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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

De Rohan were no clearer than his words


direful malevolence on the part of public opinion, springing from a few acts of imprudence and fomented by a long series of calumnies, was about to burst forth on the occasion of a scandalous and grievous occurrence. On the 15th of August, 1785, at Mass-time, Cardinal Rohan, grand almoner of France, already in full pontificals, was arrested in the palace of Versailles and taken to the Bastille. The king had sent for him into his cabinet. "Cardinal," said Louis XVI. abruptly, "you bought some diamonds of Bcehmer?" "Yes, Sir." "What have you done with them?" "I thought they had been sent to the queen." "Who gave you the commission?" (The cardinal began to be uneasy.) "A lady, the Countess de la Motte Valois, . . . she gave me a letter from the queen; I thought I was obliging her Majesty. . . . "The queen interrupted. She had never forgiven M. de Rohan for some malevolent letters written about her when she was dauphiness. On the accession of Louis XVI. this intercepted correspondence had cost the prince his embassy to Vienna. "How, sir," said the queen, "could you think, you to whom I have never spoken for eight years, that I should choose you for conducting this negotiation, and by the medium of such a woman?" "I was mistaken, I see; the desire I felt to please your Majesty misled me, and he drew from his pocket the pretended letter from the queen to Madame de la Motte. The king took it, and, casting his eye over the signature: "How could a prince of your house
and my grand almoner suppose that the queen would sign Marie Antoinette de France? Queens sign their names quite short. It is not even the queen's writing. And what is the meaning of all these doings with jewellers, and these notes shown to bankers?"

[Illustration: Cardinal Rohan's Discomfiture----470]

The cardinal could scarcely stand; he leaned against the table. "Sir," he stammered, "I am too much overcome to be able to reply." "Walk into this room, cardinal," rejoined the king kindly; "write what you have to say to me." The written explanations of M. de Rohan were no clearer than his words; an officer of the body-guard took him off to the Bastille; he had, just time to order his grand-vicar to burn all his papers.

The correspondence as well as the life of M. de Rohan was not worthy of a prince of the church: the vices and the credulity of the cardinal had given him over, bound hand and foot, to an intriguing woman as adroit as she was daring. Descended from a bastard of Henry II.'s, brought up by charity and married to a ruined nobleman, Madame de la Motte Valois had bewitched, duped, and robbed Cardinal Rohan. Accustomed to an insensate prodigality, asserting everywhere that a man of gallantry could not live on twelve hundred thousand livres a year, he had considered it very natural that the queen should have a fancy for possessing a diamond necklace worth sixteen hundred thousand livres. The jewellers had, in fact, offered this jewelry to Marie Antoinette; it was during the American war. "That is the price of two frigates," the king had said. "We want ships and not diamonds," said the queen, and dismissed her jeweller. A few months afterwards he told anybody who would listen that he had sold the famous collar in Constantinople for the favorite sultana. "This was a real pleasure to the queen," says Madame Campan; "she, however, expressed some astonishment that a necklace made for the adornment of Frenchwomen should be worn in the seraglio, and, thereupon, she talked to me a long while about the total change which took place in the tastes and desires of women in the period between twenty and thirty years of age. She told me that when she was ten years younger she loved diamonds madly, but that she had no longer any taste for anything but private society, the country, the work and the attentions required by the education of her children. From that moment until the fatal crisis there was nothing more said about the necklace."

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