How to Ruin a Queen: Marie Antoinette and the Diamond Necklace Affair

How to Ruin a Queen: Marie Antoinette and the Diamond Necklace Affair by Jonathan Beckman Read Free Book Online Page A

Book: How to Ruin a Queen: Marie Antoinette and the Diamond Necklace Affair by Jonathan Beckman Read Free Book Online
Authors: Jonathan Beckman
eight or ten large rooms, all inlaid, the doors and windows richly carved and gilt, and the furniture such as is seldom seen in the palaces of sovereign princes ofother countries’. The city had neither the intellectual vitality nor commercial bustle of Paris, but was sustained by the expanding bureaucracy of the Habsburg monarchy. Its stifling atmosphere was heightened by the intrigues of its citizens to acquire and retain state office.
    Rohan immediately presented himself to Prince Kaunitz, the Austrian Chancellor, and Joseph II, the Holy Roman Emperor and Maria Theresa’s son and co-regent. The empress herself kept Rohan waiting ten days for an audience. She was, she claimed, indisposed with a cold, though everyone recognised the delay signalled her disapproval at Rohan’s appointment. She had written to Mercy-Argenteau six months previously to express her ‘displeasure at the choice that France has made of such a wicked subject as the coadjutor of Strasbourg . . . I would have refused if I had not been held back by consideration of the unpleasantness that could haverebounded onto my daughter’.
    Maria Theresa had ruled the Habsburg Empire since 1740, having acceded to the throne at the age of only twenty-three. The unseasoned queen was fettered by shiftless advisors, and the European powers slavered in anticipation of dividing up her lands. But she had mastered statecraft through sheer force of will, replenishing her treasury, establishing a standing army and holding together her centrifugal territories. A reformer but no radical, she stalwartly, sometimes hysterically, defended religious and social proprieties.
    By the time that Rohan arrived in Vienna, Maria Theresa was a tetchy, stout, ageing woman with the stouter opinions of an autodidact. Encased in a bombazine sarcophagus (she had lived inpermanent mourning since her husband’s death in 1765), she could be obtuse, bloody-minded and imperious towards her children and courtiers. She was prone to tantrums and, on occasion, threatened to abdicate and wall herself up in a convent. And she nursed decidedly firm views about moral behaviour, especially that of clergymen (in 1747 she had, briefly, established a Chastity Commission empowered to enter people’s houses and arrest anyone suspected of being an opera singer). A combination of flattery and deference would be required for Louis to win her over.
    Maria Theresa spent their first meeting trying to needle him. She listed those predecessors she had known and, coming to Choiseul – to whose dismissal Louis owed his job – she wistfully remarked, ‘whomI will never forget’. The French ambassador smiled silently and remained complaisant. ‘He had . . . an air of composure,’ Maria Theresa reported to Mercy-Argenteau, ‘his manners are utterly smooth and his appearance is extremely plain . . . he is very polite towards everyone’. Though, she added distrustfully, ‘perhaps this is only in order to require a complete reciprocation of attentiveness and respect’. The initial cordiality soon drained away. A little more than a month after his arrival, the empress was writing to Mercy-Argenteau that Louis ‘was a great tome stuffed full with wicked words, that are little in keeping with his position as a cleric and as a minister. He talks carelessly in all sorts of company . . . always in a tone of superficiality,presumption and flippancy.’ Louis was ‘a very wicked subject: without talent, without discretion,without morals’.
    Rohan refused to behave like a pious churchman. He hunted constantly and flirted outrageously: ‘nearly all of our ladies, young and old, beautiful and ugly are still enchanted bythis wicked genius,’ despaired Maria Theresa. His men smuggled contraband in diplomatic bags and, on one occasion, cudgelled the empress’s servants. Louis also hosted extravagant dinner parties that flouted protocol by sitting guests at small, round tables rather than the long tables normally employed

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