Things start to worsen with the arrest of the Voisin, on 12 March 1679, after Mass, outside the church of Notre-Dame de Bonne-Nouvelle. A very singular character this Catherine Deshayes, married to Montvoisin, and known as the Voisin. Over forty, she is not precisely beautiful. Still, she has had all the lovers that she has wanted, including several gentlemen. Two of them, however, must retain our attention more particularly: the inevitable Lesage, who will be arrested a few days after her, and a certain Denis Poculot, Sieur de Blessis. Very knowledgeable in alchemy, but also knowing how to manufacture remedies and poisons, Blessis has been connected to Vanens and his gang, without, however, being a member of it. He is a little more than a simple charlatan: not because he claims to have succeeded in making silver, but because of the efficiency of his remedies, to which he owes his excellent reputation at Court, where he has even been presented to the King. As for his poisons, it is said that it is enough just to breathe some of them, to expire instantly. It can be seen how precious he is to his mistress: so, when Blessis is sequestered by the Marquis de Termes, who has been ruined by the trial of the former surintendant des Finances, Fouquet, who was close to him, and who dreams of recovering his fortune by forcing the secrets of the “great work” out of Blessis – or perhaps, failing that, making him forge money… – la Voisin does not hesitate to go to Saint-Germain to try to place a request with the King, to obtain his liberation. Such is, at least, the version that she gives for this trip, which takes place a few days before her arrest.
Unlike the Bosse, the Voisin is not discrete. She spends without counting, passes her nights in feasting, has a gown costing fifteen thousand pounds made for herself, which has the whole of Paris talking, is robbed by her lovers or by her female friends, sometimes knows a few difficult days, but always finds a way to climb back. It must be said that this true Empress of the Paris slums has all the talents: divination, magic, abortions, fake money and, of course, poisons. She is also extraordinarily talkative, and gives the lieutenant general de police, Gabriel Nicolas de La Reynie, an earful of revelations. And as her colleague, Lesage, is also not backward on this chapter, the glass will soon be full. For the Voisin has a select clientele, as well as the one that Lesage generously lends her, when he is before the judge preparing the case… Three illustrious names emerge: the Countess de Soissons, Field-Marshal de Luxembourg and Jean Racine. More will follow.
Born Olympe Mancini and the niece of Mazarin, the Countess de Soissons is one of Louis XIV’s first loves. He soon leaves her for the beautiful Louise de La Valliere. From that time on, she never ceases to try to reconquer the King’s heart and get rid of her rival. She even finds her some competition in the person of one of the Queen’s ladies-in-waiting, Anne-Lucie de la Motte-Houdancourt. As her hopes are not making much progress, the Countess goes to consult the Voisin in February 1665. It is a rather particular consultation because she asks the “devineresse” for the wherewithal to make Louise de La Valliere disappear. She is not, by the way, the only lady to have such a project. There are many pretty Court ladies whose ambition is to replace the favourite… Prudently, the Voisin invokes the difficulty of the operation, which brings this astounding reply from her client:
“I will find a way to do it, and if I am unable to venge myself on her, I will take my vengeance farther and will spare no-one.”
Grandiose methods appear to be common in her family because ten years earlier, in 1675, her younger sister, the Duchess de Bouillon, had come to the Voisin, accompanied by her lover, to ask her to relieve her of her husband.
On 22 Janvier 1680, a Decree for the Seizing of the Body of the Countess de Soissons is ordered. This time, the scandal reaches the Court. But the King, because of some sort of old amorous fidelity, makes it known to her that he leaves her a few hours to flee to another country. She doesn’t have to be told twice. We find her, ten years later, at the Court of Spain, plotting with an agent of the Emperor against the Queen, a niece of Louis XIV, who is detested by the anti-French Party. This lady will succumb at the age of twenty-seven, following a brief indisposition that no-one guesses could be the result of a poisoning. Nothing proves, of course, that the vindictive Olympe had anything to do with it…
The case of Field-Marshal de Luxembourg is purely and simply all just manipulation. Perhaps this brilliant captain, the hero of the Dutch campaigns, was naive enough to believe that the charms of the witches and wizards of the parish of Notre-Dame de Bonne-Nouvelle could open the paths of victory more easily for him. At worst, this can only be a cause for smiles. But the awful Lesage coldly accuses him of having wanted to poison his spouse, and well-intentioned gossip-mongers spread, throughout Paris, the rumour that he has also looked to make the children, whom he is supposed to have had with his sister-in-law, disappear, and even to take the King’s life. Does Lesage speak at the instigation of Louvois, over whom the prestige of the Field-Marshal casts a shadow? It is quite probable. This tissue of calumnies still results in a Decree for the Seizing of Luxembourg’s Body, and Louis XIV, shaken, advises him to leave the country. But the man who vanquished William of Orange is not a man to allow himself to be discredited. To the stupefaction of the great lords, he goes to the Bastille to give himself up, which leads Madame de Sevigne to say, on 30 January 1680:
“Monsieur de Luxembourg is entirely undone; he is not a man, nor a little man, he is not even a woman, he’s a weak little girl.”
A nasty and perfectly inconsequential statement. Before his judges, Field-Marshal de Luxembourg will innocent himself with hautiness, and will be acquitted unanimously by the Chambre de l’Arsenal. He will leave the Bastille on 15 May, will retire for a while to the country, at the King’s request, then, having recovered all of his responsiblities, will attract the magnificent nickname of “tapissier de Notre-Dame” after his brilliant victories of Fleurus (1690), Steinkerque (1692) and Neerwinden (1693).
To be continued.