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.