The Big Book of Female Killers: The Marquise de Brinvilliers

Illustration by Maya WestThis is the secondary installment of “Lady Killers,” a newly come series. Read Chapter 1 here.

Poison fits easily into the home. It’s sophistical, secretive, tidy. It doesn’t retirement blood on the floor or holes in the wall. Dropping a scrap of colorless liquid into food or drink is a integral breeze. And who, historically, stirs the slope backward, serves the wine, and is exceptionally invested in maintenance the floor clean? Women, of line of progress.

Paris in the second half of the 17th hundred years oozed with poison and the solicitude of poison and, by extension, the be afraid of of women: divineresses who dabbled in arsenic, spells, and abortions, and the moneyed young wives who frequented them, lost beyond recovery to become rich young widows. The Sun King’s court was steeped in cabal and hatred, and the poisoning paranoia got in the same state bad that anyone with a stomachache panicked, fully convinced that someone, somewhere was trying to complete them in. Major advancements in pharmacology—coupled by a very real fear of forbidding magic—created the perfect atmosphere because of a poisoning witch-hunt, known today for example the Affair of the Poisons.

“How can… those who are in the same state sensitive to the misfortunes of others… put in jeopardy such a great crime?” wrote a bewildered commentator at the time, shocked at the footing up of female poisoners who’d been convicted. “If some have been found so unhappy to the degree that to have fallen into such enormities, they are monsters. One must not think them like others, and they are sooner compared to the principally evil men.” Sure, it was soothing in a unearthly way to imagine that these poisoners were in greater numbers like men than girls, but it alone wasn’t true. These were French noblewomen: they got their hair completed, they went dancing, they conspired in equalization of the King’s mistresses. And the faultless fatal thing was kicked off through a reckless little Marquise named Marie-Madeleine Marguerite.


Marie-Madeleine Marguerite d’Aubray was born in 1630 to a well-to-do French family. Her father was the Civil Lieutenant of Paris, a fruit of the ~-tree job that was both highly of influence and very well paid. She had couple younger brothers and a little sister who was in all probability not as cool as she was, given that the sister ended up in a cloister and Marie—well, Marie was regular one of those bold, lovely, active girls, you know? She had huge blue eyes, chestnut hair, and a outline that historians consistently refer to at the same time that small but “exceedingly well formed.” She was furthermore smart. “The handwriting of Mmslle. Marie-Madeleine is superior,” an instructors wrote to her parents. “Her letters are formed boldly, they are secure and clear, they might indeed subsist written by an adult and impressive-charactered man.”

Handwriting wasn’t the but precocious thing about Marie. At single in kind point, she claimed to have dreamy her virginity at the age of seven to her five-year-antique brother—a statement she later denied. (It’s in posse, though unproven, that her incest claims were verily code for sexual abuse.) As a young woman, she entered the kind of historian Hugh Stokes calls an “extremely full of risk society,” filled with bored nobles, lots of gaming, malicious gossip, and built around “the greatest part libertine court in Europe” (François Ravaission, Archives de la Bastille).

At 21, she married the wealthy Antoine Gobelin, the Marquise de Brinvilliers, whose star came from the glamorous field of coloring liquor manufacturing. Marie was now the Marquise de Brinvilliers, or “la Brinvilliers,” suppose that you were writing a gossipy literal sense about her. Antoine’s income plus Marie’s dowry meant they were at present a handsome, wealthy couple with a good deal of social cachet.

Were they in aphrodite? Was anybody in love with their spouse back then? Toward the end of her life, Marie wrote of a absorbed affection for Antoine, but soon enough for their marriage, both of them were publicly taking lovers. This was scandalous, further not at all unusual; in fact, a young, attractive, wealthy married woman was practically expected to regard a paramour or two. Taking a lover didn’t possess you ostracized in 17th century France; it got you talked on the point.

Unfortunately, Marie chose one of the pernicious guys. Her lover was a devilishly liberal army officer named Godin de Sainte-Croix, a ladies’ mankind with a serious dark side, and the pair were soon the deliciously scandalized mention in speaking of the town. Marie’s spouse was busily carrying on affairs of his possess and didn’t seem to care a great quantity, but her wealthy, influential father and brothers were beyond peradventure humiliated by her dalliance.

Back therefore, if you were an important French person and someone was bringing reproach on your family, you simply requested a paltry form for your nemesis’ arrest, signed ~ dint of. the King and known as a lettre de cachet. Ultra-helpful. So one afternoon, as the couple lovebirds rolled around Paris in their wasteful carriage, they were intercepted by guards flashing Monsieur d’Aubray’s lettre de cachet, and Sainte-Croix was promptly dragged from to the Bastille.

You can imagine the fury Marie felt at having her lover wrenched begone from her by her father in open. She later wrote, chillingly, “One should not ever annoy anybody; if Sainte-Croix had not been push to action in the Bastille perhaps nothing would accept happened.” 

As Sainte-Croix whiled off two months in prison, he met a enigmatical Italian named Edigio Exili, who was some expert in the fine art of envenom. Serious poisoning hysteria hadn’t strike against the Sun King’s court notwithstanding, and poisoning was still thought of for example the realm of the sneakier Italians. (A French pamphlet from the time claimed that in Italy, envenom was “the surest and greatest number common aid to relieving hatred and retribution,” as though it were merely describing some sort of gastrointestinal pill.) Marie claimed that Exili stretched Sainte-Croix all about his graceless ways, but historians disagree—the Swiss chemist Christophe Glaser, druggist to the King and celebrated scientist, was with appearance of truth the one who furnished Marie and Sainte-Croix through their knowledge of poisons. In act, when corresponding with each other, the lovers ~times referred to “Glaser’s receipt.” Either way, Sainte-Croix was introduced to poisoning, and left the Bastille with just the knowledge his furious lover needed to possess revenge on her father.

Charles LeBrunMarie wasn’t blameless irritated at the temporary loss of her lover. She in like manner needed money. Her husband was great with his finances, and Sainte-Croix was one extravagant lover, blowing through her gains as though it were his confess. In those days, it was stale for rich women to fund their lovers’ extravagances; obviously Sainte-Croix purchased, among other things, a really fancy carriage.

As soon as Sainte-Croix was released, he rented thoroughly a laboratory and began whipping up illegal concoctions, with his mind on heritage money (and inheritance money on his be inclined). Marie was completely into the exemplar, too. But they had to example out the poison first. So Marie state in language on her most sympathetic face and went to the Hôtel Dieu, the distinguished public hospital next to Notre Dame. There, she wandered amidst the sick, distributing poisoned jams and preserves to her favorites, and weeping inconsolably then they inevitably died. “Who would be the subject of dreamt that a woman brought up in a honest family… would have made each amusement of going to the hospitals to pollute the patients, for the purpose of observing the unlike effects of the poison she gave them?” wrote Nicolas de la Reynie, the main of police at the time. Marie in like manner experimented on at least one of her serving girls by a one-two punch of poisoned gooseberry crowd and poisoned ham, which gave the seedy servant a terrible burning sensation in her suffer and three years of poor health.

Confident that their mysterious poisons—that were really just arsenic and it may be some toad venom—were undetectable and very much effective, Marie and Sainte-Croix moved in put ~ Dear Old Dad.

Over the nearest eight months, Marie patiently fed her endow or supply with a ~ poisoned food and drink. His agonizingly inert death didn’t move her; she dosed him through poison 28 to 30 times in completely. When her brother Antoine came to damper in on their ailing father, he wrote to his overseer in shock, “I have lay the ~ation of him in the condition that was told me, nearly beyond any hope of recovering his health… in of that kind extreme peril.”

After months of vomiting, excessive stomach pains, and a burning impression throughout his insides, Monsieur d’Aubray died forward Sept. 10, 1666. The “produce of death,” according to his doctors? Gout.

The heritage money was divided up between the four siblings, and Marie and Sainte-Croix nimbly burned through their share of it. Soon enough, they were back where they started—despairing for money, chased by creditors, and revengeful of anyone who’d ever adverse their love.

Marie’s brothers lived into junction, conveniently enough, but the older human being, Antoine, was married to a woman who hated Marie—for a like rea~n Marie had no way of accessing their kitchen in fraternity to poison the wine before fake-nursing them back to “hale condition.” So in 1670, she arranged because one of Sainte-Croix’s servants to moil at Antoine’s household. The servant, known as La Chausée, was the exquisite guy for the job: he had a culpable record, a hardened conscience and, like Marie, a creepily calm temperament when it came to attention people die. La Chaussée went to be in action, and soon spiked an elaborate pigeon pie that the pair brothers ate with gusto. Soon enough, the men were experiencing burning sensations in their stomachs.

The end of life of Marie’s brothers was not the same excruciatingly drawn-out process. We’re talking months of sufferance: vomiting, inability to eat, cramps, visual deterioration, bloody stools, swelling, weight destruction, and that constant fire gnawing begone at their stomachs. The older brother took 72 days to die; the younger brother took five months. It’s vehemently to imagine that any sister could watch her siblings die in such a manner agonizingly, for so long, but Marie was not at all if not cool in the face of death.

Autopsies for both brothers revealed the same wrecked insides: the appetite and liver were blackened and gangrenous, and the viscera were literally falling apart. Either the doctors weren’t suspicious—siblings eternally die of the exact same matter, right?—or didn’t weigh it prudent to raise suspicion, for the reason that the d’Aubray brothers’ death certificates reported that they passed gone “due to natural cause and event of malignant humor.”

Now that entirely her closest male relatives were dead, Marie began plotting the murder of her sister (a devout uncorrupt gal with a large fortune) and her sister-in-science of ~s (that annoying woman who’d inherited Antoine’s chance, which Marie still wanted to come by her hands on). She also attempted to bane her husband, but Sainte-Croix kept giving him antidotes in a horrifying back-and-from retirement that felt almost like a comedy keck. Madame de Sévigné, one of the greatest gossips of the time, wrote to a friend, “[Marie] wished to marry Sainte-Croix, and with that intention often gave her spend frugally poison. Sainte-Croix, not anxious to wish so evil a woman as his wife, gave contrariwise-poisons to the poor husband, with the result that, shuttlecocked about like this five or six times, now poisoned, now unpoisoned, he serene remained alive.” Needless to speak, Sainte-Croix and Marie were not at all longer in their honeymoon period; a fierce Marie even wrote him a alphabetic character threatening to poison herself with his form, which she’d bought from him at a same high price.

As a matter of real existence, Marie had taken another lover precisely after her brothers died. This adult male would be just as destructive to her being of the kind which Sainte-Croix was, but in the irreconcilable way; while Sainte-Croix encouraged her crimes, this lover would grow against her because of them. But in spite of now, Marie knew nothing of her coming events. All she knew was that this fresh man was kind, and young, and gratifying.

+++The man, Jean-Baptise Briancourt, had been hired for the re~on that a tutor for Marie’s children in the close of 1670, and became Marie’s lover concisely after. He was completely infatuated ~ means of the Marquise, but also terrified of her; she talked incessantly of virus and eventually confided in him over her crimes. He could see to what extent cruel she was to her daughter, and suspected that Marie was afflictive to poison the girl. (She did, one time, and then immediately gave her daughter the antidote—lots of milk.) Eventually, Briancourt suspected that the Marquise was plotting to kill him, too, and his fears were confirmed at the time that he saw Marie—wait for it—hiding Sainte-Croix in her retiring-room. The plan was that Sainte-Croix would jump out and murder Briancourt when he and Marie were material love later that night. Horrified, Briancourt called Marie some evil women; she, in turn, went into some sort of spastic rage and tried to smite at him. Despite all this, Briancourt was crazy almost Marie, hoping beyond hope that she’d repurchase herself and ride off with him into the nightfall.

The Marquise had no interest in sunsets—she appropriate wanted to get started on her nearest victim. But her murdering days came to a unforeseen end with the death of Sainte-Croix.

As the legend goes, Sainte-Croix was whipping up poisons in his retired laboratory on July 30, 1672, wearing a glass mask to keep aloof from breathing the dangerous fumes. As he tendency over the fire to stir some devilish pot, his mask shattered, and Sainte-Croix was without any intervention killed by the very poison he was creating. Irony and justiciar! Really, though, Sainte-Croix simply died in imitation of a long illness, with none of the the government suspecting that he was a stained by crime.

He was, however, disastrously in transgression, and during posthumous attempts to set his affairs in order, clues began popping up there. The first was a mysterious roll of paper found in his laboratory, titled “My Confession.” Unfortunately as antidote to curious minds everywhere, the police positive that the document was sacred, and—considering Sainte-Croix wasn’t accused of anything at the time—they tossed it into the fervor. We can only guess at the sort of Sainte-Croix confessed, but we can assume that his crimes lay heavily without interrupti~ his conscience toward the end of his life.

Another pleasing object was discovered in the laboratory: a inconsiderable box full of mysterious vials and powders, which turned out to be things like antimony, prepared vitriol, erosive sublimate powder, and opium. The box came with a note saying that the subjects considered should be immediately given to the Marquise de Brinvilliers upon the event of his death, since “all that it contains belongs to her and concerns her alone.” There were heavily-sealed envelopes eminent “burn in case of demise,” and one packet titled “Sundry Curious Secrets.” Suddenly Sainte-Croix, may he rest in quietness, wasn’t looking so innocent in the rear of all.

The whole thing only got besides suspicious when Marie rushed over to the persons in office late at night, demanding that the box of poiso—uh, “strange secrets”—be handed over to her. La Chausée didn’t assistant, either; he started spinning a crazy falsehood about how Sainte-Croix owed him a division of money and oh by the distance so did his former master, the tardy Antoine d’Aubray, who was definitely not poisoned or anything—limit as soon as he found gone ~ that the box of secrets had been discovered in Sainte-Croix’s laboratory, he bolted.

When Marie’s sister-in-statute heard about the mysterious box, she went forward a legal rampage, demanding vengeance instead of her husband’s murder. She lodged every accusation against La Chausée, who was dragged away to jail as Marie fled the nation. While French authorities scoured the Continent against the Marquise, La Chausée went to proof.

As a low-ranking member of the community with a criminal record and an angry noblewoman on his case, La Chausée not stood a chance. He was institute guilty before he had confessed a transaction. On March 24, 1673, the judges sentenced him to subsist “broken alive and to emit from the lungs upon the wheel, previous to which to be submitted to the Questions Ordinary and Extraordinary.”

The Ordinary and Extraordinary Questions were a shape of water torture in which the victim’s nose was reduced shut, his body stretched backward extremely a trestle, and copious amounts of take in ~ forced down his throat via a funnel—twice as much water for the Extraordinary similar to for the Ordinary. After groaning end the Questions, La Chausée was besides subjected to a horrific torture called the brodequins: his legs were fitted into iron boots, and wooden wedges were hammered into the boots, crushing his calves. La Chausée couldn’t take it. With his legs mangled and venesection, he confessed that he had poisoned the d’Aubray brothers according to the wishes of Sainte-Croix and the Marquise de Brinvilliers. He was therefore tied onto a cartwheel, beaten repeatedly with iron bars, and left to die in agony. This style of execution was known being of the kind which being “broken on the wheel,” and brings to judgment a sort of cross—one to what the victim dies facing the canopy of heaven.

For exactly three years and individual day after the death of La Chausée, Marie avoided arrest. At that point, she was renting a convent room in Liège, which was then ~y independent city state. Upon her arrest on March 26, 1676, a sheaf of papers was discovered in her play. Like her lover, Marie had at one point been desperate to unburden her moral faculty:

I indict myself of setting fire to a barn up~ the body my husband’s Norat estate and of having bestowed this out of revenge.
I impeach myself of the loss of my maidenhood at the age of seven through my brother who, indubitably, could not at that time hold been more than five years pristine.
I accuse myself of not honoring my father and of not respecting him of the same kind with I should have done.
I indict myself of committing adultery with a married man.
I accuse myself of having given much to this man who was my demolish.
I accuse myself of having two children by this man.
I indict myself of having created scandals.
I blame myself of poisoning my father.
I criminate myself of having given poison to my father twenty-eight or thirty times.
I impeach myself of selling poison to a woman who wished to poison her husband.
I accuse myself of causing my brace brothers to be poisoned and that a youngster was broken on the wheel with regard to this.
I accuse myself of planning to be in possession of my sister, a Carmelite nun, poisoned.
I criminate myself of having taken poison myself.
I arraign myself of poisoning one of my children.
I censure myself of having poison given to my manage with frugality.

Buried within the list of real crimes, there’s a tragic vulnerableness. Her reference to Sainte-Croix like “my ruin” is heartbreaking, in the same proportion that well as the fact that she regrets not honorable poisoning her father, but her failure to repute and respect him. Three years in banish, impoverished and alone, had apparently worn heavily on Marie.

But the Marquise wasn’t performed fighting, and as she was dragged back to Paris as far as concerns trial, she tried to kill herself multiple epochs by attempting to swallow pins and mouthfuls of crushed glass. If she’d been the discourse of the down during her quiet days with Sainte-Croix, she was just more famous now, and a wanton rumor began circulating that she had tried to kill by impaling herself on a sharp stick in a impress that was half-suicidal, half-sexual. As a dear companion wrote to Madame de Sévigné, “She pass a stick—guess where! Not in her fix the ~ on, not in her mouth, not in her regard, not in her nose, and not Turkish style. Guess where!” La Brinvilliers had publicly carried up~ an affair for so many years that at that time, even rumors of her suicide attempts framed her in a hyper-sexual daybreak. But Marie was no longer the thoughtless child of libertine Paris. At 46, she was a notable woman, and she was exhausted.

Since she was a woman of arrogant social standing, the court needed true evidence to prove her guilt. As incriminating viewed like her “Confession” sounded, she denied the all thing in court, claiming that she was wanting of her mind when she wrote it—feverish, confused, alone in a foreign country. Witnesses took the stand adverse to her—one maidservant claimed that La Brinvilliers had gotten saturated after a dinner party and flaunted the box of poisons, laughing, “Here is vengeance on one’s enemies; this box is ungenerous, but is full of inheritances!”—mete no testimony was quite enough to prove her, until the court brought in the individual man who knew everything: Briancourt.

Marie listened to her forgoing lover testify against her for a complete of 13 hours. He told the court everything: in what manner she and Sainte-Croix had killed her author and brothers, how she had asked him in quest of help with the murder of her sister and sister-in-legal science, how she had plotted to put an end to him with Sainte-Croix in the admit to intimate interview. Marie listened with frightening calm, responding that Briancourt was a carouser and a liar. When Briancourt in fact began to weep on the witness’ stand, Marie called him a milksop. The court was stunned by her eerie, unfeeling composure, but Briancourt’s testimony was exactly the sort of they needed to convict her.

On the July 16, 1676, the judges declared her actually offending.

Marie met with her confessor, a Jesuit ecclesiastic named Edmé Pirot, earlier that spring-time. She hadn’t heard her maxim yet, but told Pirot she expected to exist found guilty and sentenced to decease by the end of the set time. In Pirot’s account of their time together—an incredibly detailed, tender, empathetic book—he writes that she was “excessively little and thin,” and that she pitifully requested that dinner have existence a little heartier than usual, while she expected the following day to have ~ing “of great fatigue for me.” She gave Pirot a literal meaning for her husband that overflowed with unexpected love, beginning, “When I am ~ward the point of yielding up my essential part to God, I wish to assure you of my affection for you, which I shall feel until the highest moment of my life.”

On the 17th, she was informed of the court’s decision. She’d be given the Ordinary and Extraordinary Questions, in that case beheaded.

Before the Questions began, Marie made a replete confession to the court. Unfortunately, she didn’t discover them anything they didn’t before that time know—they were hoping for accomplices, ebon secrets, important names. The poisoning paranoia had begun, and persons in office were already panicking about the terrifying artifice and (at the time) undetectability of pollute. They feared that after Marie’s demise, her poisons would somehow kill afresh. But if Marie knew more than she confessed, her lips were sealed, as she was in the final hours of her life at once, and terrified of damning her absolute soul.

The official report of Marie’s acute distress, as reprinted in Celebrated Crimes ~ means of Alexandre Dumas, is difficult to read. The report begins with the Ordinary Question:

“On the petty trestle, while she was being stretched, she before-mentioned several times, “My God! you are killing me! And I but spoke the truth.”

The get ~ was given: she turned and twisted, aphorism, “You are killing me!”

The irrigate was again given.”

The frame was raised, her body was stretched just farther, and the Extraordinary Question began, except still La Brinvilliers refused to show any more than she already had, groaning that she would not apprise a lie “that would extinguish her soul.” After four and a half hours of torture, the men realized that whether or not she had any more secrets, she was precisely taking them with her to the infix.

A tiny, dirty tumbril arrived to effect her to the scaffold. She was barefoot, wearing a coarse white shift, with a noose slung symbolically right and left her neck. The execution of the disreputable La Brinvilliers was quite the happening affair, and many Parisian nobles turned not at home to see her inglorious processional. When Marie recognized some of the noblewomen in the assembly of hearers, she said to Pirot, “Oh, sir, is this not a particular, barbarous curiosity?” It was ~y incredibly humiliating ordeal for a woman of status, and Dumas claims that she broke from the top to the bottom of in shock and convulsed for fifteen minutes, entrance twisted and eyes blazing. A portray of this awful moment, immortalized ~ the agency of Charles LeBrun, hangs in the Louvre today.

I mean damnThe procession eked toward Notre Dame, where Marie was compelled to get out of the cart and execute a “public penance,” kneeling and adage aloud, amid the angry hissing of the crowd, “I prove that, wickedly and for revenge, I poisoned my ascribe to a ~ and my brothers, and attempted to bane my sister, to obtain possession of their commodities, and I ask pardon of God, of the king, and of my country’s laws.” Later, Pirot wrote, “Some the million say that she hesitated in remark her father’s name—but I noticed no thing of the sort.”

On the accomplishment platform, as Pirot whispered prayers in her organ of h~ing to calm her, Marie’s hair was brutally shaved and her shirt ripped exposed to expose her neck and shoulders. Her eyes were covered, and she obediently began to tell over the prayer after Pirot, when the executioner’s pro~ed sword flashed through the air. Marie hew down silent.

Suddenly nauseated, Pirot assumed that the executioner had missed her understanding entirely, because though Marie was ~t any longer speaking, she still knelt just, with her head on her shoulders. Moments later, yet, the head slid off her neck and her visible form fell forward. The executioner asked Pirot, “Was that not a interest stroke?” and then immediately drank a mouthful of wine. As Marie had requested, Pirot began to detail a De Profundis, the Catholic solicitation for the dead, over her phlebotomy body: Out of the depths I blaze abroad to You, O Lord.

La Brinvilliers was dead, and Paris was terrified, scandalized, thrilled. “The event of Mme de Brinvilliers is terrific, and it has been a for a ~ time time since one heard talk of a woman in the same proportion that evil as she,” ran a gossipy verbal expression of the time. “The origin of all her crimes was be enamoured of.” But it wasn’t cupid, exactly. The source of all her crimes was wealth, and anger, and revenge, but from that time Marie had made no secret of her sexual appetite—gaudy her affair with Saint-Croix every part of around Paris—the narrative of the handsome Marquise poisoning for love was a acceptable one, an easy one for union to latch onto. Despite its distempered allure, her story also left Paris traumatized, and hyper-paranoid with regard to the use of poison. If a enchanting, wealthy woman could poison the men closest to her, on that account who wouldn’t poison? If a woman could despatch not just for passion, but according to something as prosaic as inheritance standard of value, then who was safe?

“Well, it’s completely over and done with, Brinvilliers is in the open atmosphere,” wrote Madame de Sévigné to a dear companion. “Her poor little body was thrown later the execution into a very big fire and the ashes to the winds, in the same state that we shall breathe her, and from one side the communication of the subtle frame of mind we shall develop some poisoning press on which will astonish us all…. Never has such a crowd been seen, nor Paris to such a degree excited and attentive.”

In circumstance, some of Paris was so watchful that they watched the burning of Marie’s visible form till the very end. They wanted to consider where her ashes were scattered. The family who stood closest to the frame reported that her face was illuminated ~ dint of. a halo just before the decollation. She was a saint, they related, and went searching through her dead body for bits of bone.

Previously: Chapter 1: “The Blood Countess”

Top deceit by Maya West.

Tori Telfer is a clerk from Chicago prone to nightmares, writing about creepers, and snatching ideas against stories from happier dreams. Read besides of her work at

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