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1680: La Voisin, poisoner to the stars

February 22nd, 2008 Melabesq

On this date in 1680, Catherine Monvoisin was burned at the stake in the Place de Greve, a casualty of the “Poison Affair”.

The Poison Affair was rooted in a spate of (suspected) poisonings in France during the later part of the 17th Century. In 1670, the Duchasse d’Orleans, nee Princess Henrietta Anne Stuart the daughter of deposed and executed King Charles I of England, died suddenly. Some years before, the Duchasse, a great friend, and possibly lover, of her brother-in-law King Louis XIV, had convinced the king to exile her husband’s paramour, her rival for power. Although the results of an autopsy suggested that the duchasse died from an infection resulting from a perforated ulcer, popular opinion held that she had been poisoned by her husband’s exiled lover. Five years later, Marie-Madeleine-Marguerite d’Abray, Marquise de Brinvilliers, was executed for the murder of her father, brother and two sisters by poisoning (to gain control of their inheritances). These high-profiled murders, coupled with several other mysterious deaths at the time, heightened the aristocracy’s already considerable fear of poisoning.

In response to the aristocracy’s rising fear, Louis XIV instructed his chief of police to identify poisoners and neutralize the threat they posed. Accordingly, in 1679, a commission was established. The commission promptly began investigating, and arresting, fortune tellers, alchemists, and other purveyors of potions and powders. The police chief also re-established the Chambre Ardente (“burning court”) to try alleged witches and poisoners.

The most famous prisoner tried and convicted by the Chambre Ardente was Catherine Monvoisin. Known as La Voisin, she took up fortune telling, potion-making and midwifery when it became clear that her husband would not make a living in his chosen profession. Unlike her husband’s, her business thrived. Well-positioned women of the aristocracy flocked to her, seeking potions to secure the love of powerful men or to eliminate rivals (one such target of her craft was Louise de la Valliere, then-mistress of Louis XIV).

During the Poison Affair, La Voisin was named as a witch and a poisoner and sentenced to death. Before she died, however, she named many members of the aristocracy who had used her services. They clients she implicated included the king’s mistress Francoise-Athenais, the Marquise de Montespan, whom La Voisin said purchased aphrodisiacs and performed black masses with her to gain the king’s favor, and Francois Henri de Montmercy-Bouteville, the duc de Luxembourg. Although there was no evidence to corroborate La Voisin’s stories, her confession ruined the reputations of the people she named.

The Chambre Ardente was disbanded in 1682 under the weight of the growing scandal, as it began to involve more and more members of the aristocracy.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Assassins,Burned,France,Guest Writers,Murder,Notable for their Victims,Notable Jurisprudence,Notable Sleuthing,Other Voices,Power,Public Executions,Scandal,Torture,Witchcraft,Women

5 thoughts on “1680: La Voisin, poisoner to the stars”

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