Guest Post: Femmes Fatales of Paris by Gordon Cope – Part 3

Gordon Cope was previously featured on Reading Recommendations and offered to write this new 3-part series about Paris.

In celebration of the publication of the 10th anniversary eBook edition of A Paris Moment, I am writing a series based upon Femmes Fatales of Paris.


Madame Madeleine Marguerite d’Aubray, Marquise de Brinvilliers, born in 1630, was one of Paris’s more accomplished poisoners, a black widow spider who preyed on spouses and lovers in equal measure.

Marguerite was the child of a Paris civil lieutenant, M. Dreux d’Aubray, who arranged a marriage between his 21-year-old daughter and the Marquise de Brinvilliers, then serving with a regiment in Normandy. In 1659, Brinvilliers introduced his wife to Captain Godin de Sainte-Croix, who flamboyantly became her public lover. When Brinvilliers declined to intervene in their affair (he had decamped from France in front of a long line of creditors), her incensed father secured Sainte-Croix’s imprisonment in the Bastille through a lettre de cachet.

While in the Bastille, Saint-Croix pursued self-improvement by taking a continuing education course from M. Exili, a chemist well-versed in Tofana, a colorless, odorless poison blended from lead, arsenic and belladonna.

Femmes Fatales Madame Brinvilliers When Saint-Croix was released from prison, he renewed his affair with Marguerite, this time with revenge on his mind. Marguerite enthusiastically took up the scheme, and soon not only her father succumbed, but also her brothers, with the eventual hope that when her mother died, she would be the sole heir to the family fortune.

Both conspirators might have gone unpunished, were it not for the untimely death of Saint-Croix in 1672. Perhaps concerned about his own safety, Saint-Croix had left behind a complete confession to be opened only upon his death. The police were soon hot on the trail of the Marquise, who fled to England and Germany, before finally being captured while hiding as a nun in a convent in Liege. She was subsequently tortured into confession, and beheaded in 1676.

The fallout from her actions didn’t end with her death, however. A year after Marquerite’s execution, Magdelaine de La Grange was arrested on charges of forgery and murder; she testified to police that she had information about related poisonings. Authorities soon rounded up a midwife, Catherine Monvoisin, who implicated a number of court luminaries, including Louis XIV’s mistress, Athenais de Montespan. Monvoisin claimed that Montespan had purchased aphrodisiacs and performed Black Masses in order to keep rival lovers at bay.

A public trial, popularly known as The Affair of the Poisons, ensued. Monvoisin was found guilty of witchcraft and poisoning, and was burned at the stake in 1680. Over the following years, a special court found many nobles and courtiers guilty of poisoning or witchcraft, and 34 people were sentenced to death. Most were released, however, after the King, shocked by the shear extent of the scandal, disbanded the court in 1682.

Part 1
Part 2

Gordon Cope was also a guest blogger of a 3-part series about the San Miguel Writers’ Conference. Here’s Part One.

5 responses

  1. How cruel the punishments: beheading and burning at the stake. Ugh. Captivating reading. 😮

    1. Not to mention ‘tortured into confession’

      1. Still happens today, right? I hadn’t thought too deeply. My bad.

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