The Poisons Affair

Reggie Oliver looks at the links between some of the highest-placed women in Louis XIV's court and some notorious Parisian dealers in drugs, death and the dark arts

In the Archives of the Bastille there is a scrap of paper simply dated 1673 which marks the beginning of a scandal which was to reverberate widely touching Louis XIV himself. It reads:

The confessors of Notre Dame have given notice, without disclosing any name, that for some time a great proportion of those who confessed to them accused themselves of having poisoned someone. It is thought that Monsieur, the Lieutenant of Police, should regulate the ease with which poisons are sold and bought.

Most murders are acts of unpremeditated violence; poisoning requires calculation and forethought. History records only one time and place at which poisoning became the preferred means of despatch and in which its practice reached epidemic proportions. This was France – more particularly, Paris – in the last quarter of the seventeenth century.

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