The Affair of the Poisons: Murder, Infanticide, and Satanism at the Court of Louis XIV [NOOK Book]


The Affair of the Poisons, as it became known, was an extraordinary episode that took place in France during the reign of Louis XIV. When poisoning and black magic became widespread, arrests followed. Suspects included those among the highest ranks of society. Many were tortured and numerous executions resulted.

The 1676 torture and execution of the Marquise de Brinvilliers marked the start of the scandal which rocked the foundations of ...
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The Affair of the Poisons: Murder, Infanticide, and Satanism at the Court of Louis XIV

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The Affair of the Poisons, as it became known, was an extraordinary episode that took place in France during the reign of Louis XIV. When poisoning and black magic became widespread, arrests followed. Suspects included those among the highest ranks of society. Many were tortured and numerous executions resulted.

The 1676 torture and execution of the Marquise de Brinvilliers marked the start of the scandal which rocked the foundations of French society and sent shock waves through all of Europe. Convicted of conspiring with her adulterous lover to poison her father and brothers in order to secure the family fortune, the marquise was the first member of the noble class to fall.
In the French court of the period, where sexual affairs were numerous, ladies were not shy of seeking help from the murkier elements of the Parisian underworld, and fortune-tellers supplemented their dubious trade by selling poison.

It was not long before the authorities were led to believe that Louis XIV himself was at risk. With the police chief of Paris police alerted, every hint of danger was investigated. Rumors abounded and it was not long before the King ordered the setting up of a special commission to investigate the poisonings and bring offenders to justice. No one, the King decreed, no matter how grand, would be spared having to account for their conduct.

The royal court was soon thrown into disarray. The Mistress of the Robes and a distinguished general were among the early suspects. But they paled into insignificance when the King's mistress was incriminated. If, as was said, she had engaged in vile Satanic rituals and had sought to poison a rival for the King's affections, what was Louis XIV to do?

Anne Somerset has gone back to original sources, letters and earlier accounts of the affair. By the end of her account, she reaches firm conclusions on various crucial matters. The Affair of the Poisons is an enthralling account of a sometimes bizarre period in French history.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In 1676, a seemingly devoted daughter and wife, Madame de Brinvilliers, shocked all of France with the heinous murder of her father and brothers. Furious that the family disapproved of her taking a lover, she and her scurrilous paramour poisoned them out of a desire for revenge and greed for her anticipated inheritance. The ensuing scandal, skillfully recounted by noted British historian Somerset (Elizabeth I), inflamed the nation's fears that the decadent nobles at the Sun King's court were caught up in a clandestine world of sex, witchcraft and murder. Every untimely death and peculiar illness, including Louis XIV's chronic vapors, suddenly appeared to be the nefarious work of an unwholesome network of princesses, dukes and fortunetellers. As panic ballooned, even the king's mistress, Mme de Montespan, fell under suspicion (and was eventually banished from the king's bed), and many of France's most distinguished personages were sent to trial, jail and, in several cases, the scaffold. Somerset reconstructs this macabre history from surviving public documents, enlivened with contemporary gossip and wit from letters between the French elite. Her arch prose sometimes stalls amid the intricacies of myriad minor characters' histories, but overall, she offers an intelligent review of a darkly fascinating affair. 8 pages of color illus. not seen by PW. Agent, Ed Victor. (Oct.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
London-based historian Somerset has written a gripping account of the dark side of French court life in the 17th century. This broad-based inquiry into the underworld use of poison and the occult stems from the 1676 Brinvilliers case, which saw the execution of the Marquise de Brinvilliers for using poison to murder three members of her own family. The case led to a national sense of unease and ultimately to a widening probe into the activities of the more than 400 Parisian fortune-tellers and "divineresses" suspected of supplying poison to wealthy clients. At the peak of the affair, many came to believe that the king himself was threatened. Recognizing the limitations of the evidence presented, Somerset concludes that the atmosphere of "lies, intrigues and exaggerated fears" reached epidemic proportions and created an irrational mood of hysteria. Her story provides a window into the sybaritic and debauched nature of court life in the period, as well as the persistence of beliefs in the occult, astrology, palmistry, and black magic. Historians and informed lay readers, especially those interested in tales of monarchical intrigue, will appreciate this little-known story.-Marie Marmo Mullaney, Caldwell Coll., NJ Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Recounting truly baroque French doings in the last quarter of the 17th century, as well as the story of the special royal commission appointed to investigate the wickedness, Somerset (Elizabeth I, 1991) offers some dish about liaisons that were truly dangerous. It was good to be the Sun King at Versailles-except for all the poisonings, necromancy, and related bad behavior that seemed to be gaining ascendancy. During the raunchy reign of Louis XIV there was rampant fooling around, though apparently in every reign a little high life must fall. The intricate Affair of the Poisons began with alarming rumors flying about fortunetellers, alchemists, astrologers, abortionists, black magicians, and Satanists plying their occult trades in the employ of aristocrats and courtiers. Most frightening among these tales of rank people working for people of rank were the accounts of death by poison. The weapons of individual destruction included powdered glass, orpiment, realgar, white arsenic, and disgusting special formulations designed to effect widowhood at a time when divorce wasn't available. Potions were available to produce advantageous connections for ardent admirers of those who were otherwise coupled. There were, patently, killers in lace and decolletage and murderers in silk breeches. It was feared the web of intrigue might even reach the King's person, since among diverse suspects was his favorite mistress. But Louis was oddly merciful to Mme. de Montespan in a day when even the most innocent of inconvenient women might simply be packed off to a convent forever. More plebian "divineresses" didn't get off so lightly. Before the furor abated, there were 104 trials and 34 executions, "withoffenders being variously burnt alive, decapitated, hanged, strangled or broken on the wheel." Thereafter, the King's behavior noticeably improved. Satan was no longer popular in France. Though Somerset doesn't speculate, apparently the Evil One moved on to New England, where the Salem witchcraft trials began shortly thereafter. Superior history, wonderfully complex and colorful, about the dark side of the Sun King's court. (8-page color insert, not seen)
From the Publisher
Praise for Elizabeth I:

"This is my favorite among the biographies of Queen Elizabeth I. Anne Somerset presents a convincing as well as complex character at the center of her lucid narrative. She breathes new life into old sources so that we live the story again and see it afresh."

- Antonia Fraser

"The most comprehensive, the most reliable and the most readable biography of Elizabeth."

- New York Times Book Review

"Totally captivating...a wry, convincing portrait of a complex character."

- Publishers Weekly

"Somerset's thoroughly researched and exhaustively documented study will capture the reader's imagination."

- Library Journal

"An ample, stylish, and eloquent life of the queen."

- The Washington Post Book World

"Finely crafted, abundantly detailed...few biographies have explored the depth found here."

- The San Francisco Chronicle

"A gorgeous tapestry...even readers unfamiliar with the dynamic personalities of the Tudor era would do well to start their quest for knowledge here."

- Booklist

"A clear, moving, informed narrative."

- Kirkus Reviews

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781466862807
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 1/14/2014
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 596,360
  • File size: 584 KB

Meet the Author

Anne Somerset was born in England in 1955 and studied history at King's College London. She is the author of the acclaimed biography Elizabeth and the UK bestseller Unnatural Murder, which was shortlisted for the Crime Writers Association Gold Dagger award for nonfiction. She is married and lives in London with her husband and daughter.
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Table of Contents

Illustrations ix
Principal Characters x
Glossary xxi
Foreword 1
1 Mme de Brinvilliers 6
2 Louis XIV and his Court 41
3 Sex and the Sun King 80
4 The First Arrests 124
5 La Voisin 148
6 The Magician Lesage 167
7 A Court in Chaos 196
8 Accusations Against Mme de Montespan 242
9 The Chamber is Suspended 269
10 The End of the Affair 291
11 Conclusion 314
Notes 340
Bibliography 354
Index 363
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 21, 2006

    Very Disappointing

    While packed with good information, the author keeps repeating that same information over and over and over making this a very long and drawn out book to the point where at several times I was heard talking out loud stating 'Oh My Goodness! Get on with it already!!!' - If this gives you a better idea of what I am trying to say. Had the author wrote the information just once, this book would be only 1/4 of the length it is now.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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