Boehmer and Bassenge’s Memorandum to Her Majesty

As the confusion over the sale of a diamond necklace deepened in 1785, the royal jewelers Boehmer and Bassenge wrote this memorandum to explain their version of the story. To set the scene: some time earlier, the jewelers had been approached by Cardinal Rohan to purchase a massive diamond necklace on the Queen’s behalf. The Cardinal had been convinced by a woman named Jeanne de la Motte-Valois that Marie-Antoinette was willing to bring him back into royal favor and entrust him with the discrete purchase of an extravagance that she couldn’t easily afford. In February of that year, the jewelers gave the necklace to Rohan, who then gave it to Madame de La Motte (apparently) and from thence it disappeared.

The first payment was due on July 30 of that year. The jewelers had invested everything in obtaining the diamonds that made up the necklace, which was worth a warship, and were already selling the necklace at a deep discount. They needed the money on the agreed date in order to meet their own obligations. Surely the royal jewelers weren’t worried; after all, this was the Queen of France who had bought their necklace (or so they thought).

Imagine their distress when the money wasn’t forthcoming. Four-hundred thousand francs were due. A forged letter came to Cardinal Rohan from Madame de La Motte (keep in mind, this is based on evidence of biased parties, though I believe most this part of the story), and accompanying the letter was 30,000 francs which he passed on to the jewelers. Boehmer and Bassenge must have seen this as something of an insult; they were due more than ten times that amount.  The irritated jewelers went to Cardinal Rohan’s palace every day to harry him about the payment. Unfortunately for the credulous Cardinal, he had signed as guarantor for “the Queen’s” purchase, so he was responsible for the expense.

On August 3, Madame Campan reports, M. Bohmer came to speak to her at Crespy. Knowing she was an intimate of Marie Antoinette’s, he asked if she had a message for him from the Queen, which she did not. In July, Boehmer and Bassenge had sent to the Queen a brief note expressing their gratitude for her purchase of their necklace. They said they had reached the pinnacle of happiness to think that the most beautiful necklace in the world was to grace the neck of the greatest of queens. According to Madame Campan, Marie Antoinette was puzzled by the letter and thoughtlessly burned it and forgot it. Now, Boehmer told Madame Campan that the Queen owed him money, which she insisted the Queen did not. He said it was for a diamond necklace and that the Cardinal Rohan had acted as go-between for the purchase. Madame Campan realized something was amiss, and she told Boehmer to go to Baron de Breteuil, Minister of the King’s Household. But Boehmer went to the Queen, who, again according to Madame Campan, dismissed the jeweler because he insisted that she owed him money which she was sure she didn’t owe.

Over a rehearsal of some line from the Barber of Seville, Madame Campan learned about this visit the jewelers had paid to the Queen. Madame Campan told the Queen all she had heard the other day about the diamond necklace and Cardinal Rohan. The Queen was finally alarmed. One can hardly blame her for being confused. The jewelers had pressed her for years to buy this necklace, which she had constantly refused to purchase, and now they were telling her she had bought it from her though she hadn’t. Still, the proper course of action probably would have been to investigate that strange letter she first received  in July. If she had, the course of the Affair of the Necklace might have turned out very differently, and maybe the course of history as well.

On August 9, Boehmer and Bassenger were brought to Trianon to explain themselves. It was then that Madame de La Motte’s plot to steal the necklace began to come to light. Luckily, the self-styled comtesse and her friends had already fled Paris.

On August 12, Boehmer and Bassenge wrote the following memorandum explaining their story in writing. Parts of this are included in Frances Mossiker’s The Queen’s Necklace, though the note at the top of this link seems to question its authenticity. The note also says Rohan wanted to become the queen’s lover. I would disagree, although he may have harbored that hope; his main objective was to restore himself in the Queen’s favor, which isn’t the same thing as winding up in her bed.

 Three days after this was written, Cardinal Rohan was arrested and one of the most sensational trials of the century began.


One thought on “Boehmer and Bassenge’s Memorandum to Her Majesty

  1. I wonder what happened to Boehmer and Bassenge. While I’m sure they didn’t have the softest landing between the whole affair and the later revolution, I find it odd no one seems to mention their fates. In other news, the name has been recently revived and had a showing at Christie’s.

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