Tag Archive: Louis XIV


The Master of the Hunt

According to Sully, Henri IV met the Master of the Hunt in the Fontainebleau Forest.

According to Sully, Henri IV met the Master of the Hunt in the Fontainebleau Forest.

It is the 8 September 1598.  A group of hunters are riding in the Fontainebleau Forest.  At their head is a cavalier who speaks loudly with a rough accent.  His dress is neglected, his big nose reddened, his beard and moustache badly maintained, his fingernails black with dirt, a fairly strong smell emanates from him.  This is King Henri IV of France.

Since morning, the royal hunt has been travelling through the underbrush in pursuit of a stag.  Soon, they will stop in a clearing to eat some little meat patties and empty numerous flasks of Jurancon wine which the King has transported with him in all of his outings.  However, for the moment, they haven’t had anything to drink – and it is important to stress this fact.

Suddenly, the King stops his horse and tells everyone to listen.  All the cavaliers obey.  They then hear, coming from a distant place, which they estimate to be about half a league away, that is to say around two kilometres, the voices of a pack of hounds, cries and sounding of horns…

The King asks his companions if they too can hear hunting horns and hounds.  The Count of Soissons, who has cupped his big hand around his ear, nods and declares that it is astounding.  The King would like to know who it is who dares to hunt at the same time as himself.  Someone suggests that it could be an echo of their own horns.  The King dismisses this explanation:

“Our horns have never sounded any of the airs that we are hearing now…  Listen…”

It is true, the music coming to their ears – of course very muffled by the distance and the forest’s density – does not correspond to any of the airs which have accompanied the group’s hunt since morning.  The King decides to investigate.

He is about to spur his horse when, suddenly, the same sounding of horns, the same cries, the same hound voices explode at twenty paces from him, as if, by some spell, the mysterious hunt had made a prodigious leap through the forest.

Astonished, the King and his friends turn toward the track near them whence the noise of the horns and hounds seems to be coming.  The track is empty.  The King asks if anyone can see anything.  They see only the sun playing on the ferns, through the trees.

And yet, the hunters, the horns, the noisy pack are there, close by.  Calling voices, neighing horses, metallic sounds, like weapons clashing, can be heard.

Suddenly, these sounds, these noises, these fanfares move.  They were coming from the right, now they are coming from the front, then the left, then from behind, then, again, from the right.  Invisible, the phantom hunt slowly circles the King and his companions.  Henri IV is worried.  He orders Soissons to go to see what is happening.

Anxiously, the Count heads his horse towards the place whence the noise is coming and soon returns to say that he sees nothing but, like everyone else, he can hear the hounds and the horns.

At this moment, a big, dark, bearded man with long hair and flaming eyes surges from the underbrush and cries out in a terrible voice:

“You wanted to see me!  Here I am!”

Then he turns toward Henri IV and says:

“Turn over a new leaf!”

And he disappears.

Immediately, there is silence in the forest.  Not one cry, no sound of hounds, no horns, not a hoof beat.  The phantom hunt seems to have evaporated.  The King orders his companions to find the man.

They search the thickets, the bushes, the ferns, they look at trees, clumps of rocks, nothing!  The strange person has also disappeared.  The King decides to question the peasants.

And without a word, almost without a sound, everyone starts off and heads towards Fontainebleau.  All of them seem to feel superstitious fear to the point that no-one dares to break the silence.  Not even the King, who is usually so talkative, so joyful, so prompt to jest.

After half-an-hour of travelling along tracks of moss and Spring ferns, the little troop arrives in a clearing where there are tree fellers and charcoal smokers.  Henri IV calls to them and explains that he has seen a mysterious person surge in front of him like a devil, his eyes full of sparks.  The woodsmen nod their heads and tell him that it is the Master of the Hunt who often hunts around there.  The King wants to know who this Master of the Hunt is.

“It’s a ghost who roams in the forest…  Oh!  He’s apparently not nasty.  We see him from time to time.  But to tell the truth, we don’t like it much…  Once I saw the Master of the Hunt near Franchard.  He came out of the ground, right there, in front of me…  He was two strides away.  He looked at me for a good moment without saying anything.  I didn’t dare move.  Then he laughed out loud and disappeared little by little like smoke…”

The Count of Soissons asks:

“And you say that this Master of the Hunt is a ghost?”

“For sure he’s not a human like us.  It’s the Master of the Hunt!  Or the Black Hunter as he’s sometimes called.  Sometimes, he’s accompanied by a whole invisible hunt.  A hunt that makes the devil of a noise, with dogs, cries, horns…”

The King tells him that that was what they had heard.

“Well then, it’s the Saint Hubert Hunt.”

And the woodsman explains that it is a mysterious hunt composed of ghosts of men and ghosts of dogs who have been haunting the Fontainebleau Forest for a long time.

Most impressed, Henri IV and his companions return to the castle where they recount their adventure.

And the whole French kingdom soon learns and marvels, that the King of France had met a ghost…

***

Many questions have been raised about this story and the craziest suppositions have been made.  First of all, it was thought that an attempt on the King’s life had been made, then that it was a diabolical apparition…  Finally, people with no imagination concluded that the sovereign had been tricked by facetious poachers who had had fun imitating the sound of horns and the voices of hounds.  Henri IV had therefore been the victim of a joke.

***

If it were poachers, why did they tell him to “turn over a new leaf”?

It was said that the dark man who told Henri IV to "turn over a new leaf" was supposed to frighten the King and prevent his marriage to Gabrielle d'Estrees.

It was said that the dark man who told Henri IV to “turn over a new leaf” was supposed to frighten the King and prevent his marriage to Gabrielle d’Estrees.

In April 1599, that is to say eight months after the incident in the Fontainebleau Forest, Gabrielle d’Estrees, whom the King was about to marry, died of poison, and Henri IV took for wife the overweight Marie de Medicis.  Rumours then began.  It was murmured that at Fontainebleau, the King had not been the victim of a bad joke, but of a plot cooked up by a high-placed person.  Which one?  The Papal Legate.

The Papal Legate – who was in Paris at this time – was Alexandre de Medicis, who wanted the King of France to marry his fat cousin.  And it is explained that, to strike the King’s mind and bring him to repudiate Gabrielle, the Legate contacted the famous poachers and gave them the task of setting up the whole thing.  Which is supposedly why the Master of the Hunt was accompanied by a phantom hunt and why he told the King to turn over a new leaf…

***

Although this explanation was accepted by all of the contemporary chroniclers, the story does not end there.  In 1625, in 1647 and in 1672, the Master of the Hunt appears again to stag hunters, still accompanied by his invisible whippers-in and his phantom pack of hounds.  And in 1698, it is Louis XIV himself who sees him.  He would say:

“A person of supernatural appearance surged before me, making my horse rear, and addressed a few words to me.”

Words that the King never repeated.

And that is not all.  In 1897, an English tourist who was riding a bicycle in Fontainebleau Forest, recounted that she had met, near the Croix du Grand-Maitre, a dark man who had surged from a bush and who ran with the lightness of a deer, calling out:

“Yak, Yak, Yak…”

***

These periodical apparitions of frightening men could be simply scruffy, threatening-looking people roaming the forest, whom imagination and the memory of legends transform into supernatural beings.  They could also be hallucinations, “concrete ghosts”, according to one psychoanalyst.  In this case, Freud explains that the hunter is, of course, a sexual symbol because he is hairy!…  Apart from this interpretation, the hypothesis of an hallucination – individual or collective – should perhaps not be rejected for the Master of the Hunt is a character who is found in most Western folklore.  In the North of Europe, for example, he is called the Black Hunter.

***

The invisible hunt is an extremely widespread myth.  In the Blesois, it is the flying hunt of Thibault le Tricheur, in Touraine the Briquette Hunt, the Arquin Hunt or the Menee d’Helquin.  In Berry, it is Rigaud’s Hunt or Baudet’s Hunt;  in Bourbonnais, the Maligne Hunt or the Gayere Hunt;  in Bretagne, the Gallery Hunt;  In the Maine, the Artus Hunt led by the famous King Artus who governed the Bretons in the IVth Century;  in the Orleanais, King Hugon’s Hunt;  in Sweden, Odin’s Hunt;  in Germany, the Wooden Heer.

***

George Sand studied these strange phenomena and collected a few.  Madeleine Bosquet, the author of a work on Normandie romanesque et merveilleuse, published a certain number of witness statements which are rather troubling.

One night when Ronsard was returning home, near Vendome, the poet, who was a bit deaf, heard the sound of a hunt and saw a cavalier appear who wanted to take him up behind him.  Anyone else would have made the sign of the cross to make this vision go away.  Ronsard, who had been a soldier, preferred to draw his sword, and everything disappeared.

But this meeting troubled him to the point that he noted his impressions in a poem, which I shall not try to translate here.

***

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Frontispiece of "L'Ariane", one of a dozen exceptionally bad tragedies written and presented by Desmaret de Saint-Sorlin.

Simon Morin is even more assured of his mission, as a man of quality, a truly superior mind – an Academician no less – has just joined his busy little crowd of disciples.  His name is Jean Desmaret de Saint-Sorlin.  Morin effusively welcomes this spiritual brother to his hovel.  He informs him that he, Desmaret, will be the Saint Paul to the new Christ that Morin, himself, is.  He promises to reveal all his secrets to him soon.

In vain, Morin’s wife tries to warn him.  She finds Saint-Sorlin highly suspicious.  After a few days, Morin puts him in contact with “spirits” that he evokes during seances, and exposes the new religion to him.  That of the “Inner Circle of the Holy Spirit” that Louis XIV must install as quickly as possible.  If he doesn’t, he will die that same year.  These mind wanderings are heard by an attentive Desmaret who, hands joined and eyes lowered, appears to be listening to the Sermon on the Mount.

Morin adds that, at a certain degree of purity, carnal excesses, with whichever sex they are performed, are cleansed in advance of any stain.  Desmaret pudically lowers his eyes and manages to extort a few other insanities from the fellow.  Then, while these redoubtable confidences are still fresh in his mind, he rushes off to give an account of them to the ecclesiastical judge.

He clamours:

“Lese-majeste, sorcery, sodomy!”

He receives the retort:

“In intention, only!”

So what?  Is one less culpable of only wishing the death of the King than of killing him?

Simon is therefore arrested again.  Confronted with the Academician, he denies nothing of these platitudes.  This time, he even assures that he is ready to die for them.  And what does the stake matter to him, since the angels would come to snatch him from the flames and consecrate his glory?  From the hearing room, he goes directly to the torture chamber.  There, before a Doctor in Sorbonne and a clerk of the Criminal Chamber to whom a Confessor is added, he has to suffer the Extraordinary Question.  Do they even listen to what he screams in his abominable torments?  He is condemned to be burnt alive in front of the Notre-Dame porch, the next day at Dawn.  At four o’clock, he leaves the torture chamber broken, is thrown panting onto a tumbril, with a few books and a few sheets of his vaticinations.  When the lamentable cortege arrives Place de Greve, he contains his atrocious sufferings and cries out:

Simon Morin's atrociously mutilated body was delivered to the flames before an hilarious crowd of onlookers.

“I am innocent!  It is not permitted to shed the blood of the just!”

A great crowd is assembled Place de Greve.  It had already enjoyed seeing one of Morin’s mistresses whipped and marked with a red-hot brand.  The executioner then drags the broken body of the unfortunate man onto the faggots and between two screams of pain, just before the flames and smoke rise, the dying man’s voice can again be heard:

“Jesus!  Mary!  My God!…  Give me misericord!”

The Confessor turns toward the good people of Paris and invites it to pray…

In his Hotel du Marais, Saint-Sorlin has also recited his Matins.  A messenger has kept him informed of the good result of his work.  Instead of taking a bit of rest, he immediately calls his secretary and dictates for La Gazette rimee seven lines of poetry on “the imposter” and his death.

***

The Compagnie du Saint-Sacrement was a secret society founded in 1627, under the devout Louis XIII, to restore Catholicism after the upheavals of the Renaissance.  It was open to monks, nuns, priests as well as laics, and counted at one time nearly 60 centres throughout Paris and in the provinces.  In the beginning, its members were above all devoted to charitable enterprises, the improvement of the lot of those condemned to hard labour, notably, but always with the idea of wiping out “immorality” everywhere.  They also went to war against gallant rendez-vous inside churches, the “nudities of the throat“, “dishonest or abominable paintings or almanachs” and prostitutes [filles publiques]

Little by little, the repressive aspect, the occult denunciation and spying, on the Protestants in particular, take over from all of the other activities.  To the point that the clergy itself becomes worried about it, and supports in 1660 a request for its dissolution by the Paris Parliament.  Thanks to the intervention of Lamoignou, its First President, and of Anne of Austria, the mother of Louis XIV, who was very religious at the end of her life, the dissolution is not total.  But by the action of Mazarin, whose joyous life was discretely criticized by the Company, and the immense success of Moliere’s Tartuffe in 1669, its influence is gradually reduced to nothing.

***

Simon Morin was a poor devil who earned his living by copying official documents for illiterate people or by writing their letters.  He represents a heresy which goes right back to the XIIth Century.  It prophesies that, after the time of the Father and of the Son, will come the time of the Holy Spirit, when all the sacraments will be abolished and when each would be able to save himself by the grace of the Holy Spirit.  There will be no more sins, and therefore no more reason to not commit as many as possible, say its sectaries, who do not deprive themselves of doing it…  In 1281, a nun named Guillelmine dies in Milan, in odour of sanctity.  Shortly after her death, the Inquisition sets off an Enquiry which permits to establish that “the saint” had frenetically fallen into this heresy.  Her cadaver is dug up and is taken in great pomp to the stake.

This belief in a Holy Spirit carrying away on his wings all the conventions of established morality would last for a very long time, and Simon Morin is only one of the last links in a long heretical chain which causes talk for half a millenium in the Catholic world.

***

Saint-Sorlin was very proud of what he had done…  Starting from there, he busied himself creating a force similar to the Ligue du Bien Public, which had suscitated, among other miseries, the Saint-Barthelemy Massacre.  He also wrote a book where he recounted all his evil actions, which he hoped would be a best-seller.  He only left his study to hunt out new victims and he sent denunciations in such great numbers that the Prosecutors, irritated, asked him to deposit bail.  That is to say to become partie civile and pay the costs of the trial when his victims were acquitted.  He died at a very old age, 81, in 1676, not at all tired of hunting true and false heretics.  Alas, the fashion had passed, and he finally died very sad to have been able to roast only one unfortunate person…

***

Reception of a French Academician in the XVIIth Century.

Jean Desmaret de Saint-Sorlin is one of the ancestors of the Forty Members of the Academie francaise.  He was one of the first to enter the Academy, but was a really nasty piece of work, whose name is carefully not spoken by anyone hoping to don the Academy’s green jacket.

Cardinal de Richelieu, who founded the Academy, was very fond of beautifully written literary and poetic works.  But although he was a political genius, his literary talents were non-existent, and it is our Desmaret who would ghost-write the verses that are slightly less bad that the ones that the Cardinal wrote on his own.  Under his name of Armand du Plessis, Richelieu even gives Mirame, a tragedy, ghost-written by this same Desmaret.  Naturally, the ghost draws advantages from this situation.  Lucrative positions for a start, and soon a seat in the Academy.  Beautiful in appearance, and in favour at Court, he then begins to lead a voluptuous life, woven with gold and silk…

In 1645, he arrives at the age of fifty and has an attack of religiosity.  He assures it anyway, in a work that he very simply entitles Les Delices de l’Esprit.  But our man has the itch for action, and the idea of serving the Church, excites him diabolically, literally…

As it happens, at this epoch, the Compagnie du Saint Sacrement is recruiting.  Founded by the Duke de Ventadour, the King’s Lieutenant-General in Languedoc, and Viceroy of Canada, this institution proposes to promote God’s glory “by all means”.  Which is supposed to make libertines, Protestants, unmarried mothers and prostitutes think twice, along with all those who are taking care not to let the lights of the Renaissance go out altogether, while awaiting those of the Grand Century…

Armand du Plessis, Cardinal de Richelieu

What is sure, in any case, is that our man enters into a secret Society, which acts everywhere in an underhand way, which declares the Arts and theatres to be heretical, and wants to purge society of all those who do not say their Rosary every day…  In the name of this Society, our religious man uses his pen with great zeal, spending whole days writing texts to save God and the Holy Church.

He is heard to thunder:

“Christianity is lost if a strong army does not rise to combat and exterminate impieties and heresies everywhere.  This army must be composed of one hundred and forty-four thousand fighters, who would have the mark of the living God on their foreheads.  Its chief must be Louis the Fourteenth in person.”

Although he is Controller at the Extraordinaire des Guerres and Secretary of the Marine du Levant, Desmaret has no intention of mounting a palfrey in an army of fighters of infidels.  He reserves for himself another role in this crusade.  The very distinguished role of snitch…

Let us leave our Academician for an instant and visit the little people, among those of “mechanical condition” as was said at the time.

Public writer's booth. That of Simon Morin was in Paris near Notre-Dame.

A man of the people, Simon Morin has a booth of writer-copier in the Notre-Dame quarter.  Which does not give him nor his children enough to eat every day.  But he doesn’t care, since Simon Morin is the Holy Spirit in person.

Illuminated people of this kind are legion under the Sun-King, a sombre epoch where spirits and spells still have all their powers.  For Simon Morin, the world has known only two religions:  a religion of the Jews, with Moses, a religion of the Christians, with Jesus.  But now a third religion is being announced, that of the Holy Spirit.  The Church, he proclaims, has nothing more to say, and the sacraments, along with laws of morality, have no more significance.  The Holy Spirit is here now, in the person of a few pure people.  And all is pure for the pure;  whatever they do, they commit no sin.  They are the annunciators of absolute liberty under the reign of the Holy Spirit…

And Morin carries his message to servant girls, washerwomen, shop girls, who are quickly won over to his prophecy, for he is a beautiful-looking man, his female assistant, as well as a few young, fresh male adolescents who barely leave him, and his wife, who says that all this will end badly.  In 1646, his pretty female penitents, whom he neglects from time to time, denounce him as being idolatrous.  He is imprisoned and almost immediately released for, with good sense, these Gentlemen of the Official, judge him to be more silly than heretical.  This brief stay in the Bastille builds up his popularity and his exaltation.  In 1647, he publishes Les Pensees de Simon Morin, that he dedicates directly to the King, to exhort him to get rid of the Church and take himself, Simon Morin, as his spiritual advisor…

As he persists and proclaims that he is the new Christ, he is bundled into prison for more than twenty months this time.  Upon leaving, he meets up with a cortege of his faithful followers, his legitimate children and others at their head, followed by a whole collection of washerwomen and maids.

After a short time of silence, he again says directly to the people of the City, that he is the messiah and the saviour of France.  This time, the ecclesiastical judge gets really upset.  Imprisoned for a third time, he is threatened with torture and even worse.  When he is presented with the brodequins and the red-hot pincers, he weakens and signs an abjuration in which he recognizes all his errors and swears that he will no longer prophesy…

A few years pass by, and one beautiful day our augure is again found perched on the grilles of the Louvre.  He wants to put into the King’s own hands, his most recent work, which he has modestly entitled Temoignage du Second Avenement du fils de l’Homme.  He is of course arrested, but, and here the justice of the Ancien Regime shows itself in an inhabitual light, the tribunal only sees in him an obstinate demented man and has him released.  But all these scandals have earned him disciples that are more and more numerous.  His wife keeps telling him that he is going to end by the hand of Charlot (the Paris executioner) he answers with outstretched arms and eyes raised to the sky:

“Gabriel and his celestial militia will come to deliver me!…

To be continued.

The magic of numbers

Doctor Encausse, better known as Papus, used to say:

“If one knew how to read the numbers which stud our lives, we would perhaps have knowledge of our destiny…  Unhappily, only a few initiates know how to read them, and this is very unfortunate…”

It is indeed very unfortunate, for in History, there exists a quantity of arresting examples which appear to show that Doctor Encausse is right.  These mathematical phenomena that cannot be attributed to chance are extremely numerous.  Here are a few examples:

From his accession to the throne until his death, the political life of Louis XIV seems strangely linked to the number 14.

Let us take the number 14.  This number is linked in a very strange fashion to the life of France’s Sun-King.  It is to be found at the principal crucial points of his political existence:

Louis the Great, who was the 14th monarch of this name, mounted the throne on 14 May 1643.  Add the numbers in 1643 = 1 + 6 + 4 + 3 = 14.

When he was on the point of losing his throne during the Fronde, he was saved by Turenne, at Bleneau, in 1652 (1 + 6 + 5 + 2 = 14).

He was declared major at 14 years old and began to govern personally in 1661 (1 + 6 + 6 + 1 = 14).

This year of 1661 is going to be an important year in his life.  It is in 1661 that his son, the Grand Dauphin is born.  And it is also in this year that, invited by Fouquet to the Chateau de Vaux, he is dazzled, jealous, and decides to build Versailles…

The Sun-King has the Hotel des Invalides built in 1670 (1 + 6 + 7 + 0 = 14).

His star dims at Romillies and at Turino in 1706 (1 + 7 + 0 + 6 =14).

Finally, he dies in 1715 (1 + 7 + 1 + 5 = 14), at the age of 77 (7 +7 = 14), having reigned 72 years (7 x 2 = 14)…

It therefore well appears that the number 14 had been a sort of sign from Destiny all along the Sun-King’s life…  A sign that neither Louis XIV, nor his contemporaries, seem to have noticed, and that we can only note as a mysterious presence…

***

A simple calculation shows that Louis-Philippe and Queen Amelie seem to have had their destiny written in the important dates of their lives.

Many other famous people seem to have had their destinies written in the important dates of their lives.  This was the case, for example, for Louis-Philippe and his wife, gentle Queen Amelie:

Louis-Philippe becomes King in 1830.  He is born in 1773.  Let us add the numbers in this date:  1 + 7 + 7 + 3 = 18.  1830 + 18 = 1848, the date of the Revolution which made him abdicate.

Let us continue:  Queen Amelie, his spouse, is born in 1782 (1 + 7 + 8 + 2 = 18).  1830 + 18 = 1848.

Their union dated from 1809.  By adding 1, 8, 0, and 9, we still find 18 which, added to 1830, gives the date of the collapse of their throne and their exile…

***

Numbers sometimes reveal the strange links that exist between events which are apparently very unrelated, or even between certain people.  This is how a curious parallel can be established between Napoleon and Hitler.  Let us closely follow Guy Breton:

The numbers show that there is a mysterious link between the careers of Napoleon I (right) and Adolf Hitler.

The French Revolution begins in 1789.

The German Revolution in 1918.

The difference between these two dates is 129 years.

Napoleon’s arrival to power (18 brumaire) dates from 1799;  Hitler’s dates from 1928.  Difference:  129 years

Napoleon is Emperor in 1804.  Hitler becomes Fuhrer in 1933.  Difference:  129 years.

Napoleon’s Russian Campaign dates from 1812.

Hitler’s Russian Campaign, from 1941.

Difference:  129 years

Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo is in 1815.

The Allied Landings, which is the event which determines Hitler’s fall, is in 1944.

Difference:  129 years

Finally, Napoleon dies in 1821.  And if we believe the sayings of certain historians who refuse to believe that Hitler died in the Berlin Bunker in 1945, the Nazi Chief supposedly finished his life in Argentina, near Mar del Plata, in 1950…

1950 – 1821 = 129 years

***

Louis IX of France, known as Saint Louis

Another example:  If Napoleon and Hitler are very curiously linked together by the number 129, we notice that Saint-Louis [Louis IX] and Louis XVI were connected by the number 539.

Here is what can be noted:

Saint Louis was born on 23 April 1215.

Louis XVI on 23 August 1754.

Difference:  539 years.

Isabelle, sister of Saint Louis, was born in 1225.

Elisabeth, sister of Louis XVI, was born in 1764.

Difference:  539 years.

Louis XVI.

Louis VIII, father of Saint Louis, dies in 1226.

The Dauphin Louis, father of Louis XVI, dies in 1765.

Difference:  539 years.

Saint Louis, victorious, concludes a peace with Henry III of England in 1243.

Louis XVI, victorious, concludes a peace with George III of England in 1782.

Difference:  539 years.

A prince from the Orient announces to Saint Louis, by an embassy, his desire to become a Christian, in 1249.

A prince from the Orient sends an ambassador to Louis XVI for the same reason, in 1788.

Difference:  539 years.

Beginning of the Revolt of the Pastouraux, of which the apostate Jacob was the head, in 1250.

Beginning of the activities of the Jacobins in 1789.

Difference:  539 years.

At the end of his captivity, Saint Louis goes to La Madeleine-en-Provence in 1254.

At the end of his captivity in the Temple, Louis XVI is beheaded and is inhumed in the Madeleine Cemetery in 1793.

Difference:  539 years.

In view of all this, how can we not believe that certain numbers, to which we are linked by obscure affinities, mysteriously rule our destiny?

***

There is no explanation for all this.  As Doctor Encausse used to say:

“One has the impression that we are directed by a destiny that is a mathematician and gives us, all throughout our existence, coded information which it is up to us to decipher…”

***

Arithmetic was for a long time considered as a science related to Hermetism.

The universe of numbers is a mysterious universe which touches on magic…  Here is an example with the “golden number” which we simplify in the form of 3.1416.  This number is very important in mathematics since it indicates the relation which exists between the circumference of a circle and its diameter.  For centuries, Chinese, Egyptian and Greek scholars – Archimedes himself – before Leibnitz and Newton, tried to evaluate it.  It can be obtained in a very simple, but very singular, way.

Take a sheet of paper and a pin.  Trace several parallel lines on the paper, separated by a distance representing twice the length of the pin.  Then throw the pin on the drawing without aiming.  Do it one hundred times, one thousand times, five thousand times, ten thousand times and more.  Note the number of times that you have thrown the pin, then the number of times that it fell on a line.  Divide the first number by the second.

For 100 throws of the pin, you will obtain 2.7;  for 500 throws, 2.94;  for 1,000 throws, about 3;  for 2,500 throws, 3.004;  for 5,000 throws, 3.14;  for 10,000 throws, 3.141.  That is to say, the beginning of the golden number with three decimals.  And if you continue, the golden number will become even more refined.  You will obtain 3.1415 – 3.14159 – 3.141592 – 3.1415926 – 3.14159265 – 3.141592653 – 3.1415926535, etc. or the numbers that the best calculating machines would give you…

You can change the orientation of the sheet of paper, throw the pin any way that you want, you will always find the same result, and it will be the golden number…

***

Guy Breton gives another example of the mystery surrounding numbers.  You will see that, whatever the rationalists say, whatever touches mathematics can sometimes arrive at the inexplicable.

Do the following experiment:  during a gathering of friends, ask that they guess the number of peas in a cup.  You will notice, by studying the results obtained, that most of the numbers that are given to you end in zero.  Then, in decreasing order of frequency, the terminal numbers 5, 8, 2, 3, 7, 6, 4, 9, 1, and always in this order.  You can re-do the experiment as many times as you wish, you will always obtain the same series.  This list of numbers seems to be linked in an inexplicable fashion to the phenomenon of divination which, after all, constitutes an evaluation.

All evaluations obey this rule.  In the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum, figure the tomb inscriptions from three regions of Ancient Rome.  The Romans inscribed the age of the dead on the tombs, but they didn’t do it as precisely as we do.  They evaluated this age.  And, if we examine the numbers reported by the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum, we find exactly the series 0, 5, 8, 2, 3, 7, 6, 4, 9, 1…

The last example is American.  During a census done around 1950 in Alabama, the citizens are asked to indicate their ages.  Knowing that, in this State, there was a high percentage of African Americans who didn’t know their date of birth and were going to content themselves with an evaluation, an American mathematician, Leslie J. Myers, asked to study the results.  There again he found the same series of terminal numbers

***

This could give the impression that these numbers surge from another universe to give us signs that we don’t understand.  These signs seem to abolish chance.  Sometimes in malicious fashion.  Let us look at this story.  Around 1950, a group of theologists of the Etudes carmelitaines wrote a thick book on Satan…  When this book left the printers’, the authors received a shock:  their work had 666 pages…  And 666 is the number of the Beast in the Apocalypse…

***

The Salon visionary – part 2

Louis XIV, who received only very carefully selected people, accorded two long audiences to the Salon blacksmith.

The next day, Francois-Michel presents himself at the Palace of Versailles and asks to speak to the King in private.  They laugh in his face.  On the following days, he comes back again and makes such a fuss that Louis XIV is finally informed.

“Go and tell this man that I don’t receive just anybody!”

Francois-Michel, who believes in his mission and wants to obey good Queen Marie-Therese’s ghost, replies to the King’s message that he will tell him “such secret things and so well-known to him alone” that he will well see that his message comes from God.

Louis XIV again refuses.  The Salon visionary then declares:

“Then send me one of the State Ministers”.

The Sovereign has him taken to Barbezieux;  but Francois-Michel bursts into laughter and answers that they are making fun of him:

“Barbezieux is not a minister, and it is to a minister that I must speak in the King’s absence.”

This declaration astounds everybody.  How can this blacksmith, who has never been interested in anything except his profession and who has come for the first time to Versailles, know that Barbezieux is only a Secretary of State?

The Marquis de Pomponne was the first to receive Francois-Michel at Versailles.

The King is soon intrigued by this provincial who seems to know the Court so well.  He orders the Marquis de Pomponne – who really is a State Minister – to receive him.  On three different occasions, Pomponne has a long interview with Francois-Michel.  After each conversation, he runs to the King with whom he remains locked up for hours.

Rumours then begin to circulate.  It is murmured that the blacksmith is a visionary who claims to have received a visit from the late Queen.  And of course they all snigger.  But one morning, the laughter freezes when it is learnt that Louis XIV has just let Francois-Michel into his private study.

This time, the Court is stunned.  Why would the most powerful sovereign in the world, who pitilessly keeps away from disagreeable and annoying people, accord a private audience to this blacksmith?

After an hour alone with the King, Francois-Michel leaves the royal study and goes back to his inn.  Immediately, everyone rushes to the King.  Doubtless His Majesty will recount some savoury anecdote about this visionary?  Report a few blunders?  Mock him?…  Already the courtiers are chuckling in anticipated pleasure.  But Louis XIV, looking preoccupied, crosses the salon without saying a word.

The following day, at the hour of the royal promenade, Monsieur de Duras, who thinks himself free to say whatever he likes to the King, exclaims:

“This Salon visionary is a madman, or the King is not noble!…”

Louis XIV has heard.  He stops, turns to Monsieur de Duras and answers gravely:

“Well then, Monsieur le Marechal, I am not noble!  For I had a long conversation with this man and I can assure you that he is far from being mad!…”

The Court is not at the end of its surprises.  A few days later, the King again receives Francois-Michel, remains with him for more than an hour, carefully seeing to it that no-one is near enough for them to be overheard, and ceremoniously accompanying him as far as the staircase.

In his youth, Louis XIV had glimpsed a ghost during a hunt in the Fontainebleau forest.

This time, Louis XIV reveals to his entourage that the blacksmith has spoken to him about an event known to him alone.  He adds:

“A ghost that I glimpsed, more than twenty years ago, in the Fontainebleau Forest, and of which I have never spoken to anyone…”

Francois-Michel’s mission is finished.

Before leaving Versailles, where his expenses are reimbursed by the King himself, he is received by Madame de Maintenon, by the Princesse de Savoie and by several courtiers who give him sumptuous gifts.  Finally, he will take leave of the Sovereign, publicly, like an ambassador, leave Versailles on 18 April and return home.

What on Earth did he say to Louis XIV?

It was never known, for neither he nor any of the ministers ever made the slightest revelation on the subject.  But doubtless the message from the Queen’s ghost was important, since the Court, more and more astounded, learned that the King had not only exempted Francois-Michel from taxes and the obligation for lodging the military, but that he had had him given a large sum of money, and that he had given orders to the Intendant de Provence to protect him for the rest of his life…

It was thus proven that one could be received by the King of France by presenting oneself on behalf of a ghost…

***

Madame de Maintenon who, according to Saint-Simon, would have organized the whole business.

Neither the blacksmith nor Louis XIV ever spoke of what was said while they were alone together.  However, there is an hypothesis held by a few historians which is founded on something reported by Saint-Simon:  After Francois-Michel’s visit to Versailles – which was much talked about, as songs were written about him and his portrait was engraved – the whole Court was asking questions.  And finally, one explanation came to the minds of a few people:  the adventure of the Salon visionary had been organized by someone who wanted to impress the King’s mind…  This person would be Madame de Maintenon.

The reason is very simple:  we are in 1697.  At this epoch the Court is agitated by the Quietist quarrel.  Quietism, that mystical doctrine according to which perfection consisted in the annihilation of the will, in short in the quietude of the soul, was preached by a slightly exalted woman called Madame Guyon who was protected by Fenelon;  this Fenelon was himself protected by Mme de Maintenon.  When Bossuet declared that Fenelon was an heretic, Mme de Maintenon found herself compromised at the same time and feared to see herself repudiated by the King…  This is when, knowing Louis XIV’s religiosity was tinted with superstition, she would have thought to make a being from the other world intervene in her favour.  And, as the clever woman that she was, she would have fixed her choice on the ghost of gentle Queen Marie-Therese…

Saint-Simon tells us that Mme de Maintenon would have addressed herself to one of her old friends, a certain Madame Arnoud who was the wife of the Intendant de Marseille, and would have asked her to create the whole scene of the apparition of the ghost…

We cannot always believe Saint-Simon.  However, Guy Breton thinks that this time he might be telling the truth.  For in 1750, an old man from Salon recounted to the author of the Dictionnaire de la Provence that a priest and Mme Arnoud, assisted by a young woman who had played the role of the ghost, had been the authors of this mystification.  This had apparently been told to him by the priest.

***

Francois-Michel would have absolutely believed in the ghost.

***

Still according to Saint-Simon, who situates this story in 1699 by mistake, Louis XIV would have been asked on behalf of Marie-Therese’s ghost, to declare Mme de Maintenon Queen of France, which would have strongly consolidated the situation of the lady formerly known as Widow Scarron.

This plot, according to Saint-Simon, did not work however, because Mme de Maintenon was never Queen of France.  But there is another hypothesis, advanced a few decades ago by some respected historians, like Monsieur Louis Hastier for example:  in 1697, the secret wedding of Louis XIV and Mme de Maintenon – the exact date of which is unknown – would not yet have been celebrated…  And it would have been to force the King to marry her that Mme de Maintenon would have created this ghost story.  In this case, she would have succeeded…

*** 

The Salon visionary

Maria-Theresa of Austria, Queen of France, spouse of Louis XIV.

In 1697, at Salon-de-Provence, there was a young blacksmith named Francois-Michel, who lived happily with his forge, his anvil, his wife and his four children.  Although he was a relation of Nostradamus on his mother’s side, he had never felt himself drawn to either the bizarreries of occultism or to the prestiges of magic.

He was a tall, ordinary fellow, jovial and smiley, who had conserved a resolute allure after his passage in the Grignan Cavalry Regiment.  Very pious, he sometimes went to pray inside a little chapel situated outside the town, on the road to Marseille.

One evening while he was coming back from his devotions, he found himself, according to Saint-Simon who reports this story, “invested by a great light near a tree”.  Very surprised, he stops and suddenly sees a beautiful, blonde woman appear, dressed in white, with a flaming torch in her hand.

The blacksmith is extremely moved:  he is asking himself if this is the Virgin Mary.

No.  After a moment, the apparition speaks in a gentle voice and introduces itself:

“Francois-Michel, I am Queen Marie-Therese…  I was the spouse of King Louis XIV and I died fourteen years ago…”

Francois-Michel, afraid, wants to flee, but the ghost holds him by the shoulders:

“Don’t be afraid, I do not want to hurt you…  I come to announce, in the name of God, that you must go to Versailles to speak to the King.  To prove to him that your mission is of divine origin, you will tell him this which he is the only one to know:  thirty years ago, he was hunting deer one day when he met a supernatural being who made his horse rear and who asked him to renounce his scandalous life…  Now, listen carefully…”

The blacksmith, half-fainting with fear, nods his head.  The ghost continues in a suave voice:

“I am going to give you the message that you must carry to the King.  But be very careful:  you must communicate it to no-one else.  If you disobey, or if you neglect to go through with your mission, you will be punished by death…  Before you, I have addressed myself to three Salon inhabitants.  The first revealed what I had confided to him to his wife.  He died immediately at her feet.  The second who, he too, revealed my secret, is also dead, as well as the third.  A similar fate is reserved for you if you reveal my words to any other but His Majesty…”

Francois-Michel, who had learnt of the mysterious deaths of three inhabitants of the town, his neighbours, in the preceding days, promises to be discrete.

Then, the Queen’s ghost leans over and tells him in a soft voice what he must say to Louis XIV, in the name of the Lord.

In his youth, Louis XIV had glimpsed a ghost during a hunt in the Fontainebleau forest.

Then it disappears and the blacksmith finds himself alone in the night, beside the tree, asking himself if he had dreamt it or if this spectre, whose perfume is still on his jacket, really did appear to him…

After a long moment of reflection, he returns home, persuaded that he had been the plaything of an illusion and decided to speak to no-one about this adventure.

But two days later, as he is passing by the same spot, the spectre appears again to him and tells him the same thing, before adding:

“Careful, Francois-Michel, I know that you have doubts about me…  How can one doubt the word of a dead person?  You know that dead people don’t lie.  Even more so when that person is a Queen of France…”

No-one had ever told the blacksmith that dead people didn’t lie, but it seems to him that it is quite logical, and he is ashamed of his doubts…  Then, he receives the order to go to tell the Intendant de Provence what he had seen.  The Queen’s spectre says to him:

“You will tell him that I have ordered you to go to Versailles, and I am sure that he will give you what you need to pay for your trip…”

This time, Francois-Michel is convinced.  But Saint-Simon tells us “floating between fear of punishments and the difficulties of the execution”, he hesitates to undertake the arrangements.

Another week goes by, during which he tergiverses with himself.  But one evening when he is passing near the chapel, the Queen appears to him again.  She is not smiling:  her eyes are glittering, her voice is hard, her tone is threatening.

A ghost is already very impressive.  An angry ghost is terrifying.  Francois-Michel trembles and swears that he will obey.

In fact, two days later, he goes to Aix to find Le Bret, the Intendant of the province, who receives him privately.  Francois-Michel tells him that he has met the ghost of Queen Marie-Therese, who had died fourteen years before, and that the Queen has ordered him to go to see the King at Versailles, and that Intendant Le Bret would give him the money for the trip.  The Intendant finds this attempt to extort money from him very amusing and rather ingenious, but a bit silly all the same…

“But I swear that it is all true.  I saw this ghost three times near the Saint-Anne Chapel..  Just like I see you, Monsieur…  It spoke to me.  And I have a mission to accomplish with the King…”

Intendant Le Bret is now convinced that he is dealing with an illumine.  Francois-Michel guesses what he is thinking.

“I’m not crazy, Monsieur l’Intendant, make enquiries about me.”

This tall young man of thirty-six with a clear gaze and flourishing health does not in fact appear to be deranged.  Le Bret is perplexed.

“Give me a few days.  I’ll think about it.”

And, very intrigued by this story, he orders an investigation of Francois-Michel from the Lieutenant-general de Salon, the following day.

A report is soon on his desk.  In it can be read that the blacksmith is a highly respected man in his town, with a healthy body and mind, and is known for his good sense.

So, the Intendant convokes Francois-Michel, makes him repeat all the details of the apparition, and finally – as extraordinary as this may seem – gives him the money necessary for the trip.

On the evening of 9 April 1697, Francois-Michel arrives at Versailles and books into an inn.  He is scarcely inside his bedchamber when, suddenly, the ghost that he knows well, thanks him for having obeyed it and gives him a few pieces of friendly advice for succeeding in his mission.  This time, the ghost is charming!  It tells him:

“You will doubtless have a few difficulties in obtaining a private audience;  but beware of discouragement, and above all do not let anyone know of your secret if you don’t want to die instantaneously…”

To be continued.

Louis XIV in his coronation robes.

On this Sunday of the year 1660, at La Celle-Roubaud, a minuscule village in Provence which is preparing to live a prodigious event, there is great joy in the air…

In a moment, King Louis XIV in person is going to make his entrance into the church, accompanied by Madame his Mother, the religious Anne of Austria, and a brilliant and numerous suite.  It is the Queen Mother who has advised this detour via La Celle-Roubaud.  But why go into this isolated village when, at a short distance from there, the venerable walls of Thoronet, the pearl of Roman Abbeys, is ready to welcome the young King and his suite for their Vespers?

Using his long walking stick with the engraved pommel, the King has just entered the church and is now walking slowly towards the main altar.  He bows, imitated by the whole suite, as he passes in front of the tabernacle, then, guided by the parish’s Curate, he approaches a shrine situated to the right of the choir.  A heavy chest in gilded wood, entirely covered by a plate of glass, shelters an open coffin.

Certain bodies remain intact after death. This is the head of Saint Sebastien, in his glass coffin, at Puebla, Mexico.

In the coffin is the cadaver of a sixty-year-old woman.

The skin of the face is smooth and satiny, a slightly pink coloration tints the surface of the cheekbones and hands.  The long, slim, ivory-coloured hands appear alive.  The lowered eyelids, the pink mouth slightly open, the supreme calm of her features, all appear to indicate that this woman dressed in a nun’s habit, is plunged into a sort of lethargic sleep.

Is it really a cadaver?  Has a supremely gifted embalmer succeeded in conserving this appearance of unheard-of freshness to the body?  The young King, who for the moment is alone with his mother looking at it, is astonished, amazed.  He questions the Curate, and then a member of his suite who is dressed in a severe, black suit.  He is again told that the cadaver of this nun, Roseline de Villeneuve, has been in this state of conservation since 17 January 1329 precisely.  For more than three centuries.

The fascinated King has trouble dragging himself from his contemplation.  He slowly moves in the direction of the sacristy.

There, the Curate who has preceded him again, presents a silver reliquary to him…

Lying on a small cushion of pale silk, there are two spheric objects whose view provokes a brief backward movement in the Queen Mother.  These two objects are the dead woman’s eyes…  They have the exact appearance of eyes that have just been taken from a living face:  slightly shiny, they have a completely limpid brilliance.  And above all, they appear to show a human sentiment, whose precise meaning remains mysterious, however.

Troubled, the King turns toward his doctor and murmurs:

“Do you think that it is possible?…”

“For God, nothing is impossible,”

replies in an oppressed voice, the King’s doctor, Antoine Vallot, who shortly beforehand had saved the life of the seriously ill King.

The King remains motionless for a moment then suddenly straightens.

“I want this eye, the left one, to be pricked twice…  And then we shall truly see if they are real eyes!”

Despite his repugnance, Vallot scarcely tergiverses.  For the last few months, all of Louis’ injunctions are delivered in a new tone of voice…  The one which is suited to the most absolute monarch in the History of France.

He pricks twice on either side of the iris.  Which immediately shrivels and loses its brilliance while a bit of pink humour escapes from the eye.

Appalled, the King takes a step backwards.  He has to admit the miracle.  This nun’s body, like the eyes which had been detached from it, has remained for three hundred years in a state of total incorruptibility.

What do the documents say?

The body of Sister Catherine Laboure, which has not been embalmed, shows no trace of corruption, after more than a century.

The nun, Roseline de Villeneuve, dies on the morning of 17 January 1329, without leaving any exceptional memories behind her.  During the few days that her remains are exposed, some spontaneous cures apparently occur.

But what particularly strikes the observers, is the cadaver’s appearance.

This sixty-year-old woman has been dead for days, and her cadaver conserves all its suppleness, the eyes have kept all their brilliance, and none of the usual signs of the decomposition which follows death can be seen.

Roseline is buried anyway in the little, sloping cemetery of La Celle-Roubaud, but this prodigy is of course discussed in the surrounding countryside.

However, it takes five years before the decision is taken to exhume her on 11 June 1334.

When the extremely damaged oak lid is taken off, there is stupefaction and fear:  despite the great humidity of the ground which lines the tomb, the cadaver appears to be in a state of perfect conservation.  It is even rapidly discovered that it had absolutely not changed since the moment of her funeral.  Her eyes, which are still as limpid, are then removed and placed in a reliquary.  The body itself is placed in the shrine which is contemplated three centuries later by Louis XIV.

During the Revolution, this singular relic escaped the destruction ordered by the Comite de Salut public.

Around one hundred years later, Roseline de Villeneuve’s body, which is still in this state of unlikely conservation, will be transferred, this time into a marble and glass shrine.

Abbot Arnaud, the Curate of Arcs, the big town of which La Celle-Roubaud is a dependency, recounts in a book which he publishes in 1887, how this operation unfolded.

The Bishop of the Var, Monsignor Michel, assisted by four doctors, lengthily notes the suppleness of the members, the perfect freshness and elasticity of Roseline’s skin.  The medical report notably indicates:

“The cadaver’s foot is fresh and flexible, the flesh depresses and rises again under pressure from fingers.”

And then suddenly, in 1887, insects attack this body which was so fabulously conserved.

Embalmers and chemists are rushed from Rome;  but on 6 July 1894, it is a poor mummy, shrivelled and dry, that is placed in the new, hermetically sealed shrine.  And that is what can be seen today.

The eyes that had been placed in the reliquary decomposed at the same rhythm as the body before the intervention of the embalmers…

Everything is therefore over, there is no more miracle.

But how do we explain this body’s prodigious resistance to all corruption for five hundred-and-sixty-five years?

To be continued.

Louis XIV in his coronation robes.

As the historian, Frantz Funck-Brentano, has noted,

“Louis XIV did not have a big enough character to sacrifice his self-estime for the public good, to consent to such an humiliation in the eyes of his subjects and of Europe, before whom he had never ceased to display his pride.”.

Meanwhile, the words of the Voisin’s daughter, Marie-Marguerite, and those of the Filastre – she is burnt on the same day that the Chambre is suspended – have raised questions in Louis XIV’s mind.  Their statements tend to lead to the belief that Madame de Montespan has attempted to poison another mistress of the King, the young and ravishing Marie-Angelique de Scoraille, Duchess de Fontanges, and perhaps even the King himself, through amorous revenge.  And the request that the Voisin had wanted to place with the King could have been prepared for this purpose…  Not much more will be known unfortunately, and Mme de Montespan’s guilt about this remains problematic, particularly as Louvois, always scheming, has probably done all that he can to make her look guilty.

Thanks to the removal of the “particular facts” which name her, the favourite will escape the claws of justice.  But during a glacial interview, her royal lover will sharply signify the end of their relationship to her, with no hope of a return.

***

The Marquise de Montespan became Louis XIV's mistress in 1667.

In hindsight, it is hard to imagine that Francoise Athenais de Rochechouart de Mortemart, Marquise de Montespan, really wanted the King’s death, which Colbert sensibly points out to Louis XIV.  On the other hand, she could have been manipulated in the framework of a plot coming from outside France, probably from England.  In this business, the role of her chambermaid, Mademoiselle Des Oeillets, is rather troubling.  It is she who, in spite of her denials, serves as the intermediary between her mistress and the Voisin.  But one day, according to Guibourg, she comes to see the Voisin with an “English lord” to take possession of a preparation susceptible of making “the King die in langour”.  A statement even more credible because it was amply confirmed by the daughter of the Voisin and, on 17 September 1679, Lesage had already declared to the lieutenant general de police, Gabriel Nicolas de La Reynie, that:

“During a certain trip that the King made to the frontier, Des Oeillets had a lot of commerce with the Voisin […].  The Voisin had a lot of money at this time, talked of leaving the kingdom, and that she would have 100,000 ecus.  These people were looking to do a job and go away.”

Mme de Montespan does not appear to know about this plot, which is well in the English fashion:  100,000 ecus to get rid of a King at the height of his power, and who is making Europe tremble, is not too expensive.  As for the deep motivations of the chambermaid, it must be remembered that Mlle Des Oeillets was formerly one of the King’s innumerable mistresses, and that she has never forgiven him for having dumped her.  Feminine vengeance associated with English politics, the scenario has all the appearance of probability.

***

The Poisons Case will come to an ambiguous end.  If the principal guilty people are executed, others, because of the “particular facts”, escape justice and will be locked up until the end of their lives in royal fortresses, like Abbot Guibourg – of whom La Reynie writes that he

“cannot be compared to any other in the number of poisonings, on the commerce of poison and malefices, on sacrileges and impieties”

and that he

“slit the throats and sacrificed many children” -,

or like Anne Guesdon, the chambermaid of the Marquise de Brinvilliers, who will die at Villefranche in 1717.  Others will not be bothered at all, starting with the Des Oeillets who will finish her life very piously, and who, in her Will, will ask that a perpetual Mass be said “for the health and prosperity of His Majesty”…

The Chambre de l’Arsenal was dissolved on 21 July 1682.  That same month, the King signed an important edict prepared by Colbert and La Reynie.  By severely controlling the commerce of toxic substances, by rigorously proscribing magical, alchemical or divinatory practices, and by forbidding anyone, except for doctors, apothicaries and chemistry professors, to possess a laboratory and to conduct experiments in them, this edict uncontestably constituted a very great progress.  The Poisons Case will at least have had this fortunate consequence.

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.

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.

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