Unlike his brother Louis XVI in 1791, Louis XVIII did not attempt to sneak out of Paris silently. However, as Napoleon advanced on Paris, there was one item which Louis did desire to transport without the knowledge of others, namely the Crown Jewels, a collection of mounted and loose precious stones, diamonds, and pearls including the famous diamond Le Régent (seen here) which was valued at 6 million francs alone.
The man nominated for this mission was Baron Hüe. The King charged his faithful courtier with the task of transporting his precious cargo to Calais and then on to England.
Hüe recounts the episode in his memoires: the plan was to leave with the jewels disguised in artillery boxes at midnight on 20th March, but there was so much army movement that he could not escape from the Tuileries Palace until 6am the following morning. News spread fast and Hüe encountered many men along his route who had heard of his secret mission and his precious cargo, most offering help and support.
In Calais he realised that the political situation was changing too quickly to make it across the Channel so he continued on to Lille where, with all the necessary travel documents, he was able to pass the border despite the presence of some English troops. He headed to Tournai and then Ostende before following the King to Ghent.
When Napoleon’s imperial ministers investigated the disappearance of the Crown Jewels on 28th March 1815 they found an order from Louis XVIII arranging the removal of the Jewels dated as early as 13th March along with Hüe’s signature stating that he had taken everything in two instalments, one on 15th March, the other on 19th March.
L’Ambigu, ou variétés littéraires et politiques, vol. 49, 10th April 1815, p. 74.
Baron François Hüe, Souvenirs du Baron Hüe : officier de la chambre du roi Louis XVI et Louis XVIII (1787-1815) (Paris: Calmann-Levy, n.d.), pp. 275-286.