Femme of the Week: Jeanne de La Motte | Marie Antoinette's Gossip Guide to the 18th Century: Femme of the Week: Jeanne de La Motte

October 03, 2008

Femme of the Week: Jeanne de La Motte

Jeanne La Motte is famously known as the key player in the Diamond Necklace Affair. Her story is long so here is a super abbreviated script, details to follow. Heather recently wrote about the movie that starred Hilary Swank that covers the scandal from La Motte's perspective.

Jeanne was a thin pale girl (born 1756) who grew up dirt poor under the watch of a kindly woman after her father had died. She claimed to be a direct descendant of Henri II, the last in the line of Valois. She was correct in this claim and her guardian had her lineage verified at Versailles.

At 25 she met Cardinal Rohan, she told him her sad story, and how ‘shameful it was for a descendant of Henri II to be so neglected by the King' [Louis XVI] Rohan agreed. She had at this point married Nicolas La Motte, and Rohan gave her some money and gave her husband a job in the Comte d'Artois' bodyguard.

Before her marriage Louis XVI granted, "a pension of 800 livres in 1776 to this scion of the family which had preceded the Bourbons on the throne. His act was done out of kindness. With her pension she married Nicolas.

After meeting Rohan, between 1781 and 83 the couple rented two furnished rooms in Paris and 2 in Versailles. The girl had ambitions though, and dreams. Her goal was to regain the Valois estates, to live as a princess of the blood, and to keep a berline encrusted with royal lilies.

She fainted one day at in December in Madame Elisabeth’s service quarters. When she fainted she was clutching her petition, and Madame Elisabeth heard of the incident and read the petition. Elisabeth had her carried to her apartments on a stretcher. Apparently when she was left alone, she said to her servant "if Madame Elisabeth sends for news of me, say I’ve had a miscarriage and been bled five times.” Now isn't that interesting?

Elisabeth sent her doctors twice to visit Jeanne. She gave her 200 livres and had Louis almost double her pension to 1500 livres. So what does one learn from this experience? That ‘fainting works’! She had her next episode in the Galerie des Glaces just as the Queen was to pass by. But the Queen failed to notice.Jeanne also put on a show of convulsions outside of the Queens windows one day, but to no avail.

When fainting would not work she resorted to stubbornness, and went to the Finance Ministers office refusing to leave until she had the money to livelike a princess of the blood. They settled for 2400 livres. She sold her pension to pay her own debts, and her next move was to hang around the Queens quarters telling people that she was the Queens confidence. “I am the Queen’s confidante. She and I are just like this,” -held up two crossed fingers-

She used Rohan as a pawn in the scandal known as the affair of the necklace. (Post on this in the future) This was a major scandal at Versailles involving the Cardinal, and Marie Antoinette. Based on a scheme in the Marriage of Figaro, she was able to fool the Cardinal into thinking Antoinette trusted him, and that La Motte was the Queens closest friend. She made a lot of money out of this illusion, the Cardinal being completely duped.

She lived the end of her life in London, where she wrote her memoirs, a text that was unwelcome at Versailles but made the rounds anyhow. She died in London after falling out of a window in 1791.


  1. So fits of hysterics was her "in" ...very interesting!

  2. I am reading your posts avidly.. and love them ..
    this time I thought..
    fallen out of a window..
    or pushed out of a window..=P
    she was quite a woman huh??.
    thanks a lot for your interesting blog..
    have a nice weekend

  3. Hi createacraft, I'm glad you are enjoying the blog!

    Fallen or pushed indeed! There was much speculation over the situation...was she pushed out of the window by French Royalists?? did she jump to her death to evade debt collectors??? ...mystery...