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Lewis Lapham: Sting Netted $100 Million Diamond Necklace

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Lewis Lapham
Lewis Lapham, of "Lapham's Quarterly," in New York. Photographer: Paul Goguen/Bloomberg

Sept. 14 (Bloomberg) -- 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.

(To listen to the podcast, click here.)

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.

To buy this book in North America, click here.

(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.)

Muse highlights include Zinta Lundborg’s NYC Weekend and Greg Evans on movies.

To contact the writer on the story: Lewis Lapham in New York at lhl@laphamsquarterly.org.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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