December 5, 2023 | Brendan Da Costa

Traitorous Facts About Jeanne De La Motte, The Diamond Necklace Thief


Jeanne de la Motte was the mastermind behind one of France’s greatest diamond heists.


1. She Fell From Grace

Jeanne de Valois-Saint-Rémy—eventually Jeanne de la Motte—descended from kings but she grew up poorer than a servant. In her desperate attempt to climb back up the social ladder, she developed a venal mindset and turned to a life of lies and deception. Instead of making her way into the lap of luxury, however, she suffered a gruesome fall from grace.Presumed portrait of Jeanne de Valois-Saint-Rémy - circa 1780Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun, Wikimedia Commons

2. She Was Greedy

Jeanne was born in July 1756 near Bar-sur-Aube, a long way from the glitzy Palace of Versailles where she believed she belonged. Where, in all fairness, her ancestors had once lived. She might not have had much, but she had noble blood running through her veins. If her genealogy didn’t bring her wealth, then her greed would.

Portrait of Jeanne De Saint-Rémy - 1791Bibliothèque nationale de France, Wikimedia Commons

3. She Was Descended From Kings

Even though Jeanne was descended from kings, she did not grow up like a princess. Her father, Jacques I de Saint-Rémy, Baron de Saint-Rémy, traced his lineage all the way back to King Henry II. Sadly, as a descendant of Henri de Saint-Rémi, King Henry II’s illegitimate son, Jeanne’s family had fallen from grace and it was a long way back to the top.

Portrait of Henry II, King of France - 1559François Clouet, Wikimedia Commons

4. Her Family Was Disgraceful

Jeanne’s family hadn’t just lost their social standing, wealth and titles. They had, apparently, lost their courtly manners and aristocratic morals. Both of Jeanne’s parents disgraced their once-great family name. Her father developed a reputation as a heavy drinker who would do anything for a penny. Ironically, so would she.

Portrait of Jeanne De Saint-Rémy looking at side - 1786Bibliothèque nationale de France, Wikimedia Commons

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5. Her Parents Neglected Her

With her good-for-nothing parents, Jeanne and her two surviving siblings grew up in dire conditions. Her parents—probably too busy knocking back drinks—frequently neglected her and she had to beg for food scraps from strangers in her bare feet. Growing up in these conditions, she would do anything to escape poverty. Anything.

Portrait of Jeanne of Valois-Saint-Rémy - 1796François Bonneville, Wikimedia Commons

6. Her Luck Changed

Jeanne and her two surviving siblings would likely have perished from starvation if it hadn’t been for the mercy of those around them. Different sources give different accounts of exactly who saved Jeanne and her family from starvation, but she was just lucky someone cared for her plight. Thankfully, her family’s fortunes took a dramatic turn.

Portrait of Jeanne De Saint-Rémy - from 1793 until 1799Bibliothèque nationale de France, Wikimedia Commons

7. She Finally Had Some Money

A genealogist at Versailles managed to validate Jeanne’s royal Valois ancestry. While the confirmation didn’t restore her family’s prestige or get her a castle, it did have some perks. Her family received a healthy stipend from the royal purse and she finally got the education that she needed. But it wasn’t enough. She wanted to live like the Queen of France herself.

Portrait of Jeanne de Saint-Remy de Valois.Unknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

8. She Had Delusions Of Grandeur

After completing her education, Jeanne returned to Bar-sur-Aube where she moved in with the Surmont family. Shortly thereafter, she married Marc-Antoine-Nicolas de la Motte, a nephew of the Surmont family. Just like Jeanne, he suffered from delusions of grandeur and a desire to climb the social ladder by any means necessary.

Marc Antoine Nicolas de La Motte - from 1787 until 1789Unknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

9. She Was A “Comtesse”

Both Jeanne and de la Motte had tenuous claims to nobility—and an even more tenuous grasp on reality. That didn’t stop them from putting on airs and vociferously reminding everyone that they were, in fact, descended from royalty. Despite their low rank in social circles and even lower reputations, they insisted on calling themselves Comte and Comtesse.

Screenshot: Jeanne St. Remy de Valois wearing white dress and hat is looking up - from The Affair of the Necklace (2001)Alcon Entertainment, The Affair of the Necklace (2001)

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10. She Rushed Down The Aisle

Jeanne and de la Motte clearly shared a little folie a deux. But that wasn’t the reason for their sudden wedding. When Jeanne said her “I dos” she was heavily pregnant with twins. Sadly, this illegitimate branch of the Valois family would not see another generation. Although, given how much trouble she was about to cause, that wasn’t a terrible thing.

Screenshot: Jeanne St. Remy de Valois wearing white dress and hat is looking at front - from The Affair of the Necklace (2001)Alcon Entertainment, The Affair of the Necklace (2001)

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11. She Lost Her Babies

Jeanne gave birth to twins just one month after marrying de la Motte. For reasons that no one really knows for certain, the children passed just a few days later. Tragic as it was, it must have been a relief for the greedy Jeanne. Given her ambitions and meager means, she couldn’t exactly afford more mouths to feed.

Screenshot: Jeanne St. Remy de Valois wearing black dress is looking at side - from The Affair of the Necklace (2001)Alcon Entertainment, The Affair of the Necklace (2001)

12. She Wanted More

Thanks to the generosity of Queen Marie Antoinette, Jeanne was no longer destitute. But, she wanted a more lavish lifestyle than what her humble stipend allowed. Furthermore, even though her husband, de la Motte, liked to call himself Comte, he was just a lowly officer with the gendarmes. But Jeanne was nothing if not resourceful.

Archduchess Maria Antonia of Austria, the later Queen Marie Antoinette of France - 1769Joseph Ducreux, Wikimedia Commons

13. She Wanted The Queen’s Attention

Jeanne hatched her first plan to get more money from the royal purse. Dressed in her finest clothes, she began to frequent the gardens at the Palace of Versailles, hoping to catch the attention of Queen Marie Antoinette. She planned on appealing to their shared femininity to boost her stipend. But there was a problem with this plan.

Screenshot: Jeanne St. Remy de Valois in black dress is looking down - from The Affair of the Necklace (2001)Alcon Entertainment, The Affair of the Necklace (2001)

14. She Had A Bad Reputation

Unfortunately, Jeanne’s reputation preceded her. By the time that she started strolling around the gardens of the Palace of Versailles, Marie Antoinette had already heard of her—for all the wrong reasons. Marie Antoinette believed that Jeanne had a “questionable lifestyle” and distanced herself from the upstart to preserve her own reputation.

Screenshot: Jeanne St. Remy de Valois wearing white dress and hat is looking at side - from The Affair of the Necklace (2001)Alcon Entertainment, The Affair of the Necklace (2001)

15. Her Marriage Fell Apart

Once Jeanne realized that her original plan wasn’t going to work, she quickly came up with another idea. Her new plan involved a new man. Because of their financial straits, her marriage to de la Motte was on the ropes. Nevertheless, they remained together and formed something of a business arrangement. Not necessarily a legal one.Screenshot: Jeanne St. Remy de Valois wearing black dress is standing in the dark - from The Affair of the Necklace (2001)Alcon Entertainment, The Affair of the Necklace (2001)

16. She Caught Someone’s Attention

Jeanne had failed to gain an audience with Marie Antoinette. But, while strolling through the gardens at the Palace of Versailles, she managed to get someone else’s attention. Jeanne sparked up an affair with Armand Gabriel Rétaux de Villette. Far from nobility, de Villette was a notorious forger, procurer, gigolo and…well, did basically anything to make money.

Portrait of Armand Gabriel Rétaux De Villette - 1793http://nikosolo.voila.net/Charlatans.htm, Wikimedia Commons

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17. She Needed A Mark

Jeanne’s husband, de la Motte, shared his wife’s ambition but lacked her ingenuity and venal nature. Rétaux de Villette, on the other hand, shared Jeanne’s ambitions and total lack of morals. If there was anyone who could help claw her way back up to the top of the social ladder, it was the forger de Villette. They just needed a mark.

Screenshot: Jeanne St. Remy de Valois is talking with Rétaux de Vilette - from The Affair of the Necklace (2001)Alcon Entertainment, The Affair Of The Necklace (2001)

18. Her Lover Found Her A Rube

With her new partner, Jeanne hatched a far more lucrative plan than her original idea. She just needed an “in” at court. Thankfully, de Villette was able to get Jeanne into the French court where she met Cardinal de Rohan. In no time at all, she sparked up an affair with Rohan and became his confidante, learning all of his secrets.

Portrait of Louis René Édouard, cardinal de Rohan - 18th centuryUnknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

19. She Learned Everyone’s Secrets

Jeanne knew that the only thing more valuable than money was secrets—and she knew all of Rohan’s secrets. She learned that he had foolishly tried to prevent Marie Antoinette from marrying Louis XVI and even wrote insulting letters about her mother, the Holy Roman Empress Maria Theresa. Jeanne saw an opportunity in his past mistakes.Portrait of Marie Thérèse of France - 1827Alexandre-François Caminade, Wikimedia Commons

20. She Gave Her Lover Her Word

Jeanne learned that what Rohan wanted more than anything in the world was the approval of Marie Antoinette. With de Villette’s help, she convinced Rohan that she had, in fact, successfully sought the Queen’s favor. She promised that she would put in a good word for him. Her word counted for about as much as her watered down bloodline.

Screenshot: Jeanne St. Remy de Valois laying on the bed  - from The Affair of the Necklace (2001)Alcon Entertainment, The Affair of the Necklace (2001)

21. She Was “Slender”

Jeanne might not have had wealth or (real) titles but she did have looks. And she used them on Rohan to devastating effect. Contemporary sources described her as “slender” (probably because she was starving half the time) with a small, but shapely bosom. Her real assets, however, sparkled like the diamonds she always wanted.

Cardinal François-Armand de Rohan - 18th centuryUnknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

22. She Had Eyes That Sparkled

Jeanne possessed flawless white skin, chestnut-brown hair, crystal clear blue eyes and a “winning smile”. One of Rohan’s servants remarked that Jeanne possessed the “wiles” of an ancient enchantress. She used all of those wiles and her sparkly blue eyes to pull a veil of deception down over Rohan. By the time he lifted that veil, he’d be flat broke.

Screenshot: Jeanne St. Remy de Valois wearing black hat and black dress - from The Affair of the Necklace (2001)Alcon Entertainment, The Affair of the Necklace (2001)

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23. She Was The Go-Between

After convincing Rohan that she frequently held a private audience with Marie Antoinette, Jeanne put her plan into motion. She began acting as an intermediary, going between Rohan and Marie Antoinette. Of course, Jeanne had never really said two words to Marie Antoinette. But, as long as Rohan didn’t know that, her plan would work.Screenshot: Jeanne St. Remy de Valois is talking with Rétaux de Vilette - from The Affair of the Necklace (2001)Alcon Entertainment, The Affair of the Necklace (2001)

24. She Forged Letters

As intermediary, Jeanne carried letters from Marie Antoinette to Rohan and vice versa. In actuality, however, the letters were forgeries. Unbeknownst to Rohan, Jeanne was working with de Villette behind the scenes to forge the letters in Marie Antoinette’s writing. It’s a wonder that the forgeries worked. They weren’t exactly very convincing.Screenshot: Jeanne St. Remy de Valois looking and talking - from The Affair of the Necklace (2001)Alcon Entertainment, The Affair of the Necklace (2001)

25. She Didn’t Know The Right Etiquette

Jeanne and de Villette created mostly convincing fake letters. But there was one very glaring mistake that, as a courtier raised in the highest royal etiquette, Rohan should have seen. Jeanne and de Villette signed their fake letters with “Marie Antoinette de France”. Real royalty—which Jeanne was not—only ever signed with their given names.

Screenshot: Jeanne St. Remy de Valois wearing white dress and hat is looking outside - from The Affair of the Necklace (2001)Alcon Entertainment, The Affair of the Necklace (2001)

26. She Wanted To Cash In

The letters might not have been good forgeries, but Jeanne was a gifted liar. She was such a convincing conman that Rohan didn’t notice the mistake in the letters. Jeanne began boasting openly about her totally made up relationship with Marie Antoinette. With Rohan’s blind confidence in her, she could now cash in.

Screenshot: Jeanne St. Remy de Valois is talking with Cardinal Rohan- from The Affair of the Necklace (2001)Alcon Entertainment, The Affair of the Necklace (2001)

27. She Was A Charity Case

Jeanne convinced Rohan to give her massive sums of money in the misguided belief that he could buy his way back into the Queen’s favor. But while Jeanne pretended that the money went to Marie Antointte’s various charities, it really only went to one charity case. The Jeanne de Valois-Saint-Rémy Give Me More Money Now Charity.

Screenshot: Jeanne St. Remy de Valois is looking down - from The Affair of the Necklace (2001)Alcon Entertainment, The Affair of the Necklace (2001)

28. She Had To Arrange A Meeting

The money was pouring in and Jeanne didn’t want it to end. But, the more money that she swindled out of Rohan, the more elaborate lengths she had to go to to maintain her lucrative ruse. Even when Rohan requested an audience with Marie Antoinette, Jeanne refused to give up the gig. She needed to get the Queen to meet Rohan.

Screenshot: Jeanne St. Remy de Valois in pink dress is looking from the window - from The Affair of the Necklace (2001)Alcon Entertainment, The Affair of the Necklace (2001)

29. She Needed A Convincing Body Double

Of course, there was no way that Jeanne could arrange a private audience between Rohan and Marie Antoinette. But that didn’t stop her from trying. She hired a well-known courtesan, Nicole Le Guay d'Oliva, to help her keep the lie going. With a little powdered make-up, a wig, a big dress and some favorable lighting, she could continue the lie.

Engraved of Nicole Le Guay.André Pujos, Wikimedia Commons

30. She Was A Master Of Disguise

Jeanne arranged for Rohan to meet up with “Marie Antoinette” in the gardens of the Palace of Versailles late at night. Of course, Marie Antoinette didn’t actually turn up. But Nicole Le Guay d'Oliva did. In the gentle moonlight, she looked so much like Marie Antoinette that Rohan fell for the trick. It seemed like Jeanne could convince him of anything.Screenshot: Jeanne St. Remy de Valois looking - from The Affair of the Necklace (2001)Alcon Entertainment, The Affair of the Necklace (2001)

31. She Finally Had Money

At long last, Jeanne was living the lavish life that she had always wanted. The life that her ancestors had lived. With Rohan’s money, she successfully bought her way into Paris’ upper society where she believed that she belonged. But it was just chump change. She wanted a much bigger pay day—and she was about to get one.

Screenshot: Jeanne St. Remy de Valois looking and smiling outside - from The Affair of the Necklace (2001)Alcon Entertainment, The Affair of the Necklace (2001)

32. She Wanted Everything

The famed jewelers, Charles Auguste Boehmer and Paul Bassenge, approached Jeanne with a rare opportunity. Believing that she had a close relationship with Queen Marie Antoinette, they asked Jeanne to help them sell her a 2,000,000 livres ($15 million) diamond necklace. They even offered her a commission. Jeanne wanted the whole thing.

Screenshot: Jeanne St. Remy de Valois wearing hat and smiling - from The Affair of the Necklace (2001)Alcon Entertainment, The Affair of the Necklace (2001)

33. She Just Saw Diamonds

The diamond necklace that the jewelers wanted to sell to Marie Antoinette was almost as famous as the French Queen herself. Marie Antoinette’s deceased father-in-law, King Louis XV, had commissioned the necklace for his mistress. But the spectacular piece of jewelry contained so many diamonds that, by the time the jewelers procured all of the stones, Louis XV had passed.

The diamonds sparkled almost as much as Jeanne’s greedy blue eyes.

Screenshot from the necklase  - from The Affair of the Necklace (2001)Alcon Entertainment, The Affair of the Necklace (2001)

34. She Was The Last Hope

Facing bankruptcy, the jewelers had tried selling their prized necklace to Marie Antoinette several times before to no avail. Marie Antoinette had repeatedly declined the necklace, citing the poor financial situation in France and the potential backlash that such an extravagance would bring. Desperate, they made an appeal to Jeanne as their last hope. Marie Antoinette in a Muslin dress - 1783Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun, Wikimedia Commons

35. She Came Up With A Master Plan

With the help of her loser husband, de la Motte, and her ne’er do well lover, de Villette, Jeanne hatched one of the biggest diamond heists in history. The jewelers’ desperate situation, the provocatively expensive necklace, and Jeanne’s deception of Rohan made for the perfect storm. The perfect $15 million dollar storm, that is.

Screenshot: Jeanne St. Remy de Valois is talking with Rétaux de Vilette - from The Affair of the Necklace (2001)Alcon Entertainment, The Affair of the Necklace (2001)

36. She Fooled Rohan Once Again

Jeanne produced letters from “Marie Antoinette” to Rohan, ordering him to act as her secret agent in purchasing the necklace. The letters talked about the Queen’s desire for discretion in the matter in order to avoid scandal. Fooled once again, Rohan made arrangements to purchase the wildly expensive diamond necklace.

Portrait of the Cardinal de Soubise - 18th centuryUnknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

37. Her Plan Was In Motion

Rohan showed the forged letters to Boehmer and Bassenge with the “Queen’s” instructions and conditions. Relieved that they had finally found a buyer, the jewelers agreed to the terms and handed the controversial piece of jewelry over to Rohan. They would never see it again. At least, not all of it and not in one piece.

Image of Louis de Rohan.Charles Philippe, Wikimedia Commons

38. She Completed Her Plan

As per “Marie Antoinette’s” instructions in the letter, Rohan made a down payment on the necklace. The jewelers then gladly handed it over and Rohan promptly took the most expensive necklace in France to Jeanne’s house. Once there, an unidentified man whom Rohan thought was one of the Queen’s valets, took the necklace.

And that’s the last anyone ever really saw it.

Screenshot of the necklace - from The Affair of the Necklace (2001)Alcon Entertainment, The Affair of the Necklace (2001)

39. She Got Her Hands On The Necklace

Once they got their greedy, grubby, grifting little hands on the infamous diamond necklace, Jeanne de la Motte and de Villette knew they had finally struck it big. They immediately set the rest of their plan into motion. Frankly, as to why the jewelers hadn’t thought of this genius scheme themselves is a scandal all its own.

Screenshot: Jeanne St. Remy de Valois wearing the necklace - from The Affair of the Necklace (2001)Alcon Entertainment, The Affair of the Necklace (2001)

40. Her Diamonds Aren’t Forever

Jeanne and her no-good associates got to work finishing their her master plan. They “picked apart” the stunning piece of jewelry and began selling the gems individually at markets all over Paris and London. Their elaborate diamond heist seemed to be working perfectly as the money rolled in. But they should have chosen a richer mark.

Screenshot: Jeanne St. Remy de Valois is talking with Rétaux de Vilette outside - from The Affair of the Necklace (2001)Alcon Entertainment, The Affair of the Necklace (2001)

41. She Came Up Empty-Handed

Rohan had agreed to purchase the necklace for Marie Antoinette in installments with the expectation that she would pay him back through Jeanne. Truthfully, he didn’t have millions tucked beneath his mattress. So, when the time came for the next installment, Jeanne found herself coming up short and with empty pockets.

Screenshot: Jeanne St. Remy de Valois wearing red dress is looking at side - from The Affair of the Necklace (2001)Alcon Entertainment, The Affair of the Necklace (2001)

42. She Couldn’t Make The Next Payment

When Boehmer and Bassenge knocked on Jeanne's door for the next payment, she had to confess she didn't have the money. She only had the Cardinal's notes, but it wasn't enough. Facing their own financial hardship, the jewelers did exactly what Jeanne had always feared. They went to the real Queen of France.

Screenshot: Jeanne St. Remy de Valois standing in the dark - from The Affair of the Necklace (2001)Alcon Entertainment, The Affair of the Necklace (2001)

43. Her House Of Lies Came Crashing Down

The jewelers complained directly to Marie Antoinette about the late payment from her intermediaries, Jeanne and Rohan. But they were in for a surprise. Marie Antoinette told the jewelers that she had never arranged to purchase the necklace and certainly didn’t have it in her possession and never had. Just like that, Jeanne’s elaborate lie came crashing down.

Screenshot: Jeanne St. Remy de Valois wearing red dress is looking outside - from The Affair of the Necklace (2001)Alcon Entertainment, The Affair of the Necklace (2001)

44. She Had The Peoples’ Support

Enraged at Jeanne’s deception, Marie Antoinette had all of the conspirators clamped in irons and the affair turned into a public scandal. But while Marie Antoinette was certain that everyone would see her as the victim of Jeanne’s unscrupulous lies, the public actually sided with Jeanne. Jeanne’s final lie would lead to a revolution.

Portrait of Marie Antoinette - 1792Alexander Kucharsky, Wikimedia Commons

45. She Couldn’t Escape Punishment

Even though the public saw Jeanne as the victim, she didn’t escape punishment. In fact, the more punishment she received, the more the public sympathized with her. After a jury found her guilty, she could have lost her head. Fortunately, she got off with a light whipping and a permanent reminder of her unscrupulous behavior.

Screenshot: Jeanne St. Remy de Valois wearing white shirt is standing outside with sad face - from The Affair of the Necklace (2001)Alcon Entertainment, The Affair of the Necklace (2001)

46. She Wore A Brand

As part of her punishment, Jeanne received a gruesome reminder that would mark her for life. She was branded with the letter “V” on each shoulder for voleuse (French for thief). Now, no matter where she went, everyone would know not to trust her lies. Unless, of course, she left France altogether and found new targets.

Screenshot: Jeanne St. Remy de Valois is crying outside - from The Affair of the Necklace (2001)Alcon Entertainment, The Affair of the Necklace (2001)

47. She Went To Worst Place In France

As if a whipping and a couple of brands from burning irons weren’t enough, Jeanne’s punishment got even worse. The last part of her harsh penalty was life behind bars. Marie Antoinette ensured that the con artist went to the worst lock-up possible, Salpêtrière. That’s where they kept all of the, shall we say, ladies of ill-repute.

Facade of Salpetriere. Main entrance to the chapel. - 1925Voir la page pour l’auteur, CC BY 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

48. She Smuggled Herself Out

Jeanne was determined not to spend the rest of her days behind bars. Just one year into her life sentence, she managed to pull off yet another heist. This time, she wasn’t smuggling diamonds—she was smuggling herself. She dressed up as a boy and slipped past security and disappeared into obscurity. Until she made a dramatic reappearance.Screenshot: Jeanne St. Remy de Valois in black coat is looking ta the dark - from The Affair of the Necklace (2001)Alcon Entertainment, The Affair of the Necklace (2001)

49. She Released A Tell-All Memoir

In 1789, Jeanne reappeared in London, far from Marie Antoinette’s powerful wrath. She published her memoirs, Memoires Justificatifs de La Comtesse de Valois de La Motte, in which she fueled the growing hatred for the Queen of France. Her incendiary revelations helped to light the fuse that sparked the French Revolution.

Too bad she wouldn’t live to see it.

Screenshot: Jeanne St. Remy de Valois standing in dark and crying - from The Affair of the Necklace (2001)Alcon Entertainment, The Affair of the Necklace (2001)

50. She Had A Nasty Fall

After her escape from Salpêtrière, it seems that Jeanne picked up where she left off. Lying and thieving. On August 23, 1791, however, her schemes finally caught up with her. While hiding from some debt collectors, she fell from a hotel window and hit the pavement below. The Times described the scene: “terribly mangled, her left eye cut out—one of her arms and both her legs are broken”.

It was a brutal fall from grace from the top of the social ladder.

Screenshot: Jeanne St. Remy de Valois in dark is looking from window - from The Affair of the Necklace (2001)Alcon Entertainment, The Affair of the Necklace (2001) 


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