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The Black Masses of La Voisin: How a Fortune Teller Became a Murderess in the French Royal Court

The Black Masses of La Voisin: How a Fortune Teller Became a Murderess in the French Royal Court

Catherine Monvoisin was a woman with a dark story. Her life influenced the world of the occult and the court of Louis XIV, a famous king whose golden palace brought him immortal fame and countless lovers. Her spiritual gifts made her a wealthy and powerful woman, but when the life of the lady known as La Voisin became combined with intrigue and scandal in the French Royal Court, there was no way it could have had a happy ending.

A Woman Like No Other?

Catherine Deshayes was born around 1640. When she was a young woman she married Antoine Monvoisin. Monvoisin had a jewelry shop in Paris, but life didn't bring him good luck in business. He went bankrupt and his wife decided to handle the family budget on her own. She must have been a well-educated woman as she had some medical knowledge. Catherine was a midwife and also provided women with abortions.

Apart from this, Catherine became well-known in the city as a talented clairvoyant and fortune teller. Eventually these gifts led her to become one of the most mystical and fascinating people in the second half of 17th century Paris.

17th-century print of Catherine Deshayes’ portrait held by a winged devil.

17th-century print of Catherine Deshayes’ portrait held by a winged devil. ( Public Domain )

Catherine’s spiritual abilities became more and more admired, especially as she claimed her powers were a gift from God. She told people that she acquired her gift when she was nine years old. Catherine also studied many other disciplines and gained some knowledge about physiology. However, she based her medical work on what information she attained from reading faces and hands and forecasting the future.

When Catherine had achieved enough monetary success she created a special mystical atmosphere in her workplace. It is known that she spent 1,500 livres to buy a crimson red velvet robe embroidered with images of eagles in golden thread. She spent quite a lot of money on her image - but the investment worked by increasing her number of clients as well.

In 1665, a priest of Saint Vincent de Paul's order and the Congregation of the Mission questioned her abilities. However, Catherine (now known as “La Voisin”) was intelligent, and she stood in front of the professors at Sorbonne University and explained how her gifts worked. She was set free for her skills in rhetoric and her impressive performance in front of her critics. With time, she improved her rituals and added a “black mass” to her skillset - in which she was used as a living altar for the spirits that were being worshiped.

Catherine Monvoisin and the priest Étienne Guibourg performing a "Black Mass" for the mistress of King Louis XIV of France, Madame de Montespan (lying on the altar). (1895) By Henry de Malvost.

Catherine Monvoisin and the priest Étienne Guibourg performing a "Black Mass" for the mistress of King Louis XIV of France, Madame de Montespan (lying on the altar). (1895) By Henry de Malvost. ( Public Domain )

The Witch’s Power

La Voisin soon became a very popular figure in the king’s court. Many important people asked her for help, advice, and secret medical procedures. Some of her clients were:  François Henri de Montmorency-Bouteville, (the Duc de Luxembourg), Françoise-Athénaďs de Rochechouart Montespan, (the Marquise de Montespan and king's mistress), Olympe Mancini (the Comtesse de Soissons), her sister Marie Anne Mancini (the Duchesse de Bouillon), and the Comtesse de Gramont (known as "La Belle Hamilton").

Catherine Monvoisin was smart enough to survive most oppressions and criticisms. But when she became a part of an affair which was one of the greatest scandals in the life of Louis XIV her life was also put in danger.

Portrait of Madame de Montespan. (1640-1707)

Portrait of Madame de Montespan. (1640-1707) ( Public Domain )

It began when La Voisin was hired by Madame de Montespan to perform black masses. In 1667 the ceremonies took place in a house on Rue de la Tanniere. It is unknown if the king attended these rituals, although rumors suggested that his power came from the devil. A witness of the black masses suggested that Montespan was trying to find a way to secure Louis XIV’s love. During one of the meetings Montespan received a special potion and aphrodisiac - which she subsequently used to drug the king.

A close relationship with Montespan caused more problems for La Voisin. The king’s frustrated lover became so obsessed with him that she would have preferred to see him dead than with another woman. When the king became infatuated with Angelique de Fontanges in 1679, Montespan asked La Voisin to kill the lovers. Catherine disagreed at first, but it seems that with time she accepted the angry Montespan’s proposal. La Voisin created a poison and plan. However, things didn't go as she expected.

Portraits of Louis XIV from 1701 by Hyacinthe Rigaud and Marie Angélique de Scorailles, duchess of Fontanges (date unknown).

Portraits of Louis XIV from 1701 by Hyacinthe Rigaud ( Public Domain ) and Marie Angélique de Scorailles, duchess of Fontanges (date unknown). ( Public Domain )

Unfortunately for her, Louis’ sister-in-law (the duchess d'Orleans) was poisoned instead. Moreover, many other enemies and rivals of Catherine’s clients were also killed with the poison. La Voisin was accused of the crimes, but during the hours of torture she never admitted her clients’ names nor told her persecutors who the people were that attended her black masses. It is believed that she was involved in the death of between 1000 – 2500 people.

At the same time, Montespan was still one of the most trusted people in the king’s court. He didn't connect her with the deaths at all. There is even evidence that she was one of the king’s advisers during the trial. Montespan was almost freed from her involvement in the crime, but in July 1680 Catherine’s daughter, Marguerite, proved that Montespan was one of her mother’s clients. The king didn’t immediately believe Marguerite’s story. As Louis wrote in his letter to La Reynie in Lille, August 2, 1680:

“'Having seen the declarations of Marguerite Monvoisin, prisoner in my Chateau of Vincennes, made on the 12th of last month, and the examination to which you subjected her on the 26th of the same month, I write you this letter to inform you that my intention is that you should devote all possible care to elucidate the facts contained in the said declarations and examinations; that you should remember to have written down in separate memorials the answers, confrontations, and everything concerning the report that may hereafter be made on the said declarations and examinations (to the judges), and that meanwhile you defer reporting to my royal Chamber, sitting at the Arsenal, the depositions of Romani and Bertrand until you receive orders from me. Louis.”

Château de Vincennes keep, from the south-east corner of the moat.

Château de Vincennes keep, from the south-east corner of the moat.(Pierre Camateros/ CC BY SA 2.5 )

The Death of a Murderess

Catherine was burned at the stake in the Place de Greve in the heart of Paris on February 22, 1680.  It is uncertain what happened to her daughter Marguerite. Did the king or one of his favorites save her? Or was she sentenced to death by murder in the dark streets of Paris?

The answer to this question is unknown. However, legends about her infamous mother continued long after La Voisin’s death. As for Montespan - she died in May 1707 as a 65-year-old woman and was never charged for the crime she committed with La Voisin.

‘The Execution of Catherine Deshayes.’

‘The Execution of Catherine Deshayes.’ ( The Unknown History of Misandry )

Top Image: Illustration depicting Catherine Deshayes, “La Voisin.” Source: Misterios en la Red/ CC BY NC SA 3.0

By Natalia Klimczak

References:

Noel Williams, Madame de Montespan and Louis XIV, 2009.

Frantz Funck-Brentano, Princes & Poisoners Or Studies of the Court of Louis XIV, 2003

Famous Witches - La Voisin (c.1640 – 1680), available at:
http://www.witchcraftandwitches.com/witches_voisin.html

The Masses of the Abbé Guibourg and His Associates, available at:
http://www.angelfire.com/az3/synagogasatanae/zacharias.htm

Catherine Deshayes Monvoisin ''La Voisin'', available at:
http://www.misteriosenlared.com/la-voisin/?i=1

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