frivolous "Madame Deficit" interested more in her own vanity than the welfare of France.

Once a jury of her peers - the men in Parliament - excused the Cardinal's behavior as "justified", everybody in France realized they could say just about anything they wanted to where Antoinette was concerned without fear of consequences. 

Now as Marie Antoinette became even more unpopular, the intensity of the malicious gossip about her increased.  If people in the street accused her of telling the starving to eat bread crumbs off the ground, then undoubtedly most of the French public automatically assumed the story was true even when it wasn't.

And when the firebrands inflamed the Versailles mob with lies about orgies, the Necklace Affair verdict had ruined her reputation so badly that these lies grew in power like an out of control fire.  The instigators manipulated the truth at every turn to inflame the mob.

I can imagine that Antoinette must have felt very bitter at the way people talked about her.  In the public mind, in the Necklace Affair, Marie Antoinette was 'convicted' of disgracing her royal position... even though she never did a single thing wrong in the strange situation that put her reputation up for public debate. 

Let her mistake be a warning to all of us - a person's reputation has great value.  Once it is lost, it is very difficult to resurrect. 


Antoinette's Fateful Mistake


The flight to Varennes during the night of 20/21 June 1791 was a significant episode in the French Revolution.  With her close brush with death at the Versailles Palace always in the back of her mind, Marie Antoinette feared for the safety of her children as well herself and the king.  

After two years of imprisonment, King Louis XVI of France, his wife, and their immediate family decided to make a run for it.  They attempted to escape from Paris in order to initiate a counter-revolution from abroad.

They wanted to go to Austria, Marie Antoinette's homeland, where they hoped to find safety.

The queen’s friend and rumored lover Axel Fersen used his own money to arrange the needed coach, assumed identity papers and escape plans. 

The royal couple with their children disguised themselves as common travelers and escaped from Paris at midnight. 

The king and queen were not very smart about their escape. By refusing to be separated from her children, they all had to travel in a single cumbersome carriage, rather than several smaller versions, attracting more attention. Had they separated, there is little doubt their chance of success would have been far greater.

They insisted that they travel with all comforts which made their coach lumbering and slow.  Not only would the large coach attract attention, it would require a change of horses midway.

The plan should have worked.  By traveling in disguise, once they made it out of Paris, they were in the clear.  No one had a clue what the Royal family actually looked like.  There was no television and no magazines to plaster the likeness of these people across the country. 

The coach reached Sainte-Menehould as the sun set and men were returning from the fields to the little town.  The arrival of such a fine carriage caused a pleasant stir in the village.

The coach had stopped here to change horses. Just then a young ex-dragoon named Jacques Drouet, the village postmaster, walked up and offered to help. By chance, Drouet's father was in charge of providing horses for the next stage of the journey.

So Drouet pitched in to help his father.  Drouet noticed an attractive woman who was dressed in peasant clothes.  Except that she didn't handle herself like a peasant woman. 

Drouet thought it was strange to see a peasant issuing orders in a voice that assumed the orders would be followed by a noble woman. In fact, the more he watched, the more he was convinced the peasant woman was the one really in charge. 

The combination of the fine coach and the lowly peasant woman behaving as boss rather than as a maid made him very suspicious.  Indeed, Antoinette was dressed as a peasant and Madame Campan was dressed as a noble woman, but Antoinette had forgotten to stay within her role. 

By chance, Drouet had just been given a gold piece as a tip.  He put the gold piece in the light and compared the face on the coin to the quiet, nondescript man sitting in the carriage.  Drouet noticed a resemblance.  He was almost sure this was the king.

The coach was just now pulling out when Drouet reached his dramatic conclusion.  Drouet quickly rounded up some friends.  Together they got on horses and sped past the coach to reach the small town of Varennes up ahead.  There they alerted the people to confront the king and queen on arrival.

Upon their capture, the royal family had travelled over 200 miles.  Even with all the mistakes they had made, they had almost succeeded. 

The family was caught only 30 miles from the French-Austrian border where loyal troops were waiting to rescue them and take them to safety at the heavily fortified royalist citadel of Montmédy.

The humiliated king and queen were forced to return to Paris over dusty roads over the course of the next four days.

Frenchmen came from near and far to gaze and glare at the famous captives, on several occasions almost assaulting them. Later members of the assembly arrived and crowded into the coach with them.

When they arrived in Paris, they were met complete silence.  All men kept their hats on.  There were no salutes nor any other sign of deference to the king.

Jacques Drouet

The coach being stopped at the outskirts of Varennes

The royal coach being escorted back to Paris

The weary travelers were caked in dust and sweat.  As Madame Campan drew the bath for the Queen, both women noticed the Queen’s blonde hair had turned completely white from the fright and torment of the journey.

This incident was a huge turning point.

The king's flight was traumatic for France.  It incited a wave of emotions that ranged from anxiety to violence to full-scale panic.  The realization that the king had in fact opposed the revolution was a great shock for the people.

Up till now, the people had seen Louis XVI as a good king who governed as a manifestation of God's will.

Now they felt betrayed.  This attempt at escape made them believe the King had no intention of reform. This gave rise to intense hostility towards the French monarchy as an institution and towards the king and queen as individuals.

So why did they flee?  Apparently it was Marie Antoinette's decision.  Her fear for the safety of her children made her desperate to get out of this horrible country while they still could. 

This mistake had sealed their fate. There would be no sympathy.

It would cost the King and Queen their heads.

This dramatic pictures shows Marie Antoinette dressed in peasant clothes and Madame Campan as the noble woman with King Louis behind her.  Antoinette is sobbing after being caught at Varennes and taken into custody.

Sad to say, but if Antoinette had just used some sense, the escape would have succeeded.


Not surprisingly, Costigan saved some of his best yarns for Louis XVI, the French king whose 1793 beheading before an angry mob was perhaps the most ignominious royal death in history.

Costigan explained that at least 15,000 French noblemen and some women as well had lost their heads during the seismic upheaval of the French Revolution.

I checked him out and discovered he was right.  One source said the death toll by guillotine was estimated at 16,600 people during the Reign of Terror (5 September 1793 – 28 July 1794).

Furthermore, the guillotine wasn't the only method of execution in use during that time. A further 25,000 to 40,000 (obviously a rough estimate) were executed in France during the same period. Most were simply arrested and killed on the spot. People were drowned, shot, hung, whatever was convenient at the time.

However, there could be no question that the guillotine became the official symbol of the French Revolution.

The French Revolution (1789-1799) was a ten year bloodbath that mercifully ended when Napoleon made his legendary coup (Napoleon is a story best left for another time).

One could trace the problems in France backwards to abuses of power by any number of kings, but the Bourbon family was the direct cause.  To be honest, the only thing that saved the family as long as it did was the notion that French kings were divinely appointed.  However, things got so bad that even divinity could not save Louis XVI.

Starting with Louis XIV, the Sun King, who raided the treasury for Versailles, and Louis XV who emptied the treasury fighting the futile Seven Years War, and Louis XVI who bankrupted the country, the point had come when France simply couldn't afford to keep these wasteful kings around any longer. 

Most historians agree it was clearly the American Revolution that unintentionally provoked the French Revolution.

Contact between American revolutionaries and the French troops who served as anti-British mercenaries in North America had led to revolutionary ideals being spread from America back to the French people after the soldiers returned home. 

A growing number of the French citizenry had absorbed the ideas of "equality" and "freedom of the individual" as presented by Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Denis Diderot and other philosophers and social theorists of the Enlightenment.

The American Revolution demonstrated that it was plausible for Enlightenment ideas - democratic ways to organize a government - to actually be put into practice.

Ominously, the French people had watched the American independence effort perhaps a little too keenly. Thanks to George Washington declining the offer to be made King, the Americans made it clear they wanted nothing to with monarchy.

Some American diplomats, like Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, had spent a great deal of time living in Paris where they consorted freely with the French intellectual class. How ironic it must have been for Louis XVI to read Benjamin Franklin's pro-democracy/anti-monarchy statements revealed in the press and in the conversations of Parisian philosophers.

Wasn't this the same Franklin guy who had come to him begging for money? He was definitely singing a different tune now.

The king's attempted flight had been a costly, risky mistake. It provoked the charges of treason which ultimately led to his execution on 21 January 1793. 

As Louis XVI mounted the scaffold, he appeared dignified and resigned. He delivered a short speech in which he reasserted his innocence ("I pardon those who are the cause of my death.... ")

He declared himself innocent of the crimes he was accused of, praying that his blood would not fall back on France. 

Once Louis XVI was dead, a terrible door had just been opened.  Now the French people began toying with dangerous thoughts.

The word Liberté was being whispered across the realm.  If the Americans could revolt, why not the French? If the Americans could be independent of the Crown, why not the French?

The king’s death seemed to make people believe that mass murder was acceptable.  Michelet argued that the death of the king would lead to the acceptance of violence as a tool for happiness.

"If we accept the proposition that one person can be sacrificed for the happiness of the many, it will soon be demonstrated that two or three or more could also be sacrificed for the happiness of the many. Little by little, we will find reasons for sacrificing the many for the happiness of the many, and we will think it was a bargain."

Thanks to that dubious reasoning, 40,000 would be murdered.

Costigan said it was radical thoughts like these, of course, that led to the bloody French Revolution of 1789. He added there was only one possible explanation for the ensuing blood bath.

The French people were so bitter and so angry at their rulers that the only thing on their mind was revenge and bloodlust against their oppressors.

At this point, Costigan concluded his French history lesson with a bemused smile. He said,

"Versailles is the story of four men named Louis.

Louis the Thirteenth bought it, Louis the Fourteenth built it, Louis the Fifteenth enjoyed it, and Louis the Sixteenth paid for it.  And that's all you really need to know to understand the French Revolution."

Behold le guillotine, the macabre symbol of the French Revolution

This portrait was made after the coronation at Reims.  It shows Louis Philippe, the Duke d'Orléans swearing allegiance as 'Chevalier du Saint esprit' to Louis XVI. 

Life is ironic.  First the Duke swore allegiance, then later voted to send him to the scaffold.  And the irony doesn't stop there.  In the

zealotry to stamp out all royalty, Louis Philippe was seized on the flimsiest of grounds, then tried and executed the same day by the same people he had once helped.  France was a dangerous place.

Liberty Leading the People
The famous painting of the Revolution by Eugène Delacroix

After Louis' death, the executioner lifted his head high for the crowds to see


The Sad Fate of Marie Antoinette


As for Marie Antoinette, Costigan, our Versailles guide, was very definite in his opinion that she was a victim, a sad figure trapped in one of the most horrible eras of history.

He categorically denied that the French Queen had ever spoken the infamous callous remark "Let them eat cake" in response to a report that the French people were starving.

Since the young queen was known to be quite tender-hearted, it is likely these words were surely made up by zealots trying to find some way to excuse their abominable execution of this hapless woman.

Costigan explained that Marie Antoinette never did a single thing to deserve the cruelty that was inflicted upon her. Yes, Marie was sheltered and inexperienced. Yes, she was silly, superficial and frivolous. She was also incredibly lonely in her adopted land and spent most of her time in refuge hiding at her small estate Trianon on the edge of the Palace grounds.

Marie Antoinette was guilty of only two things - she was a foreigner (Austrian) and she was married to Louis XVI, who was almost as much a victim of circumstances as she was.

Let's face it, the French mob was so hateful that they demanded a scapegoat. Marie Antoinette, the friendless, naive foreign girl, was the perfect target.

1793 was Antoinette's final year. Her beloved husband Louis XVI had appeared before the tribunal and been executed.  Soon it would be Marie’s turn.

Costigan mentioned that her confinement and eventual trial was horrible.   So I looked it up.  Sure enough, they roughed her up pretty badly.  The cruelest thing they could do was take her children away.  And that's exactly what they did.

After her husband’s death, in July 1793, Marie Antoinette’s son was forcibly taken from her.  The poor woman begged that her son be allowed to stay with her.  But she was powerless to change the will of the ministers. The boy was put under the care of Simon, a cobbler.  The child died of neglect within two years.

In September 1793, Marie Antoinette was separated from her daughter and sister in law as well. Now called “Widow Capet”, Marie was transferred to months of solitary confinement in the dank Conciergerie prison.  She was put under twenty-four hour guard by revolutionaries who watched her every move.  No one wanted her to commit suicide and deprive the citizens of the upcoming spectacle.

The Conciergerie prison was a form of living death. In this dank prison, she lost much weight and her eyesight began to fail. Recurring blood stains on her undergarments suggest she may have been dying of uterine cancer while she awaited her fate. Shortly before her execution, she had been hemorrhaging for days. Undoubtedly the woman was in pain from her disease.

On October 14, the poor pallid woman was awoken at night and forced to face the Revolutionary Tribunal. The trial was a horror, with the Queen attacked more as a person than as a queen.

Antoinette was accused of orchestrating orgies in Versailles, sending millions upon millions of treasury money to Austria, plotting to kill the Duke of Orléans, declaring her son to be the new king of France without their permission, and orchestrating the massacre of the Swiss Guards in 1792.  They even forced her own son was forced to testify that she had abused him.

The queen bravely replied to all these outlandish charges.  None of the accusations were true, not even a little bit.

However, the accusation that she had sex with her son was beyond cruel.  That took Antoinette's breath away.  She could not believe they would stoop so low to accuse her of having incest with her son. When she was able to recover, Antoinette stared grimly at her accusers and said,

“If I make no reply, it is because I cannot.  I appeal to all mothers in this audience - is it true??”

Shortly before Marie-Antoinette’s execution, the topic of Madame de La Motte was brought up by Public Prosecutor Fouquier-Tinville:

Question: Was it not at the Petit Trianon that you knew the woman La Motte?

Answer: I have never seen her.

Question: Was she not your victim in the famous affair of the diamond necklace?

Answer: She cannot have been, since I did not know her.

Question: Then you persist in your system of denial?

Answer: I have no system of denial. It is the truth I have spoken and will persist in speaking.

This line of questioning makes it clear that there was little attempt to get to the truth of any of the many rumors. 

She was found guilty of treason two days later and was immediately condemned to death on October 15.

When Antoinette left the courtroom after her pathetic pretense of a trial, people were shocked at her appearance. She was emaciated, prematurely aged, exhausted and care-worn. 

I found the story of the Queen's execution very disturbing.

On the following morning the hooded executioner arrived to shear Marie Antoinette's beloved locks to allow for a quick, clean cut of his guillotine blade.

One hour later at 11 am a guard entered her cell and forced her to strip and put on a soiled white peasant's dress. Then he tied her hands behind her back. Antoinette protested; her husband had not had his hands bound. But her protests fell on deaf ears.

Then Antoinette was forced into an oxcart and paraded slowly through the streets of Paris for over an hour. This journey was made unnecessarily long to make sure everyone in the city had a chance to witness her agony.

Throughout her journey she faced all kinds of abuse.  Some blocks were eerie in their silence.  Other blocks saw a jeering, hostile mob that shook their fists and spit on her.  Some threw rocks, other screamed curses at her and called her unimaginable names. 

The entire time Antoinette simply stared forward expressionless. The woman was in shock. What else could she do? No friend was allowed at her side. She had to face this ordeal completely alone. One can only imagine what ran through her mind as she passed this angry gauntlet of sub-humans with faces full of hate and contempt.

There were thousands in attendance.  Many were of die hard French women who had already witnessed many executions.  They were so used to this spectacle now that brought along their knitting to deal with the boredom of waiting.

At 12:15 Marie Antoinette was led up onto the scaffold. While climbing the scaffold, the weak and exhausted woman lost her balance and accidentally stepped on the foot of Henri Sanson, her executioner.

Apparently the last words Marie Antoinette ever uttered were "Pardon me sir, I meant not to do it".

Then she had her head placed on the block.  Moments later she was dead.  The executioner had wasted no time.

Moments after cutting her head off, Sanson reached down to pick it up by the scruffy hair. He then lifted the mutilated head up high for the mob of 30,000 screaming nutcases to view.

Many French revolutionaries were ecstatic to bid the extravagant queen adieu forever. After the blade came down, the executioner brandished Marie Antoinette's head in a triumphant wave so that the entire crowd could see it.

As blood dripped from her head to the stage, the joyous crowd cheered, "Vive la nation!"

Yet for the thousands of people gathered to watch the scene, it was a disappointment. They'd wanted to see the 38-year-old woman quake in fear and cower penitently.

A well-known 18th-century journalist and revolutionary, Jacques Hébert, wrote in the newspaper that Antoinette was "bold and impudent to the very end"

Despite the fact that the executioner had cut off all her hair and ordered her to don a threadbare white shift, she maintained her composure.

Now Antoinette's lifeless, headless body was then taken and dumped in an unmarked mass grave in the Rue d'Anjou.

What a repulsive story. To be honest, as I was growing up, I had always assumed the story of Marie Antoinette and her "let them eat cake" statement was the gospel truth. Now after researching the Marie Antoinette story, I came away convinced that the woman was far more worthy of my sympathy than my enmity.

Isn't it amazing how easily the truth can become twisted?

That is the interesting thing about travel. Wherever I go, I learn something new or I hear a version of something that totally conflicts with my previous understanding.  Indeed, my trip to Versailles completely reversed my attitude towards Marie Antoinette.

Her detractors argue that while Antoinette had very little say in the conditions of her life, she certainly could have lived her days at court in a fashion more befitting the queen of a nation on the cusp of revolution. 

Maybe so.  But was that any reason to murder her?

Antoinette says goodbye to her son

Now her daughter is forced to leave

Antoinette on "Death Watch"

Antoinette is awakened to begin her trial.  She was given no warning

If I make no reply, it is because I cannot. I appeal to all mothers in this audience - is it true??”

The miserable ride to the scaffold

Personally, I find it difficult not to feel sorry for the woman.

Rhône River 2014 Home Passengers  
SSQQ Front Page Parties/Calendar Jokes
SSQQ Information Schedule of Classes Writeups
SSQQ Archive Newsletter History of SSQQ