Naming Names: The Trial of the Affair of the Diamond Necklace

I’ve been humming along on several random projects, a few of them related in some tangential way to the topic of this blog. I’m working on a historical novel set in the mid-1850’s in the South. I’ve struggled with it immensely, but I’m invested in the story and will see it trough to the end if it kills me. I’ve also been working on a much shorter-term project, one a little more related to the Affair of the Diamond Necklace: I love Gainsborough, so I am working on a recreation of “Mr. and Mrs. William Hallett” in colored graphite. It’s one of my favorite paintings of his. I will at some point regale you all with my artistic endeavors. But not today.

I recently found “Marie-Antoinette et le procès du collier d’après la procédure instreite devant le parlement de Paris” through Google Books. It’s (obviously) in French, published in 1863. I haven’t been able to decipher some parts of it (and some parts don’t interest me, to be honest), but it includes the transcripts of several of the interrogations that took place during the Affair of the Diamond Necklace trial. This is thrilling for me, because thus far I’ve only had bits and pieces of those interrogations. Unfortunately, it’s all in French, and my French is woefully lacking. Google Translate, my knowledge of Spanish (similar root words and syntax), and my mad skillz allowed me to get a decent translation of Nicole d’Oliva‘s interrogation. There was nothing surprising in it; most of it was discussed by Frances Mossiker in The Queen’s Necklace.

My translation still needs to be cleaned up to be presentable, but I thought I would bring up this amusing little piece, which I highlighted because it made me laugh out loud:

The respondent was asked whether she ever saw at Madame de La Motte’s home a certain Monsieur Ogeard or Augeard, or another individual sometimes called Marsilly, a sometimes-counselor [lawyer?]. She responded that she did not intend to name names here.

I can almost hear the derisive sniff in Nicole’s voice.

The humor is in the irony, not because Nicole d’Oliva ever named any names, but because others did so. When she was arrested, Jeanne de La Motte was selective in whom she named and didn’t name. It appears she didn’t want to give the names of the attractive young men she liked (for instance, her old friend Jacques-Claude Beugnot, later Comte Beugnot, who was never implicated in the Affair even though he clearly had some knowledge of it).

One of those who “sang like a canary” was Retaux de Villette, Jeanne’s “personal secretary” (a bit of a euphemism). In my own novel about the Affair, Nicole (who is the narrator) says the following:

In April, the news was brought to me that Retaux de Villette had been captured in Switzerland and had signed the Bastille registry. Almost as soon as he was given leave to open his mouth, he spilled out the contents of his black heart. If the Comtesse had hoped to count upon him, then she had misjudged her lover.

I will work along diligently at making my translation of Nicole’s interrogation readable, and will move on at some point to Retaux de Veillette’s testimony. That, I think, will be juicy.

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