The Affair of the Poisons by Anne Somerset

The Affair of the Poisons

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 marked the start of the scandal which rocked the foundations of French soc...

Details The Affair of the Poisons

TitleThe Affair of the Poisons
Release DateOct 12th, 2004
PublisherSt. Martin's Press
GenreHistory, Nonfiction, Cultural, France, Crime, True Crime, Historical, Literature, 17th Century

Reviews The Affair of the Poisons

  • Gail
    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...
  • Uncle
    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, an...
  • Jeanette
    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 se...
  • Stacy
    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 r...
  • Bernadette
    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 c...
  • Josie
    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 Loui...
  • 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 ...
  • Nikki
    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
    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.
  • Colleen
    One of the books I read last year in my French Revolution frenzy mentioned how the Sun King himself, King Louis XIV, unknowingly ate ground up murdered babies by evil mistress (Montespan), who got away with killing 1,000s of babies and bathing in their blood. The poisoner in the center of this plot, La Voisin--why even her Wikipedia page says: "Her purported cult (Affair of the Poisons) was suspected to have killed anywhere between 1000-2500 peop...
  • Robert Hopcke
    Given the complexities of the subject, this book is astoundingly well written. The first three chapters provide a rather comprehensive view of Louis XIV's court and why the particular focus of this book, the Affair of the Poisons, was as significant as it was--super informative and educational in general about that era of French history and that particular moment in long reign of Louis XIV. Then, the actual ins-and-outs of the investigation and t...
  • Laura Leilani
    What part of this book was the most disturbing? Was it the priests, who the church knew were celebrating black mass but chose to look the other way? Was it the wealthy people, resorting to poisons and witchcraft to further their greed and ambitions? For me, it was after the affair was closed: the number of people who had been jailed but had never come to trial. They were left to rot in prison. This book is fascinating. The amount of research that...
  • Samantha Bee
    I'm a little torn between 4.5 and 5 stars for this one. If you're already fairly familiar with the life of Louis XIV and the court of Versailles during this time period, then some parts of this may feel a little repetitive for you and you may end up skimming a couple chapters. Otherwise, Somerset is incredibly detailed and in-depth, and tells you absolutely everything you need to know to understand what happened during the Affair of the Poisons. ...
  • Tarah Luke
    Interestingly, this all occurred about the same time as the Salem Witch Trials in America. I’m wondering if they might both be connected in some kind of broader intellectual sort of way—the French episode occurred because of alleged threats to Louis XIV’s personal safety (= stability of France itself) while the Salem trials take place during a period of controversy (= attacks on the strength and stability of the Puritan idea and the ending ...
  • Kim
    Dense, dense, and more dense - but wonderfully researched. The highlight for me of this book wasn't so much the actual description of the Affair of Poisons (which happens about maybe two thirds of the way into the book), but the vivid description of King Louis XIV's court. I personally was so engaged by that that when it came to actually addressing the trials that took place, it was harder for me to focus.
  • Angela
    always interesting to learn more about the royal french court. Poison, and witchcraft are two topics I can read at any time
  • Kevin
    Is this for real? This is bonkers!!! Even if it's not real, what a fun read!!!
  • Tenebrous Kate
    A wonderfully detailed, thoroughly researched recounting of a grotesque episode in history. This is a case study of hysteria, paranoia, and political wranglings that probably has a lot of lessons to teach even today. Reviewed in depth on the Bad Books for Bad People podcast:
  • Tim Nordstrom
    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 stuf...
  • K.
    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...
  • Emmanuel Gustin
    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 eradica...
  • Shelley
    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 mad...
  • Lisa
    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, bu...
  • Wendy Bertsch
    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.
  • Krista
    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.
  • Liza
    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.
  • Michael
    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 som...
  • Rebecca Huston
    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: