If Field-Marshal de Luxembourg’s innocence has been definitively established, a certain doubt subsists, it must be said, about that of Racine, accused by the Voisin of having poisoned his mistress, Therese Du Parc, in 1668.  The terrible witch strongly claims to have had nothing to do with it, herself, however.  She is, after all, a “good friend” of the illustrious actress.  There are uncontestable obscurities in the circumstances of her death, and Racine was certainly not a tender person.  But proof is lacking, so the lieutenant general de police, Gabriel Nicolas de La Reynie, does not pursue him, which is to his honour.


There are, however, two points on which the Voisin is not very loquacious:  the trip to Saint-Germain, supposedly to obtain Blessis’ liberation from the King, and her relationship with Madame de Montespan.  It is only after her death that La Reynie will learn more.

On 22 February 1680, unlike other criminels of her ilk, the Voisin does not have an edifying and tearful end, which is the least that we can say.  Her pride, her audacity and her insolence stem, however, from a form of courage which forces admiration.  Let us read what Madame de Sevigne says about it:

Catherine Deshayes, wife of Montvoisin, and known as the Voisin, in the Bastille, where she made confessions compromising a great number of people at the Court.

“On Tuesday, she had the Ordinary and Extraordinary Questions [interrogation with tortures, in presence of the judge];  she had dined and slept eight hours.  […]  She supped in the evening and again started her scandalous debauchery, all broken that she was.  She was told that she should be ashamed of herself, and that she would do better to think of God, and to chant an Ave maris stella or a Salve than to sing all these songs;  she chanted both of them in derision.  She ate in the evening and slept.  The Wednesday went by in the same way in confrontations, debauchery and songs;  she did not want to see a confessor.  At last, on Thursday, which was yesterday, they only wanted to give her broth.  She grumbled about it, fearing to not have the strength to talk to these gentlemen.  She came in a carriage from Vincennes to Paris;  she suffocated a bit and was embarrassed.  They wanted her to confess herself, nothing new.  At five o’clock she was tied up and, with a torch in her hand, she appeared in the tumbril, dressed in white;  it’s a sort of outfit for being burnt.  She was very red, and you could see that she was pushing away the confessor and the crucifix with violence.  We saw her pass at the Sullys’ hotel, with Madame de Chaulnes and Madame de Sully, the Countess, and many others.  At Notre-Dame, she never wanted to pronounce the amende honorable and, at the river bank, she defended herself as much as she could from being taken out of the tumbril.  She was taken out forcibly.  She was placed at the stake, seated and attached with iron.  She was covered with straw.  She swore a lot, she pushed away the straw five or six times, but in the end the fire increased and we lost her from sight, and her ashes are in the air now.  That is the death of Madame Voisin, famous for her crimes and for her impiety.  It is believed that there will be great repercussions which will surprise us.”

The great lady letter-writer doubtless does not realize how right she is.


The Voisin has a daughter, Marie-Marguerite.  The death of her mother unties her tongue.  And what she will reveal, between March and October 1680, defies imagination.  Firstly, the thing that has been worrying Colbert for several months finds confirmation:  Madame de Montespan, who has succeeded Louise de La Valliere, and reigns over the King’s heart, has been led to a close frequentation of the Voisin, as well as another “devineresse”, Francoise Filastre, who will also start confessing.  Why?  What is the Marquise seeking?  Special powders for conserving the favour of a flighty monarch, incapable of resisting the charms of a pretty woman.  But these powders probably not being enough, they pass on to magical practices and black masses.  The Montespan has them read over her naked body by a sinister Abbot Guibourg, the Voisin replacing her when she can’t absent herself from Court.  But Marie-Marguerite will wait until the 9 and 10 October to reveal the worst:  during these ceremonies, the officiants sacrifice children.

The case has taken such proportions that, on 30 September 1680, the King orders the suspension of the Chambre de l’Arsenal.  It will not sit again until 19 May the following year, to put an end to what could be ended, and only after the “particular facts”, in other words, those mentioning Madame de Montespan, have been carefully separated from the others, with interdiction to communicate them to the Chambre de l’Arsenal…  Is this serious deformation of the course of justice the price to pay to maintain intact the honour of the Court and the prestige of royalty?  Not in La Reynie’s opinion.  In a remarkable and courageous memorandum, he writes to the King:

“The judges can only judge on the whole case, and even if it could be supposed that, for other great reasons, this part of the charges were to be removed, in favour and for the liberation of the accused, there would remain the danger that that which would seem to confirm the charge, according to the opinion of one judge, would perhaps be the reason and the inducement for another, to lead to the discharging of the accused, and no-one would be willing to assume the danger of this sort of bad accounting.  Finally, there is no approved example which can authorise such conduct;  even the consequences appear terrible, and we could fall doubtless by this into other inconveniences, even more unfortunate than those that we might think to be avoiding.

“In judging this sort of criminal case, and in treating in diverse ways the same crimes, irreparable damage would be done to the King’s glory, and his justice would be dishonoured:  and, on top of this, as all of these unfortunate trials are linked together, if something extraordinary of this nature is entered into, all of these procedures would be spoilt, and the judges would no longer believe themselves to be able to do anything, nor legitimately, on these matters.”

To be continued.