Jeanne de Valois-Saint-Rémy, Comtesse de la Motte (Ann’s Version)

This week is a re-release of season 1, episode 3 of Vulgar History, telling the saga of the Affair of the Necklace and Jeanne de la Motte!

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Vulgar History Podcast

Jeanne de Valois-Saint-Rémy, Comtesse de la Motte (Ann’s Version)

December 27, 2023

Ann Foster:
Hello and welcome to Vulgar History, a feminist women’s history comedy podcast. My name is Ann Foster, and this is Ann’s Version where, for the last couple of weeks and for the next couple of weeks, I’m revisiting some classic episodes of the podcast which are now re-mastered, not re-recorded. Christina Lumague who has been our amazing editor for quite a while but was not around when I was recording the first season and I was figuring out how the podcast worked… Anyway, she’s been cleaning up the audio to make it a little more pleasant for you to listen to. Also, it gives me the opportunity to revisit some of these stories. I’m really content with the episodes, the people who I profiled in the first season of this podcast, I think it really set the tone for what this podcast is about and the kinds of stories we’re going to tell which is lesser-known people from history but of a scandalous nature, people who are adjacent to maybe, better-known stories. And I think Jeanne de la Motte is such a good example of that.

So, I first heard about Jeanne de la Motte, I might say this in the episode as well, but there’s a podcast that I love (they also have a website and Instagram) called Frock Flicks where it’s people who are so knowledgeable about historical costuming and they give reviews of different movies and they kind of critique how accurate they are or not. In the course of one of those they mentioned that the wigs were really good in a movie called The Affair of the Necklace starring Hilary Swank, and I was like, “Well, what’s the Affair of the Necklace?” And then I looked up what the story was and that’s how I came across this book that’s called How to Ruin A Queen: Marie Antoinette and the Diamond Necklace Affair by Jonathan Beckman. I think it might be out of print, but you can still get it used or you can get an eBook of it. It’s really readable; I’ve read it more than once. It’s such a good story and I just really love the story of Jeanne de la Motte, this grifter.

She really set the scene, in terms of Vulgar History and setting the template, Caroline of Brunswick is there as this scandalous, British royal family-adjacent person, Frances Howard is, of course, our tits-out icon. And Jeanne de la Motte really, I think set the scene for later episodes about people like Catalina de Erauso and Lola Montez, just these grifters who were maybe born not super well-off and then just through force of will and just their dirtbag ways just became notorious. Her story has got other things we like to talk about like pamphlets.

Anyway, please enjoy this episode about Jeanne de la Motte and I’ll pop on afterwards to give you more thoughts about this story, and about Vulgar History, and some clues as to what the next major Vulgar History season is going to be about. So, enjoy past me telling you this story!


Hello and welcome to Vulgar History, my name is Ann Foster, and this is a feminist women’s history comedy podcast. For this, the inaugural season of this podcast, where I’m kind of figuring out what I’m doing and you’re kind of figuring out what I’m doing and we’re all having a nice time figuring this all out, because I’m just a woman in Saskatoon, sitting in my apartment with a microphone. Anyway, that’s all the more time for me to tell stories to you.

Thus far, in this season, we’ve been looking at women who “misbehaved” because, inspired by the famous quote by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, “Well-behaved women seldom make history,” we’re looking at women who made history because they did not “behave well” in various different ways. We’ve looked at women whose personalities bucked against the societal expectations and what people thought a princess should be like. We’ve looked at women who’ve lived tits out and did a body swap to avoid anybody finding out that she was not a virgin and then killed a man and then admitted to it. Both of those women were from noble families. Today we’re looking at another woman who was sort of from a noble family but basically was a regular, everyday lady.

That’s why I really wanted to get to a story like this early on in the show to establish that we’re not talking about just royals, we’re not talking about just rich people, it just so happens that if you’re looking at what women in history have been written about, they tend to be rich people and royals because other women, no one thought were interesting enough to write anything about which is tragic. That’s why one day when I get a time machine, I want to go back and just hang out and see what life was like for the everyday people.

Anyway, today we are looking at a woman whose full name is Jeanne de Valois-Saint-Rémy, then she got married and became Jeanne Comtesse de la Motte. We’re just going to call her Jeanne, with my Canadian French accent. Basically, she was descended from the bastard son of a French royal, so she had that slight royal lineage, but the French royals had a lot of illegitimate children, so it didn’t really do much for her. So basically, she was descended from the Valois family who were the rulers of France for a while. We’re going to look at some other members of the Valois family, perhaps in another episode. But basically, her great-grandfather was the illegitimate son of the French king, Henri II. Because of these royal roots, they had an allowance that the royal family gave to everybody who was a descendant of a descendant of a descendant of a French bastard, which was great but also not so great because it was not super a lot of money. So, Jeanne and her sister were both sent off to convent school and the plan for them was to become a nun but as we shall see, that did not suit Jeanne’s personality whatsoever. Although, she might have found her way to do lots of cool stuff as a nun as well. But basically, she liked stuff, she liked jewels, and she liked wealth, and she liked gorgeous outfits and because this was, what year was she born? She was born in 1756. So, this is like, edging up on French Revolution-era/Marie Antoinette/she likes the big wigs, the hats. She was somebody who was living in a material world, and she was a material girl, and she did not have very much money but what she had was ambition.

So, after she basically left nunnery school, decided that wasn’t for her, she went to stay with a family friend and then became pregnant with twins which is like, [squirms] if you’re pregnant with twins and it’s the end of the 18th century, you just hope you don’t die in childbirth, basically. She did not. A month before she gave birth, she got married to a man who was the nephew of the family she was staying with. So, she was married before she was married, she had baby twins, but they both died very, very young because infant mortality was pretty considerable then and that did not stop her. So basically, her husband was a man named Nicholas de la Motte. He called himself the Comte de la Motte, which was basically, I think, sort of a made-up title that he just called himself because he wanted to sound impressive but actually, he was just pretty boring and useless. Jeanne, I’m guessing, again, she might have married him because of the whole pregnant with twins situation, the world and society she was living in, she had to marry the father of the twins or someone. Anyway, so she was not super into him because he was useless, and she was just getting started living this amazing life that you’re going to learn about.

So, she not only liked glamour and jewels and dresses and giant wigs, but she also felt that they were owed to her because her family was descended from this illegitimate royal family member and before that, from an actual royal family member. So, she saw Marie Antoinette hanging out and felt like, “That should be me, I should be able to live this fancy, amazing life like she is living.” So, basically, she decided she wanted to get some more money. She wanted to get an increase in the allowance that she got as a descendant of a descendant of a descendant and she’s like, okay, who can she ask to give her this money that would actually give her this money, when the French royal family was paying this money to all of these people and didn’t have a lot to spare at the moment?

So, she thought what she was going to do was talk directly to Marie Antoinette, girl to girl, just be like, “Hey, we’re both glamourous, amazing women. You get me, Marie Antoinette, can you please see about getting me more allowance money?” So, the thing is, at that time, and I don’t know all the details about how this whole situation goes but it seems like anyone who was dressed nicely enough could just go to Versailles, which was where the French royal family lived, just go in there and hang out which is a pretty nice rule. So, she figured she would just dress up nicely, go to Versailles, accidentally on purpose run into Marie Antoinette and be like, “Hey, can I get some more allowance money from you?” But Marie Antoinette had heard about Jeanne, knew that she was this notorious con artist type of person and knew to basically avoid her.

Meanwhile, in another part of Versailles, there was a man named Cardinal de Rohan who was basically on the outs with Marie Antoinette because he was obsessed with her and gross. He tried to stop her from marrying her husband, Louis XVI, and basically, she had kicked him out of court because he was gross and obsessed with her and he would do anything to win her affection back, basically. So, that’s Cardinal de Rohan, remember that name. Basically, Jeanne was like, “Okay, I can’t get in to see Marie Antoinette, but I need to figure out what’s going on around court, learn what the goss is, and find a way that I can get close to Marie Antoinette and get this money, or find another way to get money.” In the meantime, Jeanne took a lover who was a famous gigolo named Rétaux de Villette, and she also became the lover of Cardinal de Rohan. So, she’s married, took two lovers… Do it. Yes. Just live your life.

And so, spending time with Rohan, she quickly learned he’s obsessed with Marie Antoinette and really wants to be friends with her again, so Jeanne was like, “Hm, what a crazy coincidence. I happen to be totally great friends with Marie Antoinette, distant relative, et cetera. If you want, I can put in a good word for you if you, Cardinal de Rohan, pay me, Jeanne, lots of money and jewels.” And Rohan basically did. He gave her money and jewels and she pretended that she was putting in a good word with Marie Antoinette, but she wasn’t actually doing that. This was a way for her to get money and jewels because she was all about that luxury lifestyle. And then the necklace.

So, I’m going to post a picture of the necklace on the Instagram which is @VulgarHistoryPod, just so you can understand what I’m talking about. It is the ugliest necklace in the history of… Okay, [chuckles] I’ll describe it to you but just go to the Instagram to see this picture. So, meanwhile, in another part of France, two jewellery makers had made the most expensive necklace in the history of jewellery and was also, I would say, the ugliest necklace in the history of jewellery. These two men had made it because they had hoped that the previous king’s mistress– So, not Marie Antoinette’s husband, Marie Antoinette’s father-in-law’s mistress, who was a woman named Madame du Barry, who we will talk about on another podcast, almost definitely.

Basically, these jewellers had made this disgusting necklace hoping that Madame du Barry would want to buy it, then she died, and they were left with this, like, extremely expensive necklace that’s, okay… It’s sort of like if you made an apron out of diamonds but really tacky, with tassels at the bottom, connected to a multi-layer choker, also made of diamonds, and sort of held together with ribbons. It’s sort of like a pinnie, like when you’re playing sports in elementary school and you have to wear a pinnie, it’s like a pinnie made of diamonds, with jewelled bows on it and four tassels, four giant tassels. It’s just so ugly but there are so many diamonds on it, it was super expensive.

The thing is, these jewellers have made this disgusting necklace and they were like “Okay, so Madame du Barry is dead but let’s try and get Marie Antoinette to buy it.” But obviously, Marie Antoinette would not buy it because it was disgusting looking and also insanely expensive. Even she did not want to spend that much money. So, they were like, “Oh my god, we have this disgusting necklace, it costs so much money, but no one is buying it so that means that we’re actually going bankrupt over just having it.” Also, the necklace itself was so heavy that it was uncomfortable to wear. So, it was disgusting and impractical and heavy and uncomfortable to wear. So basically, it was a nightmare, they should never have made it and Jeanne was like, “This is the opportunity I have been waiting my whole life for.”

So, she assembled her squad. I have to say, having done just a couple of episodes so far, when one of the women we talk about assembles a squad I’m just like, “Oh, shit is getting real.” I love a squad; I love a team leader. So, Jeanne put together a team of people for her plan. So, the squad was herself, her husband Nicholas, who was just kind of there, ballast, her gigolo lover, de Villette, was also involved, and the mark was going to be Cardinal de Rohan. The thing is that her lover, de Villette, was skilled at forgery, which is like, he’s a gigolo/forger, that’s good, diversify your skillset. So, he made fake letters that were allegedly between Marie Antoinette to Jeanne to make it look like the two of them were super good friends, the two women. So, she showed the letters to Rohan and the letters were all saying, the letters were basically de Villette having written as though he was Marie Antoinette saying, “I, Marie Antoinette, want this disgusting necklace. I want this diamond apron that hurts the neck. But this necklace is too expensive and my husband, the king, won’t give me permission to buy it. If only someone like Cardinal de Rohan would lend me the money so I could buy the necklace.” This is the letter. De Villette wrote a letter for Marie Antoinette to Jeanne saying, “If only someone would loan me, Marie Antoinette, the money to buy this disgusting necklace,” which is quite a letter, basically saying just exactly what Jeanne needed it to say for the whole plan to work.

So, Cardinal de Rohan was like, “Oh my god, this is amazing. Marie Antoinette wants money to buy this disgusting necklace. If I loan her the money, maybe she’ll let us be friends again even though I, Rohan, am totally creepy.” Jeanne was like, “Great. You know what? I’m so happy to bring the two of you together in friendship and I, Jeanne, will be the middleman, I’ll be the intermediary. So, I, Jeanne will pick up the necklace from the jewellers’ shop and then I’ll pick up Rohan’s money, and then I’ll exchange them basically, but don’t worry about it.”

The plan was weirdly convoluted and even de Rohan who was willing to believe almost anything if it meant that he could be friends with Marie Antoinette was like, “This seems a little sketchy, so I’d just like to confirm with Marie Antoinette that this is all actually what she wants to have happen.” And Jeanne was like, “Okay, I’m not going to let this…” She’s got a plan and she’s going to stick to her plan, so what she did is she went out and she found a woman who looked a lot like Marie Antoinette. This woman, her name was Nicole le Guay d’Oliva, who was a sex worker. And basically, Nicole was told to just go to Versailles, dress up fancy – anyone could get in, apparently – and sit in this garden in Versailles, and then when Rohan comes by just be noncommittal and pretend like you like him. So, Nicole went to the garden dressed like Marie Antoinette and was like, “Yeah, okay,” smiled and nodded to what Rohan said. She agreed to forgive Rohan, she might not have even known she was impersonating the queen, she just knew to dress up fancy and go to Versailles, which is what she did. I can’t see how she wouldn’t know she was impersonating the queen, Rohan probably must have called her “Your Majesty,” et cetera. But anyway, Nicole got paid and did her job and great job, Nicole. So, Nicole did what she needed to do, and Rohan was back on board.

So, Jeanne was sent out to do her obviously obvious plan. She went to pick up the necklace from the jeweller and the jeweller was told that Rohan was behind the purchase and Jeanne was his messenger person. They were told that they couldn’t give the necklace directly to the queen because the queen allegedly didn’t want her husband to know about it. So, they were told, “Give the necklace to Jeanne, and she’ll give it to the queen and then the money, Rohan will pay you later,” basically. So, Jeanne didn’t pay the jewellers, they just gave her this, I don’t even know, 50-pound diamond pinnie with tassels on the bottom, four tassels. You might think, “Mm, you know what? Are you exaggerating?” No. It’s actively ugly-looking. It’s just so ugly.

Anyway, she got the jewels and then she brought the necklace to her husband, Nicholas, and then just like that part in Ocean’s Eight where Mindy Kaling took the necklace apart hiding in another room, Nicholas disassembled the necklace into all separate diamonds. Side note, in Ocean’s Eight, there is a part where they’re in the room with all the necklaces and the jewellery and stuff and one of the necklaces is in fact a replica of this necklace. I was like, “Oh my god, it’s the necklace from this.” So, once you’ve seen the picture, maybe you’ll know what I mean, or maybe you saw that movie and you know this whole story and you’re like, “I noticed that too and that was amazing.”

Anyway, Nicholas took apart the necklace and started low-key selling the diamonds, a few at a time, at different shops so that nobody thought, why does this man have literally 50 pounds of diamonds? The jewellers meanwhile were like, “Why isn’t anyone paying us for the necklace?” And then they realized, “Oh shit, we just clearly got conned,” and then they had Cardinal de Rohan arrested for defrauding them because they thought he was the one behind everything, they thought he had sent Jeanne there, they thought he was going to pay for it. Rohan, of course, didn’t know that anything untoward was happening and he also had no chill, so he just squealed on everybody. So, he said, basically, “Jeanne I think was behind this, also de Villette, the gigolo, Nicole, the sex worker.” Also, I can’t remember exactly why this happened, but he also was like, “Count Cagliostro,” which is just like, he just brought him in as well. So, that’s just happening.

So, all these people were brought in on this con, but the thing is, this is France, just just before the French Revolution happened so the people of France really hated the king and queen at the moment; they would believe any terrible thing anybody said about them. So, even though Marie Antoinette had nothing, nothing, nothing to do with any of this – the letters were forged, she didn’t want the necklace, she’d never been friends with Jeanne, she still hated Rohan – everybody was like, “Augh, Marie Antoinette we know all about her. I bet she wanted the necklace, I bet she got Rohan to buy it for her.” They were ready to believe the worst about her. And so, the only way that Marie Antoinette and her husband figured they could prove their innocence was to have a giant public trial for Jeanne and her co-conspirators.

But plot twist, the very act of having a public trial basically backfired because Jeanne went up on the stand and put on an amazing show. She acted like a martyr and was like, “Oh my god, I can’t believe I’m in this position. I never did anything bad a day in my life,” and she just won everybody’s sympathy. Everybody was already predisposed to hate Marie Antoinette and the king, so it didn’t take a lot for Jeanne to win their sympathy but still, she put on a show, and she did a good job there. There wasn’t newspaper tabloid press but there were pamphlets. So, all these pamphlets got published about how she was the true victim and people cheered her when she went in and out of court. Eventually, Cardinal de Rohan, Nicole, and Count Cagliostro were all acquitted although the two men were sent into exile. De Villette, the gigolo/forger was also exiled from the country. Jeanne, despite having all this public sympathy, was found guilty of basically being a con artist and was sentenced to be whipped, branded, and imprisoned. Even though the whole squad were literally found guilty, Marie Antoinette was still super unpopular and everyone still kind of blamed her for the whole thing.

So, you might think, that’s it, Jeanne is going to be whipped, branded, sent to prison, and that’s the last you ever heard of her but that’s not what happened. What happened is she disguised herself as a boy and escaped from prison, went all the way to London, crossed waters, to get from France all the way over to England, she went to London, and then she published her autobiography which was called Memoires de La Comtesse de Valois de la Motte, which was her fake title she got from her husband combined with her own actual sort of royal illegitimate name. Anyway, she disguised herself as a boy, went to England and published her memoirs, which is how we know a lot of what we know about her. Like any good memoirist, she did her best to make herself come across as the heroine, she, just leaning into public sentiment, made Marie Antoinette seem like the bad guy in this whole situation.

This seems like she might have then lived happily ever after in London as a popular memoir writer, this famous person. But plot twist, she died at age 35 having fallen out of her hotel room window. This is like, what? Basically, she perhaps jumped out of her hotel window trying to escape from debt collectors, not to intentionally kill herself but just to escape. But she apparently injured herself very badly, broken legs, just awful. But also, did she jump? Was she pushed? Nobody knows. But basically, that is what happened. So, she died in 1791, August 23, 1791, which was basically two years before Marie Antoinette herself was executed during the French Revolution. So, the two women were connected in this weird way, they both died within two years of each other. And if you want to pay your regards to this heroine, Jeanne is buried in London, where she died, in St. Mary’s Churchyard in Lambeth in London, England.

So, first I just super want to shout out where I first heard about this story because it’s from an amazing book, literally one of the best books I think I’ve ever read in my life, true story, is the true crime/historical nonfiction book, How to Ruin A Queen by Jonathan Beckman. He just gets in-depth into all of this and explains who Jeanne is, who her co-conspirators are, what the mood was like in France, all the weird details of literally this whole saga, which is like, I can’t… It’s just like, how is this even a true story? Every plot twist is just like, “What?! And then that? Really?”

There are a couple of movie versions of this. in 2001 there was a Hilary Swank movie that came out called The Affair of the Necklace, and that’s what this whole thing became known as to history, the whole ugly necklace, tricking the jewellers into giving it to her, Marie Antoinette becoming the villain, it’s just known as the Affair of the Necklace. That’s also the title of the Hilary Swank movie which is, for costumes, great, for hairstyles, great. But it really kind of overcompensates in trying to make Jeanne sympathetic where she should really just be this badass con artist, I think. Here they try and make it, I don’t know, they’re trying to make you feel bad for her to understand why she did this where it’s like, I understand why she did this, she wanted a luxurious life and she what people were doing in Versailles, she was super smart, and she did it. Anyway, the movie is worth seeing because basically, every version of this story is worth seeing. Also, Hilary Swank does a good job, and the costumes and hair are super amazing.

Actually, now I’m remembering, that’s where I heard about the whole thing to begin with before I even read the book. Frock Flicks is a website where costume designers talk about different costumes in different movies, et cetera, and they sort of explain what’s accurate and what’s not accurate. So, they did a post about this movie, The Affair of the Necklace where they especially complimented how the wigs were so good in this movie. And I was like, “What is this Affair of the Necklace?” Then I looked it up, then I found the Jonathan Beckman book and here we all are, and our lives are so much better. There was a 1946 French film, L’Affaire du Collier de la Reine, so the Affair of the Necklace, in French. 1929, there was a German silent film called Cagliostro, and then the 1979 Japanese anime The Rose of Versailles involves some of this stuff as well.

Now, it is time to get onto the scoring, basically, to see where Jeanne de Valois-Saint-Rémy de la Motte fits on our Scandalicious Scale. If, for some reason, you haven’t listened to the previous episodes of this podcast, this is where I score the story. I’m not scoring the people; I don’t want to say that any person is any more valuable than any other person but just in terms of a story, how did these all rank? And then, at the end of this season, we can see which was the most scandalicious story we went to.

So, there are four categories, the first of which is the eponymous Scandaliciousness score. So, for Jeanne we’ve got a lot, we’ve got a lot to work with here. Again, the Scandaliciousness is in the time and place where she lived. So, the fact that she was 8 months pregnant with twins when she got married and gave birth to the babies a month after the wedding, pretty scandalous for the time and place. The fact that she, in short order, took two lovers, one of whom was an infamous gigolo/letter forger, scandalicious. The fact that she took up with Cardinal de Rohan, pretended she was friends with Marie Antoinette, and executed the entire Affair of the Necklace… I mean, we’re getting into Scheminess next but in terms of Scandaliciousness, this is going to be a high score. I think there was no murder involved in this story, which is why I’m going to give her a 9 out of 10. Had there been, she had a squad, she had the sexy, the affairs with the men, she had the baby a month after she was married. Scandaliciousness was there but I’m giving her a 9 out of 10 because there was no actual murder committed here, not that murders should be committed but in terms of a story and how scandalicious is this story, that’s how I’m grading her. Because the last episode, Frances Howard, got a 10 for Scandaliciousness and she deserved it.

The next category is Scheminess, and this is where I think Jeanne can really step up. So, the complexity of her plan, she took up with Rohan, figured out that he wanted to be friends with Marie Antoinette, found out about this ugly necklace, and realized she could use the ugly necklace and Rohan’s feelings for Marie Antoinette together so that she could get the necklace for herself, bringing in Nicole, the Marie Antoinette lookalike sex worker… The levels, the levels of this! Aughhh! For Scheminess, I think… I don’t know, I don’t want to score everybody really high because then it’s like, where can you go from there? But at the same time, I’m going to give her an 8 for Scheminess because while this was amazing Scheminess, and then the fact that she disguised herself as a boy to escape prison and went to England, her Scheminess, super high. But I’ll say basically, it was the one scheme, and it was an amazing scheme but to get a 10 in Scheminess, I think you need to have numerous schemes. So, an 8 in Scheminess.

Significance is the next category, and this is an interesting one to think about because, at the time, I think this is what we’re finding with a lot of these stories, these stories seemed huge at the time, but they became more ephemeral. The Affair of the Necklace was, I think, one of numerous factors but one of the factors that really led to the French Revolution. This specific thing wasn’t like, the straw that broke the camel’s back, but it just made everybody hate Marie Antoinette a little bit more which just got everybody a bit more worked up, the fact that she was this martyr got everybody else more worked up. The significance is not like… She didn’t throw the match that started the fire but if the fire was a pile of hay, this was a big old clump of hay, if that’s a metaphor, I don’t know. But overall, I guess significance to world history, I’m going to give her a 3, I think. It is significant but we’re going to look at other people whose stories have more significance.

The final scoring factor is the Sexism Bonus and I want to, I think, redefine that because the first two episodes we did were both wealthy, noble women. Jeanne kind of was noble but she was also an impoverished peasant. So, there’s classism and there’s sexism and they go together, especially in these stories of women like Jeanne. For this, we’re looking at how much did the fact that she was a woman and that she was a poor woman, how much did that hold her back? How much did that affect her life? If she had been a man in this society, how might things have turned out differently? This is an interesting one.

Again, I thought that his bonus would be much more apparent in figuring out these scores but sort of like with Frances Howard, Jeanne was a woman, and it was a shitty time to be a woman, and it was a shitty time to be a poor woman but she kind of saw the cards she was dealt and went from there. So, she got married young, pregnant, which is probably not her fondest dream but that got her the marriage, so she was able to do that. Basically, she could have stayed in the nunnery and that would have been an okay life, but she got married instead, she took the levers, she had all this ambition, and she was able to pull off this plan because she was a woman. But I will say, had she been born a man with this much ambition, cleverness, and drive, she may have not taken the fall quite as much as she did. I think the fact that all the men involved in her scheme were sent into exile whereas she was whipped and thrown in prison, that’s the sexism right there. So everybody, as far as I can imagine, is always going to get at least a 5 in the Sexism area, lower class women will also get the Sexism/Classism. I’m going to give her a 7 in this category, which adds up to 27. She gets a 27 out of 40, which is, I think, the highest score of anybody yet and I mean, well deserved.

The whole “Well-behaved women seldom make history,” thing, she’s such an example of a woman who, we know about her, firstly because Jonathan Beckman wrote that amazing book and because Frock Flicks did the review of the Hilary Swank film, and because I’m doing this podcast now. But we know about her, she wrote her own autobiography– Augh! I forgot she wrote her own autobiography, I’m not going to reconsider her score, I’m happy with her score but just like, she was a legend. She made sure that we all knew who she was. The actions she did, she reframed them herself, writing her biography, these pamphlets that came out about her, she got the free publicity and she just leaned into it. She epitomizes “Well-behaved women seldom make history,” because nothing about her was well-behaved, except that she pretended like she was. It’s almost like a Scarlet Pimpernel scenario, speaking of pre-Revolutionary France, where she just seems like this sort of lovely lady hanging out in Versailles just being whatever when secretly in the shadows, she’s this criminal mastermind. I wish she had lived longer, I wish she had done more schemes, I wish there was more to know about Jeanne. But considering she only lived to be 35, she really made herself a legend and for that, I respect her. And I mean, a score, she’s got the highest score so far: 27 on our Scandaliciousness Scale.

So, this is Vulgar History, my name is Ann Foster and I’ve got all social media things all set up. In the previous episodes that I recorded, I didn’t have that stuff ready but now I can tell you all about it. So, on Instagram, we are @VulgarHistoryPod. On Twitter we are @VulgarHistory and let me know what you think about Jeanne, about her score of 27, 27 out of 40. Would you have scored her higher? Would you have scored her lower? Who else do you think would be a good episode to talk about?

You can also check out my Patreon which is If you become a patron, one of the perks you get is you can vote on a poll which helps to figure out who should I do more podcasts about, or who should I write blog posts about, because there is a never-ending supply of amazing, interesting women I keep finding out about! It’s like any internet black hole, you look up a thing and then you click on that, and then something else, and something else, and then suddenly it’s just like, “Oh my god, who is the obscure story we’ve never heard about.” And next thing you know I’m in the university library reading articles, trying to find out about somebody that there’s not a lot of people talked about before. It’s exciting, I love finding an exciting story. And again, for this one, which is just one of my favourite stories ever, I can’t recommend enough, How to Ruin A Queen by Jonathan Beckman, I’ll put a link to that in the show notes. Otherwise, I guess I will talk to you all next time. Have a great, great week everybody!


What I find interesting about these first season episodes is that you know, I was figuring out how to do the podcast, but the vibe is there, the vibe is definitely there. If I were to do this episode anew now, I think it would probably be two and a half hours long because there’s some stuff I skim over that I’d definitely want to delve into a bit more in-depth. Although I do want to say that this episode inspired the first-ever Patreon special episode, So This Asshole, I did one about Cagliostro. If you watch the movie, The Affair of the Necklace, the Hilary Swank movie, he’s played by Christopher Walken in quite a memorable performance. That movie is actually one that I have talked about on Vulgarpiece Theatre, which is one of the spinoff podcasts which is where myself, Allison Epstein, and Lana Wood Johnson talk about costume dramas. That’s on Patreon for anyone who is at the $5 or more a month level.

The thing about that movie is the wigs are great, as Frock Flicks said, I think the costumes are also pretty accurate. But the movie did this thing, we talk about it in the Vulgarpiece Theatre episode, where it’s like, to make Jeanne de la Motte be a heroine, a heroic figure that the audience can root for, instead of making her this dirtbag anti-hero, they made it that she did actually have a claim to the throne, that her family was kicked off their lands so she’s doing this in a righteous quest because she should be a royal instead of just, she was a grifter doing the best she could. So, they make her be this heroic person instead of this anti-hero and that’s where the movie is not as strong as it could be, I don’t think. But it’s an ongoing thing with, especially movies I think, and TV shows where there are so many producers and committees you have to go through, so I don’t know what the script was in the first place for this, but where they were able to get their financing was by making Jeanne be this heroic figure which is the whole delight in her story, she is very much not that.

What I also wanted to mention is that in the episode I say, “Look at my Instagram to see how ugly the necklace is.” I know that people are catching up on this podcast and the back episodes when I get messages from people or comments on that Instagram post being like, “Oh wow, this is even uglier than I thought.” Yeah, you need to see this necklace to understand how ugly it actually was, and that’s a crucial part of this story, the fact that Marie Antoinette didn’t want it because it’s a fucking ugly necklace. The necklace itself no longer exists. The replicas that people have – you can get some on Etsy and places like that – are all based on how it was described. People know generally what it looked like but the actual necklace itself is not around. I lost my mind in the movie Ocean’s Eight, there’s a scene where there’s this fake Met Gala exhibit of royal jewellery and in the background, you can see that they have this diamond necklace on, I was like, “Oh my god! It’s the Affair of the Necklace, necklace,” I was excited about it.

What I also want to mention is that in this first season episode, I say, “Look at my Instagram, there’s a picture.” At some point after I recorded that, I did a clearing out of my Instagram and I deleted old posts and people were like, “Where’s the picture of the necklace?” So, I put it back, it’s in my Highlights now if you want to see what it looks like.

Since then, this necklace has taken on this meaning to me and to this podcast and to the listeners, the tits-out brigade. I’ve got Heeral Chhibber, who is an artist, this was the first artist-commissioned merch I got so if you go to the Vulgar History store, there’s a T-shirt that is just a black T-shirt but there’s a drawing of the necklace on it so when you wear the T-shirt, it’s as though you’re wearing the necklace, which is frankly, the size of the front of a T-shirt because it’s so huge and ugly. But on the T-shirt, it looks so nice, Heeral designed it so it kind of looks like it’s glinting like it’s diamonds. It’s so pretty. Anyway, or, you can get one of those T-shirts if you like. Also, since then, there was a person on, it’s in my Highlights on Instagram, I don’t know the name off-hand, but this beautiful TikToker found a way to style the necklace with a dress and she looks so cute, and she pulls it off! So, it’s possible to make this necklace look good it’s just, you have to really put your mind to it, I guess.

Anyway, this is a story that I really enjoy and it’s one that I have for undisclosed reasons been thinking a lot about lately as I’ve been working on my plans for the next season of Vulgar History. I don’t want to announce specifically what the next season is going to be about until I’m for sure, for sure that it’s going to happen, the tone of it or the name of the season might change. I know what it’s about, the time period. I guess I’ll tell you, that will be your treat for listening to this after-the-rerun talking, it’s going to be set in the 18th century, I can tell you that. So, I don’t like to say what’s coming up next because ever since I think in Season 2, I was like, “Next week, I’m talking about Eleanor of Aquitaine,” and I have still not done an episode about Eleanor of Aquitaine. Sometimes people say, “I don’t see it in the feed, where’s your Eleanor of Aquitaine episode?” Non-existent. [laughs] I have not done it. Although, if you’re a Patreon subscriber and you listen to the Vulgarpiece Theatre episodes, we just did an episode about the movie The Lion in Winter, which is a movie about Eleanor of Aquitaine, so that’s the closest I have yet to come to actually doing that.

Anyway, so I don’t want to formally announce what the next season is going to be about but I will tell you, for sure, the shape of it may grow and change but it’s definitely the 18th century, so the same period in which Jeanne de la Motte was being a tits-out legend and doing her own thing, so that’s why I’ve been thinking about her and this time period and that ugly necklace, it’s such a good… I love this story and I love that this was one of the first episodes of Vulgar History.

Anyway, contrary to what I may say at the end of the episode you just listened to, I want to give you all the updated information about our social media and stuff. Where you can find me mostly, most of the time is @VulgarHistoryPod on Instagram and then also we have the Patreon so For $1 or more a month, you get early, ad-free access to all episodes, for $5 or more a month, you get the Vulgarpiece Theatre episodes, as well as other bonus content that I post there. We also have a Discord so if you join at the $5/month level, you can join the Discord, which is kind of like a big group chat of tits-out brigade members and it’s just a nice chill place to hang out, basically. In the absence of, you know, functional social media these days, it’s just a nice place to talk to people who get it, people who are cool, and who you want to hear from. I also want to mention, if you’re looking for transcripts of this podcast, transcripts of recent episodes are available at, thank you to Aveline Malek from The Wordary for providing these transcripts. So, it’s most recent episodes and going backwards, which will include these re-runs as well. You can also get in touch with me using the form at or you can email me directly at

So, I’m going to be back again with another revisiting. Oh, I do want to say, for some of these, I’ve been revisiting their scores but Jeanne de la Motte, where she landed, I think, is ideal. The people who landed there, it was such an early episode, she got a 27, but other people who got a 27 were people like Ana de Mendoza, Ana de Eye-Patch, got a 27. La Voisin, who is also a similar sort of story in terms of France, dirtbag, royally adjacent scandals, 27.5. Bess of Hardwick, 27.5. I think this is definitely, I feel confident about where Jeanne de la Motte landed on the score because the people around her are people whose stories, I think, are similar levels of Scandaliciousness, et cetera. Anyway, I hope you’re all doing okay this winter holiday adjacent season. There are going to be a few more of these revisited, bonus episodes coming up and then in mid-January, we’ll be back with all new content. Thank you so much for listening, thank you for being in the tits-out brigade, and until next time, keep your pants on and your tits out.


Vulgar History is hosted, written, and researched by Ann Foster and edited by Cristina Lumague.

Transcribed by Aveline Malek at


How To Ruin A Queen by Jonathan Beckman

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