There is no proof of Vanen’s culpability in Duke Charles-Emmanuel II de Savoie’s death in Turino, on 12 June 1675.  However, there is no lack of presumptions.  A very redoubtable “magician” called Lesage, whose real name is Adam Coeuret, and who is a former lover of la Voisin, is arrested on 22 March 1679.  With the laudable aim of “doing his duty, above all with regard to the King”, the scoundrel affirms that Vanens, Bachimont and Sainte-Colombe were benefiting at the time from “grand correspondances”, that is to say from protections, and had “made big trips to Italy”.  More seriously, in the correspondance discovered after the gang had been removed from circulation, Sainte-Colombe, shortly after the death of Charles-Emmanuel II, imprudently evokes “the fruit of the operation that we did”.

Was the Duke de Savoie the Cabal’s only high-ranking victim?  The historian, Jean-Christian Petitfils, does not think so.  In his work on the Poisons Case, he recounts that two weeks before his arrest, upon his return from a mysterious trip to Avignon with Vanens, Lachaboissiere proclaims to his “fiancee”, Catherine Leroy, while triumphantly showing her some gold coins:

“There’s a big head who has gone to carry his spoon into the next world.  We’ll take out many others.”

Who is this “big head”?  We still don’t know.  And to whom is Valens’ valet referring when he says “many others”?  In any case, for the lieutenant general de police, Gabriel Nicolas de La Reynie, there is hardly any doubt:  the network of poisoners resembles a spider’s web, spun to trap the kingdom’s highest head.


The Piemont business is too serious, and too dangerous for the kingdom’s diplomacy, for the Cabal case to continue.  On 28 April 1682, Louis de Vanens is condemned to the galleys for perpetuity, a sentence which is not executed, because he is taken directly to Fort Saint-Andre in Salins, where he dies in 1691.  A death sentence would have automatically included the Ordinary and Extraordinary Questions [interrogations with tortures, in presence of the judge] and consequently a risk of revelations which the Court probably did not want known.  Only Lachaboissiere is hanged in Place de Greve, perhaps because he had not been directly mixed up in the presumed assassination of the Duke de Savoie, and was only an executant.  Cadelan and the Bachimont couple are not judged and finish their days behind the walls of the Besancon Citadelle.  Chasteuil meets his death at the beginning of 1678 in the Turino region, in circumstances which remain obscure.

It is true that La Reynie’s task is facilitated by the fact that, during the preparation of the case, the poisoners practically fall over themselves in their hurry to denounce each other.  Their declarations are added to those of the professional informers, the “flies” [mouches] as they are called at the epoch.  Although the lieutenant de police has to separate the true from the false, criminals always having a tendency to heap blame on their friends, to minimize their own guilt…  This does not prevent the lieutenant de police from making a choice catch, on 4 January 1679, by arresting Marie Bosse, a redoubtable “devineresse” of whom one of her good friends will say “she’s been mixed up in it for twenty years” and that “she has broken fifty marriages”, and of whom Lesage, never at a loss for information, will affirm:  “She’s the worst, that one!”  Passing naturally from divination with charms and money forgery to the manufacturing of poisons, the Bosse is linked to a certain Voisin whose arrest is also imminent and who, despite their “friendship”, willingly calls her a “whore”.  Like the others, Marie Bosse denies everything, but the white powders and the mercury found in her hovel leave no doubt about her sombre activities, and the confessions of a Lady Ferry, who assassinated her husband with the arsenic-coated shirts that she had supplied her, largely suffice to send her to the stake on 10 May the same year 1679.  However, La Reynie, who has discovered, among others, links between the Bosse and Mademoiselle de la Grange, is stupefied by her declarations.  She does not hesitate to evoke plots against the King in his presence, to cite names and to implicate “considerable people”, in particular a lady very close to Louis XIV, whom La Reynie is given to understand is the Marquise de Montespan.  Is Marie Bosse hoping to escape her fate?  In her eagerness to innocent herself, she who claims to have only indulged in a few innocent chemical experiments, displays moral indignation, and invites La Reynie to employ great rigour against the “devineresses”:

“You will never do better than to exterminate all these people who read palms, because it leads to the fall of women, women of quality as much as others, because you soon know what their weakness is, and it is through it that you usually take them.”

Marie Bosse is not lying to her judges, and we owe it to the truth to say that she suffers her appalling death with a lot of courage, and even with a certain dignity.


The slowness of the justice exercised by the Paris Parliament, as well as the publicity around its debates, push Louis XIV to quickly end this case, which is poisoning public opinion and risks throwing discredit on the Court, because of the singular relations which seem to exist between the world of poisoners and that of high-ranking people.  So, on 7 April 1679, he institutes an extraordinary jurisdiction, the famous “Chambre ardente”, named for the Middle Ages tribunals which, for similar cases, held their sittings in rooms lined with black cloth and lit by torches.  But this new jurisdiction is also called the “Chambre de l’Arsenal”, for it is installed in the former arsenal, situated near the Bastille.  The presidency is given to Louis Boucharat, a magistrate reputed for his integrity;  La Reynie and Bazin de Bezons, Ordinary Counseller to the King and Member of the French Academy, being named Reporters in charge of the preparation of the case; two doctors, Fresquieres and Dugue, and two apothicaries, Simon and Geoffroy, being named as Experts.  The sentences pronounced by the Chambre de l’Arsenal are not to be appealed, the condemned to death having to suffer the Ordinary and Extraordinary Questions, either by the brodequins, or by water torture, so as to denounce their accomplices.  It is to be noted that the Question tended not to be applied since 1670, or often in a purely symbolic way.  It will be systematically used in the Poisons Case, and Marie Vigoureux, an accomplice of the Bosse and of the Voisin, will die from it on 9 May 1679.  Officially, she dies of an “abcess in the head”…

However, it will not be long before the King will regret having wanted everything to be revealed in full light, and that Justice be done in complete impartiality.


To be continued.