Nicolas de La Motte

nicolas de la motteThe Characters #6: Nicolas de La Motte

Nicolas Marc-Antoine de La Motte was “homely but a man of splendid physique” according to Jacques Claude (late Comte) Beugnot. Monsieur de La Motte married a young lady by the name of Jeanne de Valois de St Remy. She was a member of an impoverished (and illegitimate) arm of the Valois royal line of France; her family was descended from Henri II the entire inheritance had been squandered. He was a gentleman and a cavalry officer in the Gendarmerie. According, again, to Beugnot (who may have not been well-disposed towards La Motte), La Motte was adroit at “Wrangling credit” and had poor behavior so that he never advanced within the cavalry.

He lived in Bar-sur-Aube where his uncle was one of the most prominent citizens. He met Mademoiselle de Valois (later Madame or Comtesse de La Motte) at his uncle’s house. He was a lively, powerful character, and she was an impetuous, wild character. They hit it off immediately. Mademoiselle de Valois is rather tight-lipped about the lead-up to her marriage to La Motte on June 6, 1780, and no wonder. Beugnot, who was something an admirer of Mademoiselle in his own right, says that he received letters from Bar-sur-Aube telling him that a romance had begun between Mademoiselle de Valois and Monsieur de La Motte. “All in the same month,” he says,” they wrote me, first, that there seemed possibility of an engagement; in the next letter, that the engagement had been announced . . . and then, in almost no time at all, that the marriage had been celebrated.” The marriage was sanctioned by Mademoiselle de Valois’s foster mother (the Marquise de Boullainvilliers) and the Bishop de Langres, an old friend (and perhaps lover) of Mademoiselle. Beugnot’s “astonishment” at the rapidity of the romance was relieved when Madame de La Motte gave birth to twins a month later.

The twins were baptized July 6, 1780: Jean Baptiste and Nicolas Marc. They survived only a few days.

Asidefrom the sad death of their infant sons, the marriage was not meant to be happy. Neither had much money to their name but both had the kind of habits and delusions of grandeur to eat up what money they did have. Aside from that, Madame de La Motte was not faithful–and probably neither was Monsieur de La Motte. Monsieur de La Motte was forced to resign from the cavalry after what appears to have been an affair between his wife and his commander, the Marquis d’Autichamps. She claims that the Marquis arranged to go on a trip to Paris with the La Mottes, but made it clear before leaving that he really did not want Monsieur de La Mottealong for the ride. In other words, it was a trip for just the Marquis and Madame de La Motte.

It seems almost certain that Madame de La Motte also had a relationship with a friend of Monsieur de La Motte. Retaux de Villette was a fellow officer in La Motte’s garrison. He was an old friend of La Motte. In time, he became Madame’s “personal secretary”–which I can only take as a euphemism. Aside from being her secretary, he was a forger, an accomplished musician, a sometime gigolo, and a wit.

The La Mottes flitted between Paris and Versailles, attempting to commute Madame’s lineage into money. She attempted to curry favor with the Queen (and failed); he attempted to help in whatever ways he could. This was an exercise in futility: the crown had already given pensions to Madame de La Motte, her sister, and her brother; she had already sold hers for ready cash. The Crown was not prepared to do any more for very distant relatives who clearly had no control over their finances.

At some point, the couple began to refer to themselves as the Count and Countess de La Motte (Comte et Comtesse de La Motte). They had no right to the title.

Madame de La Motte eventually decided on a scheme to make money by selling her “influence”. All she had to do was tell people at court that she (secretly) had the Queen’s ear and they would (suddenly) become her best friends. Currying favor was big business. She was not the only one to pretend that she could influence the Queen and to demand money in return. She just managed to pull it off on a much larger scale.

Madame de La Motte later claimed that her husband was mostly unaware of her dealings with Cardinal Prince Louis de Rohan. This is probably untrue. Given that Monsieur de La Mottewas not the most savory of characters himself, it is hard to imagine that the dynamic duo did not collude on the plot. The Cardinal had been out of favor with Her Majesty Queen Marie Antoinette for a very long time and was desperate to gain that favor back. He was also extremely rich; enter Madame de La Motte, who assured him that she could convince the Queen to take him back into the royal fold. He parted with 120,000 francs, which he thought were going to the Queen but which went directly to the La Mottes. The chances are very good that Madame de La Motte had a romantic relationship with the Cardinal, given some of the sexual undertones in the descriptions of their meetings.

Whether or not he had any part in devising the plot to steal an immensely expensive diamond necklace, Monsieur de La Motte was a part of the plot. He was definitely part of the Grove of Venus scene. On February 1, 1785, a diamond necklace was delivered by Cardinal Rohan to someone he thought was a messenger of the Queen (it was Retaux de Villette). A few short weeks later, Monsieur de La Motte was in London selling diamonds. A few months later (after he returned to Paris), when the plot began to crack open, he and his wife absconded to Bar-sur-Aube. When she was arrested, he high-tailed it out of France back to London.

There he would remain for many years. The trial took place through the fall and winter of 1785. It was a sensational trial, which involved grand theft, impersonation of the Queen, and a Cardinal of the Catholic Church being duped. Marie Antoinette’s reputation was irreparably damaged when the Parlements (Courts) said, essentially, that the Cardinal was not insane when he believed he had met the Queen in a midnight rendezvous.

Monsieur de La Motte was sentenced in absentia, but wisely remained absent . . . at least, he remained absent until the Bastille fell in 1789. His wife, on the other hand, went to London where she died in 1791. In 1792, the sentence against her and Monsieur de La Motte was reversed by the revolutionary government (on a technicality, but reversed nonetheless). Monsieur de La Motte accordingly spent several years being paid to keep his silence. He held various posts and positions, largely due to the help of Comte Beugnot, who was an influential member of successive governments. La Motte died in November 1831, some forty five years after the Affair of the Diamond Necklace. He was in his late seventies, probably 77 years old.

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4 thoughts on “Nicolas de La Motte

  1. Hi there!

    Last year I got a book there was written/drawn one of my family trees. I found out that one of my grand grand (12 grand…)grandmothers was called Catharina de la Motte.
    It´s a very funny idea to think, she was possibly related to these de la Motte described at this site. Her father (?) Samson de la Motte (1600) was born in France, I think.
    Well. 🙂 Anyway, history of those famous diamonds is interesting.
    (I don´t have any of those jewels in my cupboard…)

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