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.
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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."
"A clear, moving, informed narrative."
- Kirkus Reviews
Anne Somerset is the author of such best-sellers as Elizabeth I and Unnatural Murder. She read history at King's College, London, and for two years worked as a research assistant for historians such as Hugh Thomas, Antonia Fraser and Nigel Fisher. She is married with one daughter and lives in London.
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