Primary Sources

For Texans or those with a penchant for travel, I’ve come across a cache of primary sources. The Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin has a collection of documents pertaining to the Diamond Necklace Affair. Per the website:

Materials related to The Diamond Necklace Affair document the 1785 scandal that plagued the court of Louis XVI and contributed to pre-Revolution unrest. The scandal came about as a result of the Comtesse de La Motte’s fraudulent attempt to acquire (presumably for Queen Marie-Antoinette but in reality for herself and others) a diamond necklace owned by the Parisian jewelry firm Boehmer and Bassenge. Among the Center’s Diamond Necklace Affair papers are manuscript notes, memoirs, and letters by the Comtesse in which she attempts to discredit others and depict herself as a victim of circumstance. Additionally, there are letters and documents by others involved or implicated in the scandal, such as her husband, the Comte de La Motte, who took the necklace to England where it was broken up and sold and Count Alexander Cagliostro (1743-1795), upon whom the Comtesse tried to lay the blame for the whole affair. There are also retained copies of letters and documents that the firm Boehmer and Bassenge sent to Queen Marie-Antoinette (1755-1793), first requesting payment for the necklace and, later, when the intrigue came to light, setting out the details of their contract. The collection is complemented by nearly sixty-five volumes in the Ransom Center’s book collection relating to the Diamond Necklace Affair, many of them published contemporaneously with the event.

From the University of Texas site

The set of writings by Jeanne de La Motte-Valois are the vitriol that she poured out after her escape from prison in Paris. The psychology of this is interesting; I presume that Madame was simply seeking attention and revenge for the humiliation of her punishments. Even if she deserved the punishments (they were harsh, the harshest short of death, but she had caused havoc and irreparable damage to the Queen’s reputation), surely Jeanne didn’t find the memory appealing. She was all too happy to write tell-all memoirs against a Queen who she considered a personal enemy and who was currently in a very vulnerable position.

I would be interested to see the letters of Nicolas and Cagliostro. One comes across to me as a cool, calculating kind of figure with very little regard for his wife, Jeanne; when the going got tough, he got going out of the country. As for Cagiostro, he was a huckster but an entertaining and successful one.

The correspondence from Messieurs Boehmer and Bassenge must absolutely drip with desperation. These poor fellows were minus one extraordinarily expensive necklace, which they had gambled on with everything they had. They thought they had sold it to the Queen, but now they were being told that the Queen was denying all knowledge of the contract she’d supposedly signed to purchase the necklace.

I’m immensely interested in this collection. As it’s completely unlikely I’ll be in Texas any time soon, I may have to make contact and see what if anything can be digitally sent to me for my delectation and delight. And yes, I would find 18th century French documents to be delectable and delightful. Perhaps a French-to-English dictionary would be in order?


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