The court of King Louis XIV of France was, without doubt, one of the most colorful and scandal-ridden in history. During his reign, he amused himself with numerous mistresses, the most important and influential of whom was Athénaïs de Montespan. As her beauty began to fade and Louis’ interest waned, her family feared losing their place at court if she lost Louis’ favor. She visited a fortune-teller, La Voisin, who also conjured “love spells” guaranteed to hold a lover’s passion. La Voisin was popular with the ladies of the court. In fact, all Paris was aware of her, which brought her to the notice of Paris’ Chief of Police, La Reynie. He was particularly interested in the convenient deaths of a number of inconvenient husbands. When his investigation of a network of fortune-tellers and poisoners led him directly to the inner circle of Louis’s court – namely to Mme de Montespan, his official mistress and mother of seven of his children – many lives and fortunes were in danger.
Kate Braithwaite has written an intimate and intriguing view of one of the most famous courtesans in all France. She paints a sympathetic portrait of Mme de Montespan, whom history sometimes treats harshly. Her story provides intelligent insight into the glamour and treachery of the Sun King’s court. This novel is worth reading.