Jane Lane: The Woman who Helped Charles II to Escape

The English Civil War, fought between the Parliamentarians and Royalists, had started as a direct result of grievances about the way in which Charles I had ruled, largely without Parliament, as well as fears about the Catholics, most notably his wife, Henrietta Maria, he had become associated with. Whilst there are many more reasons for the Civil War, these are most commonly cited. When Charles I was executed at Whitehall in January 1649, England became a republic led by Oliver Cromwell. Still, Royalist hopes were kept alive in Charles, the Prince of Wales. Scotland had been horrified and proclaimed the young Charles as their king. On 1 January 1651, Charles was crowned as Charles II, with the promise that Scottish forces would follow him to England to help him reclaim his throne.[1]

The forces led by Charles met with Parliamentary resistance at the battle of Worcester on 3 September 1651. It was not the Royalist victory that was hoped for as the Parliamentarians defeated them. Despite reports that Charles had been killed in the fighting, he had managed to escape and had gone into hiding. A huge £1,000 reward (around £103,000 in today’s money) for his capture was given. This reward would make his escape even harder. Whilst in hiding, the famous incident of Charles hiding in an oak tree at Boscobel House when Parliamentarian soldiers came looking for him happened.

Plan showing the route Charles took on his escape from England following the Battle of Worcester in 1651, from Fea, Allan, The flight of the king : a full, true, and particular account of the miraculous escape of His Most Sacred Majesty King Charles II after the battle of Worcester, (1908), p. 2

This, as well as other close shaves, made him realise a better plan was needed to get him out of the country and away from danger. Lord Henry Wilmot, a close confidant of Charles, who had also been at Worcester, was also in hiding, but was staying at Bentley Hall, the home of John Lane. John Lane was a known Royalist sympathiser who had been a Royalist cavalry officer during the Civil War. He had led a band of Royalists who made the journey to Worcester but didn’t get there in time for the battle.[2] The original plan was to use John’s sister, Jane, to help Wilmot escape, as she had been granted a pass to visit a pregnant cousin in Bristol so she could help with the birth. This pass covered her, a servant, and her cousin Henry Lascelles. As both Royalist and Catholic, the family needed these passes to be able to move further than 5 miles away from their home.[3] This was the perfect excuse to help Charles, rather than Wilmot to escape to the safety of the continent.

Charles was to pretend to be Jane’s manservant, taking on the name Will Jackson. Only a few, including Jane, know the true identity of this man. Charles’ acting skills really had to be excellent to pull off this disguise as he was easily noticeable with his dark complexion and 6 ft 2 stature. Despite many dangers along the way, including a horse losing a shoe and a brush with Parliamentarian soldiers, the gang, which included John and Jane Lane, as well as their sister Withy and her husband, John Petre, arrived at the home of Ellen Norton, their pregnant cousin. Whilst there, a butler recognised the king but rather than think of taking the £1,000 reward, offered his silence and assistance.[4] It was decided that Charles wouldn’t be able to take a boat from Bristol, as had originally been planned, but that it was best to try the south coast. To be able to do this, the party needed some sort of excuse to leave, which was now harder when Ellen had suffered a late-term miscarriage. Jane herself forged a letter saying her father was seriously ill and she had to return home.[5]

Isaac Fuller, King Charles II and Jane Lane riding to Bristol (1660s), NPG 5251, © National Portrait Gallery, London

The ruse worked and the group managed to get to Dorset, where Wilmot and Charles were safely reunited. Despite all the dangers they had faced in their journey to get to this point, Jane and her family had to return to Bentley Hall to make their plan appear real, leaving Charles to escape to France. It’s quite possible that Jane and Charles thought that would be the last they saw of each other. However, fate had other ideas. News of a woman matching Jane’s description had helped Charles in his escape began to spread. Her life was now in danger and it was her turn to take on a disguise. She walked all the way to Yarmouth in Norfolk and escaped to France, where she was warmly welcomed by Charles.[6]

In return for saving his life, Charles offered Jane many personal gifts, including miniature portraits of himself, a lock of his hair, and a gold pocket watch, which had been a gift given to him by his father.[7] The pair remained firm friends and even continued corresponding together when in 1652, Jane became a part of the household of Charles sister, Mary of Orange, in Holland.[8] Following the Restoration of Charles as King in 1660, Jane was given a £1,000 a year pension for her services to the monarchy.[9] The pair continued their friendly correspondence, even after Jane became Lady Fisher after her marriage to Sir Clement Fisher in December 1662, right up until Charles death in 1685.[10]

The bravery of Jane in helping the young Charles is evident. What is most remarkable is the platonic nature of her relationship with Charles, an open and well known philanderer. He was less than subtle when it came to his womanising ways and yet, with Jane, it appears that it never went beyond a friend-like relationship. However, he did admire Jane and was always keen to tell everyone that it was her who had saved his life.

[1] ‘Charles II’, https://www.royal.uk/charles-ii#:~:text=On%201%20January%201651%2C%20the,Worcester%20on%203%20September%201651.

[2] Beardsley, Martyn R., Charles II and His Escape into Exile (Barnsley: Pen and Sword, 2019), p. 55

[3] Lawless, Erin, ‘Hidden historical heroines: Jane Lane’, https://erinlawless.wordpress.com/2013/06/03/hidden-historical-heroines-28-jane-lane/

[4] Ibid

[5] Ibid

[6] Ibid; Whipp, Koren, ‘Jane Lane, Lady Fisher’, https://www.projectcontinua.org/jane-lane-lady-fisher/

[7] Ibid

[8] Lawless, Erin, ‘Hidden historical heroines: Jane Lane’, https://erinlawless.wordpress.com/2013/06/03/hidden-historical-heroines-28-jane-lane/

[9] Whipp, Koren, ‘Jane Lane, Lady Fisher’, https://www.projectcontinua.org/jane-lane-lady-fisher/

[10] Ibid

Napoleon’s Expedition in Egypt

On the 1st of July 1798, Napoleon, along with nearly 55,000 men and 400 ships arrived in Egypt. Among them were around 150 scientists, engineers, and academics, hoping to learn more about the mysterious country. Napoleon claimed that the so-called invasion had two aims, to liberate the people of Egypt from despotism, and to bring knowledge of the history, nature, and culture of the country to the Western World.[1] As Peter Hicks argues, the 3 year long expedition to gain knowledge following the invasion was used as a romantic ‘smoke screen’ to cover up the military reasons Napoleon had arrived in Egypt, specifically to curb British interests in the country.[2] Whatever motives lay behind the invasion and subsequent expedition, there is no doubt that it did “open the eyes of Europe to the glory that was Egypt” and helped to start the “professional study of Egyptology”.[3]

Napoleon in Egypt, 1867–68, Jean-Léon Gérôme, French, 1824–1904, Oil on wood panel, Princeton University Art Museum, Museum purchase, John Maclean Magie, Class of 1892, and Gertrude Magie Fund

The academics who came with the French to Egypt were tasked with collecting knowledge and cloning French style learning. To do this, they created the Institute of Egypt, which focused on 4 main areas of study: mathematics, physics (which covered all the sciences), political economy and culture.[4] The Institute followed 3 simple objectives:

  1. To progress and spread the enlightenment in Egypt.
  2. Research, study and publish about the natural, industrial, and historical context of Egypt.
  3. Advice the government on relevant topics.[5]

In order to achieve these aims, the academics had to take part in intellectual debate and report on long term investigations, such as agricultural improvements, studies of ancient monuments, geology and wildlife, just to name a few.[6] However, much of the intellectual debate that took place was actually not relevant to Egypt, instead focusing on their own personal work they had research prior to the expedition. Whilst this appeared to follow the aim of spreading enlightenment ideas in Egypt, these previous studies had nothing to do with the unique context of Egypt itself.

‘Interior of the Temple of Phile’, from G. A. Hoskins, A Winter in Upper and Lower Egypt (1863), The British Library

The Institute was housed in two former palaces outside Cairo, which were well equipped with a library full of books specifically chosen by Napoleon for the expedition, alongside printing presses to print their findings.[7] This did cause controversy as many in the Egyptian high society saw this as blasphemous, as only religious texts should be printed. Following discussions on the topic, it was found that many of them actually owned books on other topics, such as history and philosophy, meaning that the opposition didn’t last long. Other activities were found to be more favourable. These included a workshop and foundry used to recreate scientific equipment lost from Alexandria harbour, and a botanical garden featuring a menagerie of local birds, monkeys, and snakes.[8]

Certainly, the most successful part of the expedition was the surveying of the historical sites in Egypt. All the sites we now recognise when we think of Ancient Egypt were studied, ranging from temples, tombs, statues, and pyramids, including Luxor and the Valley of the Kings.[9] Each one was meticulously measured, mapped and drawn, so they could be turned into engravings. All of these engravings later featured in the Description de l’Egypte, an encyclopaedic folio published by the academics following their return to France in 1801. It featured aspects of Egyptian life and culture such as antiquities, customs, and natural history, including the first large-scale map of the Nile Valley.[10] The sheer volume of information collected during their 3 years in Egypt is noticeable in the extent of what was published in the Description de l’Egypte. A total of 23 volumes were published between 1809 and 1828, featuring 837 engravings.[11] Copies of this were sold all over Europe, meaning that the interest in Egypt and its treasures would reach never seen before levels. Prior to the expedition, interest had only been on an individual scale, but the publication of these new wonders meant people wanted to travel to see them for themselves.

Léon Cogniet, The 1798 Egyptian Expedition Under the Command of Bonaparte (1835; Musée du Louvre), Wikimedia Commons

Perhaps the most important find of the expedition was the Rosetta Stone. The Rosetta Stone would later become the key to reading hieroglyphics as it featured Greek letters which were used to decipher the unused Egyptian language. It was actually found by accident when French soldiers were digging foundations for an extension to the fort at Rosetta. It had been used as a building stone for a very old wall.[12] Luckily some of the academics were residing at Rosetta and recognised the significance of the stone. Following the French being kicked out of Egypt in 1801 by the British, any antiquities not already sent to France were forfeited under the terms if the Treaty of Alexandria.[13] It was eventually sent back to England and arrived at Portsmouth in 1802. This started a race between the English physicist, Thomas Young, and the French scholar Jean-Francois Champollion, to decode the ancient mystery of hieroglyphics. The Frenchman won, much to the dismay of Young, who was in the audience at the lecture where the findings were unveiled.

Napoléon Bonaparte (‘Buonaparté leaving Egypt’) by James Gillray, published by Hannah Humphrey
hand-coloured etching, published 8 March 1800, NPG D12727, © National Portrait Gallery, London

The military aspect of the expedition was a failure because the soldiers sent were going into unmarked territory and weren’t prepared for the hot climate of Egypt. Sadly, an estimated 10,000-15,000 died of disease or heat exhaustion.[14] For this reason Napoleon abandoned his men and sailed back to France, preparing for the coup that would see him become First Consul. There was also strong opposition from the Egyptians, who saw the expedition as the first time since the Crusades that the West unwantedly intruded in the Arab world.[15] Whilst of course this is true as the invasion and expedition sought to ‘acquire’ the people and intellectual property of Egypt, it did start the study and appreciation of the history and culture that formed Ancient Egypt.[16] After seeing the Tutankhamun exhibition in London as a birthday present for my mum last November, I must admit I have a newfound appreciation for all the treasures of Ancient Egypt. The amount of gold and wonderful craftsmanship in the objects was truly outstanding. When the French saw such things, it would have been the first time anyone in the West would have known about them, so I can only begin to imagine just what they felt when they first saw such things.

[1] Coulston Gillespie, C., ‘Scientific Aspects of the French Egyptian Expedition, 1798-1801’, Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 133.4 (1989), p. 447; Jeffreys D., ‘Introduction- Two Hundred Years of Ancient Egypt: Modern History and Ancient Archaeology’, in Jeffreys D. (ed), Views of Ancient Egypt Since Napoleon Bonaparte: Imperialism, Colonialism and Modern Appropriations (London: Routledge, 2016), p. 1.

[2] P. Hicks cited in Soussi, A., ‘Napoleon by the Nile: How the French Emperor’s Egypt Invasion Set the Tone for Western Incursions’, The National, 30 Aug 2019, https://www.thenational.ae/lifestyle/napoleon-by-the-nile-how-the-french-emperor-s-egypt-invasion-set-the-tone-for-western-incursions-1.904152

[3] Coulston Gillespie, C., ‘Scientific Aspects of the French Egyptian Expedition, 1798-1801’, Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 133.4 (1989), p. 447

[4] Strathern, P., Napoleon in Egypt (London: Vintage Books, 2008), p. 191.

[5] Strathern, P., Napoleon in Egypt, p. 191.

[6] Strathern, P., Napoleon in Egypt, p. 191.

[7] Strathern, P., Napoleon in Egypt, p. 196.

[8] Strathern, P., Napoleon in Egypt, p. 196.

[9] Lynda Hall Library, Napoleon and the Scientific Expedition in Egypt, https://napoleon.lindahall.org/index.shtml

[10] Jeffreys D., ‘Introduction- Two Hundred Years of Ancient Egypt: Modern History and Ancient Archaeology’, p. 2.

[11] Lynda Hall Library, Napoleon and the Scientific Expedition in Egypt, https://napoleon.lindahall.org/index.shtml

[12] ‘Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Rosetta Stone’, British Museum, https://blog.britishmuseum.org/everything-you-ever-wanted-to-know-about-the-rosetta-stone/

[13] ‘Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Rosetta Stone’, British Museum, https://blog.britishmuseum.org/everything-you-ever-wanted-to-know-about-the-rosetta-stone/

[14] P. Hicks cited in Soussi, A., ‘Napoleon by the Nile: How the French Emperor’s Egypt Invasion Set the Tone for Western Incursions’

[15] Jeffreys D., ‘Introduction- Two Hundred Years of Ancient Egypt: Modern History and Ancient Archaeology’, p. 2.

[16] Jeffreys D., ‘Introduction- Two Hundred Years of Ancient Egypt: Modern History and Ancient Archaeology’, p. 2.

The Figure of National Glory: The Repatriation and Funeral of Napoleon

Following Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo in 1815, he would remain in exile on the remote island of St Helena until his death in 1821. His death created discussion about what to do with the body. It was chosen that he would be buried in a low-key grave on the island, rather than sending the remains back to France to avoid further fuelling the rise in Napoleon nostalgia that had started to occur. This expressly went against Napoleon’s own wished to be returned back to France and other Frenchmen who had given their opinion along the same lines.

Nicolas-Eustache Maurin, The opening of Napoleon’s casket on St. Helena in October 1840

Whilst Napoleon’s a controversial figure in history, I have always been intrigued as a regular visitor to Paris, how monuments and cultural aspects related to him. Hazareesingh suggests that his symbolic significance for France, especially through commemorations and monuments is more important than his well-known controversy suggests.[1] Whilst looking back on my two visits to see his current tomb at Les Invalids, this thought is less abstract as I vividly remember the last time I went 2 years ago. Whilst paying for tickets and walking around the museum, which is the national army museum of France, I could tell that some of the staff were confused about why an English family would wish to see French army related things, most notably Napoleon’s tomb. As my dad has always had a military interest in history and I have written many essays on him, we wanted to go see it again as we hadn’t seen it since our first visit to the city in 2007.

Following the death of the great military figure, his end of life transformed him into a ‘tragic hero’ and pamphlets soon began to show themes of the glorification and nostalgia towards the Bonapartist era.[2] The Napoleon legend this created was originally started with Napoleon himself, who viewed himself as the political saviour who was forced to live on St Helena.[3] This idea gained much credit following the publishing of Emmanuel de Las Cases’ memoirs of Napoleon, which told the story of the first 18 months Napoleon lived on Helena and the humiliation this brought to a man who was “compellingly and often pathetically human”.[4] This opinion was bolstered by veterans returning from the Napoleonic Wars, who struggled to adjust to civilian life, adopted a nostalgic view on their past lives, quickly featuring in literature.[5]

Emile J. H. Vernet, Napoleon Leaving his Tomb (c. 1860)

It is in this context that Napoleon’s repatriation began to take flight. However, with a constitutional monarchy in place after the topple of the First Empire, it was only a small minority that wished for Napoleon to be returned to France. With a growing friendship with Britain, it was unlikely for the government to wish for a great spectacle involving returning the returns of Britain’s great prisoner. However, in 1840 with King Louis-Phillipe’s decision to allow the repatriation of Napoleon’s remains came as he could no longer ignore the increasing demand and popularity of thought on the Bonapartist era.

In doing so, the idea of repatriation transitioned from an individual and minority prerogative to one that had state indorsement.[6] Even the officialness of this scheme posed problems of exactly how to create Napoleon’s image of an inclusive figure. It was problematic as to how to show him in a way which wouldn’t encourage an anti-monarchist fever. With these problems taken into consideration, his posthumous legacy and memory became one of social mobility, “adventure, daring and action”, things that epitomised ideals set up during the Revolution and that continued under the newer constitutional monarchy.[7]

The funeral procession that flowed through Paris was massive spectacle, acceptable for a man who was to be represented as a French collective figure. It has been described as something that “belonged more to the poetic realm of legend”.[8] Really the funeral, despite being done with great flamboyance which Napoleon could have only dreamed of, was really done for undercurrent political reasons. The decision for his final resting place at Les Invalids was done so that he could rest in a politically neutral space and as it was the home of Napoleonic veterans, it appeased those who originally wished for a nostalgic repatriation.[9] This act showed Napoleon as something above politics and reflected the nineteenth century idea subtle that national unity was vital to carrying on the Revolution’s aims, again indicating Napoleon was being used as a symbol of this on both sides of the political spectrum.[10]

Jacques Guiaud, Napoleon’s funeral carriage crossing the Place de la Concorde

The repatriation of the remains wasn’t the end. There was still a tomb and the alterations to the church at Les Invalids to complete. These took much longer than anticipated following the end of the constitutional monarch and the accession of Napoleon III and his choice to create the Second Empire. Due to this political upheaval, it was actually during Napoleon III’s reign was this finally finished. It became a priority as Napoleon III, nephew to his namesake, legitimised his rule as the heir to Bonapartism and guardian of the Napoleonic tradition.[11] The main way this as done was by commemorating the First Empire through culture, especially the Arc de Triumphe, the finishing of the Napoleon’s final resting place and making his birthday a national holiday.[12]


Napoleon’s tomb in Les Invalids (author’s own photograph)

Whatever your personal thoughts on Napoleon, the events that surrounded his repatriation were a major international effort in a time when repatriation wasn’t a common thing. It has since been a vital moment in defining French national identity. Napoleon was used to reinforce ideas of French national identity relating to militarism at a time when it is believed to be in crisis. He is a symbol of French national prestige which as Nicholson suggests, is an emotive response to “military capacity” and “magnificent cultural achievements”.[13] Napoleon as a nation builder aimed to establish a French identity that would create unity within France, whilst using it to create difference from other countries.[14] This identity was important in an era built upon war and to make the citizen soldier feel loyalty to France in a way where it would be worth the courage and self-sacrifice.[15] As a symbol of the ‘official’ memory of France and “of the nation’s past grandeur” he could be seen as an “inspiration to both the right and the left”.[16]

[1] Hazareesingh, S., ‘Napoleonic Memory in Nineteenth-Century France: the Making of a Liberal Legend’, MLN, 120.4 (2005), pp. 748-749.

[2] Hazareesingh, S., ‘Napoleonic Memory in Nineteenth-Century France’, pp. 756-757.

[3] McLynn, F., Napoleon: a Biography (London: Pimlico, 1998), p. 664.

[4] Las Cases, Le Memorial de Sainte-Helene cited in Hazareesingh, S., ‘Napoleonic Memory in Nineteenth-Century France’, pp. 757-758.

[5] McMillan, J. F., Napoleon III (Harlow: Longman, 1991), p. 19; Tombs, R., France, 1814-1914 (Harlow: Longman, 1996), p. 39.

[6] Hazareesingh, S., ‘Napoleonic Memory in Nineteenth-Century France’, p. 763.

[7] Lyons. M., Napoleon Bonaparte and the Legacy of the French Revolution (Basingstoke: Macmillan Press, 1994), pp. 299-300.

[8] Avener Ben-Amos, Funerals, Politics and Memory in Modern France, 1789-1996 cited in Hazareesingh, S., ‘Napoleonic Memory in Nineteenth-Century France’, p. 763.

[9] J. Tulard, ‘Le Retour des Cendres’ in P. Nora (ed), Les Lieux de Memoire, Vol 2 (1986) cited in Lyons. M., Napoleon Bonaparte and the Legacy of the French Revolution, p. 300.

[10] Tombs, R., France, 1814-1914, p. 302.

[11] Tombs, R., France, 1814-1914, p. 82; Price, R., The French Second Empire: An Anatomy of Political Power (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), p. 44.

[12] Tombs, R., France, 1814-1914, p. 40; McMillan, J. F., Napoleon III, p. 61.

[13] H. Nicholson, The Meaning of Prestige (1937) cited in Wood, S., ‘Nations, National Identity and Prestige’, p. 101.

[14] Tombs, R., France, 1814-1914, p. 83.

[15] Baycroft, T., Inventing the Nation: France, pp. 111 and 121.

[16] McLynn, F., Napoleon: a Biography, p. 667; Hazareesingh, S., ‘Napoleonic Memory in Nineteenth-Century France’, p. 762.

The Diamond Necklace Affair: the Necklace that Made Marie Antoinette a Slave to her Fate.

The Diamond Necklace Affair is one of those strange instances in history where to this day we don’t know the full ins and outs, especially the motives behind it. All that is really known is that Cardinal Rohan was duped by Jeanne de la Motte into believing that Marie Antoinette wished to buy the most expensive necklace in history and that he had been chosen to be the broker for the transaction. However, Rohan has been out of favour with the queen since his time as ambassador to Austria produced some bad relations between the cardinal and Antoinette’s mother, Maria Theresa. He was so determined to follow his dreams of being the next Cardinal Richelieu or Mazarin that he went through with the scheme. Unfortunately, the situation involving the 2800 carat necklace that was worth 1.6 million livre would eventually see him on trial in 1785, 3 years after his introduction to La Motte, for stealing the necklace by invoking the name of Marie Antoinette to get it.[1]

‘The Diamond Necklace involved in the Affair of the ‘Collier de la Reine’’, c.1785, Private Collection / Archives Charmet / Bridgeman Images

The circumstances around why Rohan chose to believe the situation Jeanne had set up are as unknown as the motives she had to wanting to dupe the Cardinal. All that can be deduced from it is that upon their meeting, Rohan felt sorry for Jeanne’s lack of money considering her illegitimate family connections to the previous Valois royal family.[2] Perhaps, as Beckman suggests, considering Jeanne’s poor upbringing and toxic marriage to Nicolas de la Motte, which resulted in the pair spending beyond their means, she saw this as an opportunity to improve herself and took advantage of Rohan’s desire to get royal favour.[3] Whatever the motivations and feelings that created what would become known as the Diamond Necklace Affair, it happened in a time of be the spark that created the French Revolution less than 4 years later.

A correspondence was set up with Jeanne as the middle person between Marie Antoinette and Rohan. These letters were of course not from the real Marie Antoinette but were faked by an associate of the La Mottes, a man called Villette.[4] Throughout this time, Jeanne had thoroughly convinced the Cardinal of her confidence with the Queen by telling stories of meetings that they had. This relationship appeared to be confirmed in Rohan’s mind when a meeting with the Queen was arranged by Jeanne. The meeting was held in the gardens of Versailles at night, so it was hard to make out who the person he met was, but if he had any doubts, he never revealed them and continued to believe the charade that was placed before him. In fact, the woman he had really met was a prostitute by the name of Nicole le Guay, who had been employed by the La Mottes because of her perceived likeness to Marie Antoinette, especially when dressed in similar clothes.[5] Nicole had also been duped by the Jeanne, by being told she was helping the Queen out with a problem she was having with someone.[6]

Affair of the Diamond Necklace: the meeting of Cardinal de Rohan with a woman whom he believed to be the Queen but in fact was a prostitute, Nicole Leguay (19th century), Private collection /The Holbarn Archive / Bridgeman Images

Demands were placed upon Rohan to broker a deal with the jewellers Bassange and Boehmer for the Queen, despite the fact the necklace in question had been rejected twice by the real Marie Antoinette.[7] It is probably this previous connection with the necklace that made the situation seem so plausible, as well as the Queen’s well known spending habits for her royal wardrobe. However, it is from this point that the Affair would be on a slippery slope downwards for all involved.

The jewellers were threatened with bankruptcy if they didn’t sell the necklace. With it’s 647 diamonds, it was known as a collier d’esclavage, a necklace of slavery, due to it being so heavy that it had to have a back attached to it to stop the heaviness toppling the wearer over.[8] In fact, it was a rather suitable name as it would metaphorically enslave all those who were involved with it. The jewellers would find their reputation hampered by its creation for two reasons. The first being that it was so large and expensive that it threatened their very livelihood and business if left unsold to the royals of Europe. The second being that it would eventually lead to the downfall of Marie Antoinette, their best customer.

The agreement reached through Rohan was that the necklace would be paid in instalments by a contract explaining the involvement of ‘Marie Antoinette of France’.[9] Suspicious were raised when the first instalment was left unpaid. With time and money at stake, the jewellers gained an audience with the Queen, delicately asking about the situation but the situation was a first misunderstood, for she believed they were still trying to sell her the necklace.[10] Of course the truth finally came out that Rohan was involved in a transaction involving the necklace and the Queen’s name. This led to his arrest and that from the start of the investigation in August 1785, Rohan realised the true deceiving nature of Jeanne. He always said it was her who was the true mastermind in what had happened.[11]

Cardinal de Rohan, Private Collection / Archives Charmet / Bridgeman Images

That was true. Upon gaining the necklace, Jeanne and her husband Nicholas broke up the necklace and tried to sell the individual diamonds. Some of these were sold in Paris but this started to raise suspicion as there were a lot of diamonds originating from the same person, that really didn’t match up with the inheritance explanation they offered to potential buyers.[12] Eventually, Nicholas moved to London to sell the rest, where he also struggled to sell them other than to a few potential buyers.[13] Still, Jeanne would protest her innocence to the end, even when Villette admitted to forging letters and her confessor admitted seeing him forge them.[14]


During the course of the investigations a number of suspects in the case were arrested. These included Rohan, Jeanne, Nicole le Guay, Cagliostro (a mystic who had been linked with Rohan during the time of the Affair) and Villette. The investigations and eventual trial of these individuals created a public space where the Queen’s conduct was being debated as never before but would be for years to come.[15] It helped to transform private gossip and suspicions of Marie Antoinette’s frivolity into the more dangerous rhetoric surrounding political intrigue, corruption and tyranny.[16] Both Cagliostro and Jeanne would later publish stories and memoirs on the Diamond Necklace Affair linking these themes together. Jeanne’s memoirs especially linked Marie Antoinette’s sexual morals to creating political corruption.[17] How ironic that was considering the lack of morals needed to succeed in her criminal activities. Her pleas were unheard though as it was Jeanne who was actually found guilty in the case. Rohan was proved not guilty of invoking the Queen’s name, despite the fact he could have been sentenced with embezzlement.[18]

What happened to those involved after the trial?

  • Jeanne was branded with ‘V’ on each shoulder, meaning voleuse for thief and was imprisoned in the Saltpetriere, a women’s poorhouse and reformatory for prostitutes. She escaped and moved to London to find her husband, who wasn’t bothered about her in the end.[19] Her spending habits still left her in debt and so she wrote her memoirs to gain money, to no avail. In June 1791 she had bailiffs on her door. By barricading herself in her room she jumped from a window to avoid them, leaving her with injuries that would eventually lead to her death on 23rd August 1791.[20]
  • Rohan was exiled from Paris and died quietly aged 68 in 1803 from poor health as a result of his incarceration and treatment in the Bastille during the investigation.[21]
  • Nicholas eventually returned to France after the Revolution and capitalised on the fame of the Affair and his role as the last surviving participant of it.[22] He died of natural causes in October 1831 despite many failed attempts of suicide in the years leading up to his death.[23]
  • Cagliostro was acquitted during the trial but was later banished from France for his slander of the Queen.[24] After spending time in various European countries, especially England, he eventually returned to his homeland of the Italian states, where he was eventually imprisoned by the Inquisition for being a false prophet.[25] It was in the fortress of San Leo that he eventually died of a stroke in 795, brought on by the symptoms of syphilis.[26]
  • Nicole le Guay was forced out of court circles that she was linked to as a prostitute.[27] She died of poor health in 1789.[28] It was believed her health never recovered from having to give birth in the Bastille during the investigation.

The legacy of this as the spark that lit the fires that would lead to the Revolution. It was a benchmark that would mean the beginning of the end for Marie Antoinette’s reputation.[29] From that moment on, the Queen’s every move was seen in a bad light, whether it was innocent or not.[30] The Diamond Necklace Affair would be the start of the debate on governmental corruption and royal frivolity that would be used as justification for the French Revolution. However, at this point things were still largely being blamed on royal advisors being corrupt rather than the King himself. It still provided the background that would in the coming years transform into blaming the royals themselves and their eventual executions.

[1] Beckman, J., How to Ruin a Queen: Marie Antoinette and the Diamond Necklace Affair (London: John Murray, 2014), p. 1

[2] Beckman, J., How to Ruin a Queen, p. 2.

[3] Beckman, J., How to Ruin a Queen, p. 2.

[4] Beckman, J., How to Ruin a Queen, p. 211.

[5] Beckman, J., How to Ruin a Queen, pp. 84 and 86.

[6] Beckman, J., How to Ruin a Queen, p. 85.

[7] Beckman, J., How to Ruin a Queen, p. 3; Delalex, H., Meral, A. and Milovanovic, Marie-Antoinette (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2016), p. 136.

[8] Beckman, J., How to Ruin a Queen, p. 101.

[9] Beckman, J., How to Ruin a Queen, p. 3

[10] Beckman, J., How to Ruin a Queen, p. 3

[11] Beckman, J., How to Ruin a Queen, p. 147.

[12] Beckman, J., How to Ruin a Queen, p. 124.

[13] Beckman, J., How to Ruin a Queen, p. 124.

[14] Beckman, J., How to Ruin a Queen, pp. 173 and 211.

[15] Beckman, J., How to Ruin a Queen, p. 3.

[16] Colwill, E., ‘Just Another “Citoyenne?” Marie-Antoinette on Trial, 1790-1793’, History Workshop, 28 (1989), p. 68; McCalman, I., ‘Mad Lord George and Madame La Motte: Riot and Sexuality in the Genesis of Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France’, Journal of British Studies, 35.3 (1996), p. 363.

[17] McCalman, I., ‘Mad Lord George and Madame La Motte’, p. 363; Beckman, J., How to Ruin a Queen, p. 276.

[18] Beckman, J., How to Ruin a Queen, p. 244.

[19] Beckman, J., How to Ruin a Queen, p. 273

[20] Beckman, J., How to Ruin a Queen, pp. 285 and 287.

[21] Beckman, J., How to Ruin a Queen, p. 299.

[22] Beckman, J., How to Ruin a Queen, pp. 300-301.

[23] Beckman, J., How to Ruin a Queen, p. 301.

[24] Beckman, J., How to Ruin a Queen, p. 259.

[25] Beckman, J., How to Ruin a Queen, pp. 296-297.

[26] Beckman, J., How to Ruin a Queen, pp. 296-297.

[27] Beckman, J., How to Ruin a Queen, p. 243.

[28] Beckman, J., How to Ruin a Queen, p. 280.

[29] Saint-Armand, P. and Curtiss Gage, J., ‘Terrorizing Marie Antoinette’, Critical Inquiry, 20.3 (1994), p. 392.

[30] Delalex, H., Meral, A. and Milovanovic, Marie-Antoinette, p. 136.

Reincarnation of Napoleon

In the summer, I presented a paper during my time as an MA Public History and Heritage student at the University of Derby that discussed the cultural legacy of Napoleon. This paper discussed how Napoleon has been used as a symbol to reinforce an official type French national identity at a time when multiculturalism is thought to be eroding it.

Whilst it is certainly true that rumours of Napoleon not dying on St Helena were rife (despite this being true) had created a sort of cult around Napoleon. This was largely due to the failing economy France faced after his defeat and imprisonment. Still, this meant an increase in nostalgia towards the Napoleonic era. This nostalgia has always had periods of increase and decrease over the last 200 years. This type of nostalgia helped to contribute to France’s national pride being based on the belief that glory can be found in both military and cultural achievements.[1]

What is most intriguing is his resurrection within contemporary French society. The identity based on France’s glory in military and cultural achievements has felt to be under threat in the modern age due to multiculturalism. Since Nicolas Sarkozy’s creation of the Ministry of Immigration, Integration, National Identity and Mutually-Supportive Development in 2007, it has created debate about what French identity means to a multi-racial society. This debate culminated in an online survey taken in 2010. What this survey found was that participants suggested that Napoleon, alongside other military figures such as Charles de Gaulle and Joan of Arc, were some of the “most pivotal aspects of their identity”.[2] This has led to a form of resurrection for Napoleon and his political regime.

E. J. H. Vernet, Napoleon Emerging from His Tomb (1860), Private Collection/Bridgeman Images

The ‘official memory’ or accepted memory of France has been linked to defence against invasion or oppression.[3] Napoleon helped to create this type of ‘official nationalism’ by mixing military and political legitimacy to his rule, for he recognised that after the French Revolution, he would need the people’s will if he was to survive in both these areas.[4] In successive regimes, Napoleon’s rule was seen with nostalgia and that he was seen as a unifying symbol that represented glory for the French nation.[5] Napoleon is being used in contemporary France as a symbol of the old glory that France once knew and which is seen as being at threat due to multiculturalism. Fears have arisen that this multicultural and at times multireligious society is seen to be a threat to France’s age-old adage of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.[6] This type of French unity has been based on connection with high culture and military heroism being sources of pride, which Napoleon established, and was exaggerated by his political successors.[7] However, there has been fears that migrants have not been connecting to this ‘official’ form of French identity. In this case, Napoleon, and other French military figures, are again being used to fight multiculturalism by trying to reinforce ideas of what the French nation and French national consciousness means.[8]

Even President Macron is trying to emulate the most well-known Frenchman. In his first year as president, Macron has continued Napoleon’s themes of security and sovereignty. Whilst these themes are in a different context to the one’s Napoleon would have understood, there are still similarities. In Macron’s speech on the Europeon Migrant Crisis in September 2017, themes such as “controlling our borders” and “preserving our values” were some of the main points.[9] These themes can all be linked to the defence and cultural superiority that Napoleon promoted.

If that was too subtle a link to make, then the two following images show just how much Macron is emulating his presidency on Napoleon. The first is David’s portrait of Napoleon in his study from 1812. This portrait is symbolic of Napoleon’s desire to create a legacy for himself that was based on self-promotion through ideas of civic duty and being the right choice to uphold the public’s interest.[10] Very similar in style and symbolism is Macron’s official presidency portrait, which suggests that Macron, just as Napoleon two centuries before, was the best person to lead France into the future by subtly using similar imagery to show a form of state power.[11]

The Emperor Napoleon in His Study at the Tuileries, 1812 (oil on canvas)
L. David, ‘The Emperor Napoleon in His Study at the Tuileries’ (1812), National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, USA / Bridgeman Images

Elysée Palace, Macron’s Official Portrait (2017)

Napoleon has been used by contemporary French society and the current French president to reinforce ideas of recreating the “reputation, status, respect, pride, honour and esteem” of France both in the past and present. As Nicholson suggests, Napoleon is used as an emotive response to ideas of France being linked to “military capacity” and “magnificent cultural achievements”, which has become an increasing priority at a time when it’s believed to be in crisis due to immigration.[12]

[1] Tombs, R., France, 1814-1914 (Harlow: Longman, 1996), p. 313; H. Nicholson, The Meaning of Prestige (1937) cited in Wood, S., ‘Nations, National Identity and Prestige’, National Identities, 16.2 (2014), p. 101.

[2] P. Marchand and P. Ratinaud, Being French Today: the Words of the Debate on National Identity Survey (2010) cited in Caron, J., ‘Understanding and Interpreting France’s National Identity: The Meanings of Being French’, National Identities, 15.3 (2013), p.  226.

[3] Caron, J., ‘Understanding and Interpreting France’s National Identity’, p. 226.

[4] Hazareesingh, S., ‘Napoleonic Memory in Nineteenth-Century France: the Making of a Liberal Legend’, MLN, 120.4 (2005), p. 23.

[5] McLynn, F., Napoleon: a Biography (London: Pimlico, 1998), pp. 667-688.

[6] P. Marchand and P. Ratinaud, Being French Today: the Words of the Debate on National Identity Survey (2010) cited in Caron, J., ‘Understanding and Interpreting France’s National Identity’, p. 230.

[7] Baycroft, T., Inventing the Nation: France (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2010), p. 121.

[8] Nora, P., ‘The Era of Commemoration’, in Nora, P., Realms of Memory: The Construction of the French Past, Vol 3, translated by A. Goldhammer, ed. By L. D. Kritzman (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998), p. 633.

[9] Macron, E., ‘French President Emmanuel Macron on the European Migration Crisis and the Future of the European Union’, Population and Development Review, 43.4 (2017), p. 760.

[10] Lyons. M., Napoleon Bonaparte and the Legacy of the French Revolution (Basingstoke: Macmillan Press, 1994), p. 189.

[11] Green, C., ‘Louis XIV, Napoleon, and Macron: The Choreography of Portraits’, JSTOR Daily, October 13th 2017 https://daily.jstor.org/louis-xiv-napoleon-macron-the-choreography-of-official-portraits

[12] H. Nicholson, The Meaning of Prestige (1937) cited in Wood, S., ‘Nations, National Identity and Prestige’, p. 101.