An extract from Dave’s article ‘Spies’.
“In addition to the heads of le Secret du Roi, there were a number of other very notable characters. There was Comte de Saint-Germain, for example, described by Casanova, in a classic pot-calling-the-kettle-black moment, as ‘the king of imposters’. Saint-Germain was an extraordinary, multi-talented, adventurer who claimed, amongst other things, to be 300 years old and to be able melt diamonds. He was a linguist, philosopher, chemist, occultist and gifted musician. He had already been arrested in England in 1745 on suspicion of espionage but released without charge. This was before he became a spy as part of le Secret du Roi, first being employed by Louis XV for diplomatic missions in 1749. In 1760, he was engaged in negotiating peace between England and France but the English refused to deal with him, unconvinced by his credentials to speak on behalf of Louis XV. The French foreign minister, the Duc de Choiseul, managed to convince Louis to disavow Saint-Germain and have him arrested but he was able to escape to England. Then there was the Chevalier d’Eon, who was born a man but spent much of his life dressed as a woman. He joined le Secret du Roi as a spy in 1756 during the Seven Years War. Predictably, given the period, the ambiguities surrounding his gender identity led to a certain amount of controversy and a number of duels. Unfortunately for his opponents, however, he happened to be a highly accomplished fencing master. He spent much of his time as a spy in England. At the end of his career, he negotiated a state pension with Louis XV by threatening to reveal state secrets to the English, a pension which he received up until the French Revolution. For the last 33 years of his life (until 1810) he dressed as a woman. Next, there was Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais, a watchmaker, inventor, musician and playwright who penned two of the greatest French box-office hits of the eighteenth century (‘Figaro’, initially banned by Louis XVI, and ‘The Barber of Seville’). He first came to the attention of Louis XV having invented a more portable clock mechanism. Beaumarchais was heavily involved in clandestine support for the American revolutionaries, supplying money, arms and equipment. He also became a very close friend of Joseph Paris-Duverney, a wealthy financier who was involved with Casanova in establishing the French lottery. And then there was Voltaire, one of the giants of the Enlightenment, who was himself a participant in several diplomatic missions, in particular with regards to Prussia and Frederick the Great.”
A Pinterest page based on the article is freely available here.
‘The Prologue’, and chapters 1 to 4 of ‘Casanova in Paris: The Shadows of the King’ are now freely available here.
6 long form articles on Casanova’s life and times are freely available here.
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