Count Cagliostro was one of the more colorful characters in the Affair of the Diamond Necklace, and that’s saying something. He was apparently an Italian adventurer who peddled his skills as a healer, soothsayer, and mystic. In spite of this being the age of the Enlightenment, Cagliostro had a large clientele (or fan base, depending on how you look at it). He stayed with nobles who believed in his powers or were just entertained by him. Cagliostro was in the social sphere of Cardinal Rohan at the time of the Affair of the Diamond Necklace. When Jeanne de La Motte, self-style Comtesse, came to the Cardinal with stories about her friendship with Marie-Antoinette, Cagliostro was there in the Cardinal’s household. It seems that the two of them–Cagliostro and Madame de la Motte–were both in the business of using Cardinal Rohan for his money. The Cardinal, however, wasn’t aware of this.
Madame de La Motte used Cardinal Rohan’s confidence in her to pilfer money from him. Then she used his desperation to get back into the Queen’s good graces against him as well. She tricked him into acting as guarantor for a necklace that he was led to believe the Queen wished to purchase privately. The necklace disappeared. When the theft was discovered, the Affair blew up into a massive scandal that ended up permanently damaging the Queen’s reputation.
The trial took place in 1785. Cagliostro, among many others, was dragged before the Parlement (or court). Below is part of the interrogation that was taken at the Bastille. It is part 1. Basically, it covers Cagliostro’s story of his life, his meeting with the Cardinal, and his meeting with Mme. de la Motte. There are a few remarkable things: Cagliostro is very low-key. He doesn’t tell any tall tales here, as he was otherwise wont to do. He also claims to have known nothing about the contract that was forged, on which Marie Antoinette supposedly wrote “approved” by each item and then signed herself at the end as “Marie Antoinette de France”, which, it has been noted, means as much as “Marie Antoinette of the Moon”.
A note about this: I have translated this from Marie Antoinette et le proces du Collier. The thing is, I don’t really know French. I used a combination of my limited knowledge of French, Google Translate, WordReference, and my knowledge of Spanish (which follows similar sentence structure). Translation is an art. I’ve done my best to get the meaning correct. Parts 2 and 3 (and maybe 4) will come in the future.
Interrogation of Count Cagliostro Part 1
Before us, Jean-Baptiste-Pierre-Maximilien Titon, advisor to the King in his court of Parlement in one of the rooms of the Government in the Bastille, was led by the Sieur de Losme, major adjoint of the castle, the man named Cagliostro.
He was asked his name, surname, age, station, and residence.
He said he was named Alexandre de Cagliostro, aged thirty-seven or thirty eight years, practicing medicine without making it his special occupation, residing at Paris, Rue Saint-Claude, in the Marais.
He was asked what he had been doing since his birth [i.e., all his life].
He answered that, having lost his father and mother at the age of three months, he could not be sure whether he was born in Malta or Medina, and that all he knew about his birth was that it was always said he was of noble extraction. He received an education suitable to his condition, having been given a tutor from an early age. He was taught in the sciences, belles lettres, and languages. At a slightly more mature age, he was occupied particularly with botany and medicinal chemistry. At the age of eighteen, he devoted himself to travel with his tutor.
He travelled the Archipelago, Turkey, Asia, and Africa. From there, he went for the first time to Italy at Naples, where he stayed a little while. He was subsequently in Rome, where, having the special protection of Cardinal Orsini, the Pope, and all the nobles of that country, he followed his taste for medicine, and practiced [medicine] especially for the [benefit of the] poor. There, he came to know of a young woman whom he married [named Serafina]. He continued to practice medicine, but his marriage was an occasion for enemies: slander was unleashed against him so that he was forced to end his sojourn in Rome.
Then, he traveled throughout Europe with his wife, and, upon his return from Russia, passed through France in the year 1780. We observed that at Petersburg he spent eleven months at the Court, and from there he went to Warsaw, where the Polish king forced him to remain for some time to treat a lady of the court, for whom he brought about a cure. He said he could give us as proof of his conduct and the manner in which he was received at these various courts, the Chevalier de Corberon, who was chargé des affaires of France in Russia and, wishing to pass from Poland to England, passed through Strasbourg.
We asked whether it was in Strasbourg that he met the Cardinal de Rohan.
He responded that it was in Strasbourg.
We demanded of him whether the Cardinal had not demonstrated the utmost deference and greatest respect [presumably for condescending to deal with a commoner like Cagliostro].
He answered that, having been some time in Strasbourg and there entirely devoting himself to providing the relief of his art to all who had recourse to it, especially the poor, the Cardinal wanted to see him and engaged him to come to his home to treat the asthma he suffered from.
Having been in the situation of curing the secretary of M. le Marquis de Salle, who had gangrene both internally and externally, the Cardinal engaged him and forced him to come to Paris to see M. le Prince de Soubise. He remained twelve days in Paris without having been used by the Prince de Soubise but being obliged to give audiences and advice to such a huge portion of the world that he was virtually besieged. From there, he returned to Strasbourg and the Cardinal, content that the way he had conducted himself had earned him the greatest respect.
We asked if he did not at that time convince the Cardinal that he [Cagliostro] had particular secrets that could ensure his [the Cardinal’s] success in whatever he may wish.
He responded no.
We asked if he knew Mme. de La Motte and at what time they met.
He said he met her at the Cardinal’s palace [“chez Cardinal”]. One day in Strasbourg, he believed, she came asking for news of one Marquise de Boulainvilliers [her foster mother], and asked whether she was in Strasbourg. He said no, and that she [the Marquise] was to be found in Saverne [which was another of the Cardinal’s places of residence].
We asked whether he did not come to settle in Paris in the month of January, 1785.
He said yes, and that he arrived on the 30th.
We asked if he had any property when he arrived in Paris, and what it consisted of.
He answered that in coming to Paris, he had brought sufficient money to establish himself. He lodged in the Palais-Royal for 15 louis per month [ironically, this is where Nicole d’Oliva plied her trade at nearly the same time]. He remained there nearly twenty days without leaving, but received [i.e., entertained] his friends.
M. le Cardinal came to see him there several times. The Cardinal advised him to leave, offering him an apartment of his own, and he [Cagliostro] was determined to take the home [in other words, he jumped at the offer]. Having found a place that suited him on the Rue Saint Claude in the Marais, he entrusted M. de Corbonnières with the rent, which was furnished little by little, and asked M. de Carbonnières to preside over all the arrangements and to take appropriate measures to pay; he gave him money from time to time, [for rent] as well as for the cost of a carriage. At the beginning, the Cardinal came to see Cagliostro there three or four times a week, and he often came to take meals there.
[I could be reading the French wrong, but it seems that Cagliostro is implying that Carbonnières was skimming off the top instead of paying Cagliostro’s rent as Cagliostro had asked him to.]
We asked if it was not the cardinal who provided for the expenses of the house.
He said no, that it was always he himself who paid for his own expenses, but the Cardinal brought, from time to time, some people who were attached to him [socially], such as M. de Planta and M. de Carbonnières. He [Cagliostro] reciprocated by asking the Prince’s [Cardinal’s] friends to dinner with him. The Cardinal came with one or two dishes from his home, but he [Cagliostro] kept count every day and paid back the expense out of his own pocket.
We asked whether, in the month of January 1785, the Cardinal did not say that he would buy a diamond necklace for the Queen and if he did not show him the contract.
He responded that the necklace was bought before he arrived in Paris. He had not seen the necklace or the contract that had been written. All he knew was that the Cardinal said he had orders to buy the necklace, which was worth 1.5-1.6 million livres. He, the respondent, asked the Cardinal: “Is it the case that you have [already] paid for it?”
The Cardinal said, “No, the arrangements have been made and the jewelers are content. I’ve been to Versailles, taking the necklace to Mme. de la Motte’s place, where the Queen was due to come: we expected her at any moment. A man came saying that the Queen could not make it [at that time]. He delivered a letter containing orders from the Queen saying that he [the messenger] should be given the necklace. He said that he failed to recognize the man to whom he gave the necklace.”
And the Cardinal said to Cagliostro that this man was Desclaux or Duclaux, a chamberlain [“garçon de la chamber”—in reality Reatux de Villette, the “personal secretary” of Mme. de La Motte]. The respondent wanted to protest [to the Cardinal], but when the Cardinal told him that it was a done deal, he replied, “Then, it is no longer worth talking about.”
We challenged him to declare whether he had seen the contract for the necklace with the words “approuvé” and signed by the Queen.
He responded that when the Cardinal spoke to him for the first time about the necklace, he was not shown the contract that had been made. He saw the contract at the end of July, fifteen days before the arrest of the Cardinal.
At that time [i.e., July], the Cardinal expressed some trepidation to Cagliostro. The respondent said, “Is the problem that you’re not sure about what has been done?” At that, the Cardinal showed him the contract, where he saw the “approuvé” and the signature: MARIE ANTOINETTE DE FRANCE.