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During the late 1660s and the early 1670s, several mysterious deaths of influential members of the French nobility followed one after the other, leading to a scandal, better known as the "Affair of the Poisons," which involved prominent individuals at the royal court of Louis XIV in France. The King, who was concerned that the widespread use of the practice of poisoning could endanger his own safety and that of the royal family, appointed Nicolas de La Reynie, the Lieutenant General of the Paris Police, to oversee the investigation. In 1679, he also established a special tribunal, known as the Chambre Ardente, to prosecute the murders. The court ruled for over three years, issuing 319 subpoenas, arresting 194 individuals, and sentencing 36 of them to death.

This article examines the involvement of three women who were prominently implicated in the scandal: the Marquise de Brinvilliers, whose trial rocked the royal court of Louis XIV and whose decapitation engaged the public imagination; the sorceress Catherine La Voisin, who was prosecuted and burned alive for providing important members of the royal court with magic powders and venomous potions; and finally, the Marquise de Montespan, one of the favorite mistresses of Louis XIV, who allegedly purchased love powders from La Voisin and participated in black masses, but whose direct involvement in the scandal was never conclusively determined by the Chambre Ardente.


This article first appeared in the Chicago-Kent Law Review. Posted with permission.