The Affair of the Poisons
By Lynn Wood Mollenauer
In the winter of 1678, the Paris police received a tip that a plot was afoot to poison Louis XIV of France. Their investigation, which continued for the next three years, uncovered the presence of a criminal magical underworld flourishing in the very heart of the capital. Sorceresses, magicians, and renegade priests, among others, were conducting a lively business in spells, magical ceremonies, and a variety of poisons. While the poisons (the most potent were composed of arsenic and powdered toad) gave the Affair of the Poisons its name, the clients of the criminal magical underworld lent the affair its notoriety. Among the 400 people accused were a score of high-ranking courtiers and even the king’s official mistress, the marquise de Montespan.
Madame de Montespan was eventually cleared of the suspicion that she had tried to poison the Sun King, but considerable evidence suggested that she had purchased love potions from a notorious sorceress named La Voisin. Several denizens of the magical underworld also claimed that Mme de Montespan had commissioned a series of amatory masses intended to insure that the affections of the king remained hers forever. An amatory mass, celebrated over the body of a naked woman, allegedly lured forth demons with the sacrifice of an infant for the purpose of establishing control over another’s heart, mind and will.
In 1682, Louis XIV cut short the investigation into the Affair of the Poisons, despite the fact that nearly sixty suspects still languished in prison awaiting trial. The Sun King evidently considered their potential testimony regarding his mistress’s patronage of the sorceress La Voisin too incendiary to be heard. These unfortunates were instead chained in solitary confinement for the rest of their lives and forbidden to speak even to their jailors.
IMAGE: Mme de Montespan by Charles de Lafosse, c. 1677.