The Crazy True Story Of The Affair Of The Poisons

The unusual case of the Affair of the Poisons has absolutely everything that an aspiring true crime enthusiast could want: royal scandal, murder most foul, and complicated last names that make you sound smart when you pronounce them correctly. The only thing keeping it off the front page of every supermarket tabloid is that it happened four and a half centuries ago.

It all took place during the reign of the Sun King, Louis XIV, and started with one Madame de Brinvilliers, as explained by Encyclopedia Britannica. Brinvilliers was a well-to-do aristocrat who, in 1675, was accused of conspiring with her lover, Captain Godin de Sainte-Croix, to murder her father and two brothers with an arsenic-heavy cocktail of toxins. That the good captain had died some three years prior and could not be reached for comment was neither here nor there. Utilizing the old "Bad Cop" cliche of forcing a suspect to drink water until it tore their stomach lining, the authorities extracted a confession from Brinvilliers. She was beheaded shortly thereafter, and all of the loose ends were considered neatly tied.

Except for the part where the whole thing started a years-long cultural panic concerning witchcraft, satan worship, and the inherent poisonable-ness of the French court.

Not to be confused with the Affair of the Poissons, which was even more fishy

The scandalous trial of Madame de Brinvilliers brought national attention to, well, scandal. Rumors circulated, I.E., maybe she poisoned poor people in hospitals? Maybe she had bigger plans? Who knows? She might not be the only angry French woman with a sack of arsenic out there. 

And then came the arrest of Magdelaine de La Grange, a fortune teller charged with forgery and murder. In a bid to avoid execution, she informed the authorities that she had vital information concerning purported crimes that were still in motion. According to Mario Martin's Affair of the Poisons: Satanism, witchcraft and black magic in the Court of the Sun King, the inside skinny provided by La Grange led to the arrests of "soothsayers, healers and sorcerers." What resulted was a daisy chain of accusations directed at everyone from alchemists to the King's mistress. The Bastille Archives state that a midwife, Catherine Deshayes Monvoisin, accused the mother of seven of Louis's children of performing black mass rituals to obtain the affections of the king. It was all just bananas.

In the end, two people died during torture, and more than 30 were executed as murderers and witches. Louis XIV would disband the investigations in 1682, citing concerns that the whole thing was just too scandalous. Too scandalous for France. History, you've outdone yourself again.