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Poisons, Affair of the


POISONS, AFFAIR OF THE. The greatest scandal of the reign of Louis XIV (16431715) of France, the Affair of the Poisons revealed that a score of the king's highest-ranking courtiers, including his official mistress, Madame de Montespan (16411707), had ties to a flourishing criminal underworld that was dealing in magic. This loose network of sorceresses, magicians, and renegade priests peddled magical remedies, love charms, demonic rituals, and arsenic-based "inheritance powders" to a clientele drawn from all ranks of Parisian society. Determined to eradicate what he termed "this miserable commerce in poisons," Louis XIV appointed a special judicial commission, the Chambre de l'arsenal (Chamber of the arsenal), in 1679 to try those accused. While the commission investigated over 400 suspects during its three-year tenure, approximately sixty of those arrested were never brought to trial. The Sun King considered their potential testimony regarding his mistress's patronage of the notorious sorceress La Voisin too incendiary to be heard. These unfortunates were instead placed in solitary confinement for the rest of their lives and forbidden to speak even to their jailors.

After Louis XIV dissolved the Chambre de l'Arsenal in July 1682, he issued a royal edict condemning both belief in magic and those who claimed to be able to practice it. All those alleging to perform "so-called acts of magic," it declared, were simply frauds. All self-styled sorceresses and magicians were therefore to leave France within three days or face execution. The edict also instituted, for the first time anywhere in Europe, state regulation of the sale of arsenic and other poisons. And perhaps not coincidentally, Louis XIV took no other mistresses after the Affair of the Poisons had been brought to a close.

See also Louis XIV (France) ; Magic .


Lebigre, Arlette. L'affaire des poisons. Brussels, 1989.

Mongrédien, Georges. Madame de Montespan et l'affaire des poisons. Paris, 1953.

Oliver, Reggie. "The Poisons Affair." History Today (March 2001): 2834.

Lynn Wood Mollenauer

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