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Even on the pyre she uttered blasphemous curses

Don't tell anyone she didn't make an effort to impress her illustrious clients.

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Even on the pyre she uttered blasphemous curses

Don't tell anyone she didn't make an effort to impress her illustrious clients. When she read the future in the hands of her clientele, sold their poison or worshiped the devil with them, she often wrapped herself in a purple robe made of pure velvet, on which two eagles were embroidered with gold thread. No, Catherine Monvoisin knew what she owed to the Paris of the Sun King Louis XIV – the city of court intrigues and the deadly enmities that grew from them.

All this provided ideal soil for poisoning, which she practiced systematically until she was burned as a witch at the behest of the ruler on February 22, 1680. This means that "La Voisin" can claim a special place in the already rich criminal history of the 17th century. With her, everything comes together that makes the dark side of absolutist France and its upper class visible.

Little is known of Monvoisin's early years. Born Catherine Deshayes around 1640, tradition begins in the 1660s. At that time she lived on the outskirts of Paris and was married to the jeweler Antoine Monvoisin, whom she is said to have later killed. One thing is certain: her husband was unsuccessful personified – he ruined himself early on. A circumstance that initially led the wife to provide women with obstetrics.

But she soon realized how much more money could be made with abortions. This is how Catherine Monvoisin became the "angel maker". This was her first step towards a criminal existence, because the influential Catholic Church did not condone this practice. From there, the path to fortune telling was short.

Of course, all sorts of mumbo-jumbo existed in contemporary Paris; when striving for power and decadence meet, it can't be any other way. Monvoisin quickly discovered that her clients' desires were often the same: they wanted someone to fall in love with them; they wanted someone to die to get their inheritance; or they wanted their own partner to die as quickly as possible in order to have someone more important at their side in the future.

From a business point of view, it was a particularly fat pasture for the fortune teller not only to prophesy something for her clientele, but also to offer a solution at the same time as to how fate could be influenced beyond all cold rationality. First, the fortune teller recommended visiting churches dedicated to certain saints.

But soon that wasn't profitable enough for her. So she first sold amulets intended to affect what lay ahead of her customers, and shortly thereafter began peddling magical rituals from them. For example, she administered an aphrodisiac under the name "love powder", which consisted of, among other things, bones of toads, mole teeth and human blood.

For those who did not want to fall in love, but longed for the death of a person, she mixed up appropriate poisons or held black masses at any desired time of the day. Blood is said to have flowed in streams. Evidently Catherine Monvoisin had lost touch with reality - only her high-born clients had no interest in restoring it. The certainty of being able to turn to someone in a crisis situation who would provide quick and, above all, reliable help for an appropriate fee was too good for that.

This was not without consequences for the poisoner: she allegedly suffered from alcoholism, and there were also rumors that she had been sexually abused. For a while it looked as if this semi-secret life could go on undisturbed. The lady of the occult had connections all the way up to Madame de Montespan, mistress of King Louis XIV.

Allegedly, the two had already held a black mass together in 1667, in which Madame de Montespan had asked for the love of the autocrat. When this wish was fulfilled, the customer is said to have bought substances from Monvoisin and mixed Ludwig into the food and drink, bypassing all tasters, so that he remained docile.

But in 1679, Paris was shaken by a scandal involving another poisoner by the name of Marquise de Brinvilliers. Talk of more poisonings quickly arose, and the king was ready to crack down: Gabriel Nicolas de la Reynie, the French capital's police commissioner, was considered ruthless. His favorite method was called the "Incandescent Chamber" - he interrogated the suspects in a black curtained room in which several candles ensured that he could literally heat up his guests.

Reynie came across Monvoisin through two other fortune tellers who incriminated her. The fact that the statements were made under torture did not bother the king or his vassals. Whether Reynie's people also tortured the poisoner cannot be said with certainty. It is probable that in her case this was not done because influential customers exerted pressure not to mention her name under any circumstances; under torture, Monvoisin might have spilled the beans. The fortune teller also steadfastly refused to admit that she was a witch. But it was no use: on December 27, 1679, Louis XIV decreed that she and other poisoners must die at the stake.

Eight weeks later, the aristocratic writer Madame de Sévigné wrote of her execution in the Place des Gréve: “In front of Notre-Dame she refused to apologize, and in the Place des Gréve she resisted tooth and nail to disembark. They pulled her out and put her on the pile of wood, tied her in a sitting position with iron chains, covered her with straw. She kept cursing, kicking the straw away five or six times, but eventually the fire blazed up and she was no longer seen. Her ashes are now flying around in the air. Thus died Madame Voisin, famous for her crimes and pagan unbelief.”

Catherine Monvoisin soon began a second life in plays such as E.T.A. Hoffmann's Das Fräulein von Scuderi, in historical novels and films such as the 1980s classic Angel Heart. Since the 17th century, people have definitely not lost interest in crime and bizarre existences. Especially when the historical figure is a symbol for the customs of an entire epoch.

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