{Above: The cover of the Sandra Gulland INK edition of The Shadow Queen, in which Madame Voisin is an important character.}

I have been delving into the Affair of the Poisons again, trying to understand the roles of Athénaïs (Madame de Montespan), and her maid Claude des Oeillets in this sordid affair. In sorting it out, I first revisited Anne Somerset‘s The Affair of the Poisons; Murder, Infanticide & Satanism at the Court of Louis XIV, an excellent book, in my opinion, with clear and specific references.

Most of Somerset’s information is from the Bastille Archives (Archives de la Bastille), where one can read the word-by-word interrogations of the hundreds of people arrested for poisoning, witchcraft and infanticide. Through the French on-line library — Gallica — I’ve been able to download all seven volumes, and so have them on my computer. In this way, I’ve been able to check Somerset’s specific references by going to the volume and page cited.

This, in turn, led me back to Gallica, on a search for more information about Villedieu, Claude’s friend who was convicted and imprisoned in a convent for the rest of her life. I was initially intrigued because I thought this might be Mlle. de Villedieu, a writer of erotic semi-autobiographical fiction, but no: it’s Madame de Villedieu, the spurned wife of the man the erotic novelist ran off with. Tant pis.

Madame de Villedieu’s testimony indicates that she’d known Claude for some time, and that Claude had been to see the “witch” Madame Voisin at least fifty times. What strikes me as curious is that Madame Voisin insisted — even under horrifying torture, even when her death by burning was certain — that she’d never laid eyes on Claude, much less on Claude’s employer Athénaïs (the Sun King‘s mistress and mother of several of his children).

Madame Voisin.

Why the protection? Voisin was spilling the beans on practically everyone else at court — why not a word about Athénaïs and her maid?

Or is Villedieu’s testimony false? That seems unlikely to me, although she might well have been quite angry to find herself in prison while her friend Claude remained free, courtesy of the King’s protection.

It’s quite an intriguing Affair, and I suspect I’ll be lost in it for some time.

Afternote: all 18 (or more?) volumes of the Archives de la Bastille can be found on Gallica here, available for download.

My eventual conclusion regarding the mystery of Claude and Madame de Villedieu is that the woman Villedieu went to see Voisin with had adopted Claude’s name (for likewise mysterious reasons). Apparently Villedieu, when pressed, described this so-called Claude in terms that were definitely not Claude.