Thursday, June 19, 2014

How to Ruin a Queen

From The Spectator:
You usually know where you are with a book that promises the story ‘would violate the laws of plausibility’ if it appeared in a novel, and that’s in deep trouble. In the case of How to Ruin a Queen, however, this is a boast with a surprising amount of substance to it. You could make it up — just about — but you’d probably have a very sore head afterwards.
In 1786 Cardinal Louis de Rohan, Grand Almoner of France and scion of one of the country’s leading families, went on trial accused of having stolen a 2,800-carat diamond necklace. This was serious enough, but what was far more serious was that he was accused of having appropriated the Queen’s name to do so.

Rohan furiously protested his innocence — as well he might, considering he had been the victim of one of the most audacious cons ever perpetrated. The mastermind behind it was a woman called Jeanne de Saint-Remy. Jeanne’s father was descended from an illegitimate son of the Valois King Henry II, but any inherited money had long since disappeared. As a child she was reduced to begging, proclaiming her antecedents in a shrill voice in an attempt to play on people’s sympathy.

On returning to the family hovel, her mother would beat her with unflagging vigour, sometimes with a vinegar-soaked rod wrapped in nettles. Jeanne’s prospects were looking somewhere between bleak and non-existent when one day she saw a carriage go by and swung into her usual patter. Astonishingly, the occupant — a local count — believed her, and she was soon ensconced in his château with a pension from the King.

Alas, the pension wasn’t enough to keep Jeanne in the style she felt she deserved and she began casting about for ways to boost her income. Her eye soon fell on Prince Louis de Rohan. As well as being a prodigious shagger, Rohan was a colossal snob. But while serving as French ambassador in Vienna, he had unwisely made some disparaging remarks about the Empress Maria Theresa. (Read more.)

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