When the verdict was given on May 31, 1786, it’s unlikely that anyone could have foreseen what was about to befall France. These were the waning years of the ancien regime, and the verdict in the Affair of the Necklace was one of the warning bells of the monarchy’s demise. That the Parlement had effectively reproved their Queen for her wanton behavior was extraordinary.
So what became of some of our main characters?
Jeanne de La Motte-Valois, having been sentenced to be whipped, branded, imprisoned for life, and stripped of all her possessions, was led out into the Cour du Mai early on a June morning in 1786. Even though it was early, there was a massive crowd. Jeanne was branded twice with a V, for voleuse (thief), though she surely thought of it as V for Valois. She struggled so hard that instead of being branded on both shoulders, one brand was on her shoulder and the other was on her breast. After this ordeal, she fainted. When she recovered, she was transferred to the Salpetrière prison. After about a year of imprisonment, she made her escape in June 1787. She makes quiet a harrowing tale out of it in her memoirs. Despite an upswelling of sympathy for her, even from a staunch friend of the Queen’s like the Princess de Lamballe, Jeanne could not stay in France, so she went to London, where she was assured a warm welcome. The English were more than willing to take in someone who had so successfully discomfitted the French king and queen. They might ot have been so pleased with her if they realized how badly she had undermined the position of the monarchy and the social order it symbolized. In London, she published a series of tell-all memoirs, which are entertaining but exaggerated in some places and simply not credible in others. Two years later, the Bastille, where Jeanne had been imprisoned briefly, was taken by a mob on July 14, 1789. This must have given her great satisfaction. But she wasn’t to live long enough to see Marie-Antoinette, whom she considered to be her enemy, beheaded. Jeanne died August 23, 1791, about two years before the death of Marie-Antoinette. There were reports that police had come to arrest Jeanne or that she was pushed by sympathisers of the French monarchs. She may have fallen, or even jumped. No one can really be sure, but conspiracy theories abound. On July 20, 1792, the revolutionary court reversed the conviction of Jeanne de La Motte.
Nicolas de La Motte threatened to publish an exposé about the Queen and Breteuil (one of her chief ministers) from London. He had gone to London as soon as his wife was arrested and clearly wasn’t about to go back and be arrested and suffer the same fate as his wife. When his wife escaped from prison and arrived in London, they found themselves at loggerheads. She was emotionally unstable, attempting to throw herself from a window at least once and attacking Monsieur de Calonne, her lover who mocked her over a game of cards. Nicolas returned to Paris from London in August 1789, one month after the Bastille fell. He became adept at extorting money for doing nothing. He played the dying monarchy off of the rising revolutionary government and was able to live very well off of the proceeds. He was paid off by the Rohan family to not publish all he knew about the Affair of the Necklace.
Nicole d’Oliva was let out of the Conciergerie prison on May 31, 1786, and was given a place to live by her lawyer, Blondel. After spending some time there, she moved in with Toussaint de Beausire, the man whom she had been arrested with in Brussels and whose child she gave birth to in the Bastille. Beausire was a very sordid character. He’d been in trouble since he was a child, but came from a respected family of architects. It isn’t clear whether he actually married Nicole (or when, if he did), but he kept her in very conditions while he lived it up. He abused her and purposefully kept her and her child in squalor. She retreated to a convent and died in 1789, at the age of only 28. Toussaint lived on, made it through the Revolution, remarried, and lived until 1818. Real life isn’t always fair.
Cardinal Rohan was nominated to the Estates-General, then took his seat at the National Assembly (the revolutionary body). He refused to be held up as a martyr to royal tyranny. He objected to the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, which made the French Church subordinate to the French government and eradicated the monastic roders. Rohan withdrew from the National Assembly and left France for his estates in Ettenheim, in what is now Germany. As French priests fled from the Revolution, he sheltered them. The remainder of his life was far more respectable than it had been, and he died in 1803 in his bed. His niece’s husband, the Duke d’Enghien, wrote, “Cardinal Rohan, fully conscious as he took the last sacraments, died a death so noble as to be truly edifying to all present–a fact that may astonish you as much as it did me.” [from Mossiker’s The Queen’s Necklace pg. 547]
Count Cagliostro left France and continued to wander the world. He ran afoul of the Papacy in Italy and in 1789 was imprisoned in the Castel Sant’ Angelo. Cardinal Rohan remained loyal to him, but the Cardinal’s letter of recommendation didn’t help Cagliostro. He was put on trial under the Inquisition for the crime of being a Freemason, which was punishable by death. The trail dragged on for two years, but he was naturally found guilty (this was the Inquisition). His sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. His wife, too, was sentenced to life in prison, where she probably died in 1794. He was transferred to the Castel San Leo, a more secure prison, and was dead by the time French troops invaded papal lands in 1797, though a newspaper had reported him dead in 1795 (was he really dead at that time, or did he die sometime between the article and the invasion by the French?).
There are more characters to follow. Next time, I will be exploring their fates.