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Gordon Cope

Femmes Fatales of Paris – Madame de la Motte

Madame de la Motte

Madame de la Motte

Jeanne de Valois-Saint-Rémy, also known as the ‘Comtesse de la Motte’ was a saucy woman of undeniable deviousness. Born in 1756 to the illegitimate descendant of King Henry II, she sought  to escape poverty using her wiles and fierce ambition. In an effort to lay claim to lost Valois lands, she attempted to establish a social relationship with Marie Antoinette, wife of King Louis XVI. Despite rebuffs from the queen, Jeanne persisted, and her machinations eventually led to a delightful swindle that was to become known as ‘The Affair of the Diamonds.’

Much of the actual plot was hatched at the Hôtel de Rohan, an immense palace that was built for Cardinal Rohan, a rather vain and corpulent man with a crush on Marie Antoinette.  He fancied her as a mistress, but she never had the slightest interest in him.  In fact, word has it that she blamed the cardinal for the humiliating incident that occurred as she was traveling to Paris for her betrothal to Louis XVI.  Stopped at the border of France, she was made to strip naked, removing everything that was Austrian.

The focus of the diamond affair was a necklace crafted by the French jewelers Boehmer, who had unsuccessfully tried to sell it for 1.6 million francs to Louis XVI.  Accounts of the affair are contradictory and full of claims and counterclaims. A popular version purports that Madame de la Motte Valois, then the mistress to Cardinal Rohan, fancied the necklace for herself, and came up with a plan to acquire it using the gullibility and lecherousness of her lover.   She forged a letter from Marie Antoinette to Rohan saying that she would look favorably on the cardinal if he were to buy this necklace for her.

When Madame de la Motte delivered this letter personally to the cardinal, he was naturally suspicious.  He asked to meet Antoinette in person, so the crafty Madame arranged for a hot midnight assignation in the forest of Versailles with a prostitute disguised to look like the queen.  Tantalized by this taste of forbidden fruit, the duped Cardinal put the first payment down for the necklace and gave it to la Motte, who immediately broke up the necklace and sold the diamonds.

The subterfuge was soon discovered when the defrauded jewelers came looking for their second payment.  When the truth emerged, the king had Cardinal Rohan stripped of his offices and sent into exile.  Madame de la Motte was put in jail and branded with a V, for voleur, but the jewel thief later escaped to London where she had the last laugh, publishing a salty, vengeful memoir about court life in Versailles.

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