After the death of Louis XIV’s sister-in-law, Henriette of Angleterre, the death which some authors report as suspicious, the Sun King orders an investigation. This investigation, led by lieutenant La Reynie and complete with its own torture chamber, receives the name of the Court of Poisons.
The Court of Poisons can be divided into two stages 1670-1676, the hunt for Marquise Brinvilliers, accused of poisoning her father and two elder brothers; and then 1676-1682, when the whole thing turns into a veritable witch-hunt. The first stage ends with the execution of the Marquise, beheaded then burned; it throws suspicion on such high-paced courtiers as the two nieces of the cardinal Mazarin, Marechal de Luxembourg and even the king’s favorite play writer, Jean Racine.
The second stage has a much broader spectrum of investigation, not only poisons, but love potions, abortions, black masses and any occult practices; consequently, it yields a much greater number of people and reaches as high as the king’s mistress, Madame Montespan. At this point the king realizes that the witch-hunt had acquired a political tint and reflects the power struggle between two of his highest officials, Colbert and Louvois.
And so, twelve years later, after thirty-eight executions and scores sent to prisons and galeres, the investigation stops just as it starts by order of the king. As for Madame Montespan, she is replaced in Louis’ heart: apparently without the love potions she cannot sustain his affection.