Saturday, August 15, 2009

Arrest of Cardinal de Rohan

It is tragic and ironic that the scandal that led to the fall of the French monarchy would explode on the patronal feast day of the kingdom, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is an additional irony that a Cardinal of the Roman Church was instrumental in the culmination of the scandal through his own unworthy and imprudent conduct. Here is Madame Campan's account of the Cardinal's arrest:

On the following Sunday, the 15th of August, being the Assumption, at twelve o’clock, at the very moment when the Cardinal, dressed in his pontifical garments, was about to proceed to the chapel, he was sent for into the King’s closet, where the Queen then was.

The King said to him, “You have purchased diamonds of Boehmer?”

“Yes, Sire.”

“What have you done with them?”

“I thought they had been delivered to the Queen.”

“Who commissioned you?”

“A lady, called the Comtesse de Lamotte-Valois, who handed me a letter from the Queen; and I thought I was gratifying her Majesty by taking this business on myself.”

The Queen here interrupted him and said, “How, monsieur, could you believe that I should select you, to whom I have not spoken for eight years, to negotiate anything for me, and especially through the mediation of a woman whom I do not even know?”

“I see plainly,” said the Cardinal, “that I have been duped. I will pay for the necklace; my desire to please your Majesty blinded me; I suspected no trick in the affair, and I am sorry for it.”

He then took out of his pocket-book a letter from the Queen to Madame de Lamotte, giving him this commission. The King took it, and, holding it towards the Cardinal, said:

“This is neither written nor signed by the Queen. How could a Prince of the House of Rohan, and a Grand Almoner of France, ever think that the Queen would sign Marie Antoinette de France? Everybody knows that queens sign only by their baptismal names. But, monsieur,” pursued the King, handing him a copy of his letter to Baehmer, “have you ever written such a letter as this?”

Having glanced over it, the Cardinal said, “I do not remember having written it.”

“But what if the original, signed by yourself, were shown to you?”

“If the letter be signed by myself it is genuine.”

He was extremely confused, and repeated several times, “I have been deceived, Sire; I will pay for the necklace. I ask pardon of your Majesties.”

“Then explain to me,” resumed the King, “the whole of this enigma. I do not wish to find you guilty; I had rather you would justify yourself. Account for all the manoeuvres with Baehmer, these assurances and these letters.”

The Cardinal then, turning pale, and leaning against the table, said, “Sire, I am too much confused to answer your Majesty in a way–”

“Compose yourself, Cardinal, and go into my cabinet; you will there find paper, pens, and ink,–write what you have to say to me.”

The Cardinal went into the King’s cabinet, and returned a quarter of an hour afterwards with a document as confused as his verbal answers had been. The King then said, “Withdraw, monsieur.” The Cardinal left the King’s chamber, with the Baron de Breteuil, who gave him in custody to a lieutenant of the Body Guard, with orders to take him to his apartment. M. d’Agoult, aide-major of the Body Guard, afterwards took him into custody, and conducted him to his hotel, and thence to the Bastille....

The moment the Cardinal’s arrest was known a universal clamour arose. Every memorial that appeared during the trial increased the outcry. On this occasion the clergy took that course which a little wisdom and the least knowledge of the spirit of such a body ought to have foreseen. The Rohans and the House of Conde, as well as the clergy, made their complaints heard everywhere. The King consented to having a legal judgment, and early in September he addressed letters-patent to the Parliament, in which he said that he was “filled with the most just indignation on seeing the means which, by the confession of his Eminence the Cardinal, had been employed in order to inculpate his most dear spouse and companion.”

Fatal moment! in which the Queen found herself, in consequence of this highly impolitic step, on trial with a subject, who ought to have been dealt with by the power of the King alone. The Princes and Princesses of the House of Conde, and of the Houses of Rohan, Soubise, and Guemenee, put on mourning, and were seen ranged in the way of the members of the Grand Chamber to salute them as they proceeded to the palace, on the days of the Cardinal’s trial; and Princes of the blood openly canvassed against the Queen of France.

Here is additional information about the Cardinal, who was tried but acquitted, and a line which I found interesting:

Rohan’s acquittal did not stop the king from banishing him to Chaise-Dieu. During the French Revolution, Rohan left France for Germany. His character improved and he spent the remains of his wealth providing for the poor clergy around him. The Rohan family spent decades paying off the debt of the diamond necklace–they were honor-bound to pay the 1.6 million francs owed for the necklace since Cardinal Rohan had been guarantor.

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5 comments:

Catherine Delors said...

Great post, Elena, and happy birthday to you!

elena maria vidal said...

Thank you, Catherine, very much!

lara77 said...

The saddest fact was that this whole incident never need happen. After the birth of the Dauphin, King Louis XVI wanted to give the diamond necklace to the Queen as a gift. She refused; supposedly saying the money could buy a ship for the fleet. Whatever the reasons for her turning down the necklace I so wished she had said yes! So much turmoil and controversy would never have followed!

elena maria vidal said...

I see what you mean, Lara. But necklace was really not to her taste' she thought it was garish. Instead Louis built the meridienne boudoir for her in her petit appartement.

Matterhorn said...

Such a sordid and bizarre tale.