THE AFFAIR OF THE POISONS by Anne Somerset

THE AFFAIR OF THE POISONS

Murder, Infanticide, and Satanism at the Court of Louis XIV
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KIRKUS REVIEW

Recounting truly baroque French doings in the last quarter of the 17th century, as well as the story of the special royal commission appointed to investigate the wickedness, Somerset (Elizabeth I, 1991) offers some dish about liaisons that were truly dangerous.

It was good to be the Sun King at Versailles—except for all the poisonings, necromancy, and related bad behavior that seemed to be gaining ascendancy. During the raunchy reign of Louis XIV there was rampant fooling around, though apparently in every reign a little high life must fall. The intricate Affair of the Poisons began with alarming rumors flying about fortunetellers, alchemists, astrologers, abortionists, black magicians, and Satanists plying their occult trades in the employ of aristocrats and courtiers. Most frightening among these tales of rank people working for people of rank were the accounts of death by poison. The weapons of individual destruction included powdered glass, orpiment, realgar, white arsenic, and disgusting special formulations designed to effect widowhood at a time when divorce wasn’t available. Potions were available to produce advantageous connections for ardent admirers of those who were otherwise coupled. There were, patently, killers in lace and décolletage and murderers in silk breeches. It was feared the web of intrigue might even reach the King’s person, since among diverse suspects was his favorite mistress. But Louis was oddly merciful to Mme. de Montespan in a day when even the most innocent of inconvenient women might simply be packed off to a convent forever. More plebian “divineresses” didn’t get off so lightly. Before the furor abated, there were 104 trials and 34 executions, “with offenders being variously burnt alive, decapitated, hanged, strangled or broken on the wheel.” Thereafter, the King’s behavior noticeably improved. Satan was no longer popular in France. Though Somerset doesn’t speculate, apparently the Evil One moved on to New England, where the Salem witchcraft trials began shortly thereafter.

Superior history, wonderfully complex and colorful, about the dark side of the Sun King’s court. (8-page color insert, not seen)

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2004
ISBN: 0-312-33017-0
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2004




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