Magic, Poison, and Sacrilege in Louis XIV's France
By (author) Lynn Wood Mollenauer
Publication date:03 January 2007
Length of book:224 pages
PublisherPenn State University Press
The Affair of the Poisons was the greatest court scandal of the seventeenth century. From 1679 to 1682 the French crown investigated more than 400 people—including Louis XIV’s official mistress and members of the highest-ranking circles at court—for sensational crimes. In Strange Revelations, Lynn Mollenauer brings this bizarre story to life, exposing a criminal magical underworld thriving in the heart of the Sun King’s capital.
The macabre details of the Affair of the Poisons read like a gothic novel. In the fall of 1678, Nicolas de la Reynie, head of the Paris police, uncovered a plot to poison Louis XIV. La Reynie’s subsequent investigation unveiled a loosely knit community of sorceresses, magicians, and renegade priests who offered for sale an array of services and products ranging from abortions to love magic to poisons known as “inheritance powders.” It was the inheritance powders (usually made from powdered toads steeped in arsenic) that lent the Affair of the Poisons its name. The purchasers of the powders gave the affair its notoriety, for the scandal extended into the most exalted ranks of the French court.
Mollenauer adroitly uses the Affair of the Poisons to uncover the hidden forms of power that men and women of all social classes invoked to achieve their goals. While the exercise of state power during the ancien régime was quintessentially visible—ritually displayed through public ceremonies—the affair exposes the simultaneous presence of other imagined and real sources of power available to the Sun King’s subjects: magic, poison, and the manipulation of sexual passions.
Highly entertaining yet deeply researched, Strange Revelations will appeal to anyone interested in the history of court society, gender, magic, or crime in early modern Europe.
—James R. Farr, Purdue University