This portion is from the journal of the Princess and covers the period during and after the Affair of the Diamond Necklace, including efforts to bribe the untrustworthy Countess de La Motte to suppress her own memoires.
This account of the Affair provides a rare glimpse into the perspective of Marie Antoinette’s inner circle. The [bracketed] comments are most likely Madame du Hausset’s.
Secret Memoires of Lamballe-Hausset
“It was during the visit of the Duke and Duchess of the North, that the Cardinal de Rohan again appeared upon the scene. For eight or ten years he had never been allowed to show himself at Court, and had been totally shut out of every society where the Queen visited. On the arrival of the illustrious, travellers at Versailles, the Queen, at her own expense, gave them a grand fete at her private palace, in the gardens of Trianon, similar to the one given by the Comte de Provence—[Afterwards Louis XVIII.]—to Her Majesty, in the gardens of Brunoi.
“On the eve of the fete, the Cardinal waited upon, me to know if he would be permitted to appear there in the character he had the honour to hold at Court, I replied that I had made it a rule never to interfere in the private or public amusements of the Court, and that His Eminence must be the best judge how far he, could obtrude himself upon the Queen’s private parties, to which only a select number had been invited, in consequence of the confined spot where the fete was to be given.
“The Cardinal left me, not much satisfied at his reception. Determined to follow, as usual, his own misguided passion, he immediately went to Trianon, disguised with a large cloak. He saw the porter, and bribed him. He only wished, he said, to be placed in a situation whence he might see the Duke and Duchess of the North without being seen; but no sooner did he perceive the porter engaged at some distance than he left his cloak at the lodge, and went forward in his Cardinal’s dress, as if he had been one of the invited guests, placing himself purposely in the Queen’s path to attract her attention as she rode by in the carriage with the Duke and Duchess.
“The Queen was shocked and thunderstruck at seeing him. But, great as was her annoyance, knowing the Cardinal had not been invited and ought not to have been there, she only discharged the porter who had been seduced to let him in; and, though the King, on being made acquainted with his treachery, would have banished His Eminence a hundred leagues from the capital, yet the Queen, the royal aunts, the Princesse Elizabeth, and myself, not to make the affair public, and thereby disgrace the high order of his ecclesiastical dignity, prevented the King from exercising his authority by commanding instant exile.
“Indeed, the Queen could never get the better of her fears of being some day, or in some way or other, betrayed by the Cardinal, for having made him the confidant of the mortification she would have suffered if the projected marriage of Louis XV. and her sister had been solemnized. On this account she uniformly opposed whatever harshness the King at any time intended against the Cardinal.
“Thus was this wicked prelate left at leisure to premeditate the horrid plot of the famous necklace, the ever memorable fraud, which so fatally verified the presentiments of the Queen.”
SECTION II.[The production of ‘Le Mariage de Figaro’, by Beaumarchais, upon the stage at Paris, so replete with indecorous and slanderous allusions to the Royal Family, had spread the prejudices against the Queen through the whole kingdom and every rank of France, just in time to prepare all minds for the deadly blow which Her Majesty received from the infamous plot of the diamond necklace. From this year, crimes and misfortunes trod closely on each others’ heels in the history of the ill-starred Queen; and one calamity only disappeared to make way for a greater.
The destruction of the papers which would have thoroughly explained the transaction has still left all its essential particulars in some degree of mystery; and the interest of the clergy, who supported one of their own body, coupled with the arts and bribes of the high houses connected with the plotting prelate, must, of course, have discoloured greatly even what was well known.
It will be recollected that before the accession of Louis XVI. the Cardinal de Rohan was disgraced in consequence of his intrigues; that all his ingenuity was afterwards unremittingly exerted to obtain renewed favour; that he once obtruded himself upon the notice of the Queen in the gardens of Trianon, and that his conduct in so doing excited the indignation it deserved, but was left unpunished owing to the entreaties of the best friends of the Queen, and her own secret horror of a man who had already caused her so much anguish.
With the histories of the fraud every one is acquainted. That of Madame Campan, as far as it goes, is sufficiently detailed and correct to spare me the necessity of expatiating upon this theme of villany. Yet, to assist the reader’s memory, before returning to the Journal of the Princesse de Lamballe, I shall recapitulate the leading particulars.
The Cardinal had become connected with a young, but artful and necessitous, woman, of the name of Lamotte. It was known that the darling ambition of the Cardinal was to regain the favour of the Queen.
The necklace, which has been already spoken of, and which was originally destined by Louis XV. for Marie Antoinette—had her hand, by divorce, been transferred to him—but which, though afterwards intended by Louis XV. for his mistress, Du Barry, never came to her in consequence of his death—this fatal necklace was still in existence, and in the possession of the crown jewellers, Boehmer and Bassange. It was valued at eighteen hundred thousand livres. The jewellers had often pressed it upon the Queen, and even the King himself had enforced its acceptance. But the Queen dreaded the expense, especially at an epoch of pecuniary difficulty in the State, much more than she coveted the jewels, and uniformly and resolutely declined them, although they had been proposed to her on very easy terms of payment, as she really did not like ornaments.
It was made to appear at the parliamentary investigation that the artful Lamotte had impelled the Cardinal to believe that she herself was in communication with the Queen; that she had interested Her Majesty in favour of the long slighted Cardinal; that she had fabricated a correspondence, in which professions of penitence on the part of De Rohan were answered by assurances of forgiveness from the Queen. The result of this correspondence was represented to be the engagement of the Cardinal to negotiate the purchase of the necklace secretly, by a contract for periodical payments. To the forgery of papers was added, it was declared, the substitution of the Queen’s person, by dressing up a girl of the Palais Royal to represent Her Majesty, whom she in some degree resembled, in a secret and rapid interview with Rohan in a dark grove of the gardens of Versailles, where she was to give the Cardinal a rose, in token of her royal approbation, and then hastily disappear. The importunity of the jewellers, on the failure of the stipulated payment, disclosed the plot. A direct appeal of theirs to the Queen, to save them from ruin, was the immediate source of detection. The Cardinal was arrested, and all the parties tried. But the Cardinal was acquitted, and Lamotte and a subordinate agent alone punished. The quack Cagliostro was also in the plot, but he, too, escaped, like his confederate, the Cardinal, who was made to appear as the dupe of Lamotte.
The Queen never got over the effect of this affair. Her friends well knew the danger of severe measures towards one capable of collecting around him strong support against a power already so much weakened by faction and discord. But the indignation of conscious innocence insulted, prevailed, though to its ruin!
But it is time to let the Princesse de Lamballe give her own impressions upon this fatal subject, and in her own words.]
“How could Messieurs Boehmer and Bassange presume that the Queen would have employed any third person to obtain an article of such value, without enabling them to produce an unequivocal document signed by her own hand and countersigned by mine, as had ever been the rule during my superintendence of the household, whenever anything was ordered from the jewellers by Her Majesty? Why did not Messieurs Boehmer and Bassange wait on me, when they saw a document unauthorised by me, and so widely departing from the established forms? I must still think, as I have often said to the King, that Boehmer and Bassange wished to get rid of this dead weight of diamonds in any way; and the Queen having unfortunately been led by me to hush up many foul libels against her reputation, as I then thought it prudent she should do, rather than compromise her character with wretches capable of doing anything to injure her, these jewellers, judging from this erroneous policy of the past, imagined that in this instance, also, rather than hazard exposure, Her Majesty would pay them for the necklace. This was a compromise which I myself resisted, though so decidedly adverse to bringing the affair before the nation by a public trial. Of such an explosion, I foresaw the consequences, and I ardently entreated the King and Queen to take other measures. But, though till now so hostile to severity with the Cardinal, the Queen felt herself so insulted by the proceeding that she gave up every other consideration to make manifest her innocence.
“The wary Comte de Vergennes did all he could to prevent the affair from getting before the public. Against the opinion of the King and the whole council of Ministers, he opposed judicial proceedings. Not that he conceived the Cardinal altogether guiltless; but he foresaw the fatal consequences that must result to Her Majesty, from bringing to trial an ecclesiastic of such rank; for he well knew that the host of the higher orders of the nobility, to whom the prelate was allied, would naturally strain every point to blacken the character of the King and Queen, as the only means of exonerating their kinsman in the eyes of the world from the criminal mystery attached to that most diabolical intrigue against the fair fame of Marie Antoinette. The Count could not bear the idea of the Queen’s name being coupled with those of the vile wretches, Lamotte and the mountebank Cagliostro, and therefore wished the King to chastise the Cardinal by a partial exile, which might have been removed at pleasure. But the Queen’s party too fatally seconded her feelings, and prevailed.
“I sat by Her Majesty’s bedside the whole of the night, after I heard what had been determined against the Cardinal by the council of Ministers, to beg her to use all her interest with the King to persuade him to revoke the order of the warrant for the prelate’s arrest. To this the Queen replied, ‘Then the King, the Ministers, and the people, will all deem me guilty.’
“Her Majesty’s remark stopped all farther argument upon the subject, and I had the inconsolable grief to see my royal mistress rushing upon dangers which I had no power of preventing her from bringing upon herself.
“The slanderers who had imputed such unbounded influence to the Queen over the mind of Louis XVI. should have been consistent enough to consider that, with but a twentieth part of the tithe of her imputed power, uncontrolled as she then was by national authority, she might, without any exposure to third persons, have at once sent one of her pages to the garde-meuble and other royal depositaries, replete with hidden treasures of precious stones which never saw the light, and thence have supplied herself with more than enough to form ten necklaces, or to have fully satisfied, in any way she liked, the most unbounded passion for diamonds, for the use of which she would never have been called to account.
“But the truth is, the Queen had no love of ornaments. A proof occurred very soon after I had the honour to be nominated Her Majesty’s superintendent. On the day of the great fete of the Cordon Bleu, when it was the etiquette to wear diamonds and pearls, the Queen had omitted putting them on. As there had been a greater affluence of visitors than usual that morning, and Her Majesty’s toilet was overthronged by Princes and Princesses, I fancied in the bustle that the omission proceeded from forgetfulness. Consequently, I sent the tirewoman, in the Queen’s hearing, to order the jewels to be brought in. Smilingly, Her Majesty replied, ‘No, no! I have not forgotten these gaudy things; but I do not intend that the lustre of my eyes should be outshone by the one, or the whiteness of my teeth by the other; however, as you wish art to eclipse nature, I’ll wear them to satisfy you, ma belle dame!’
“The King was always so thoroughly indulgent to Her Majesty, with regard both to her public and private conduct, that she never had any pretext for those reserves which sometimes tempt Queens as well as the wives of private individuals to commit themselves to third persons for articles of high value, which their caprice indiscreetly impels them to procure unknown to their natural guardians. Marie Antoinette had no reproach or censure for plunging into excesses beyond her means to apprehend from her royal husband. On the contrary, the King himself had spontaneously offered to purchase the necklace from the jewellers, who had urged it on him without limiting any time for payment. It was the intention of His Majesty to have liquidated it out of his private purse. But Marie Antoinette declined the gift. Twice in my presence was the refusal repeated before Messieurs Boehmer and Bassange. Who, then, can for a moment presume, after all these circumstances, that the Queen of France, with a nation’s wealth at her feet and thousands of individuals offering her millions, which she never accepted, would have so far degraded herself and the honour of the nation, of which she was born to be the ornament, as to place herself gratuitously in the power of a knot of wretches, headed by a man whose general bad character for years had excluded him from Court and every respectable society, and had made the Queen herself mark him as an object of the utmost aversion.
“If these circumstances be not sufficient adequately to open the eyes of those whom prejudice has blinded, and whose ears have been deafened against truth, by the clamours of sinister conspirators against the monarchy instead of the monarchs; if all these circumstances, I repeat, do not completely acquit the Queen, argument, or even ocular demonstration itself, would be thrown away. Posterity will judge impartially, and with impartial judges the integrity of Marie Antoinette needs no defender.
“When the natural tendency of the character of De Rohan to romantic and extraordinary intrigue is considered in connection with the associates he had gathered around him, the plot of the necklace ceases to be a source of wonder. At the time the Cardinal was most at a loss for means to meet the necessities of his extravagance, and to obtain some means of access to the Queen, the mountebank quack, Cagliostro, made his appearance in France. His fame had soon flown from Strasburg to Paris, the magnet of vices and the seat of criminals. The Prince-Cardinal, known of old as a seeker after everything of notoriety, soon became the intimate of one who flattered him with the accomplishment of all his dreams in the realization of the philosopher’s stone; converting puffs and French paste into brilliants; Roman pearls into Oriental ones; and turning earth to gold. The Cardinal, always in want of means to supply the insatiable exigencies of his ungovernable vices, had been the dupe through life of his own credulity—a drowning man catching at a straw! But instead of making gold of base materials, Cagliostro’s brass soon relieved his blind adherent of all his sterling metal. As many needy persons enlisted under the banners of this nostrum speculator, it is not to be wondered at that the infamous name of the Comtesse de Lamotte, and others of the same stamp, should have thus fallen into an association of the Prince-Cardinal or that her libellous stories of the Queen of France should have found eager promulgators, where the real diamonds of the famous necklace being taken apart were divided piecemeal among a horde of the most depraved sharpers that ever existed to make human nature blush at its own degradation!
[Cagliostro, when he came to Rome, for I know not whether there had been any previous intimacy, got acquainted with a certain Marchese Vivaldi, a Roman, whose wife had been for years the chere amie of the last Venetian Ambassador, Peter Pesaro, a noble patrician, and who has ever since his embassy at Rome been his constant companion and now resides with him in England. No men in Europe are more constant in their attachments than the Venetians. Pesaro is the sole proprietor of one of the moat beautiful and magnificent palaces on the Grand Canal at Venice, though he now lives in the outskirts of London, in a small house, not so large as one of the offices of his immense noble palace, where his agent transacts his business. The husband of Pesaro’s chere amie, the Marchese Vivaldi, when Cagliostro was arrested and sent to the Castello Santo Angelo at Rome, was obliged to fly his country, and went to Venice, where he was kept secreted and maintained by the Marquis Solari, and it was only through his means and those of the Cardinal Consalvi, then known only as the musical Abbe Consalvi, from his great attachment to the immortal Cimarosa, that Vivaldi was ever allowed to return to his native country; but Consalvi, who was the friend of Vivaldi, feeling with the Marquis Solari much interested for his situation, they together contrived to convince Pius VI. that he was more to be pitied than blamed, and thus obtained his recall. I have merely given this note as a further warning to be drawn from the connections of the Cardinal de Rohan, to deter hunters after novelty from forming ties with innovators and impostors. Cagliostro was ultimately condemned, by the Roman laws under Pope Pius VI., for life, to the galleys, where he died.
Proverbs ought to be respected; for it is said that no phrase becomes a proverb until after a century’s experience of its truth. In England it is proverbial to judge of men by the company they keep. Judge of the Cardinal de Rohan from his most intimate friend, the galley-slave.]
“Eight or ten years had elapsed from the time Her Majesty had last seen the Cardinal to speak to him, with the exception of the casual glance as she drove by when he furtively introduced himself into the garden at the fete at Trianon, till he was brought to the King’s cabinet when arrested, and interrogated, and confronted with her face to face. The Prince started when he saw her. The comparison of her features with those of the guilty wretch who had dared to personate her in the garden at Versailles completely destroyed his self-possession. Her Majesty’s person was become fuller, and her face was much longer than that of the infamous D’Oliva. He could neither speak nor write an intelligible reply to the questions put to him. All he could utter, and that only in broken accents, was, ‘I’ll pay! I’ll pay Messieurs Bassange.’
“Had he not speedily recovered himself, all the mystery in which this affair has been left, so injuriously to the Queen, might have been prevented. His papers would have declared the history of every particular, and distinctly established the extent of his crime and the thorough innocence of Marie Antoinette of any connivance at the fraud, or any knowledge of the necklace. But when the Cardinal was ordered by the King’s Council to be put under arrest, his self-possession returned. He was given in charge to an officer totally unacquainted with the nature of the accusation. Considering only the character of his prisoner as one of the highest dignitaries of the Church, from ignorance and inexperience, he left the Cardinal an opportunity to write a German note to his factotum, the Abbe Georgel. In this note the trusty secretary was ordered to destroy all the letters of Cagliostro, Madame de Lamotte, and the other wretched associates of the infamous conspiracy; and the traitor was scarcely in custody when every evidence of his treason had disappeared. The note to Georgel saved his master from expiating his offence at the Place de Grave.
“The consequences of the affair would have been less injurious, however, had it been managed, even as it stood, with better judgment and temper. But it was improperly entrusted to the Baron de Breteuil and the Abbe Vermond, both sworn enemies of the Cardinal. Their main object was the ruin of him they hated, and they listened only to their resentments. They never weighed the danger of publicly prosecuting an individual whose condemnation would involve the first families in France, for he was allied even to many of the Princes of the blood. They should have considered that exalted personages, naturally feeling as if any crime proved against their kinsman would be a stain upon themselves, would of course resort to every artifice to exonerate the accused. To criminate the Queen was the only and the obvious method. Few are those nearest the Crown who are not most jealous of its wearers! Look at the long civil wars of York and Lancaster, and the short reign of Richard. The downfall of Kings meets less resistance than that of their inferiors.
“Still, notwithstanding all the deplorable blunders committed in this business of De Rohan, justice was not smothered without great difficulty. His acquittal cost the families of De Rohan and De Conde more than a million of livres, distributed among all ranks of the clergy; besides immense sums sent to the Court of Rome to make it invalidate the judgment of the civil authority of France upon so high a member of the Church, and to induce it to order the Cardinal’s being sent to Rome by way of screening him from the prosecution, under the plausible pretext of more rigid justice.
“Considerable sums in money and jewels were also lavished on all the female relatives of the peers of France, who were destined to sit on the trial. The Abbe Georgel bribed the press, and extravagantly paid all the literary pens in France to produce the most Jesuitical and sophisticated arguments in his patron’s justification. Though these writers dared not accuse or in any way criminate the Queen, yet the respectful doubts, with which their defence of her were seasoned, did indefinitely more mischief than any direct attack, which could have been directly answered.
“The long cherished, but till now smothered, resentment of the Comtesse de Noailles, the scrupulous Madame Etiquette, burst forth on this occasion. Openly joining the Cardinal’s party against her former mistress and Sovereign, she recruited and armed all in favour of her protege; for it was by her intrigues De Rohan had been nominated Ambassador to Vienna. Mesdames de Guemenee and Marsan, rival pretenders to favours of His Eminence, were equally earnest to support him against the Queen. In short, there was scarcely a family of distinction in France that, from the libels which then inundated the kingdom, did not consider the King as having infringed on their prerogatives and privileges in accusing the Cardinal.
“Shortly after the acquittal of this most artful, and, in the present instance, certainly too fortunate prelate, the Princesse de Conde came to congratulate me on the Queen’s innocence, and her kinsman’s liberation from the Bastille.
“Without the slightest observation, I produced to the Princess documents in proof of the immense sums she alone had expended in bribing the judges and other persons, to save her relation, the Cardinal, by criminating Her Majesty.
“The Princesse de Conde instantly fell into violent hysterics, and was carried home apparently, lifeless.
“I have often reproached myself for having given that sudden shock and poignant anguish to Her Highness, but I could not have supposed that one who came so barefacedly to impress me with the Cardinal’s innocence, could have been less firm in refuting her own guilt.
“I never mentioned the circumstance to the Queen. Had I done so, Her Highness would have been forever excluded from the Court and the royal presence. This was no time to increase the enemies of Her Majesty, and, the affair of the trial being ended, I thought it best to prevent any further breach from a discord between the Court and the house of Conde. However, from a coldness subsisting ever after between the Princess and myself, I doubt not that the Queen had her suspicions that all was not as it should be in that quarter. Indeed, though Her Majesty never confessed it, I think she herself had discovered something at that very time not altogether to the credit of the Princesse de Conde, for she ceased going, from that period, to any of the fetes given at Chantilly.
“These were but a small portion of the various instruments successfully levelled by parties, even the least suspected, to blacken and destroy the fair fame of Marie Antoinette.
“The document which so justly alarmed the Princesse de Conde, when I showed it to her came into my hands in the following manner:
“Whenever a distressed family, or any particular individual, applied to me for relief, or was otherwise recommended for charitable purposes, I generally sent my little English protegee—whose veracity, well knowing the goodness of her heart, I could rely—to ascertain whether their claims were really well grounded.
[Indeed, I never deceived the Princess on these occasions. She was so generously charitable that I should have conceived it a crime. When I could get no satisfactory information, I said I could not trace anything undeserving her charity, and left Her Highness to exercise her own discretion.]
“One day I received an earnest memorial from a family, desiring to make some private communications of peculiar delicacy. I sent my usual ambassadress to inquire into its import. On making her mission known, she found no difficulty in ascertaining the object of the application. It proceeded from conscientious distress of mind. A relation of this family had been the regular confessor of a convent. With the Lady Abbess of this convent and her trusty nuns, the Princesse de Conde had deposited considerable sums of money, to be bestowed in creating influence in favour of the Cardinal de Rohan. The confessor, being a man of some consideration among the clergy, was applied to, to use his influence with the needier members of the Church more immediately about him, as well as those of higher station, to whom he had access, in furthering the purposes of the Princesse de Conde. The bribes were applied as intended. But, at the near approach of death, the confessor was struck with remorse. He begged his family, without mentioning his name, to send the accounts and vouchers of the sums he had so distributed, to me, as a proof of his contrition, that I might make what use of them I should think proper. The papers were handed to my messenger, who pledged her word of honour that I would certainly adhere to the dying man’s last injunctions. She desired they might be sealed up by the family, and by them directed to me.—[To this day, I neither know the name of the convent or the confessor.]—She then hastened back to our place of rendezvous, where I waited for her, and where she consigned the packet into my own hands.
“That part of the papers which compromised only the Princesse de Conde was shown by me to the Princess on the occasion I have mentioned. It was natural enough that she should have been shocked at the detection of having suborned the clergy and others with heavy bribes to avert the deserved fate of the Cardinal. I kept this part of the packet secret till the King’s two aunts, who had also been warm advocates in favour of the prelate, left Paris for Rome. Then, as Pius VI. had interested himself as head of the Church for the honour of one of its members, I gave them these very papers to deliver to His Holiness for his private perusal. I was desirous of enabling this truly charitable and Christian head of our sacred religion to judge how far his interference was justified by facts. I am thoroughly convinced that, had he been sooner furnished with these evidences, instead of blaming the royal proceeding, he would have urged it on, nay, would himself have been the first to advise that the foul conspiracy should be dragged into open day.
“The Comte de Vergennes told me that the King displayed the greatest impartiality throughout the whole investigation for the exculpation of the Queen, and made good his title on this, as he did on every occasion where his own unbiassed feelings and opinions were called into action, to great esteem for much higher qualities than the world has usually given him credit for.
“I have been accused of having opened the prison doors of the culprit Lamotte for her escape; but the charge is false. I interested myself, as was my duty, to shield the Queen from public reproach by having Lamotte sent to a place of penitence; but I never interfered, except to lessen her punishment, after the judicial proceedings. The diamonds, in the hands of her vile associates at Paris, procured her ample means to escape. I should have been the Queen’s greatest enemy had I been the cause of giving liberty to one who acted, and might naturally have been expected to act, as this depraved woman did.
“Through the private correspondence which was carried on between this country and England, after I had left it, I was informed that M. de Calonne, whom the Queen never liked, and who was called to the administration against her will—which he knew, and consequently became one of her secret enemies in the affair of the necklace—was discovered to have been actively employed against Her Majesty in the work published in London by Lamotte.
“Mr. Sheridan was the gentleman who first gave me this information.
“I immediately sent a trusty person by the Queen’s orders to London, to buy up the whole work. It was too late. It had been already so widely circulated that its consequences could no longer be prevented. I was lucky enough, however, for a considerable sum, to get a copy from a person intimate with the author, the margin of which, in the handwriting of M. de Calonne, actually contained numerous additional circumstances which were to have been published in a second edition! This publication my agent, aided by some English gentlemen, arrived in time to suppress.
“The copy I allude to was brought to Paris and shown to the Queen. She instantly flew with it in her hands to the King’s cabinet.
“‘Now, Sire,’ exclaimed she, ‘I hope you will be convinced that my enemies are those whom I have long considered as the most pernicious of Your Majesty’s Councillors—your own Cabinet Ministers—your M. de Calonne!—respecting whom I have often given you my opinion, which, unfortunately, has always been attributed to mere female caprice, or as having been biassed by the intrigues of Court favourites! This, I hope, Your Majesty will now be able to contradict!’
“The King all this time was looking over the different pages containing M. de Calonne’s additions on their margins. On recognising the hand-writing, His Majesty was so affected by this discovered treachery of his Minister and the agitation of his calumniated Queen that he could scarcely articulate.
“‘Where,’ said he, I did you procure this?’
“‘Through the means, Sire, of some of the worthy members of that nation your treacherous Ministers made our enemy—from England! where your unfortunate Queen, your injured wife, is compassionated!’
“‘Who got it for you?’
“‘My dearest, my real, and my only sincere friend, the Princesse de Lamballe!’
“The King requested I should be sent for. I came. As may be imagined, I was received with the warmest sentiments of affection by both Their Majesties. I then laid before the King the letter of Mr. Sheridan, which was, in substance, as follows:
“‘A work of mine, which I did not choose should be printed, was published in Dublin and transmitted to be sold in London. As soon as I was informed of it, and had procured a spurious copy, I went to the bookseller to put a stop to its circulation. I there met with a copy of the work of Madame de Lamotte, which has been corrected by some one at Paris and sent back to the bookseller for a second edition. Though not in time to suppress the first edition, owing to its rapid circulation, I have had interest enough, through the means of the bookseller of whom I speak, to remit you the copy which has been sent as the basis of a new one. The corrections, I am told, are by one of the King’s Ministers. If true, I should imagine the writer will be easily traced.
“‘I am happy that it has been in my power to make this discovery, and I hope it will be the means of putting a stop to this most scandalous publication. I feel myself honoured in having contributed thus far to the wishes of Her Majesty, which I hope I have fulfilled to the entire satisfaction of Your Highness.
“‘Should anything further transpire on this subject, I will give you the earliest information.
“‘I remain, madame, with profound respect, Your Highness’ most devoted,
“‘very humble servant,
“‘RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN.’
[Madame Campan mentions in her work that the Queen had informed her of the treachery of the Minister, but did not enter into particulars, nor explain the mode or source of its detection. Notwithstanding the parties had bound themselves for the sums they received not to reprint the work, a second edition appeared a short time afterwards in London. This, which was again bought up by the French Ambassador, was the same which was to have been burned by the King’s command at the china manufactory at Sevres.]
“M. de Calonne immediately received the King’s mandate to resign the portfolio. The Minister desired that he might be allowed to give his resignation to the King himself. His request was granted. The Queen was present at the interview. The work in question was produced. On beholding it, the Minister nearly fainted. The King got up and left the room. The Queen, who remained, told M. de Calonne that His Majesty had no further occasion for his services. He fell on his knees. He was not allowed to speak, but was desired to leave Paris.
“The dismissal and disgrace of M. de Calonne were scarcely known before all Paris vociferated that they were owing to the intrigues of the favourite De Polignac, in consequence of his having refused to administer to her own superfluous extravagance and the Queen’s repeated demands on the Treasury to satisfy the numerous dependants of the Duchess.
“This, however, was soon officially disproved by the exhibition of a written proposition of Calonne’s to the Queen, to supply an additional hundred thousand francs that year to her annual revenue, which Her Majesty refused. As for the Duchesse de Polignac, so far from having caused the disgrace, she was not even aware of the circumstance from which it arose; nor did the Minister himself ever know how, or by what agency, his falsehood was so thoroughly unmasked.”
[The work which is here spoken of, the Queen kept, as a proof of the treachery of Calonne towards her and his Sovereign, till the storming of the Tuileries on the 10th of August, 1792, when, with the rest of the papers and property plundered on that memorable occasion, it fell into the hands of the ferocious mob.
M. de Calonne soon after left France for Italy. There he lived for some time in the palace of a particular friend of mine and the Marquis, my husband, the Countess Francese Tressino, at Vicenza.
In consequence of our going every season to take the mineral waters and use the baths at Valdagno, we had often occasion to be in company with M. de Calonne, both at Vicenza and Valdagno, where I must do him the justice to say he conducted himself with the greatest circumspection in speaking of the Revolution.
Though he evidently avoided the topic which terminates this chapter, yet one day, being closely pressed upon the subject, he said forgeries were daily committed on Ministers, and were most particularly so in France at the period in question; that he had borne the blame of various imprudencies neither authorized nor executed by him; that much had been done and supposed to have been done with his sanction, of which he had not the slightest knowledge. This he observed generally, without specifying any express instance.
He was then asked whether he did not consider himself responsible for the mischief he occasioned by declaring the nation in a state of bankruptcy. He said, “No, not in the least. There was no other way of preventing enormous sums from being daily lavished, as they then were, on herds of worthless beings; that the Queen had sought to cultivate a state of private domestic society, but that, in the attempt, she only warmed in her bosom domestic vipers, who fed on the vital spirit of her generosity.” He mentioned no names.
I then took the liberty of asking him his opinion of the Princesse de Lamballe.
“Oh, madame! had the rest of Her Majesty’s numerous attendants possessed the tenth part of that unfortunate Victim’s virtues, Her Majesty would never have been led into the errors which all France must deplore!
“I shall never forget her,” continued he, “the day I went to take leave of her. She was sitting on a sofa when I entered. On seeing me, she rose immediately. Before I could utter a syllable, ‘Monsieur,’ said the Princess, ‘you are accused of being the Queen’s enemy. Acquit yourself of the foul deed imputed to you, and I shall be happy to serve you as far as lies in my power. Till then, I must decline holding any communication with an individual thus situated. I am her friend, and cannot receive any one known to be otherwise.’
“There was something,” added he, “so sublime, so dignified, and altogether so firm, though mild in her manner, that she appeared not to belong to a race of earthly beings!”
Seeing the tears fall from his eyes, while he was thus eulogising her whose memory I shall ever venerate, I almost forgave him the mischief of his imprudence, which led to her untimely end. I therefore carefully avoided wounding his few gray hairs and latter days, and left him still untold that it was by her, of whom he thought so highly, that his uncontradicted treachery had been discovered.