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The Affair of the Poisons: Murder, Infanticide, and Satanism at the Court of Louis XIVby Anne Somerset
Synopses & Reviews
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.
"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.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Book News Annotation:
The men and women of the court of Louis XIV expected to get what they wanted, be it titles, offices, land, power or each other. In a time when ruthless narcissism was conducted within an etiquette that was complex almost beyond human comprehension, and the regard of the king meant all, getting what one wanted was a subtle, surreptitious, winner-takes-all game. When some of the players who stood in the way of others dropped dead, a Chambre Ardente investigated the underside of the game and found a significant number of players, including perhaps the king's official mistress, were trying to get an edge by resorting to poisons and satanic ritual. Somerset explains the rules of sex and power of court politics, the dangers to a king who thought etiquette insulated him, and the fates of the players who sought out the services of poison-makers and magicians.
Annotation ©2004 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
About the Author
Anne Somerset was born in England in 1955 and studied history at King's College London. She is the author of acclaimed biography, Elizabeth I. Her most recent work was the UK bestselling 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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