(Essentials of European Literature)

The Countess Jeanne de La Motte Valois, a descendant of the fallen royal house of Valois, aspired to return to favor in the court of Louis XVI. Suffering extreme poverty, she was honored by a visit from the queen, who gave her money and promised her assistance.

The queen was always a victim of intrigues by her enemies. Even on the night when she had, with the assistance of Andree de Taverney, made a charitable visit to the Countess de La Motte, one of her enemies had whispered into the king’s ear that her majesty had gone on a nocturnal mission of doubtful purpose. Her honesty and proud demeanor put the king to shame, however, and as a conciliatory gesture he offered her a fabulously expensive necklace, which she refused on the grounds that France needed a new battleship more than the queen needed jewels.

Andree’s brother, Philippe de Taverney, was favored by Marie Antoinette for his courtesy and grace. He promptly fell in love with her. At a court reception Philippe was thwarted in his love by perceiving that Count de Charny had won the queen’s favor. It was Andree’s fate to have fallen in love with de Charny also, and she jealously watched the queen’s innocent flirtation.

While Jeanne de La Motte was plotting to gain entrance to the royal court, Cardinal de Rohan, disliked by the queen because of his former disapproval of her marriage to King Louis, was also hoping to win a place at court. These two hopefuls decided to combine their talents and agreed to aid each other in their ambitious projects.

Count Cagliostro, a mystic and a malicious conspirator against the nobility of France, plotted to create a public scandal about the queen. To aid him he produced an unknown girl, Oliva, whose amazing resemblance to Marie Antoinette deceived even the queen’s closest friends. First, Count Cagliostro sent Oliva to the salon of Monsieur Mesmer, where she exploited her emotions publicly, drawing attention to herself. Her witnesses mistook her for the queen. Next Count Cagliostro brought the girl to a masquerade ball attended by many of the nobility in disguise but an affair beneath the dignity of the queen. Again it was said that Marie Antoinette had appeared in public in a most ungracious manner. At the salon and at the ball Jeanne de La Motte had seen the woman who was not really the queen at all. Cardinal de Rohan had been with Jeanne at the ball. Jeanne had perceived that he loved Marie Antoinette, whose disdain for him was well-known.

Widespread gossip about her conduct reached the queen, who, anxious to belie her accusers, brought Jeanne to the king and asked her to assure the monarch that the queen had not degraded herself in the salon of Monsieur Mesmer. The king loyally asserted that he needed no assurance from an outsider that his queen did not lie. The gossip about Marie Antoinette’s presence at the masquerade ball, however, was not so easily explained away. The queen denied having been there; Jeanne claimed that she had seen her. Others were called as witnesses. Both Philippe and de Charny said that they had recognized her when her mask dropped off. King Louis came to the queen’s rescue by vowing that he had been with her in her apartment on the night of the ball.

Jeanne, guided by her intuition, knew that the queen coveted the beautiful necklace that the...

(The entire section is 1366 words.)