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The Affair of the Poisons: Murder, Infanticide, and Satanism at the Court of Louis XIV

3.7  ·  Rating Details ·  452 Ratings  ·  41 Reviews
The Affair of the Poisons, as it became known, was an extraordinary episode that took place in France during the reign of Louis XIV. When poisoning and black magic became widespread, arrests followed. Suspects included those among the highest ranks of society. Many were tortured and numerous executions resulted.

The 1676 torture and execution of the Marquise de Brinvilliers
Hardback, 400 pages
Published October 12th 2004 by St. Martin's Press (first published September 11th 2003)
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Anne Somerset’s work often concerns historic royal scandals. Her book The Affair of the Poisons is a reexamination of the poisoning and occult scandal which rocked Paris in the late seventeenth century. The scandal made its way right up to the court of Versailles, eventually even implicating some members of the French king’s most intimate circle. The affair itself was an explosive mix of ambition, revenge, superstition, witchcraft, murder, and public hysteria.

Somerset’s books are considered as
Jul 07, 2014 Jeanette rated it liked it
This is an interesting related history of a sweep of mistrust and suspicion and its outcomes under Louis XIV. It is not easy reading, as there is so much relational nuance and multi-name occurrence beyond all the French law/court jurisdictional structure. But its interest for me was in the play out of that psychological spread of fear and mistrust and betrayals far beyond the original poison scenarios. Social Psychology tract material; how one set of fears turn into nearly universal panics or mi ...more
Jul 11, 2008 Gail rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: no one
I wanted to become involved in this book, but it was so long winded that it was impossible.
Too much description - if that can be a bad thing, too much filler, in between the necessary information needed to carry the story.
I found my eyes glazing over...
Oct 01, 2014 Stacy rated it liked it
Shelves: 2014
Far less exciting than the subtitle (or title!) makes it sound! There's a great deal of information about court proceedings and how investigation in the era was carried out (namely, torture, lots and lots of torture). Unfortunately, the amount of detail becomes deadening after a while, with very little to help contextualize the last few chapters, which became increasingly unfocused. I was hoping for more analysis of the charges, in terms of how realistic they were and the general social context ...more
Feb 25, 2011 Bernadette rated it really liked it
This is a fascinating book, when I ordered I thought it was HF. It's a non-fiction book about a period of time I knew nothing about. The first crime in the book is about the Marquise Brinvilliers who was convicted of poisoning her father, her brothers and attempting to poison others in 17th c. France. Mme. Brinviller was a well connected Frechwoman and her crime and trial mesmerized France at the time.

I was looking at Wikipedia about the first crime in the book and found that Dumas wrote a shor
Oct 16, 2012 Josie rated it it was ok
In the late 1600s, Louis XIV of France authorized a secret counsel to investigate and prosecute instances of poisoning and black magic. Several prominent members of court -- who likely did no more than had their fortunes told on a whim -- were imprisoned, tortured, exiled and in some cases executed. Interesting, yes, but not 339 pages worth of interesting. The best parts are the beginning chapters about life at Versailles and descriptions of Louis XIV and various of his mistresses and how those ...more
Makayla Osipenko
This book was definitely an interesting read! However, there was a lot going on and I found it jumped around quite a bit making it somewhat difficult to follow.

Overall, this book was enjoyable and it was a good reminder that people haven't changed all that much. There's always this belief that our ancestors were very pious, strict, and prudish, but that wan't really the case.

If you're into history and crime, then this book might be interesting for you to read.
Sep 04, 2008 Nikki rated it liked it
Shelves: history
This is an interesting overview of a poison scandal that wracked Paris during the later part of Louis XIV's reign. I don't think that the book is as interesting as the title would indicate. I would also suggest that before reading this, read Athenais. It recounts the life of Louis XIV's mistress of longest standing and overlaps with this book. Having that background made this book much more interesting.
Dianne Landry
Feb 26, 2013 Dianne Landry rated it did not like it
I really wanted to like this book but I couldn't finish it. There is far too much description. I didn't need pages to tell me that a person who should have been tortured wasn't because they had money. That can be told in 1/2 a page.

As for the gossipy aristocratic women, I felt like they belonged on The View or Real Houswives of Paris.

Just not a good book.
Jan 16, 2010 Suvi marked it as wish-list
Um, ok... How come I've never heard about these times in the court?? Lovely title, btw, makes me want to buy it right away!
Tim Nordstrom
Jan 10, 2016 Tim Nordstrom rated it liked it
The premise of 'The Affair of the Poisons' sounds juicy: the court of King Louis XIV, the "Sun King," a Salem-esque rash of accusations of poisonings, murders, Black Masses, Satanism, involving some of the highest ranking members of French society, including the King's favorite mistress!

The book is, unfortunately, a matter-of-fact recounting of accusation after accusation that often becomes tedious. To be sure, author Anne Somerset knows her stuff: everything is very detailed, includes well-reas
Kirsti (Melbourne on my mind)
Frankly, the most exciting thing about this book is the title. When it's got a title like that, you wouldn't think it's possible for a book to be mindnumbingly dull. AND YET.

I think my biggest problem is that there's so much detail, so many backstories to wade through for what felt like EVERYONE AT VERSAILLES, so much context, that I finished the book and still had relatively little idea of what the Affair of the Poisons actually WAS. Because to me? The book felt a lot like this:
1. Introduction
Emmanuel Gustin
Feb 19, 2011 Emmanuel Gustin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history_france
The sensational subtitle of this book does it an injustice, because its author made a serious effort to sweep away the layers of rumours and scandal, and reduce the "affair of the poisons" to its true proportions. More than an account of crime, this is the story of an aberration in policing. Probably Louis XIV and the man he appointed to fight what looked like a wave of poisoning and blasphemy, La Reynie, were moved by a genuine desire to eradicate a serious threat to French society. But they we ...more
Jan 20, 2013 Shelley rated it really liked it
This is the French version of the Salem Witch Trials, except it took place about a decade earlier and lasted longer -- the French are always so avant-garde.

In a nutshell: there's mass hysteria over poisonings, which results in setting up a judicial commission. (It's really investigative and judicial.) This casts a wide investigative net that ensnares not only the usual suspects, but also some important figures at Court. Incredible claims are made. People are tortured, have hands chopped off, ar




Mar 27, 2010 Lisa rated it liked it
This book is an interesting and detailed study of an incident that occurred during the reign of Louis XIV of France. It does include descriptions of some of the torture used during the 'questioning' sessions, but thankfully these were brief. I don't like reading about torture.

Included was a very helpful 'list of characters', a glossary, and a foreward with information about language usage and coinage. The conclusion at the end was interesting, but I thought it left out one vital piece of informa
Wendy Bertsch
Jul 22, 2010 Wendy Bertsch rated it really liked it
A whole lot of detail is presented on this scandal and the paranoia it engendered, but the book is, nevertheless, a fascinating read. You'd think this would teach people not to jump on the bandwagon and get carried away by the music.
Well, you'd be wrong. There are always some who welcome the drama, and won't hesitate to sacrifice their closest enemies in an effort to keep the excitement rolling along.
Jul 26, 2014 Krista rated it it was ok
Shelves: history
I'm writing this review after reading this years ago, just FYI. Here's what I recall: A non-academic history about a bizarre incident at the court of Louis XIV. It was dry, slow-moving--and before you say that's history, keep in mind this book is about killing babies and Satanism. How do you make that boring?! The author's conclusions are easy to guess but don't go far enough to explicitly explain the incidents in question.
Mar 06, 2011 Liza rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
This book is good. It has a good story line for the perfect movie.
Its intriguing, informative and alarming.
I never realized how bored these rich nobles were to go as far as to get involved in muder, infanticide and satanism.
I guess money corrupts anyone who sells their soul and these are the outcomes.

I hope someone in Hollywood decides to make a movie of this becuase its history at its best.

Apr 06, 2007 Michael rated it liked it
Shelves: history
This book isn't bad but she wavers between wanting to write a popular account and wanting to properly account of for all the research she's obviously done. The resultant jerky pace of the narrative makes it less than agreable to read. I'm also a bit spoiled in that, having a relatively good grasp of the era, much of her description of the Court and the king's mistresses doesn't interest me overmuch, but I still feel like this could have stood some more editing.
Rebecca Huston
Aug 04, 2010 Rebecca Huston rated it really liked it
Shelves: keepers, royals, france
Takes a wider look at the celebrated Affair of the Poisons, which caused great scandal, and may have brought down Madame de Montespan, one of Louis XIV's mistresses. For a fictional look at the same story, try Judith Merkle Riley's book, The Oracle Glass.

For the full review, please go here:
Jun 16, 2010 Genevieve rated it it was amazing
After reading Judith Merkle Riley's excellent fantasy-tinged historical novel The Oracle Glass, I searched in vain for a straight history so I could learn more about this very strange and sensational time within a strange and sensational bit of French history. Anne Somerset's book clearly lays out the tangle of witches, fortune-tellers, poisoners, courtiers, and royal mistresses, all struggling for position at the court of the Sun King. Highly recommended.
Jan 12, 2010 Dan rated it really liked it
The subtitle of this book is catchy: "Murder, Infanticide, and Satanism at the Court of Louis XIV". The book itself is nowhere near that salacious or titillating, but it's a good book. Very illuminating about aspects of the French nobility in the 17th century, as well as showing a relationship between that aristocracy and "the common people" that is usually not mentioned in books about the period.
Rebeca D'aubray
Apr 19, 2012 Rebeca D'aubray marked it as to-read
Can't wait to read this book! Ive stumbled across it and the story of 'The Affair of The Poisons' when i was looking up my family history and trying to work out between myth and fact about my name! After months of researching i have linked myself back to Marquise de Brinvilliers, which is at the heart of the scandal. Cant wait to read of the events that took place! :)
The Wee Hen
Feb 28, 2012 The Wee Hen added it
Shelves: abandoned
While this was an intriguing title I find I am just too soft for this book. I got through the first chapter but, honestly, it's just so full of gory, gruesome descriptions of torture and death it made me too squirmy and uncomfortable. So I'm taking this one back to the library, just too much for me. Think I'll re-read "A Dark Adapted Eye" instead.
Deanna Valkingburg
Aug 17, 2010 Deanna Valkingburg rated it it was amazing
Bought this book in the bookshop at the palace of versailles and read it when I was in France. This was a topic I never heard about before and I am glad I read this book. If you like social history about people and how they lived then this book is for you.
Mar 22, 2012 Sue rated it it was ok
Good title, nice graphics on the cover. That said, the book itself should have been edited because 2/3 is fluff and repetition. Even after the accused (first story) is adjudicated, sentenced, tortured and beheaded, she goes on and on and on. Sorry, but just not cool.
Lillian Shuff
Feb 06, 2015 Lillian Shuff rated it really liked it
very interesting and happily broad in it's depiction of the time and context in which these trials took place. It can be hard not to get impatient with the rampant superstition and general hysteria but it is certainly worth the read.
A great non-fiction book that reads a bit like a suspense thriller. A great portrait of how corrupt the decadent court at Versailles, this book deftly brings to life some historical figures of whom I knew nothing about before reading.
Dana Arpquest
Nov 25, 2015 Dana Arpquest rated it it was amazing
This is one of my favourite period in history and I have read quite a lot about it. This book is well written and thoroughly researched. I would recommend this if you are interested in what was going behind the door or Versailles and Paris in 17th Century. One of my favourite book
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