The Interrogation of Count Cagliostro

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 Alessandro_CagliostroCardinal 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 CollierThe 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. Continue reading

The Verdict


If you don’t want to know what happened to whom, then please don’t read on! If, however, you’re curious about what happened to all these characters who I have bringing to you one by one, then please read on.

Early on the morning of Mary 31, 1786, the courtyard of the Palais de Justice and all of the surrounding streets and byways were filled with people waiting to hear the verdict in the trial of the century, a trial that had captured the imagination on the entire French kingdom. A Cardinal of the Church was accused of theft, forgery, and lèse-majesté(criminal disrespect for the person of the monarch, in this case Marie-Antoinette); a young, pretty adventuress was accused of masterminding a plot to steal a necklace worth a large fortune and tricking the Cardinal; a mystic, Rosicrucian, and fraud was accused of–sort of, somehow–being involved in the theft; and a young prostitute was accused of impersonating the queen in the gardens of the Chateau de Versailles.

Cardinal Prince Louis de Rohan had a very large, very powerful family. As court was opened very early on May 31st, 19 powerful members of his family (from the Soubise, Guéménée, and Lorraine) arrived in mourning. It was a show of support for their relative and respect for the Parlement de Paris, the court hearing the case.

Before this trial began, many witnesses had been examined. It was something of a parade, including everyone from a clockmaker to the Du Barry herself. The Prosecutor General, Monsieur Joly de Fleury, wrote down his recommendations to the court before the accused were brought before it. The recommendations were sealed, to be opened after the accused persons were questioned by the lords of the Parlement. Once this was done, the seal would be broken and the recommendations read and the voted on. Continue reading

Who is Count Cagliostro?

In the comments to my short write-up on Count Cagliostro, someone introduced a very interesting topic.

Who IS Count Cagliostro?


In my post on Cagliostro, I said he said “almost certainly” Giuseppe Balsamo, an Italian peasant from a humble family. His true identity is still disputed, but what’s clear is that he was not Egyptian and he was not three thousand years old (as he claimed). He had an Italian accent and was only too mortal.

The evidence linking Cagliostro to Giuseppe Balsamo is the following:

1. An anonymous letter was sent to the Paris police. The man claimed to be from Palermo, where he knew a man named Antonio Braconniere, who claimed to have identified Count Cagliostro as his nephew, Giuseppe Balsamo. Braconierre made this identification by looking at popular engravings of the time. In other words, print of drawings, which were probably not particularly accurate representations of Cagliostro.

2. Cagliostro confessed to it under the Inquisition–in other words, under torture.

Still, Giuseppe Balsamo seems to be the only and the most likely candidate for Cagliostro’s true identity. The young Balsamo was involved in the kind of scamming and petty trickery that you might expect from a con man in training.

But, some might ask, how could this uneducated peasant suddenly metamorphose into the sophisticated Count Cagliostro, accepted into the highest circles of European society? A good spot of acting and a lot of  psychological acuity, I think. He had no trouble pretending to be what he was not. He also understood people’s weaknesses and how to exploit them. A can man works through lies and cultivating trust in his victims. This does not really need much education or cultivation, just a knowledge of what buttons to press. Cagliostro was also smart enough not to stay around the same places for too long; he and his wife moved about quickly before they wore out their welcome.

So, personally, I do believe they are the same person. Frankly, there is no positive proof that Cagliostro was Balsamo, and there probably never will be. There is still room for conjecture.

Count Cagliostro

The Characters #3: Count Cagliostro (1743-1795)

It has been ascertained that Count Alessandro di Cagliostro was almost certainly Giuseppe Balsamo, an Italian adventurer and occultist who made his living by tricking wealthy people into believing in all kinds of fantastic tales and in his own spiritual powers. In other words, he was a con man and a cheat.

This begs the question, What in the name of all that is [un]holy does a man like this have to do with a jewel heist perpetrated by a desperate and very obscure scion of a defunct royal house?

Castel Sant’Angelo, where Cagliostro was incarcerated and died. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

First, to begin at beginning; if Count Cagliostro was the Giuseppe Balsamo that he is believed to be, he was born in 1743 in Sicily. His lineage was very humble and his family not particularly wealthy. He did, however, receive a good education and began early to trick and swindle the wealthy people around him [some interesting stories are included in this Wikipedia article]. The story is that the coarse and crude Italian “metamorphosed” (as Frances Mossiker puts it) into the sophisticated, unctuous, sought-after, and influential Count Cagliostro. Frances Mossiker, for one, has her doubts that Giuseppe Balsamo was Count Cagliostro.

However, it is established fact that Count Cagliostro toured Europe extensively, selling his act. His act was that of a mystic and occultist, a knower of things and doer of incredible deeds. Continue reading