Louis XV had Parisian jeweler Boehmer make a fabulous diamond bauble for his inamorata, Madame du Barry. By the time the necklace -- valued at $100 million in today’s currency -- was finished, the king was dead and the lady was banished.
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The desperate jeweler offered it to the new queen, Marie Antoinette, who wasn’t interested.
Enter con artist Jeanne de la Motte. She manipulated a rich cardinal -- in disfavor with the queen -- into believing Marie Antoinette wanted him to secretly acquire the necklace for her.
In her clever sting operation, Jeanne forged letters, set up a clandestine meeting between the cardinal and the “queen,” played by a prostitute, and then made off with the necklace which she passed to her husband.
After the scandal broke, Jeanne was whipped, branded as a thief and sentenced to life imprisonment at the Salpetriere. Disguised as a boy, she escaped and fled to London.
As the affair became the gossip of all Europe, the queen’s popularity plummeted. Four years later the French Revolution deposed the Bourbon monarchy.
I spoke with John V. Fleming, author of “The Dark Side of the Enlightenment,” on the following topics:
1. Alchemists and Freemasons.
2. Anticlerical Yet Religious.
3. Rational, Ethical Man.
4. Voltaire & Kant.
5. Cons & Scandals.
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(Lewis Lapham is the founder of Lapham’s Quarterly and the former editor of Harper’s magazine. He hosts “The World in Time” interview series for Bloomberg News.)
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