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

Anne Somerset
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Oct 2004
The Affair of the Poisons, as it was known, was a scandal at which 'all France trembled' and which 'horrified the whole of Europe' as it implicated a number of prominent persons at the court of the Sun King, King Louis XIV in the late 17th century. It began with the trial of Marie Madeleine d'Aubray,Marquise de Brinvilliers, who conspired with her lover, Godin de Sainte-Croix, an army captain, to poison her father and two brothers in order to secure the family fortune and to end interference in her adulterous relationship. The marquise fled abroad, but in 1676 was arrested at Liege. The affair greatly worked on the popular imagination, and there were rumours that she had tried out her poisons on hospital patients. She was beheaded and then burned. The Brinvilliers trial attracted attention to other mysterious deaths. Parisian society had been seized by a fad for spiritualist seances, fortune-telling, and the use of love potions. The most celebrated case was that of La Voisin, a midwife and fortune-teller whose real name was Catherine Deshayes Monvoisin and whose clientele included the marquise de Montespan, Olympe Mancini (niece of Cardinal Mazarin and mother of Prince Eugene of Savoy), and Marshal Luxembourg. No formal charges were made, and there is no evidence that they were seriously implicated, yet a permanent stain was left on their names. La Voisin was burned as a poisoner and a sorceress in 1680. A special court, the chambre ardente [burning court], was instituted to judge cases of poisoning and witchcraft, and the poison epidemic came to an end in France. The affair was sympomatic of the witchcraft trials of the period throughout Europe. This bizarre witchhunt, which embroiled the gilded denizens of Versailles with the most sordid dregs of Paris society, remains both a fascinating enigma and an utterly compelling story.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 377 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press (Oct 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312330170
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312330170
  • Product Dimensions: 3.1 x 16.1 x 23.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,291,421 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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'The Affair of the Poisons is a beautifully researched account of this extraordinary case...With her customary intelligence and lucidity, Anne Somerset meticulously unravels this complex, fascinating affair and presents an informed opinion on what really happened.' (Lucy Moore BBC HISTORY MAGAZINE (November) ) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Book Description

A narrative historical true crimes page-turner --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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34 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Court of Louis XIV Laid Bare. 26 Oct 2003
By means of focusing on a particular series of incidents, known as the Affair of the Poisons, Anne Somerset has written one of the most penetrating studies of Louis XIV ever published. The wave of hysteria and scandal which broke over the court of Versailles in 1677 starred a Rogues' Gallery of Poisoners, Blackmailers, Devil-Worshippers, Witches, Torturers and Cruel Inquisitors which makes the events portrayed in the Witches of Salem seem like an episode from a tea-party. The most fascinating thread in this history as written by Anne Somerset is the insight which the author gives us into the character and methods of Louis XIV. She describes and lays bare the mixture of superstitious vacillation and guilt-ridden indecision with which Louis dealt with an affair which implicated those closest to him in affection and family. This not the usual bland picture of the Sun King's magnificence, unerring powers of judgement and political genius. When we consider that Somerset's portrait of the King, although admittedly in cameo form, is competing with the works of Saint Simon, Madame De Sevigne, Voltaire and more recently, Nancy Mitford - among many others - this book is a very considerable triumph of scholarship and historical writing. As a bonus, The Affair of the Poisons is full of the highly enjoyable blend of sly wit and analytical clarity with which Anne Somerset has made her reputation as a scholar and historian - and it has the hallucinatory cinematic quality of Patrick Suskind's great novel, Perfume.
The Affair Of The Poisons is the rarest of historical works: one which reads like a compulsively page-turning thriller; and yet is the product of painstaking and unique research from original sources. Truth has never been more clearly shown to be stranger than fiction, than in this powerful book.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Affair of the Poisons 25 Nov 2009
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Enjoyed this book immensely - so much so I ordered another copy as a gift.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fast and efficient 23 Aug 2009
This book was not easy to find, so I was delighted when these people kindly found it for me and delivered it so promptly and in very good condition to me.
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3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating and repelling at the same time 20 Aug 2010
A deeply researched and lucidly argued work about major scandal at the court of Louis XIV. The only minor niggles I have with this book are Somerset's use of the word "divineresses" and using the prefix "la" before every female character - la Bosse, la Vigoruex, la Filastre, which is unnecessary and clumsy.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.5 out of 5 stars  10 reviews
30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Account of a Dark Episode In French History 3 Dec 2004
By Matthew S. Schweitzer - Published on
Anne Somerset has done a fantastic job in bringing this bit of dark and forgotten history to the fore in the first serious work on this subject in decades.

"The Affair of the Poisons" relates how in 1680, Paris society was thrown into an uproar as details came to light of a rash of magical potions and poisons being circulated from the Paris underground into the highest ranks of the French high society. As the police investigated further into what they thought to be outlandish rumours of satanic rituals and child sacrifice, a strange story began to take form around a number of high profile individuals, notably the jealously obssessed and now out-of-favor royal mistress, the Marquise de Montespan, concerning a plot to assasinate the King and Queen themselves. The Marquise was said to have turned to the performance of satanic rites of the Black Mass, using the blood of child sacrifices, freshly killed by the self proclaimed abortionist and sorceress known as La Voisin. When her most desperate attempts to win the King back through black magic failed, the Marquise is said to have turned to murder, first of her competitors at court, and finally hatching a plot to poison the King himself. The details themselves are never truly know as the journals, testimonies, and eyewitness accounts taken down by the King's appointed investigators were locked away and later destoryed by the King himself, in a desperate attempt to avoid a potentially ruinous scandal that threatened to shake the very foundations of the monarchy.

The Affair of the Poisons is a fascinating look into the strange world of the French court and the lengths one woman went to maintain her exalted status among the glittering yet hopelessly vain and self-destructive upper eschelon of French society. Perhaps the truth of these dark events of history will never be known for certain, but whether or not the Marquise was indeed guilty of the miriad of vile crimes attributed to her, her name has come down through the centuries as synonymous with evil. Sommerset has done an excellent job of retelling this tale with attention to detail, particularly the chapters concerning the highly complex intrigues of the court of Louis XIV and the machinations of his many mistresses. It also provides an fascinating glipse into the dark underworld of Parisan society and the many shady characters who inhabited it.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars fascinating reading 11 Jan 2007
By dabbler historian - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I knew nothing about this period of history, other than having a vague knowledge of Louis XIV ("the Sun King"), before picking up this book. It is remarkably easy to read, packing in a great deal of information without ever being dry or tedious. The author takes a simultaneously critical and sympathetic look at the passions that drove the nobility and hangers-on at court, and makes shrewd estimates about the validity of various contemporary and historical theories regarding the events in issue (including observations about the biases of the various letter writers and memoirists on whose writings she draws as sources). I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in this period of French history.

Also recommended: "Ridicule," a film about the French court under Louis XVI, which bears out many of the observations in this book about the period a century earlier.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very scholarly history that is also a very good read 18 July 2005
By Michael Poore - Published on
I bought this book in the bookstore at Versailles. After my tours of the palace and the gardens looking for ghosts and wondering what life was like and what was in the heads of the people at courts of Louis XIV, XV and XVI. I was hoping that this history would help me with that and it did. This is a well footnoted scholarly history but it is also a very good read, a very unusually good read.
13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A good glimpse into Daily Life at Versailles. 31 Mar 2005
By Skylark Thibedeau - Published on
Since reading Alexander Dumas novels as a child I have always been fascinated with the intrigue and byzantine plots of the French Court. I was first made aware of the accusations against the Marquise de Montespan in a history book by Jacques Barzun which made her out to be a female anti christ or the whore of babylon. Somerset's history of the events goes into more depth and paints Athenais to be more of an earlier version of the witless Marie Antoinette than a French Lady McBeth.

The whole affair of the poisons caused a paranoia that turned a criminal investigation into a Salem Witch Hunt or better yet a grassy knoll conspiracy that reached into the highest level of government. The fact that torture or the threat of torture and painful death were used to gain most of the 'confessions' was not seen as detrimental to the case by the public makes me glad in live in more modern times.

The court of Louis XIV was the height of decadance and its opulance eventually caused the bankruptcy of the French treasury during the reign of his descendants leading to Revolution, Terror, and the Rise of the First Empire.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars well researched look at a dark era in french history 27 Jan 2006
By Wyatt P. Wilson - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This was an interesting excursion into an area of French history I didn't know much about.The accusations and in some cases just hearsay,I found had similarities to a the hysteria Involving

The Salem Witch Trials.Would reccomend this for anyone with

an interest in life at french court/Louis XIV.
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