The Interrogation of Count Cagliostro Part 4

I have been pretty negligent in my efforts to translate and bring to you bits of the interrogations of various prominent characters in the Affair of the Diamond Necklace. I last brought you part 3 of this interrogation in 2013. I have (finally!) gotten around to translating the fourth and final part of Count Cagliostro’s interrogation.

Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3

As a reminder, Count Cagliostro was a friend of Cardinal Prince Louis de Rohan. In 1785, Rohan was arrested on suspicion of defrauding the royal jewelers out of a very, very expensive diamond necklace. As it happens, he was duped by a woman named Jeanne de La Motte, who claimed to be an intimate of the queen’s. Cagliostro, a mystic and charlatan, was arrested because he was, at the time of the Affair, living in Rohan’s household. Mme de La Motte had also implicated him (and Rohan) as the masterminds and perpetrators of the theft.

Previously, the interrogator asked about a seance of sorts that took place in Rohan’s palace and was apparently conducted by Cagliostro. He described a seance that took place in the Cardinal’s household. He does his best to characterize it as harmless, while the interrogator tries his best to characterize the little event as suggestive and damning.

He was previously asked about whether he’d seen the missing diamond necklace and whether he’d seen the contract (no and yes). Now the questions turns to some diamonds that Cagliostro and his wife were seen to possess . . . 

The Interrogation of Count Cagliostro Part 4

We asked whether it was true that the Cardinal gave diamonds to the respondent’s wife, whether she had not been seen there [in Paris] with several [diamonds] [“si on ne lui en a pas vu beaucoup”], and whether those diamonds came from the necklace.

He replied that he had told [the Cardinal] about a very rare and precious gem of gold and diamonds that comprised the head of a cane [“qui fait une pomme de canne”], inside of which was a very curious bell and which the Cardinal found very appealing. He [Cagliostro] asked the Cardinal to accept it [as a gift], which is what the Cardinal did. [Presumably, this elaborate cane belonged to Cagliostro. The Cardinal saw it and expressed his admiration of it, which in this context more or less obligated Cagliostro to give it the Cardinal as a “gift”.] He [the Cardinal] wanted to show his gratitude and gave him [Cagliostro] some presents in return, which he [Cagliostro] refused; except, on various occasions, notably on the fête [presumably, “name day”] of his wife, the Cardinal gave him various pieces of diamond jewelry. Namely: a small “saint-esprit”, a frame for a portrait of the respondent [“l’entourage du portrait de lui répondant”], and a jeweled necklace [“chaîne garnie”], all of them in diamonds, and a small clock [or watch]. He [Cagliostro] did try to return them all several times, but the Cardinal always obliged him to keep [the gifts]. Moreover, every one of his wife’s diamonds that came from him is right here [“tous les diamants tant de sa femme que de lui sont ici’]. His wife never had never had any others, and those are known in every court he has travelled to. [He seems to be saying that all the diamonds they own were gifts from the Cardinal or were in his and his wife’s possession before they came to Paris.]

We asked whether he had not persuaded the Cardinal that his wife was a close friend of the queen and that she visited and corresponded with her. [Basically, the interrogator is suggesting that Cagliostro’s wife—instead of Jeanne—is the one who was conning the Cardinal.]

He responded that he never said that. His wife never knew the queen, she had never been to Versailles, and she could have had no correspondence with anyone, being unable to write. [Cagliostro’s wife was illiterate.]

We presented to him a copy of a note containing clauses relating to the necklace, and we challenged him to declare whether he knew of it and whether the Cardinal had sent it to him [Cagliostro] or his wife. We requested that he initial it.

After examining it, he responded that he did not know it and that the first time he had seen it was that very day and he did not want to initial it, considering it as inappropriate. As a result, the said note was not initialed either by the respondent, who refused to do so, or by us, whom he was before.

We asked whether he convinced the Cardinal that he would get as high as the ministry [i.e., rise as high as becoming Prime Minister, which was Cardinal Rohan’s dearest desire].

He responded no, that instead of encouraging him to pursue [a place as Prime Minister], he suggested on the contrary that the Cardinal should remain in his current station.

We asked whether the Cardinal had not given to him [Cagliostro] or his wife a portion of the diamonds from the necklace [“provenant du collier”] or money from the sale [“le prix de la vente”] of these diamonds.

He responded no, that his actions had all been public since arrived there [in Paris]. He had never bought or sold diamonds here, and he had no diamonds except the ones he brought with him.

We asked whether he was in the process of buying a house worth 50,000 écus [a denomination of money] and whether he was going to pay cash.

He responded no.

We represented to him that, according to what he had told us, he always practiced medicine for free and most often on behalf of the poor than on behalf of others. It was astonishing that he was able to support his level of spending. We demanded of him where his fortune came from.

He replied that he draws on several bankers, notably Sarrasin de Bàle and de Hans Costard at Lyon and that he has considerable resources. Wherever he goes, he always pays exactly what he owes and leaves behind no debt.

We asked whether he would like to confront the witnesses. [I believe that’s what is being asked here; as part of the French legal system, defendants were often put in the same room with witnesses/accusers in hopes that the confrontation would produce the truth.]

He said yes, it they tell the truth.


The Last Known Whereabouts of the Diamond Necklace

UPDATED AUGUST 7, 2013 (see below)

The diamond necklace that went missing in 1786–created by the royal jewelers, intended for the late king’s mistress, but never actually commissioned by anyone–had stones measuring 2,800 carats and was worth 1.6 million francs.

The choker of the necklace was made up of seventeen diamonds of five to eight carats each. From the choker hung six pear-shaped diamonds, one of nine carats, two of eleven carats, two of twelve and a half carats, and two that were at least thirteen carats each. There were also two clusters of fourteen diamonds that totaled ten carats each, and another cluster of eight diamonds that totaled twenty-four carats. There were festoons and tassels, as well, that added to the total weight of 2,800 carats. According to Frances Mossiker, the necklace was comprised of 647 diamonds.

So where did all those six-hundred-plus diamonds go?

Well, the short answer is that no one quite knows where they went. There are conflicting stories about the ultimate fates of the diamonds themselves. What is known is that the necklace is gone: it was definitely broken apart.

[If you don’t know much about the Affair of the Diamond Necklace, you might want to read The Short Story.]

It would appear that after she got hold of the necklace, Madame de La Motte gave some diamonds to her husband to sell in London and some to her erstwhile friend (and lover, we can assume), Retaux to Villette. [Maître Target, lawyer for Cardinal Rohan in the forthcoming trial, reports that Villette was arrested in Paris “on the subject of a considerable number of diamonds found upon his person”; Mossiker, 1961.] To whom the diamonds went and where they subsequently ended up is anyone’s guess. The diamond market, like all other markets, wasn’t closely regulated in the late 1700’s. Even legitimate businessmen weren’t necessarily going to ask questions about the origin of the goods brought to them for sale. Besides which, there were then (as there are now) plenty of ways to unload stolen goods. Continue reading

A Crash Course in French and the Diamond Necklace Affair

I will be the first to admit that I don’t really know French. I sometimes pretend I do, though. There are plenty of sources in English regarding the ancien-régime France (see what I did there?), the French Revolutionary, Marie-Antoinette, and even the Affair of the Diamond

A young Marie Antoinette as dauphine.

A young Marie Antoinette as dauphine.

Necklace. You don’t need to learn French to learn about the history. But as you read, you’ll probably pick up more than a few French phrases. I know I did.

French is more than a language; it’s a state of mind. That probably sounds silly, but there’s a reason that there’s an institution (the Académie Française) that is dedicated to preserving French (and similarly, there’s a reason why there’s no equivalent for the English language; but that is neither here nor there, n’est ce-pas? See what I did there?). As a result of the Académie, modern French hasn’t deviated greatly from the version of French that was spoken by the heroes of our 18th-century misadventure. Compare that to English, which has changed markedly since the same time period. Writings from the 1700’s are perfectly understandable but sound strange (and just plain old) to modern ears. Have we lost or gained by allowing our language to morph? After all, the slight changes in language put a distance between us and the Founding Fathers (for instance). They didn’t speak quite like us and, therefore, they weren’t quite like us: they thought differently; they felt differently; they were just plain different. That conclusion isn’t precisely true, of course. But the difference in language does put a wedge between us and our ancestors. (As a side-note to my digression, the same isn’t true of, say, the Civil War era; the English of that era sounds very much more familiar to the modern ear than that of the Revolutionary era.)

The French, at least as far as language goes, don’t have the same kind of distance between themselves and their ancestors. They are, however, distanced from the past by culture. The cultural difference between ancien-régime France and modern France is, I think, greater than that between colonial America and the modern United States.

So, let’s just say you don’t know much French, but you’re studying the Affair of the Diamond Necklace (as you should!). What French phrases might you come across,  what do they mean, and what do they say about 18th-century France?

Let’s start with one that’s already come up in this post:

Ancien régime: Literally, the old/former regime. More specifically, in this context the phrase means France before the Revolution. More loosely, the phrase is used to describe the government (or way of doing things) that is now passed. So, it can be used to describe the previous administration when the new one is in office.

Here is a phrase not familiar to many people, even those who study French. It has a specific place in the Affair of the Diamond Necklace: Continue reading

The Interrogation of Count Cagliostro Part 3

Previously in the interrogation of Count Cagliostro:

[Part 1] and [Part 2]

A Masonic mystic and “healer” named Count Cagliostro has been arrested as part of the investigation into the disappearance of a very–very–expensive diamond necklace. The royal jewelers say that Cardinal Rohan (Cagliostro’s patron) acted as the Queen’s agent in purchasing the necklace. Marie-Antoinette, however, is denying ever having wanted to purchase the necklace. The key to the enigma is an adventuress named Jeanne de La Motte-Valois, who convinced the Cardinal to act as go-between and guarantor for the purchase of the necklace. The Cardinal never saw the Queen (though he thought he did), never got anything in writing from the Queen (though he thought he did), and ended up stuck with the bill. Meanwhile, the necklace disappeared, and Madame de La Motte was the last one to see it . . .

Up to this point, the interrogators have been asking mostly about the goings-on in Cardinal Rohan’s household. Though my French isn’t very good, it’s pretty clear there are some sexual overtones. Cardinal Rohan had a reputation as a lady’s man in spite of being a “prince of the church”. In the latest installment below, Cagliostro employs some of his skills as a mystic for the benefit of the Cardinal’s friends.

This appears to be what is happening: Madame de La Motte is friends with a “great lady” of the court. The great lady is pregnant, and it has been prophesied that she will die in childbirth. The great lady is worried, so Mme. de La Motte brings her to Cagliostro to get his prognostications. His method of telling the future: he puts innocent girls into a trance, then asks them questions about what they see. Apparently, this is meant to foretell the future. In this case, it seems, the auspices are good. It’s possible that “great lady” is meant to be the queen, but the language barrier keeps me from being certain. In any case, the Cardinal’s actions here come across as sketchy: he brings young girls into his home and puts them in trances. He gives them colorful ribbons and crosses and tells them to be good. It’s a little creepy! The interrogators, at least, seem to think that the Cardinal and Count Cagliostro teamed up to take advantage of young girls, and that Mme de La Motte was part of it, too.

Here is my best attempt at translating another chunk of the interrogation of Count Cagliostro:

Interrogation of Count Cagliostro Part 3

We asked whether the Cardinal did not make her [the young lady] go behind a screen, where there was a table and a bottle of plain water [“eau claire”] and whether he did not make her put her hand on the bottle.

He responded that that was very true and that he would explain to us the events as they truly occurred. Madame de la Motte had told him [Cagliostro] that she was on good terms [“était fort bien”] with the Cardinal and with a great lady of the court [“une grande dame de la cour”–almost certainly referring to the Queen, since Jeanne was pretending to be the Queen’s close friend]. This “great lady” was with child, and it had been foretold that she and another lady of the court would die in childbirth. The second lady had died, which greatly anguished the great lady, who feared she would come to the same end. Madame de La Motte would have been very glad to be able to reassure the “great lady”. Because of this, she sought out the respondent, knowing that he was very knowledgeable.

To which he replied: “Madame, my knowledge is in physical medicine, and although I do not believe much in magnetism [which was all the rage at the time—such as Mesmer], I imagine that it might have more effect on young people. Perhaps through magnetism we can discover something by inducing catalepsy [a trance].” He said this because the Cardinal had agreed with him to say these things to restore the spirits of the “great lady”. He said, therefore, to Madame de La Motte, “If you want, bring a child tomorrow, someone pure, and we will observe her.”

Madame de La Motte returned the next evening with her niece. He asked her [Madame de La Motte] whether she was well-convinced of the girl’s innocence, to which she responded “yes”. He asked the niece whether she had always behaved herself, whether she loved God well, whether she had ever failed her mother and father, and other such things. He did this to determine whether, if she could not see what they were going to show her, it would be a sign that she was not innocent. Then, he made her go behind a screen and made her lay her hands on a bottle, telling her: “If you are innocent, you will see beautiful things; and if not, you won’t see anything.”

And he said to her, “Stamp your innocent little foot. What do you see?” “Nothing.” The respondent stamped his foot and said, “This proof that you are not innocent.” She started to say, “Wait, monsieur, I see, I see!” “What do you see?” “The Queen!” The respondent was surprised and asked, “How is she dressed?” “In white. She is pregnant; I see her great belly.” She gave at that moment an exact portrait of the queen. He was even more astonished and said to her, “See if she lowers her head, she will have a smooth delivery [“accouchera heureusement”]. It will be a sign that you are innocent.” She said, “Yes, monsieur, I see her lower her head.” He responded, “You are indeed innocent. The queen will have a safe delivery.”

After this experiment, Madame de La Motte, her niece, and the Cardinal had a collation [a light snack allowed on holy days]. The respondent observed that there were no oaths demanded, nor any ceremony, and there was nothing unusual in the room.

He could attest to the fact that M. de Carbonnières [an underling of Cardinal Rohan’s] had entered the room a quarter of an hour earlier, as had others who came after him whom only the Cardinal could name. He [Cagliostro] added that the same experiment was repeated a second time the next day on another child at the behest of the Cardinal to satisfy Madame de La Motte and to put at ease the mind of the “great lady”.

We asked whether, after this scene finished and the child was released, they did not bring out a table; whether he did not put on the table many candles, a naked sword laid out with a dagger like a cross, various medals, the crosses of Jerusalem and Saint André; and whether he did not ask Madame de La Motte to swear not to tell about what she had seen, about what she had heard, or about what he was about to offer to her.

He replied that these were lies. He said he had compelling evidence, as he just told us, from those people who came into the room at various times, and from all the people of the Prince’s [Cardinal Rohan’s] household.

We asked whether or not he told the Cardinal, “Here’s to you, Prince, go ahead then!” and whether or not the Cardinal went to his secrétaire [desk] and brought back an eggshell white [probably enameled] box. We asked whether or not he [Cagliostro] said to the Cardinal, “There is still another box; bring it here.” We asked whether the Cardinal brought it to him, and whether these two boxes were filled with diamonds. We asked whether or not the Cardinal, in the presence of Madame de La Motte, asked if her husband was going to England; and we asked whether the Cardinal said, “Here are some diamonds; I know their price. I recommend to your husband that if he sells them without mountings, no one will be able to trace them back to here.”

He responded that this was very false [“très-faux”].

The Interrogation of Count Cagliostro Part 2

A few weeks ago, I brought to you part 1 of the interrogation of Count Cagliostro. To catch everyone up, Count Cagliostro was a charlatan/mystic who claimed to have healing power and inveigled his way into noble households all around Europe in the late 1700’s. He happened to get caught up in the Affair of the Diamond Necklace because he became friends with Cardinal Rohan. He was arrested along with many other people in 1785 in connection with the theft of a very expensive diamond necklace. In the previous installment, Cagliostro talked about how he met Jeanne de La Motte-Valois, the adventuress who (apparently) stole the missing necklace. He was also asked about a contract which Jeanne provided to Cardinal Rohan. The contract was from the royal jewelers, was for the sale of the missing necklace, and was apparently signed by Queen Marie-Antoinette. The contract–like many other documents that Jeanne showed to the Cardinal–was a forgery.

In the second part of the interrogation, Cagliostro talks about what happened when the Cardinal showed him this forged contract. Cagliostro told the Cardinal that the contract looked like a fake and that the Queen wouldn’t sign herself as “Marie-Antoinette de France”. Queens would sign only their name–so the Queen would have signed only “Marie-Antoinette”. Cagliostro advised the Cardinal to go directly to the king and explain what had happened. The Cardinal didn’t want to do this, apparently for fear of getting Jeanne in trouble.

From what is said here, it seems the Cardinal was still not entirely sold on the fact that the contract is a forgery. He apparently let Jeanne into his home shortly after he showed the contract to Cagliostro. Clearly, he still wanted Jeanne around.

What happened on that day, as you will see below, is pretty saucy. Some of it is obfuscated by the language barrier (as I’ve mentioned before, I’m translating this myself from French and it is very difficult). Some of it is obfuscated by the interrogator’s reluctance to out-and-out say what he thinks happened. However, it’s safe to say that there was a lot of sexual tension at chez Cardinal.  The interrogator is trying, in a roundabout way, to get Cagliostro to admit that Jeanne brought a young lady to the Cardinal and that the Cardinal requested sexual favors from the girl. Cagliostro is–naturally–shocked at such allegations.

Interrogation of Count Cagliostro Part 2

Cagliostro said to the Cardinal that the situation didn’t seem very clear [“pas bien clair”] to him; that the Queen would not sign herself in such a way [i.e. as “Marie-Antoinette de France”]; that  the Cardinal should know this due to his position as Grand Almoner; and that he [Cagliostro] would bet that the Cardinal had been deceived. But the Cardinal would not believe him. Cagliostro insisted and said, “Surely, you are deceived. You have no other choice but to throw yourself at the feet of the King and tell him what has happened.” To which the Cardinal responded, “Well, if I do this, will the woman be lost?” [In other words, “Will I get Jeanne de La Motte-Valois into trouble if I do?”] He did not wish to consent [to going to the king if it put Jeanne in danger]. Cagliostro responded, saying, “If you do not wish to do it, one of your friends will do it for you.” The Cardinal again refused.

Continue reading

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 Marriage of Figaro by Beaumarchais

In spite of the videos above, this post is not about Mozart or his opera. It is in fact about The Marriage of Figaro, a play by Beaumarchais.

Among other things, such as spy, music teacher, and political activist, Pierre Beaumarchais (born Pierre-Augustin Caron) was a playwright.

Beaumarchais’s life itself is worthy of one of his own farces. He began as a watchmaker, had misadventures in Spain, helped raise funds and support for the American revolution, and then began writing plays (for more on his remarkable life, see here). His most famous plays were–and are–his Figaro plays, most notably The Marriage of Figaro (Le Mariage de Figaro in French). The Marriage of Figaro was a sequel to The Barber of Seville (or Le Barbier de Seville), which premiered in 1775 at the Comédie-Française and was a massive success.

The Marriage of Figaro is a farce centered around two couples: Count Almaviva and his wife Rosine (whom Figaro helped bring together in The Barber of Seville); and Figaro and his fiance Suzanne. When the play opens, Figaro and Suzanne are about to get married, but they have a problem: the Count wants to sleep with Suzanne (who spurns his advances). In a bedroom scene, everyone is blaming everyone for sleeping with someone else, but no one is really sleeping with anyone. Figaro ends up jumping out a window.

Countess Rosine, learning that her husband intended to cheat on her with the unwilling Suzanne, concocts (with Suzanne) a plan to humiliate him: Suzanne will pretend to give in to him, but at the rendezvous, it will be a young page boy names Cherbuin who shows up, not Suzanne. Cherubin will reveal himself, and the Count will be shamed.

That, at least is the plan. The Count suspects Cherubin of having an affair with the Countess, so he sends Cherubin away as a soldier. In his place, the Countess decided to take the place of her maid Suzanne at the rendezvous with the Count. Figaro is in on the plan, but later, through happenstance, comes to believe that Suzanne really is having an affair with the Count after all. He’s so upset that he gets together a bunch of friends, intent upon barging in on the Count and Suzanne “in the act”. As he waits, he goes into a famous–and politically provocative–tirade against the aristocracy.

Suzanne and the Countess enter in one another’s clothes. The Countess goes off with the Count, and Figaro–thinking Suzanne has just left with the Count–is so upset that he goes to talk to the woman he believes is the Countess, but who is really Suzanne. She scolds him for his lack of trust and he begs for forgiveness. Meanwhile, the Count continues his attempts to seduce the woman he believes is Suzanne. When he realizes it’s really his wife standing before him, he falls to his knees and he, too, begs forgiveness.

For anyone familiar with the Grove of Venus scene, this all sounds eerily familiar. Both feature midnight assignations between a man and a woman; both feature manipulation and mistaken identities; both feature women of the lower class dressing up like women of the aristocracy (in this case, a prostitute dressing up as the Queen instead of just a maid dressing up as a countess). The revolutionary undertones are evident in both: turning the house on its head and teaching the Count a lesson; turning the wold on its head and making the Queen the stuff of farce. (As a note, when several of the actors were arrested in 1785, it was for lèse majesté–criminal disrespect for the person of the monarch, in this case the Queen.)

The similarities become even more striking when you consider that the play was first put on–after years of being censored for its subversive content–in April 1784, and the Grove of Venus scene occurred that July.

Jeanne de La Motte-Valois, who called herself a Countess, orchestrated the little farce in the gardens of Versailles. She hired a prostitute, Nicole d’Oliva, to play the part of Queen Marie-Anoinette and meet with Cardinal Rohan, who was anxious to regain the Queen’s favor after decades of being out her good graces.

Was Jeanne inspired by the play? There is, of course, no direct proof, but the circumstantial evidence is strong. Jeanne certainly took Nicole d’Oliva to see the play while Nicole was still living in her household. There is also the case of the painting, La Reine en Gaulle, which caused a great sensation. In that painting, the Queen wore a simple white muslin dress and carried a rose. In the Grove of Venus, Nicole–playing the part of the Queen–wore a white muslin dress and handed a rose to the gullible Cardinal. In fact, if you are to believe Comte Beugnot, an old friend of Jeanne’s, there was even a candy box on Jeanne’s mantel that had a miniature version of that infamous painting.

(A side note, when I wrote a fictionalized version of the Affair of the Diamond Necklace, I imagined Nicole becoming almost physically ill when Jeanne takes her to see Figaro because the parallels are so clear.)

Some theorists assert that the Grove of Venus scene was actually put on by the Queen. Was the Queen involved? She was, after all, an amateur dramatist, fond of putting on plays in the little theater at her Petite Trianon. She had played the part of both the Countess and Suzanne. Perhaps the Grove of Venus scene was her idea of a great joke, or her way of humiliating the Cardinal, whom she had detested since she was a young dauphine. Or maybe it was all part of the Queen’s attempts to use the Cardinal to help her get hold of a diamond necklace and forcing him to pay for it (for a little more on that, see The Short Story). The circumstantial evidence is much thinner here; yet people at the time believed it.

On balance, it’s very difficult not to see the hand of Jeanne de La Motte in the Grove of Venus scene. It looks as though she was inspired by Figaro and by the painting–and by the possibility of tens of thousands of francs from the Cardinal.

Of course, it wasn’t just Jeanne de La Motte-Valois whom the play influenced. The play became famous even before it was officially allowed to be performed. For years, it was censored because of its themes. While it was censored, it was put on in private performances, even by the Queen herself. Nothing is better publicity than being banned, and when the ban was finally lifted, the play benefited from its own hype. It was massively popular the moment it opened. The timing made a difference as well: the release of the play coincided with rising food prices and revolutionary discontent. It’s anti-monarchical bent was in tune with the politics of the time. Whether the play was influenced by the coming Revolution or whether the play in some way contributed to the coming of the Revolution is an impossible enigma. But to this day, it is as a lightning rod for discontent that the play is usually remembered.

However, it is not the play that is best remembered at all: it’s Mozart’s opera, written just two years after the play was un-banned. Which brings us full-circle to the videos above. I promise, this post was not, I repeat, not an excuse to listen to Mozart. Or at least, not entirely.