The Shadows of Versailles (An Affair of the Poisons Book One) By Cathie Dunn #books #HistoricalMystery

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The Shadows of Versailles (An Affair of the Poisons Book One) By Cathie Dunn released in November in the historical fiction / mystery genre.

Dazzled by Versailles. Broken by tragedy. Consumed by revenge. When Fleur de La Fontaine attends the court of King Louis XIV for the first time, she is soon besotted with handsome courtier, Philippe de Mortain. She dreams of married life away from her uncaring mother, but Philippe keeps a secret from her.

Nine months later, after the boy she has given birth to in a convent is whisked away, she flees to Paris where she mends gowns in the brothel of Madame Claudette, a woman who helps ‘fallen’ girls back on their feet.

Jacques de Montagnac investigates a spate of abducted children when his path crosses Fleur’s. He searches for her son, but the trail leads to a dead end – and a dreadful realisation.

Her boy’s suspected fate too much to bear, Fleur decides to avenge him. She visits the famous midwife, La Voisin, but it’s not the woman’s skills in childbirth that Fleur seeks.

La Voisin dabbles in poisons.

Will Fleur see her plan through? Or can she save herself from a tragic fate?

Delve into The Shadows of Versailles and enter the sinister world of potions, poisoners and black masses during the Affairs of the Poisons, a real event that stunned the court of the Sun King!

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Author Bio

Cathie Dunn writes historical fiction, mystery, and romance.

Cathie has been writing for over twenty years. She studied Creative Writing, with a focus on novel writing, which she now teaches in the south of France. She loves researching for her novels, delving into history books, and visiting castles and historic sites.

Her stories have garnered awards and praise from reviewers and readers for their authentic description of the past.

Cathie is a member of the Historical Novel Society and the Alliance of Independent Authors.

After nearly two decades in Scotland, she now lives in the historic city of Carcassonne in the south of France with her husband, two cats and a rescue dog.

The inspiration behind the series.

Thank you, Viviana, for inviting me to your blog. I’m so delighted to be here and chat about my new series set during the infamous Affair of the Poisons – an event that shocked Paris and the court at Versailles.

On 17th July 1676, on Place de Grève in Paris, the Marquise de Brinvilliers was executed, only five days before her 46th birthday. As a member of the gentry, she was beheaded, then her body was thrown on a pyre, and her ashes scattered into the wind. A spendthrift with a lifestyle above her means (and a husband in debt), she had been found guilty of murdering her father, in 1666, and her brothers, one after the other, in 1670, by poison, for their money.

This trial marked the beginning of the event known now as the Affair of the Poisons, and I find it utterly fascinating.

Even before her arrest, Paris had been plagued by sudden, unexpected deaths for several years, but these were often attributed to natural causes, even following autopsies which showed anomalies in the internal organs. But no one suspected anything amiss. And no one had any proof of wrongdoing.

It was a twist of fate that revealed the Marquise de Brinvilliers’ evil deed. In 1672, her lover, who had dabbled in potions and poisons, had died – ironically of natural causes. Amongst his possessions was found a casket containing various phials and substances – and several letters written by her. The Marquise was keen to get her hands on them and sent her henchman – who had been in her brothers’ household and was responsible for poisoning them – to retrieve it. This raised suspicions, and she had to flee France. Her henchman was arrested, and soon admitted everything. He was executed on the same day as she was, years later.

Soon, more arrests followed. Midwives, fortune-tellers, alchemists, even lawyers and bankers involved in the trade of poisons. As the number of arrests grew, more and more people were implicated. But it was only really of concern when it was claimed that the king’s life was in danger, that King Louis XIV ordered an investigation. Did one of his dear courtiers wish him dead? And who?

Until later in life, Louis XIV was well-known to have had many mistresses. Naturally, some were more ambitious than others, and rumours began to spread of attempted poisonings.

But we need to look at the overall situation in France at that time, to understand what went on in Paris.

Whilst the new palace of Versailles bathed in luxury with its glittering court and rousing entertainment, the city of Paris was not so fortunate. The king did not like the city – nor its inhabitants. Starvation was rife, and there was not enough work. Women turned to prostitution – or fortune-telling, and they looked for lucrative ways of making ends meet.

Soon, there was a large number of fortune-tellers making a decent living in Paris. In addition to ‘foretelling’ the future of their clients – often using trickery and what we now know as psychology – they also then provided them with potions to achieve their aim. These were usually harmless, sprinkled into food or onto clothes or flowers. This would apparently make the recipient pliable to the client’s wishes.

But by the 1660s, potions alone weren’t enough. If a client sought the death of a relative – a father for an inheritance, a hated husband, a competitor for a loved one – then those same fortune-tellers had to be prepared to go that one step further. Like the case of the Marquise de Brinvilliers.

Midwives and fortune-tellers often obtained those poisons from alchemists practicing in the city. Soon, this turned into an extremely profitable business. Providing such services for their clients held a level of danger, but it was mostly ordinary citizens that appeared to die from such treatment. So for years, nothing was done about it.

But the case of the Marquise de Brinvilliers showed that poison was not only the weapon of ordinary people. It was also used in higher circles. The names of several courtiers were leaked, and some were temporarily arrested. Overall, the king was fairly lenient to some, like the Duc de Luxembourg, a renowned general and Marshal of France who was briefly incarcerated in the Bastille, but was later released and continued to be given access to the king.

But it was the alleged involvement of Madame de Montespan – long-term mistress of the king and mother to several of his children – in black masses that led to the investigations being placed under wraps. La Montespan was said to have claimed that if he were to take another favourite, he should not live to tell the tale! As a result, he distanced himself from her, and rumours began to spread.

No longer were trials conducted in public, and confessions were only heard by specific persons, so no one could cast public suspicion on the king’s closest circle. In short, he put a lid on it. By the early 1680s, a high number of people were locked up without trial, often in solitary confinement in far-flung fortresses, never to be released again.

But she was not the only one close to him who dabbled in the dark arts. Yet he allowed some of his courtiers to get away, to escape justice, whilst the ordinary fortune-tellers, midwives and alchemists were punished. Many of the women, like the famous midwife, La Voisin, were burnt at the stake.

This is merely a brief summary of everything that happened during the Affair of the Poisons. You can see that it allows for a wide scope of fascinating novel plots. In The Shadows of Versailles, I draw from real characters, such as the Duchess de Bouillon and Madame de Sévigné (whose surviving letters provide us with much detail), and, of course, King Louis XIV. But my main characters are fictional, and they are caught up between the power games of the courtiers and the dark lanes of Paris where life was hard. This allows me to delve deeper into the city’s dark underbelly.

So you see, the combination of potions, fortune-telling, poisons, murder, and deception makes for great stories. I hope you’ll enjoy mine.

Thank you so much for hosting me today. I always enjoy chatting about the intrigues of the Affair of the Poisons.

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