We have updated our Privacy Policy Please take a moment to review it. By continuing to use this site, you agree to the terms of our updated Privacy Policy.

‘A hell of a tale and Jonathan Beckman gives it all the verve and swagger it deserves . . . I read it with fascination, delight and frequent snorts of incredulity’ The Spectator

On 5 September 1785, a trial began in Paris that would divide the country, captivate Europe and send the French monarchy tumbling down the slope towards the Revolution. Cardinal Louis de Rohan, scion of one of the most ancient and distinguished families in France, stood accused of forging Marie Antoinette’s signature to fraudulently obtain the most expensive piece of jewellery in Europe – a 2,400-carat necklace worth 1.6 million francs.

Where were the diamonds now? Was Rohan entirely innocent? Was, for that matter, the queen? What was the role of the charismatic magus, the comte de Cagliostro, who was rumoured to be two-thousand-years old and capable of transforming metal into gold?

This is a tale of political machinations and extravagance on an enormous scale; of kidnappings, prison breaks and assassination attempts; of hapless French police disguised as colliers, reams of lesbian pornography and a duel fought with poisoned pigs. It is a detective story, a courtroom drama, a tragicomic farce, and a study of credulity and self-deception in the Age of Enlightenment.

Reviews

A work of scholarship and imagination, that focusses new light on the famous and extraordinary affair of Marie Antoinette and the stolen diamonds. The narrative is like an ingenious chess game showing us the complex moves of bishops, knights and pawns round the king and queen. Jonathan Beckman is the new Wilkie Collins of biographical history
Michael Holroyd
How to Ruin a Queen is a fascinating and impeccably researched account of one of the great scandals of the 18th century. Beckman is a master-storyteller whose consummate skills are evident on every page
Amanda Foreman
A murky story of the Ancien Regime including diamonds and sex, brilliantly told
Lady Antonia Fraser
Necklace to neckless! This is the murky tale of the diamond heist that led to Marie Antoinette's demise
Tatler
A rollicking whodunit
Independent
A hell of a tale and Jonathan Beckman gives it all the verve and swagger it deserves . . . I read it with fascination, delight and frequent snorts of incredulity - and I strongly suspect you will too
The Spectator
Fascinating . . . a gripping detective story and a witty revelation of a scandal that shocked Paris
BBC History Magazine
In his intriguing history, Jonathan Beckman has spun out of this dirty tangle of source material a clear and compelling narrative line . . . with its exuberant use of language and subtly ironic storytelling, it is almost as colourful as the scandal it explores
Sunday Times
Gripped me like a whodunit . . . Beckman tells this scarcely believable story with flair
The Times
Jonathan Beckman skilfully unfolds the intricacies and absurdities of this extraordinary episode . . . Beckman provides us with an engaging and finely researched study of an affair that, despite having the plot of a frothy operetta, was of genuine historical significance
Literary Review
As gripping as a heist movie
Mail on Sunday
A gem . . . glistening with wit and insight
Sunday Telegraph
Fast-paced, colourful and rich
The Economist
Stranger than fiction but just as gripping, How to Ruin a Queen is a masterly exploration of the 'diamond necklace' affair
Hilary Mantel
Vivid and compelling
History Revealed
Glittering and gloriously goofy . . . This is a terrific tale, told with assurance and gusto
Guardian
Jonathan Beckman has an eye for a good story. His account of the affair is full of human drama, including illicit sex, assassination attempts and prison escapes . . . a superb piece of research that separates myth from reality
Sunday Business Post
A really fascinating history
Dan Stevens
Stranger than fiction and told with a verve that suggests the author relishes his dodgy tale
Country Life
Jonathan Beckman has tunnelled into the warren of misinformation . . . and has come out with what must be as near to the truth as we'll get
Daily Mail
Jonathan Beckman tells his complicated tale with gusto
Observer
A wonderfully enjoyable account of one of the most audacious cons ever perpetrated
John Preston, Evening Standard Books of the Year
Jonathan Beckman dazzlingly rehabilitates Marie Antoinette in an atmospheric and evocative account of diamonds, fraud, intrigue and a 1785 case that stoked antiroyalist feeling in France
Telegraph Books of the Year
A richly enjoyable account of one of the most audacious scams ever perpetrated
Mail on Sunday
Beckman's tale of the Diamond Necklace Affair is full of character and tawdry details, and glistens with wit and insight
Daily Telegraph
Beckman has waded through masses of evidence from the trial to retell this fascinating and complicated story
Daily Mail
Gripped me like a whodunnit . . . That's not surprising. It relates the story of the greatest crime caper of the 18th Century
The Times
Beckman has waded through masses of evidence from the trial to retell this fascinating and complicated story
Irish Daily Mail
Beckman's diligent detective work uncovers the murky truth behind this cause celebre
Mail on Sunday