The people who took part in the Affair of the Diamond Necklace were some of the most extraordinary people ever thrown together into one of the most bizarre moments in history. Soothsayers, prostitute, queen, cardinal, jewelers . . . when the trial took place in 1786, they even brought in a clockmaker to give testimony. The lasting consequences of the Affair of the Diamond Necklace brought on the fall of the monarchy in France. So what happened to this amazing cast of (real-life) characters when the Revolution swept across France?
Jacques Clause Beugnot, later Comte Beugnot, was an old friend of Madame de La Motte. He had known her from her less prosperous days in Bar-sur-Aube and had probably been romantically involved with her before she married Nicolas de La Motte. There is some evidence that Beugnot was at least partially involved in the aftermath of the theft of the necklace. He was amongst a group of La Motte friends and family who convened after the first arrests were made, trying to decide what was to be done now. He also, apparently, ended up with a diamonds ring, according to Frances Mossiker. He was shrewd enough to stay out of sight and out of mind when the storm hit. In prison, Madame de La Motte asked him to be her legal counsel, but he wisely did not accept the offer. He was already too closely associated with Madame de La Motte for his own good. Madame de La Motte, for her part, never mentioned Beugnot’s name either during the interrogations or later, when she was writing tell-all memoirs from London. This could be contrued either as an insult (he had been her friend, after all, at the very least) or as a sign of her affection for him (she was making sure suspicion never touched his name).
Beugnot was arrested in 1793 as the Revolution took over Paris. He had been part of the National Assembly, but the Revolutionary fervor was at such a pitch that today’s heroes were tomorrow’s villains. He was let out through a web of hazy connections–his wife’s uncle knew someone who knew someone, and he was let out of prison without falling under the blade of Doctor Guillotine’s machine. He was given the title of Comte (it was clearly not hereditary) and held several posts under the restored monarchy: director general of the national police, Marine Minister, Postmaster General, and Minister of State. He became quite a respectable and respected figure, and it seems very few remembered the hints of the scandal that had almost clung to him. He must have been grateful, to his dying day, that Madame de La Motte had not spoken his name.
Retaux de Villette was literally kicked out of France after being exiled by the Parlement de Paris. He was, as tradition dictated, given a loaf of bread and was booted in the ass. He went to Venice, where he claimed in his memoirs to have languished, though he also made some pretty outrageous claims about his romantic life. In 1790, those memoirs were published, and nothing more was heard of him (at least, it seems Frances Mossiker could find no more information on him, and neither could I).
Marie-Antoinette of course was the guillotine’s most famous victim. When she arrived from Austria to France as the new, young, pretty Dauphine, she was well-received. Of course, this all turned very sour in the coming years. Was it all because of her own behavior–her extravagance and the appearance of callous uncaring about her starving subjects? Or was she the scapegoat of the coming revolution, which would have come with or without her? In either case, she was widely reviled as Madame Deficit, La Autrichienne (the Austrian bitch), and many other rude and crude things. Her image was used in pornographic pamphlets as well as in fashion plates. The Affair of the Necklace was a huge blow to her reputation. More accurately, it was the Parlement’s refusal to convict Cardinal Rohan for criminal presumption. The Parlement was, in effect, saying that Marie-Antoinette was so dishonorable and had such a bad reputation that the Cardinal was perfectly justified in believing he had arranged a midnight rendezvous with her. All the nasty rumors and tales were given official sanction. This was a very, very bad outcome for the Queen. Indeed, she somehow sensed that the verdict was a disaster and she collapsed in tears.
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 n system of denial. It is the truth I have spoken and will persist in speaking.
Toussaint de Beausire was the young man who was arrested alongside Nicol d’Oliva in Brussels, Belgium. The two of them had left Paris because Brussels was much cheaper and Toussaint was deeply, deeply in debt. [Naturally, I give this a slightly different spin in the work of fiction I’m slaving away at: they flee Paris because they hear everyone connected with the Comtesse de La Motte is being arrested, and they want to avoid being arrested; obviously, they fail.] Toussaint was a failed architect who had gotten into debt very early in life and never actually made it through school because he kept pulling very bad pranks and swindling people. His family threatened to put him in a mental asylum by declaring him mentally incompetent.
After being put in the Bastille for a short time, Beausire was let go because it was fairly clear he had no direct knowledge of what had happened concerning the La Mottes and the diamond necklace. He had simply been there when the police found Mademoiselle d’Oliva. His family promptly did as they had threatened, putting him in an asylum. He was released from there as well a little later on.
Beausire probably married Nicole d’Oliva at some point–Frances Mossiker refers to them as being man and wife though she never specifies when and where it happened. It might well be that Mossiker, writing in the 60’s, said they were married because they had a child (who was later legitimized). In any case, they certainly ended up together, though it was far from a happy reunion. Beausire was not a great guy; according to reports that quoted Nicole d’Oliva herself, he kept his wife and son in a squalid back room while he enjoyed himself in the front room with lots of women. Lots and lots of fishy stories pop up here and there about the characters in the affair of the necklace, so you can judge the veracity of this story for yourself. In any case, Nicole died shortly thereafter at a convent, leaving Beausire free to remarry, which he did (producing six children in the process).
Beausire was one of the people who brought down the Bastille on July 14, 1789. He became a firebrand of the Revolution and made quite a name for himself. Of course, no one was safe as the tides changed day by day during the Revolution, and Beausire ended up in jail. It is perhaps unsurprising, given his character, that he turned informant, saving his own ass and getting a hated relative (one of those who had put him in an asylum) guillotined. Beausire was tried but acquitted and lived until 1818. Good guys finish last, I guess.