The Affair Of The Diamond Necklace, Or How A Queen Lost Her Head

By Grace Taylor
Marie Antoinette's execution on October 16, 1793. (Unknown author/Wikimedia Commons)

The Affair of the Diamond Necklace reads more like a farce than a factual account, but then again, a lot about 18th-century Versailles leaned toward the ridiculous. French society during the 1700s was deeply divided between the super wealthy and the struggling peasant class, with next to no social mobility available to those at the bottom. No one knew this better, perhaps, than the young Jeanne de Valois-Saint-Rémy, who—despite being descended from royalty—was forced to beg on the street for food when her alcoholic father failed to provide even the barest of necessities for his children.

How could a noble descend to such woe? Well, despite being the biological descendant of King Henry II, her lineage traced back to an "illegitimate" affair. That meant poor Jeanne was not afforded all the wonders of royal life, but she did gain something of an education and married Nicholas de la Motte, a French adventurer, though it was noted that she appeared quite pregnant at their wedding. As a child of the street but with such close proximity to one of the most powerful and richest families on the planet, Jeanne was determined to use whatever leverage she had to make her and her family's life more comfortable than the difficult upbringing she'd had to endure.