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 B

Book: How to Ruin a Queen: Marie Antoinette and the Diamond Necklace Affair by Jonathan Beckman Read Free Book Online
Authors: Jonathan Beckman
for official dinners, where placement was dictated by minute discriminations of rank. Maria Theresa divined in this a plot to deflower the ingenuous virgins of Vienna. When she asked Louis to desist, he replied that he ‘did not depart from the rules of the mostscrupulous decency’; indeed, unwarranted suspicion would be cast upon his guests were he to suspend his suppers.
    But Louis’s transgressions went beyond a cavalier disregard for punctilio. Like all good diplomats he had a taste for gossip; like bad ones he had penchant for gossiping. He had mocked Maria Theresa’s fond memories of Choiseul to his aunt, the comtesse de Marsan, who had then disparaged the empress at Versailles. It did not take long for one of Rohan’s enemies to brief Mercy-Argenteau. To Maria Theresa, Rohan did not simply appear as a braggart: he was the ambassador of a faction conniving against her daughter. She began to pray for the bishop of Strasbourg’s death to hasten Louis’s recall.
    Chancellor Kaunitz and Joseph II found Louis more congenial. The two Austrians could be companionable but they were keenly conscious of their own superiority – in Kaunitz’s case intellectual, in Joseph’s social – and frequently disdained members of their own class (Joseph remarked that ‘if I conversed only with my equals, I should have to spend my daysin the imperial vault’). Louis’s chumminess, which so affronted Maria Theresa, was welcomed by her son. The coadjutor and the emperor shared a sense of frustration: both were middle-aged men who had been waiting too long for the death of an elderly, bed-blocking relative.
    Though Louis’s lack of self-effacement undoubtedly stymied his embassy, he was, when he concentrated on business, far more prescient on the most important diplomatic issue of the day than his more experienced colleagues. Austria was looking fearfully to the east. In 1764, the Russian empress, Catherine the Great, had imposed a discarded lover, Stanislaw Poniatowski, on the Poles as king. This had provoked a rebellion by the Polish nobility, which was tacitly supported by the French, who sent hundreds of military advisors (France had a longstanding involvement in Polish affairs and Louis XV’s queen, Marie Leszczyńska, was a Pole). Russian victories over the Ottoman Empire threatened to molest Austrian lands in south-eastern Europe and Austria pondered war to deter Russia’s destabilising advances. But Russia’s ally Prussia, still recuperating from the battering it received in the Seven Years War, had no desire to be dragged into a conflict over a patch of Europe of little concern to her. The Prussian king,Frederick the Great, devised a plan to maintain the equilibrium in Europe – the tripartite division of Poland. Negotiations were conducted through the winter of 1771 and, a month after Louis took up his post, Austria, Prussia and Russia concluded a secret compact.
    Louis knew nothing of the bargain, but his first dispatch to the foreign minister d’Aiguillon contained a lengthy and passionate case for limiting the alliance with Austria and expressed unease at Kaunitz’s evasive blandishments. D’Aiguillon’s reply was slicked with contempt: ‘We strongly feel that your arrival in Austria is too recent for you to have anything to add to the reportsof Monsieur Durand [the Minister Plenipotentiary].’ The foreign minister refused to divulge Louis XV’s own views on policy and even forbade Louis from probing Kaunitz’s intentions. D’Aiguillon – who had ‘neither strategy,steadfastness or money’, as the Prussian king brutally remarked – simply believed that ‘bit by bit they [the Austrians] willwarm towards the Poles’. The minister regarded Louis’s repeated warnings about partition in the spring of 1772 more as a nuisance than a source of intelligence: ‘We cannot claim to believeany rumour that spreads,’ d’Aiguillon responded. In August 1772 the agreement was officially declared. ‘The king can

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