A letter about the ‘diamond necklace affair’ (1786)


In 1786 the Paris jewellers Bohmer and Bassanges wrote to Marie Antoinette, complaining that payment for a diamond necklace, purportedly sold to the queen, had not been received:


“On January 24th 1785 the Cardinal of Rohan came to our store — Bohmer and Bassanges —and asked us to show him various jewels. We took advantage of this opportunity to show him a big diamond necklace, a unique and rare piece of its kind. After having examined it, this Prince told us he had heard about this jewel and that he had come because he was given the responsibility of checking the price. We told him that we wanted to sell the necklace because it had become a heavy burden on us. It cost 1,600,000 livres, even though it cost us more to make it. Nevertheless we were determined to sell the necklace, and told him that we would be very happy that Her Majesty the Queen wear the jewel… The Prince told us that he would mention [to the queen] the meeting he had with us, and also that he would be responsible for buying the necklace…

Two days later the Prince asked us to come to his house and he told us that he could negotiate with us if we would keep everything secret. We promised we would, and he informed us of proposals to acquire the necklace… After having read these proposals, he asked us if they would be suitable for us and we answered yes…

On the morning of February 1st, the Prince wrote us a letter without signing it: “I would like Monsieur Bohmer and his partner to come to my house as soon as possible with the object in question.” We immediately went and brought him the famous necklace. During the meeting, he told us that Her Majesty the Queen was going to acquire the jewel, and he showed us that the proposals we had accepted were signed by Marie Antoinette of France. We showed our joy and satisfaction, and the Prince assured us that he would deliver the necklace during the day. At the same time he told us that Her Majesty could not meet with them as mentioned in the proposals, but he hoped that we would receive the interest we claimed and he would represent them, as he considered our request fair. This is how ended the third meeting.

The same day, we received a letter from the Prince, written and signed by him: “Monsieur Bohmer, Her Majesty the Queen’s intentions were that the interest due after the first payment at the end of August, be paid successively with capital until everything is paid for. Signed by the Cardinal Prince of Rohan.” Paris, February 1st 1785.

A few days after we received this letter we met the Prince, who told us that as soon as we had the opportunity to meet Her Majesty the Queen, we should thank her for buying the necklace. But we never had the opportunity to meet her. We waited until July, when the Prince asked us to come to his house. He told us that the necklace was too expensive for the Queen. Her Majesty had the intention to give it back to us, unless we considered lowering its price to 200,000 livres…

We were filled with sorrow and consternation after hearing this. We told the Prince of the misfortune these events were leading us into since, on one hand, we had refused to sell the jewel to the Spanish Court, where it had been asked for several times. On the other hand we had committed ourselves to several creditors after the Prince had assured us that we would receive the first payments from Her Majesty.

The Prince promised us that he would mention these facts to the Queen. A few days later, he told us that Her Majesty had accepted our last settlements, and instead of receiving 400,000 livres, we would soon receive 700,000 livres, which would allow us to honour our commitments. At the same time the Prince told us to thank the Queen. For fear that we would not be able to tell her verbally, we wrote her a thank you note, which was delivered by Bohmer to Her Majesty.

The end of July was the time of the first payment we were supposed to receive. The Prince asked us to come over and told us that this first payment could not be made; it was to be postponed to October 1st. Meanwhile, we received 30,000 livres in the interest. We gave him a receipt saying that we had received this amount from Her Majesty the Queen.

Signed,
Bohmer and Bassanges”