Diamond Necklace, Affair of the

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Diamond Necklace, Affair of the,

scandal that took place at the court of King Louis XVI of France just before the French Revolution. An adventuress who called herself the comtesse de La Motte duped Cardinal de RohanRohan, Louis René Édouard, prince de
, 1734–1803, French churchman and politician, cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church. Although he succeeded (1779) his uncle as archbishop of Strasbourg, he spent most of his career in Paris.
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, the grand almoner, who was out of favor with Queen Marie AntoinetteMarie Antoinette
, 1755–93, queen of France, wife of King Louis XVI and daughter of Austrian Archduchess Maria Theresa and Holy Roman Emperor Francis I. She was married in 1770 to the dauphin, who became king in 1774.
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, into believing that she could regain the queen's regard for him. Mme de La Motte and her accomplices then engineered a sham correspondence between the cardinal and the queen and even arranged an interview between him and a woman impersonating the queen. In the interview the cardinal was led to believe that the queen wished to acquire a diamond necklace of enormous value and that she had chosen him as her confidential agent. When Rohan obtained the necklace from the jewelers, he turned it over to the comtesse; her husband took it to London, where it was broken up for sale. The affair became public after Rohan failed to meet the payments to the jewelers. The cardinal was arrested and tried by the parlementparlement
, in French history, the chief judicial body under the ancien régime. The parlement consisted of a number of separate chambers: the central pleading chamber, called the Grand-Chambre; the Chambre des Requêtes
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; he was acquitted but lost his position in court. Mme de La Motte was punished and imprisoned, but she escaped to London, where she wrote her highly questionable memoirs. Alessandro CagliostroCagliostro, Alessandro, Conte di
, 1743–95, Italian adventurer, magician, and alchemist, whose real name was Giuseppe Balsamo. After early misadventures in Italy he traveled in Greece, Arabia, Persia, and Egypt.
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, at first suspected of complicity, was acquitted. The queen, noted for her extravagance and frivolity, was unjustly implicated in the affair; her enemies hinted that she had schemed to ruin the cardinal or that she had used her favor to obtain the necklace and then refused to pay. The scandal added greatly to her unpopularity at a critical time. A vast literature has grown around the subject, notably Dumas's romance The Queen's Necklace and Carlyle's Diamond Necklace.

Bibliography

See also F. Mossiker, The Queen's Necklace (1961).