I am quite familiar with the infamous affair of poisons which largely implicated the kings mistress, Madame de Montespan. I studied the history of Louis XIV in depth. This has long been a favorite subject of mine.
Since we both seem to like historical novels, there is an excellent and fascinating book out called "L'Allee du Roi" by Francoise Chandernagor (in French, but I think you read French? if not, I think it exists in English translation). It describes the rags to riches story of Francoise d'Aubigne, born of noble but poor parents, raised by relatives, and who married the poet, wit and cripple, Scarron. Left a widow, she is introduced through aristocratic friends to Louis XIV's mistress, the Marquise de Montespan, and becomes the governess of their children. For her loyal and discreet service the King made her Marquise de Maintenon. Ultimately she became the monarch's intimate companion (and later on his wife) for 32 years and died in 1719 at the school for poor noble girls she founded at Saint-Cyr. The book richly recreates the look and feel of life at the Sun King's court with all its intrigues.
Quelle suprise! And, what a coincidence that you are familiar with the Brinvilliers episode and the role played by Madame de Montespan. No one I've mentionned this infamous affair to in my own circle of friends and acquaintances (some of whom also are history buffs) had ever even heard of it!Merci beaucouppour l'information on "L'Allee du Roi". Sounds intriguing as well, especially since it has a direct tie-in to both Louis XIV and his favourite mistress La Montespan. Yes, I do read French and will see if I can find it at our local library or bookstore.
We strayed quite far from the original topic of Lancaster County, PA but so be it .... I hope you do find a copy of "L'Allee du Roi" as this is a most fascinating historical novel spanning most of Louis XIV life, and sheds light on his many romantic involvements. In my travels and museum visits I have tried to put faces to the various people during his reign in the 17th century. I find it most interesting to find out what the people associated with Louis XIV looked like. At one point, we visited le Chateau de Veau-le-Viconte and the guide pointed out a picture of one of Louis XIV illegitimate children by Mme de Montespan, and I was able the correct her, to say no, she was not the daughter of Mme de Montespan, but the daughter of his ealier Mistress, Mlle de la Valliere. The guide was embarrassed, but had to admit that she was wrong and paid me the compliment of saying I knew my French History better than most French scholars on that subject.
Apro-pos to your comment that Mme de Brienvillier found her demise by the guillotine, I think that the guillotine did not quite yet exist at that point since it was only invented in 1789 for the French Revolution.
You're quite correct about the guillotine. Dating its use to the 17th Century was more than a slip of the tongue on my part - an historical faux-pas. Of course, I knew it came into widespread use during the Reign of Terror in revolutionary France at the behest of Dr. Guillotin, but I had heard of earlier methods, such as the gibbet, also being used in Europe to dispatch criminals and others.
Actually, in my reading of The Affair of the Poisons, I haven't as yet gotten to the part where the eventual demise of Mme de Brinvilliers takes place. In any case, the novel and other similar ones like the 'L'Allee du Roi" provide vivid and detailed accounts of French society in the so-called Golden Age. Clearly the morals and ethics of the 'upper crust' were often no better or nobler than those of the riff-raff or hoi polloi. So, I wish I had had my wits about me more, as you did when you visited Le Chateu de Veau-le-Viconte.
You are quite right about the gibbet being used in Europe as a forerunner of the guillotine, but Marquise de Brinvillier after several years on the run in England and the Netherlands, was tried and convicted on all charges of witchcraft and poisoning. She was sentenced to death and in July 17, 1676, beheaded and burned at a stake in public on the Place de Greve, which today is the Place de l'Hotel de Ville.
The whole affair started with the death of Henrietta Stuart, duchess of Orleans, (the king's younger brother, Philip d'Orlean's first wife). Her death was, falsely, attributed to poison.
The real culprit however was actually Catherine Monvoisin, known as "La Voisin", a French sorceress. She was one of the chief personages in the famous affaire des poisons, which disgraced the reign of Louix XIV. Her husband, Monvoisin, was an unsuccessful jeweller, and she practised chiromancy and face-reading to retrieve their fortunes. She gradually added the practice of witchcraft, in which she had the help of a renegade priest, tienne Guibourg, whose part was the celebration of the "black mass", an abominable parody in which the host was compounded of the blood of a little child mixed with horrible ingredients. She practiced medicine, especially midwifery, procured abortion and provided love potions and poisons. Her chief accomplice was one of her lovers, the magician Lesage, whose real name was Adam Coeuret. The great ladies of Paris flocked to La Voisin, who accumulated enormous wealth. Among her clients were Olympe Mancini, comtesse de Soissons, who sought the death of the king's mistress, Louise de la Vallire; Mme. de Montespan, Mme de Gramont (la belle Hamilton) and others. The bones of toads, the teeth of moles, cantharides, iron filings, human blood and human dust were among the ingredients of the love powders concocted by La Voisin. Her knowledge of poisons was not apparently so thorough as that of less well-known sorcerers, or it would be difficult to account for La Vallire's immunity. The art of poisoning had become a regular science. The death of Henrietta, duchess of Orleans, was attributed, albeit falsley, to poison, and the crimes of Marie Madeleine de Brinvilliers (executed and burned on the stake in 1676) and her accomplices were still fresh in the public mind. In April 1679 a commission appointed to inquire into the subject and to prosecute the offenders met for the first time. Its proceedings, including some suppressed in the official records, are preserved in the notes of one of the official rapporteurs, Gabriel Nicolas de la Reynie. The revelation of the treacherous intention of Mme. de Montespan to poison Louis XIV and of other crimes, planned by personages who could not be attacked without scandal which touched the throne, caused Louis XIV to close the chambre ardente, as the court was called, on the 1st of October 1680. It was reopened on the 19th of May 1681 and sat until the 21st of July 1682. Many of the culprits escaped through private influence. Among these were Marie Anne Mancini, duchesse de Bouillon, who had sought to get rid of her husband in order to marry the Duke of Vendme, though Louis XIV banished her to Nrac. Mme. de Montespan was not openly disgraced, because the preservation of Louis's own dignity was essential, and some hundred prisoners, among them the infamous Guibourg and Lesage, escaped the scaffold through the suppression of evidence insisted on by Louis XIV and Louvois. Some of these were imprisoned in various fortresses, with instructions from Louvois to the respective commandants to flog them if they sought to impart what they knew. Some innocent persons were imprisoned for life because they had knowledge of the facts. La Voisin herself was executed at an early stage of the proceedings, on the 20th of February 1680, after a perfunctory application of torture. The authorities had every reason to avoid further revelations. Thirty-five other prisoners were executed; five were sent to the galleys and twenty-three were banished. Their crimes had furnished one of the most extraordinary trials known to history.
As to the morals of the upper crust during the Golden Siecle, Moliere was one who was often banished from the King's court, because he made fun of the upper crust in his plays. We just went to see one of Molier's lesser know plays called "George Dandin", where a peasant married a noble girl, and no matter what he did, he, the peasant, was always wrong and the wife, the nobless, was always right, no matter what. It showed well the social and political injustices and how the nobless knew so well how to use them.
Not to worry. Actually, your last comments whetted my appetite for more details and increased my curiosity about this infamous epoch in 17th Century French history. So, Iam continuing to read The Affair of the Poisons and with even more enthusiasm than before. I'm finding the references and descriptions of Versailles and Paris back in King Louis XIV's time quite intriguing, especially as I spent quite some time on foot about a year ago exploring both. Am now trying to compare and reconcile what I saw with my own eyes to what the author's describing. Granted, I'm fully aware of the fact that about 350 years separate the two images and an awful lot has changes, especially in parts of Paris, thanks mainly to Hausmann's epic re-arrangement of its streetscape and other aspects. Yet, it's fascinating that I can still perceive a certain correlation between the Paris and Versailles I saw in late 2005 and what is described in the author's words of these locales in around 1665 to 1685!
Isn't it great that there are now three more VIP Contributors on the LL Community for a total of 14! And, I see several other new Contributors who are posting excellent travel information of their own and will likely soon swell the VIP ranks even more. Have you heard any news about the up-coming VIP Reception and Dinner at The Pierre in New York? We're making summer travel plans now, and my wife and I would really like to ensure that they coincide with the timing of the special VIP gathering in The Big Apple.
I am glad you are continuing your reading about the affair of the poisons and that my comments have sparked more interest in the 17th century Paris and Versailles under Louis XIV. As you correctly point out, Haussmann made sweeping changes with his reorganization of Paris. Paris wouldn't be Paris without it, but we can still find traces of the old 17th and 18th century Paris if we look carefully.
As to the new VIP contributors, I say "the more the merrier", we can all learn from each others experiences and knowledge. Like you, I hope we can all meet in NYC at the LL Event at the Pierre. I have not heard anything about any dates, but if you look at the 2006 LL Newsletter (click on "About US" and go to Newsletter) you will find that the event was held in Sept. of 2006. I hope they select September again. This would allow us to attend since we will be back in the States by then and NYC is only a 4 hour train ride away from us. So keep your fingers crossed. Would love to meet you and your wife in person.