Two years ago, I spent two nights in Paris, and it was a lovely few days. At this point I wasn’t deeply enough into the Affair of the Necklace to seek out the locations where it took place. We had a very short time–basically one day and a half. We went up the Eiffel Tower and into Notre Dame de Paris. We spent the next morning at Versailles, which was wonderful despite the terrible state of my feet, which felt like they were deeply bruised after a week of intense sightseeing in Germany. In any case, I hadn’t thought to plot out all the places that were involved in the Affair of the Necklace and besides I wouldn’t have been able to get to all of them. I’m not sure my mother, who I was traveling with, would have wanted to be dragged along to random streets, anyway. So, in short, I didn’t really get to see the locations of the Affair of the Necklace. I saw Versailles, but couldn’t figure out which was the Grove of Venus (I figured it out later–turns out I was staring right at it from the steps by the orangery). I saw the Palais de Justice/Conciergerie from the outside, and stood right in front of the Cour du Mai without really realizing that it was a very important place in the tale of the Comtesse de La Motte. As I said, I hadn’t gotten as deeply into the topic at that point. I had just begun to delve in.
Now that I’m back in Europe for at least another nine months, I will go to Paris. After all, it’s a quick trip to Paris from London. Other matters will interfere until at least January (schoolwork and a trip home to the US for Christmas), but I will get there soon. And when I do, I have quite the list of places to go.
1. The Rue du Jour and the Église Saint-Eustache. This is where Nicole d’Oliva lived before she was recruited into the service of the La Motte’s scheme. As she’s the main character of my novel, I’m interested in seeing the street she lived on. I’ve seen it on Google street view, but I want to see it in person. It seems a lot of the old buildings are there, but the ground floors have largely been converted for commercial use. Still, this is where Nicole lived! Interestingly, she lived across the street from a formidable old church, Saint-Eustache. It will be an interesting church to visit in its own right. The Rue du Jour is also very near Les Halles, another place worth seeing in its own right.
2. The Rue Saint-Gilles. At the time, the street was known as the Rue Neuve Saint-Gilles, and the La Mottes lived here during the greater part of the Affair of the Necklace. This is where schemes were plotted, forgeries were made, and probably where the diamonds passed through on their way to London. The number of the house where she lived is today No. 10 (at least, it was in the 60’s when Frances Mossiker wrote her book). Google Street view shows some construction going on (but the photos aren’t super up-to-date). As with the Rue du Jour, the ground floor of most of the street is shops now, but you can still see the buildings where the great intrigue of the Diamond Necklace took place. And this is where that complex and brave, greedy and sympathetic woman, Jeanne de La Motte-Valois, actually lived.
3. The Conciergerie. This is where the accused were kept right before the trial began. It is on the Île de la Cité, right behind and attached to the Palais de Justice. I’m actually not sure how much access there is, but I would love to see the place with my own eyes where Nicole and Jeanne de La Motte-Valois were imprisoned, Nicole with her newborn baby.
4. The Palais de Justice. Here, the Parlement heard the case of a Cardinal who believed he had been told by the Queen to buy a massively expensive diamond necklace on her behalf. The prisoners gave testimony and the verdict was rendered here in the Great Hall. In the front courtyard, the Cour du Mai, Jeanne de La Motte was whipped and branded with the letter “v” on both shoulders (for the French word for thief). This was her punishment for having orchestrated a grand theft (that and life imprisonment–she escaped, though).
5. Place de la Bastille. The prisoners in the Affair of the Necklace trial were kept at the Bastille for most of the months they were imprisoned before the verdict. It was here that Nicole was dragged to from Brussels, and here that Jeanne de La Motte was brought from her home in Bar sur Aube. It was, of course, stormed on July 14, 1789 by revolutionaries and no longer stands. The revolutionary fervor wasn’t a direct result of the trial, but the trial certainly contributed to the growing (and ultimately fatal) disrespect for the monarchy. It’s an important place to visit in Paris, whether or not you care about the Affair of the Necklace.
6. Versailles. I mean the town of Versailles. It was here in the Place Dauphine that Nicole was lodged around the time of the Grove of Venus scene. She was put up here by the La Mottes, and it very well might have been their own residence. In any case, it’s a short walk from the gates of the palace, which means it was easy for the La Mottes and Nicole to walk to the gardens, where Nicole pretended to be the Queen in order to fool Cardinal Rohan.
7. The Chateau de Versailles. This is where quite a bit of trickery happened. Jeanne de La Motte orchestrated a few clever illusions–for instance, the Queen sometimes nodded to people at random. She convinced Cardinal Rohan to wait for that nod as a signal of the Queen’s favor–because the Queen couldn’t come out in public and actually say she favored the Cardinal. The Queen nodded to the crowd, and Rohan believed she was giving him a sign of her favor. Also, out in the gardens, just to the left out the back of the palace and near the orangery, there is the Queen’s Grove, which got the nickname ‘Grove of Venus. ‘ It was here that Nicole d’Oliva played the part of the Queen, handing a flower to Cardinal Rohan and saying to him, “You know what this means.”
8. Palais Royale. This is still a public place, very much in the spirit of the place in the 18th century. It mingled a sordid underworld of prostitutes and crooks with the grandest people in Paris going to see Operas or the art collection. It was owned by the Orleans family, who had some delusions of grandeur. Here, in the summer of 1784, Nicole was approached by Nicolas de La Motte. This was Nicole haunt, and La Motte found her there, noticed she resembled the Queen somewhat, and decided she was the perfect person to fool Cardinal Rohan.
That’s the list. A lot of these places can be glimpsed through Google Street View, but there’s nothing like seeing them in person. Maybe sometime within the next two months, I’ll be able to post my own pictures of these places.