Sunday, 31 July 2011

The Sun King's mistress: guilty or innocent?

Was the Sun King's mistress—Madame de Montespan—guilty or innocent of using Black Magic? This is a debate that has been going on for centuries. 

 Jean Lemoine is a French historian I admire greatly. I read his Madame de Montespan et la Légende des Poisons (Madame de Montespan and the Legend of the Poisons) eagerly, anxious to know the historian's verdict regarding the guilt or innocence of the Sun King's infamous mistress, Madame de Montespan (Athénaïs). Was she guilty of dealings in Black Magic, Spanish Fly, infanticide

Lemoine's thesis, interestingly, is no (or at least, not entirely). He argues that people were encouraged by Louvois, the Minister of War, to embellish their testimonies against Athénaïs.

What had the King's mistress done to earn such scorn? 
As with so many things in the 17th century, it was all about status and family. Athénaïs had blocked Louvois's attempt to marry his daughter into her family. Worse, she then arranged for her nephew to marry a Colbert instead. In doing so, she had publically thrown her favour to Louvois's arch-rival. 
When it was discovered that people were being poisoned, King Louis XIV put Louvois in charge of prosecuting the guilty. In essence, Louvois was put in charge of a witch hunt. How coincidental that a number of those brought before the tribunal were on his personal black list. 
I'm a writer of historical fiction, and Louvois delights me—he's a perfect villain.

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