The Alchemists knew of the existence of microbes and toxins long before the medical discoveries of the present age. Their bacteriology laboratories were working for a long time on cultures of bacilli or solutions of their toxic properties that, even when
administered in infinitesimal doses, mixed with food or drink, disseminate disease and death where it is judged necessary by the ” Masters ” that life is to be destroyed. In these cases, deaths occurred from apparently natural causes or “plagues.”
As the poison business boomed in Europe during the 16th century, an organization called The Council of Ten was established in Italy by a group of morally challenged alchemists who catered to the needs of people who needed elimination services.
Arsenic was the poison of choice. It’s odorless, tasteless and builds up in the human body. A large dose will kill someone in hours, while a steady, small dose will cause someone to become ill and appear to die from natural causes. The poison used to be extremely difficult to detect after death, until James Marsh developed a reliable test in 1832.
Many others took up this occupation throughout late Renaissance Europe, and there was a spate of young, wealthy, married women suddenly becoming young, wealthy, eligible widows. In 17th century France, white arsenic became known as poudre de succession, the “inheritance powder.”
The Catholic clergy became alarmed by the number of young women confessing that they had killed their husbands with slow poisoning, and informed the head of the church.
When the papal authorities began inquiries, they discovered a society of young wives meeting nightly at the house of a reputed witch and fortuneteller named Hieronyma La Spara. A woman was sent to infiltrate the society, and she found out that La Spara would sell an imploring young wife a few drops of poison that would send her husband to his “last long sleep.” This resulted in the arrest of La Spara and her secret society.
While La Spara maintained her silence even under torture, another member, La Gratiosa, broke down and revealed the secrets of the society. Five women, including La Spara and Gratiosa, were hanged together in Rome. More than 30 others were later whipped through the streets, hanged, exiled or fined heavily.
In Renaissance Europe, the art of poisoning came to its fore and contracts to poison one’s neighbor became a social norm. The poisoner made appointments and set prices. The client named the victim, and a contract was made. The poisoner was paid when the job was done.
A family of professional poisoners from the late 15th century were the wealthy powerful Borgia family, Pope Alexander IV, his son Cesare, and Cesare’s half sister, Lucrezia.
A well-known poisoner of the mid 17th century was an Italian lady named Giulia Toffana. She made cosmetics containing arsenic, Aqua Toffana, and gave the tainted cosmetics with appropriate instructions on how to apply them to the intended victim. Toffana and her daughter, Girolama, were executed in Rome in 1659 for their complicity in the poisoning death of several hundred men.
The Affair of the Poisons
Catherine Deshayes (1640-1680), aka La Voisin, was a French serial killer and satanist. She was burned as a witch on Feb. 16, 1680, in Paris. She celebrated black masses, practiced abortions, and sold love potions and poisons. She is said to have sacrificed infants. La Voisin had a large network of colleagues and assistants, who performed allegedly magical tasks, and the priests Étienne Guibourg and Abbé Mariotte officiated at the black masses.
She entertained at parties with violin music in her gardens at night, attended by Parisian upper-class society. The house also included a furnace for the bodies of dead babies, who were then buried in the garden.
La Voisin played an important role in royal circles as well. Her most important client was Madame de Montespan, official royal mistress to King Louis XIV of France. In 1667, Montespan hired La Voisin to arrange a black mass. This mass was celebrated in a house in Rue de la Tannerie. Montespan prayed to win the love of the king. That same year, Montespan became the official mistress of the king; and after this, she employed La Voisin whenever a problem occurred in her relationship with the king.
In 1677, Montespan made clear that if the king should abandon her, she would have him killed. When the King entered in to a relationship with Angélique de Fontanges in 1679, Montespan called on La Voisin and asked her to have both the king and Fontages killed. La Voisin made an unsuccessful assassination attempt by trying to pass a poisoned petition on March 5, 1679.
The arrest of three poisoners — Magdelaine de La Grange, Marie Bosse and Marie Vigoreux — in January 1679 made the police aware that there was a network in Paris who dealt with the distribution of poison.
On March 12, 1679, La Voisin was arrested. During her arrest, La Voisin’s maid Margot stated that her mistress’ detention would mean the end for a number of people in all positions of society. The arrest of La Voisin was followed by the arrest of her daughter Marguerite Monvoisin, Guibourg, Lesage, Bertrand, Romain and the rest of her sinister network. La Voisin was imprisoned at Vincennes, were she was subjected to questioning.
She confessed to the crimes of which she was accused and described the development of her career. She never mentioned the names of any of her influential clients during the interviews and was not subject to torture. Referring to the elite Police Chief Reynie, she said, “The enormity of their crimes proved their safeguard.” Some things never change.
Marie Anne Mancini, Duchess of Bouillon, sought to get rid of her husband in order to marry the Duke of Vendôme. Louis XIV quietly banished her to Nérac.
Also involved in the scandal was Eustache Dauger de Cavoye, the eldest living scion of a prominent noble family. De Cavoye was disinherited by his family when, in an act of debauchery, he chose to celebrate Good Friday with a Black Mass. Upon his disinheritance, he opened a lucrative trade in “inheritance powders” and aphrodisiacs. He mysteriously disappeared when it hit the fan. Louis de Guilhem de Castelnau, Marqee de Cessac; left country to avoid trial, but returned in 1691.
Thirty-six people involved were executed, and a number of them for witchcraft. Five were sent to the galleys and 23 were banished.
Winter Watch Takeaway
Has the underlying proclivity of the alchemist poisoners gone away? Hardly. They’ve gone legit and have multiplied in efficiency in this modern technological era. Want some toxic aluminum in your vaccine, pyjama person?