Release Date: February 29th, 2016
Genre: Historical Romance, Adult Fairytale, Romantic Comedy, Action/Adventure
A paranoid king, a poison plot, and hideous shoes…it’s not easy being Cinderella.
The Long Way Home is set in the court of Louis XIV at the beginning of the murder scandal that would become known as the Affair of the Poisons. Although this has become an overlooked corner of history, the revelations that arose from this scandal once caused terror throughout France and had serious consequences for hundreds of citizens from all walks of life. So what was it?
The Affair of the Poisons
The Affair of the Poisons was a major scandal that took place during the reign of Louis XIV in France between 1675 and 1682. Hundreds of people were accused of murder, conspiracy, and witchcraft, resulting in the imprisonment, torture, exile, or execution of more nearly three hundred people, many of them prominent members of society.
Madame de Brinvilliers
The Affair of the Poisons is generally considered to begin with the trial and subsequent execution of Madame de Brinvilliers in 1675-6. A wealthy and respectable woman, Brinvilliers was convicted of conspiring to poison her father and two brothers with hopes of inheriting their estates. This was no crime of passion, but a coldly calculated maneuver executed very slowly over the course of years. She went to trouble of installing her own servants in the homes of her father and brothers, and successfully poisoned all three relatives. She had also poisoned her husband and daughter, but gave them both antidotes in a fit of conscience.
This trial called attention to other mysterious deaths and raised fears across the kingdom. When an anonymous note detailing a plot to murder the king was found in a confession box in 1677, paranoia hit fever pitch.
The fears were well-founded. When Madame de La Grange was arrested in 1677 on murder charges, she appealed with information of other serious crimes, leading to the discovery of a vast network of people involved in poison, murder, witchcraft, infanticide, and even Satanism right under the King’s nose.
Gabriel Nicolas de la Reynie, the chief of Paris police, followed the accusations to a number of fortune tellers, alchemists, and even renegade priests. If you’re thinking all this was over a little palm reading, think again. Fortune tellers and others were found to be selling poisons and other “remedies” door-to-door or even in shops along with cosmetics and household tonics (think evil Avon lady).
The most infamous of these was midwife Catherine Deshayes Monvoisin, also known as La Voisin, who was arrested in 1679. Following her arrest, La Voisin implicated many of her clients who were prominent members of the aristocracy, including one of the king’s mistresses, Madame de Montespan, the Comtesse de Soissons, the Duchesse de Bouillon, and the Duke of Luxembourg.
Poison and Witchcraft
Although the poisons they were using were potent enough to do away with rivals without any help, it was believed that magic gave the poison its power. We’re not talking about a few little spells, here, either. The magic was believed to come from priests, and a number of unscrupulous priests accepted this kind of work on the side to supplement their clerical livings. For a fee, they would say mass over magic charms and even poison to infuse them with power, regardless of their intended use. If poison of charms made from holy oil or menstrual blood did not prove to be potent enough to achieve the person’s aims, there was also something called an Amatory Mass. What was that, exactly? You probably don’t want to know. If you’re at all squeamish, maybe skip the next paragraph.
At the height of the Affair of the Poisons, there were accusations that certain prominent members of the court, most notably the King’s longest-serving mistress and mother to seven of his children, Madame de Montespan, had employed corrupt priests to perform a ritual called an Amatory mass. While it was superficially similar to common Christian mass, it differed with a few key details. Said over the body of a naked woman (usually the person requesting the magic), it culminated in the sacrifice of a human infant. While the existence of these has not been conclusively proven, testimony of priests thought to be involved is eerily similar.
The investigations into the Affair of the Poisons resulted in the imprisonment, torture, and interrogation of many people, as well as the execution of a further thirty-six. Following the execution of La Voisin in 1680, the king’s minister, Jean-Baptiste Colbert helped to sweep things under the rug on the king’s instruction. His Chambre Ardente, a court established to judge cases of poisonings and witchcraft, was closed in 1682 on the king’s instruction because so many courtiers and those connected to them had been questioned and found guilty that he could not abide the scandal.
Some measures were taken to limit the availability of poisons after the scandal. In 1682, an edict proclaimed that anyone convicted of supplying poison, whether or not that supply resulted in death, would be sentenced to death. Alchemists found themselves under greater scrutiny because of the involvement of a small number of them in the formulation of the poisons, most notably Brinvilliers’ alchemist lover. The same edict restricted alchemy to that conducted with the protection of a permit. Further limits were placed on the sale of arsenic and mercury sublimate, so that they were no longer available to the general public, but only to professions that were deemed to require them.
The Long Way Home takes place in Versailles in 1677, just as the Affair of the Poisons is beginning in earnest. The court is plagued with mysterious deaths, the king fears for his life, and Alice quickly discovers that court is not as virtuous as it appears.
Lynn Wood Mollenauer. Strange Revelations: Magic, Poison, and Sacrilege in Louis XIV’s France.
Anne Somerset. The Affair of the Poisons: Murder, Infanticide, and Satanism at the Court of Louis XIV.
After saving the life of the glamorous Marquise de Harfleur, painfully shy barmaid Alice Henshawe is employed as the lady’s companion and whisked away to Versailles. There, she catches King Louis’ eye and quickly becomes a court favorite as the muse for Charles Perrault’s Cinderella. The palace appears to be heaven itself, but there is danger hidden beneath the façade and Alice soon finds herself thrust into a world of intrigue, murder, and Satanism at the heart of the French court.
Having left his apprenticeship to serve King Charles as a spy, Jack Sharpe is given a mission that may just kill him. In the midst of the Franco-Dutch war, he is to investigate rumors of a poison plot by posing as a courtier, but he has a mission of his own. His childhood friend Alice Henshawe is missing and he will stop at nothing to see her safe. When he finds her in the company of the very people he is meant to be investigating, Jack begins to wonder if the sweet girl he grew up with has a dark side.
When a careless lie finds them accidentally married, Alice and Jack must rely on one another to survive the intrigues of the court. As old affection gives way to new passion, suspicion lingers. Can they trust each other, or is the real danger closer than they suspect?
Even through five layers of fabric, Alice felt a hand creep across the small of her back. She stepped to the right, the heels of her shoes clattering across the marble step though she attempted stealth. Ysabeau shot her a look of displeasure as she came dangerously close to crowding her. It would not do to crowd Ysabeau.
Again, that dreadful hand. Lower, this time.
If she moved any further from him, she would push a string of ladies into the King’s lap. She had no choice but to stand there, expressionless, as Languedoc fondled her; one more of the palace’s many discomforts.
An idea seized Alice suddenly and she acted upon it before she thought it through. “Sir, I beg you to restrain yourself,” she whispered. “I have a husband.”
“A husband?” Languedoc scoffed, drawing attention to them. “My dear, you might have said.” Still, the lie had the desired effect, causing his hand to pause in midair over her bottom.
Alice looked at her feet, uncomfortable under the sudden scrutiny. “You never asked.”
Ysabeau rapped her flirtatiously with her folded fan. It hurt more than it appeared to. “Alice, you naughty thing! Have you run away?”
Alice shook her head. Not from a husband, at least.
Languedoc eyed her suspiciously, looking for the lie. “I suppose he is some great man? A comte, perhaps?”
This ridiculous question, asked louder than necessary, drew the attention of the rest of the room. Sixty-seven courtiers staring. They could clearly sense ridicule or scandal was sure to follow. They held their breath in anticipation, ready to pounce.
Alice shook her head.
Ysabeau’s face lit up at the attention. “A prince?”
To Alice’s horror, the King was looking at them, listening to the conversation. Alice shook her head.
“English,” Louis stated, his face betraying nothing. He knew very well Alice was not married.
She held his gaze. “Yes.”
“Out with it!” Ysabeau squealed, “Who is he?”
“He’s a soldier,” Alice said to Louis hoping he might use his powers of observation to guess at her reasons for lying. He was a very perceptive man, and already seemed to understand her in ways her family never could. They had spent so much time together over the past weeks she had begun to think of him by his Christian name, though she took care never to address him in such a familiar way.
His gaze flitted to Languedoc almost imperceptibly. “A noble profession,” Louis said. “We have spent a great deal of time within the ranks, as you know. We have on occasion met a number of young men in our cousin’s army. What is his name?”
Alice gulped. “He is very young, Your Majesty, he would not be of any interest.”
Louis’ eyebrow quirked. “On the contrary, any husband of yours is of great interest to me. What is his name, Madame?”
Alice’s hands shook. Languedoc was a snake, of that she was certain. She knew little of the other courtiers present, but she could guess at their feelings toward the English. Louis’ feelings toward them varied on the day. Could she be endangering Jack with a lie?
Louis waited patiently. Alice had to answer him.
She took a breath and said the only name that was in her heart. “Jack Sharpe.”
Louis’ lips twitched. A hint of a smile, and then it was gone. “How fortunate. He’s here.”
“Impossible,” she blurted without thinking.
“You doubt your king?” Louis frowned.
Alice bowed her head. “I do not, Your Majesty, I only reserve my joy. It is a common enough name.”
There was something in the look Louis gave her. A challenge. He addressed the hall. “Bring him to us.”
“He is my guest,” a courtier near the back spoke up. “I will fetch him forthwith.”
“Who is that?” she asked Ysabeau.
“Achille Archambault, the Marquis de Saint Croix.” She sniffed delicately. “No one you need trouble yourself with.”
The conversation around them resumed in pockets of whispers behind fans and gloves. Alice shrunk under the speculative glances turned her way. Ysabeau, bored, watched the queen with an odd balance of jealousy and pity. An English soldier was of no interest to her.
Languedoc loomed to her left. He affected disinterest, though his skepticism was more obvious than his perfumed powder. Civet, she now knew. A musk favored by gentlemen and ladies alike. It was meant to smell like desire, but to her it just smelled like a squeezed cat.
She focused on the details of the people around her, such as the hairpin that was about to fall out of Madame Montespan’s formidable coif; anything to distract from the hammering of her heart. The Jack in question could not possibly be hers.
But if he was...
Alice found herself praying he wasn’t. She wanted to see him to satisfy herself he was well, but not like this. After nearly five years, the first thing he would hear of her would be a lie. A stupid, thoughtless lie that would betray her dearest wish and greatest secret.
Alice fought the urge to cover her face. Whether it was him or not, she would never recover from the embarrassment.
The ladies in front of her must have known ridicule would swiftly see her from Court. Neither would meet her gaze. The one on the right wore violet and her hair was powdered nearly white and studded with jewels the size of eggs. Her companion on the left wore blue and her hair was a softer shade of gray and was crowned with two real doves arranged in artful, decaying flight.
Two sets of boot heels clicked down the corridor. Alice held her breath.
The crowd parted as the Marquis de Saint Croix entered the room accompanied by a tall, young courtier dressed in black.
She let out a breath. Not Jack.
Still, there was something familiar about his gait, the quick, even clip of his steps. Alice peered around the dead doves to really look at him as he approached.
He was far taller than Jack had been, though she supposed it was likely he might have grown in five years, as she certainly had. He was lean and elegant, with an angular face, a soft mouth, and a fetching little divot in his chin.
As he removed his hat to make his bow to the king, he revealed a head of thick black hair, curling madly in all directions. He settled a confused dark gaze on her as he stood.
A rather familiar confused dark gaze.
“Really brilliant writing that's so engaging with such endearing characters! I especially love the way Jack and Alice are both so devoted to each other! I was totally absorbed in this exciting and fascinating world Jessica Cale created from the very first paragraph to the last! I read this all in one sitting, staying awake late to finish, just had to!” – Romazing Reader
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About the author
Jessica Cale is the award-winning author of the historical romance series, The Southwark Saga. Originally from Minnesota, she lived in Wales for several years where she earned a BA in History and an MFA in Creative Writing while climbing castles and photographing mines for history magazines. She kidnapped (“married”) her very own British prince (close enough) and is enjoying her happily ever after with him in North Carolina.
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