, known as "La Voisin
" (c. 1640 – February 22
), French sorceress
, whose maiden name was Catherine Deshayes, was one of the chief personages in the famous affaire des poisons
, which disgraced the reign of Louis XIV
Sorcery and scandal
Her husband, Monvoisin, was an unsuccessful jeweller
. She was promiscuous
throughout her marriage, and she practised chiromancy
and face-reading to retrieve her and her husband's fortunes. She gradually added the practice of witchcraft
, in which she had the help of a renegade priest, Etienne Guibourg
, whose part was the celebration of the "black mass
," a parody of the Christian Mass
She practised medicine, especially midwifery, procured abortion and provided love powders and poisons. Her chief accomplice was one of her lovers, the magician Lesage, whose real name was Adam Coeuret.
The great ladies of Paris flocked to La Voisin, who accumulated enormous wealth. Among her clients were Olympe Mancini, comtesse de Soissons, who sought the death of the king's mistress, Louise de La Vallière; Françoise-Athénaïs, marquise de Montespan, another of the king's mistresses; and the comtesse de Gramont ("la belle Hamilton"), among others.
The bones of toads, the teeth of moles, Spanish flies, iron filings, human blood and mummy, or the dust of human remains, were among the alleged ingredients of the love powders concocted by La Voisin. Her knowledge of poisons was not apparently so thorough as that of less well-known sorcerers, or it would be difficult to account for La Vallière's immunity. The art of poisoning had become a regular science at the time.
The death of the king's sister-in-law, the duchesse d'Orléans
had been falsely attributed to poison, and the crimes of Marie Madeleine de Brinvilliers
(executed in 1676) and her accomplices were still fresh in the public mind. In April 1679 a commission appointed to inquire into the subject and to prosecute the offenders met for the first time. Its proceedings, including some suppressed in the official records, are preserved in the notes of one of the official court reporters, Gabriel Nicolas de la Reynie
La Voisin was thereafter convicted of witchcraft and was burned in public on the Place de Grève.