Tag Archives: Femmes Fatales of Paris

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.

THE POISONER – MADAME DE BRINVILLIERS

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.

Guest Post: Femmes Fatales of Paris by Gordon Cope – Part 2

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.

THE SEDUCER – COMTESSE DE LA MOTTE
Femmes Fatales Comtesse de la Motte Jeanne de Valois-Saint-Rémy, also known as the ‘Comtesse de la Motte’ was a saucy woman of undeniable deviousness. Born in 1756 to the illegitimate descendant of King Henry II, she sought to escape poverty using her charms and fierce ambition. In an effort to lay claim to lost Valois lands, she attempted to establish a social relationship with Marie Antoinette, wife of King Louis XVI. Despite rebuffs from the queen, Jeanne persisted, and her machinations eventually led to a delightful swindle that was to become known as ‘The Affair of the Diamonds.’

Much of the actual plot was hatched at the Hôtel de Rohan, an immense palace that was built for Cardinal Rohan, a rather vain man with a crush on Marie Antoinette. He fancied the queen as a mistress, but she never had the slightest interest in him. In fact, word has it that she blamed the cardinal for the humiliating incident that occurred as she was traveling to Paris for her betrothal to Louis XVI. Stopped at the border of France, she was made to strip naked, removing everything that was Austrian.

The focus of the diamond affair was a necklace crafted by the French jewelers Boehmer, who had unsuccessfully tried to sell it for 1.6 million francs to Louis XVI. Accounts of the affair are contradictory and full of claims and counterclaims. A popular version purports that Madame de la Motte, then the mistress to Cardinal Rohan, fancied the necklace for herself, and came up with a plan to acquire it using the gullibility and lecherousness of her lover. She forged a letter from Marie Antoinette to Rohan saying that she would look favorably on the cardinal if he were to buy this necklace for her.

Femmes Fatales Cardinal Rohan When Madame de la Motte delivered this letter personally to the cardinal, he was naturally suspicious. He asked to meet Antoinette in person, so the crafty Madame arranged for a hot midnight assignation in the forest of Versailles with a prostitute disguised to look like the queen. Tantalized by this taste of forbidden fruit, the duped cardinal put the first payment down for the necklace and gave it to Madame de la Motte, who immediately broke up the necklace and sold the diamonds.

The subterfuge was soon discovered when the defrauded jewelers came looking for their second payment. When the truth emerged, the king had Cardinal Rohan stripped of his offices and sent into exile. Madame de la Motte was put in jail and branded with a V, for voleur, but the jewel thief later escaped to London where she had the last laugh, publishing a salty, vengeful memoir about court life in Versailles.

Part 1
Part 3

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

Guest Post: Femmes Fatales of Paris by Gordon Cope – Part 1

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.

THE SPY – MATA HARI
Femmes Fatales Mata Hari Any compendium of Femmes Fatales of Paris must, of course, start with Mata Hari.

Born in the Netherlands in 1876, Margaretha Geertruida Zelle was the daughter of a prominent milliner. When she turned 18, she married Captain John MacLeod of the Dutch Colonial Army and moved with him to Java, where they had two children.

The marriage did not end well. MacLeod was abusive towards Margaretha, and openly consorted with an Indonesian concubine. One of the children took ill, and died. Margaretha left MacLeod for another Dutch officer and took up Indonesian dancing as a distraction from her worries. She adopted the stage name Mata Hari, Malay for ‘eye of the day’.

Margaretha returned to the Netherlands in 1902. The following year, she moved to Paris, where she eked out a living as a circus performer and exotic dancer. Her latter profession caught the eye of contemporary dancer Isadora Duncan, as well as Emile Guimet, millionaire industrialist and founder of the Musée Guimet, dedicated to Oriental culture. Inspired by Indonesian traditions, she crafted a dance persona based upon a Java princess of high-caste Hindu birth.
Her dearth of costume was what really captured the imagination of the Parisian public, however. During her performances, she would progressively shed clothing until she wore little more than an ornamental bra and arm bracelets. Travelling throughout Europe, she drew wide acclaim for her exoticism.

Eventually, however, the fame wore off, and critics increasingly characterized her as a dancer with little skill and excessive weight. By 1912, her career was largely at a standstill. She began to lean more upon her feminine wiles, becoming a consort with politicians, military brass and men of influence.

When the First World War broke out, the Netherlands remained neutral and, as a Dutch subject, Margaretha was allowed to travel freely between countries. Her movements soon attracted official attention, however, and she was detained by British Intelligence and interrogated in London. Scotland Yard concluded that she was a double agent for the French, but no charges were laid.

In 1917, the French intercepted German communications from Madrid that highlighted the activities of a German spy, subsequently identified as Mata Hari. British intelligence fed her the names of Belgian spies they considered to be double-crossing their German masters; one man was subsequently killed, proof to them that Margaretha was indeed in communication with the Germans.

Femmes Fatales Mata Hari 2 Margaretha was arrested in her hotel room on the Champs Elysees and placed in prison. During her trial, she was accused of passing on information to Germany that caused the deaths of at least 50,000 soldiers. Although no definite proof was presented by French or British intelligence authorities, she was found guilty. Mata Hari was subsequently executed by firing squad in the Chateau de Vincennes outside of Paris, and her remains donated for medical research.
Her story did not end there. When German papers were unsealed after fifty years, it was revealed that she was, indeed, a German agent under the control of the German embassy in Madrid. And, in a particularly bizarre twist to her legend, curators at the Museum of Anatomy in Paris discovered in 2000 that her head, which had been preserved and donated to the museum, had disappeared.

Part 2
Part 3

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