The Memoirs

This is a list of the many memoirs of the people directly involved in the Affair of the Diamond Necklace. There was a widespread penchant for writing memoirs at this time, so everyone involved wrote their version of events and had it published. Since the scandal made such a major impact, the memoirs sold well, though the writers didn’t necessarily see much profit due to copyright laws of the time. However, these would have proved juicy readings for the public, as well as for the historian. Although they’re wonderful fist-hand accounts, it’s difficult to decipher fact from fiction, especially in the case of the Affair od the Diamond Necklace. Some are available in various forms in various places. In her fabulous book The Queen’s Necklace, France Mossiker conveniently and brilliantly wove together these memoirs and other primary sources. If you want to read some of these various memoirs, your best bet is to find this book, which isn’t hard to do. If, however, you want to read the entire memoirs, these are the titles of them, and a few links to those that can be found via Google Books.

The Memoirs

Boehmer and Bassenge:

Memoires des joailliers Boehmer et Bassenge, du Août 12, 1785.


Mémoire pour le Comte de Cagliostro, accuse, contro M. le Proceureur-général, accusateur, en presence de M. Le Cardinal de Rohan, de la Comtesse de La Motte et autres, co-accusés.*

Jeanne de La Motte-Valois de Saint Rémy:

Mémoires justicatifs de la comtesse de La Motte-Valois. London 1789.

Memoirs of the Countess de Valois de La Motte. Dublin 1790.

Vie de Jeanne de Saint-Rémy de Valois. London, 1791, Paris 1792.

Nicole d’Oliva:

Mémoire pour la demoiselle le Guay d’Oliva, fille mineure, émancipée d’âge, accusée, contre M. le Procurer-général.*

Jacques Claude Beugnot:

Mémoires, Paris 1823

Madame Campan [Queen’s confidante]:

Mémoires sur la vie privée de Marie Antoinette. Paris 1823

Nicolas de La Motte:

Mémoires inédits du comte de La Motte-Valois (ed. Louis Lacour). Paris, 1858).

Retaux de Villette:

Mémoires historiques des intrigues de la cour, Venice 1790.

*Not personal memoires

Links to memoirs on Google Books for your edification

Count Cagliostro [FRENCH]:

Nicole d’Oliva [FRENCH]

Jacques Claude Beugnot [ENGLISH] volume 1  . volume 2

Madame Campan, confidante of Marie Antoinette

Abbe Georgel, servant of Cardinal Rohan

The Palais Royal

The last major stop in my whistle-stop tour of Diamond Necklace sites was the Palais-Royal.

Visiting the Palais

The itinerary for my final morning in Paris was: the Rue du Jour, the Palais-Royal, and finally the Louvre. It was an extended morning and we got going early, so this wasn’t pushing it, really. I’ve posted already about the Rue du Jour. The Louvre, while amazing, isn’t especially pertinent to the Affair of the Diamond Necklace.

Aside from nearly getting run into by a guy on a motorbike, the walk from the Rue du Jour was fairly quick. It was actually longer than it looked on the map, but what else is new? I can see that, if I were Nicole d’Oliva going from my house on the Rue du Jour to the Palais-Royal, where she plied her trade (so to speak), she might have chosen to take a cabriolet if she could afford it. The roads would have been messy and muddy. They weren’t paved and all kinds of trash and refuse (think horses taking dumps) of all kinds were mixed into the mud. There were no sidewalks, and the lighting, while extent, was poor at night. For all these reasons, it would have been a matter of safety and hygiene to take some form of conveyance.

That’s assuming that one could afford that. The accounts given by Nicole of herself make it sound as though she was fairly hard off. I’ve given my fictional Nicole a bit of class, but the real Nicole probably would have scraped by on the takings she got from working the men at the Palais-Royal. It would have been a very hand-to-mouth existence. It’s entirely likely that she wouldn’t have had the money to take a cabriolet. My fictional Nicole doesn’t mind the walk, but then again, she’s a little crazy.

In any case, the Palais-Royal was still closed when we got there quite early in the morning. I should say, the shops were closed. Sadly, they were doing work on the building, so the logia was boarded up. The courtyard was perfectly open. There is a modern installation of black-and-white-striped columns of varying heights here. It could come off as pretentious, but it is actually really pretty.

The shops weren’t open, but the gardens were. They’re really lovely, and since it was early spring, everything was just coming into bloom. I can’t vouch for the statue (I would guess it’s Victorian), but it would have probably looked similar at the time of the Affair of the Necklace. After looking around the gardens, there wasn’t much to see, and we still had lots to see at the Louvre before heading off to the airport to fly back to London.

The Palais in the 18th Century

The Palais-Royal that Nicole knew was a mixture of the refined and the crude. Having been a palace for many years (it was first built by Cardinal Richelieu), it was a grand building and retained some high culture: it housed the magnificent art collection of the Orleans family (who owned the place after Richelieu) and the Comédie-Française (a theater).

Mercier was not positively impressed by the Palais. His account of it in the Tableau de Paris is seething with moral indignation. He says, “Vice holds sway here.” This is a (not so) veiled reference to the women of vice who, just like Nicole, used the Palais as their base of operations. There were some hours during which respectable women could be found in the Palais: before 11:00 in the morning and around 5:00 in the afternoon. Aside from this, Mercier mentions that the place kept the police very busy, meaning it was rife with crime; there would have been a great deal of petty crime like pickpocketing.

The Palais, though originally the private residence of the Orleans family (cousins to the king), had been opened up to the public about the time that Nicole d’Oliva would have known it. Part of the palace was still the private residence of the Orleans, but the gardens and a series of shops were a public shopping mall. There were cafes (that were the hotbed of Revolutionary fervor; it was here that Desmoulins encouraged the crowd to attack the Bastille), boutiques, and hair salons. The gardens were beautiful, and the ladies and gentlemen would have walked here freely.

Nicole d’Oliva and the Palais

Mademoiselle Nicole d’Oliva was born in the Saint-Eustache section, near the Palais. As a young woman, she lived nearby on the Rue du Jour. This was her haunt. She was going about her business in 1784 at the Palais-Royal when she noticed a man looking at her.

At first, Nicole didn’t think much of it at first, but she noticed this man several times. Their eyes met, they would come across each other; they tried to pretend not to know each other. I can imagine the situation. One day, while Nicole was sitting at a cafe with a child friend (who was this child, anyway?), he finally came to speak to her. This probably was not unusual, as she was a prostitute. She may have been too embarrassed to bring up the fact that she had noticed him watching her.

Later that night, Nicole reports that he showed up at her door, and they started to be . . . friends? One wonders exactly what the relationship was, though it isn’t hard to imagine. In any case, this was Nicolas de La Motte, the self-styled Comte. He had been making cautious advances because he wanted something out of Nicole. It wasn’t immediately evident that what he wanted was for her to help in his and his wife’s plot to on a Cardinal of the Church out of huge sums of money. He and his wife, the Comtesse de La Motte, pulled her into the plot a little at a time.

It turns out that the Comtesse had heard of Nicole’s resemblance to the Queen, and she had sent her husband to start reeling in the young whore. It worked; the rest, as they say, is history. And it all began at the Palais-Royal.

Resources on the Palais Royal

A detailed look at the history of the Palais-Royal, including information about how the palace was used during its many stages.

A brief look at visiting the Palais-Royal today.

If you happen to read French, here is a book on the history of the Palais courtesy Google Books: Histoire du Palais-Royal

A first-hand account of Paris in the 18th century. Panorama of Paris. Louis-Sebastian Mercier.

The Rue du Jour

I have at last returned and (for the most part) recovered from my Continental trip. No, I was not stuck by an ash cloud; I got back to London (where I’m based; I’m not a native) on Monday, and the chaos began on Thursday. It is now the following Tuesday and there is still no sight of alleviation.

My trip to Paris was fruitful in that I saw several of the places on my list. Unfortunately, for various reasons that really don’t seem to make much sense in retrospect, I didn’t get to them all. Suffice it to say, I never made it to the Grove of Venus, which was actually heartbreaking, and I didn’t make it to the Rue St Gilles, which was less devastating.

I did, however, make it to the Rue Du Jour. Here’s the Google Map version.

The Rue du Jour was where my favorite Parisian prostitute resided in the 1780’s, when she met my favorite callow chevalier. I mean, of course, Nicole d’Oliva and Nicolas de La Motte. Nicole lived here, in the shadow of the Eglise Saint Eustache, a fantastic old pile. It is also directly in the proverbial (though not literal, as in the case of the church) shadow of Les Halles, which was a great marketplace. Now the marketplace has been sunk underground with the Metro even further below. It was quite a maze down below, and it was all we (me and my traveling partner) could do to find our way outside. Once outside, it took some time to orient ourselves because of the way the streets twist and split and braid around each other.

First, Les Halles. This was a covered marketplace, first created here in the 12th century. It would have been pretty obvious to Nicole, though at this moment I haven’t mentioned it in the novel I’m working on; it probably would have been relatively unimportant to Nicole anyway, who spent most of her time at the Palais-Royal. In any case, the covered market was demolished in the 70’s and replaced with the underground shopping.

This link has some more info and a picture of the old Les Halles; you will need to scroll down because it’s in alphabetical order:

When you step into the Rue du Jour–and here the British way of saying “in” as opposed to “on” a street seems appropriate– you get a feeling for the place in the 18th century. Many of Paris’s street are wide, but the older ones are not. This is one of the older one and it is flanked by buildings as tall as six stories. This gives a close, intimate feeling to the street. The ground floors are now shops, mostly for children’s clothing. The upper stories appear to be the same facades as the ones that Nicole would have known, with iron balustrades and bands of masonry demarkating the different floors. There are even gaps that I’m almost sure must have been carriageways or entrances to courtyards. Halfway down the road, there are large green doors in the rusticated front of an old building; when we were there, these were open, and we peeked in to see a courtyard. This is a fire station or some such, because the sign said “firefighters” (I only realized this after I got back from my trip and translated the sign).

Two things dominate the Rue du Jour: the church of Saint-Eustache and an archway. The church looms overhead in a magnificent way, just over the tops of the buildings. For Nicole, it must have been a constant reminder of the sinfulness of her profession–that is, if she had any religious sentiments at all, and she probably did given the time and place (almost everyone was Catholic).

As for the archway, I’m at a loss. Behind it, there’s a shop, and it looks as though it was once part of a building, the archway into the courtyard perhaps. I have yet to understand it and would be forever grateful to anyone who had a clue as to its purpose, what it may have once belonged to, etc.

So, what must it have been like to live here? It would have been thrilling to live so close to Les Halles, with the Palais-Royal a short walk to the west. Churches are a familiar sight in all European cities, but Saint-Eustache really does have a real presence here. It would have been a quieter, more out of the way spot than the bustling marketplace just a few steps away–like escaping from a maelstrom. It also would have been relatively comfortable place to live; perhaps Nicole’s circumstances were more comfortable than she let on.

Nicole’s mention of the Rue du Jour came during the trial two years after she met Nicolas de La Motte. As translated by Frances Mossiker, she says, “I lived close to the Palais-Royal at the time . . . in a small apartment on the Rue du Jour.” It is a passing mention, but it meant I could get a vivid, first-hand view of the place where this young woman lived. It’s a fantastic feeling.

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

Nicole d’Oliva

The Characters #5: Nicole d’Oliva

nicole d'oliva 2

I’ve come across some varying versions of Nicole d’Oliva’s name, but from what I can gather, her true name was Marie Nicole Leguay d’Oliva. She was also christened “Baronness [‘Barone’ in French] d’Olisva” by the Comtesse de La Motte. She was also known around the Palais Royal and to the police as Mlle de Designy. Most descriptions give her name as Nicole d’Oliva, however (many people at this time had two or more first names and used the second, in this case Nicole).

Young Nicole was  born in Paris in 1761, “of honest if humble family. She says in her memoirs that her “first misfortune was to be orphaned at too tender an age, deprived of parents’ care and vigilance which would have warded off the dangers inevitable to an unprotected girlhood”.

Nicole did not have any guidance or opportunities in her life. Like many women before and since, she was given very options and turned to prostitution. The oldest profession has many different levels, from the cheap hooker on the corner to the well-kept maitresse en titre, a woman who had a semi-official role and title as the mistress of the king. During Nicole’s childhood, Madame de Pompadour and Madame du Barry were the first ladies in the land, the mistresses of Louis XV. Nicole may have looked to their example of what even an uneducated, unprivileged young woman could accomplish. No doubt she aspired to creating a comfortable life for herself. However, she was still pretty far down on the ladder of life.

Continue reading