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Welcome to criminalize a production of scandal and audio in partnership with I Heart Radio. Hello and welcome to Criminality, where we're exploring the intersection of history and true crime. I'm Holly Fry, Anna Maria Tremonti, and this season we are talking about Lady Poisoners. And in today's episode, we're going to look at the life of Catherine Malvasia.


So let's say you lived in Paris in the midst six hundreds and you wanted to get rid of someone such as an abusive husband or maybe a rich family member, for example, or maybe you wanted to make a crush, fall in love with you, looking to hold a black mass or have a secret abortion.


Catherine was at your service or so people believed. Now, let's be clear.


There is a lot of rumor and speculation and even cover ups surrounding Catherine and what exactly she did for her livelihood. So was she actually a high priestess who burned babies in her furnace or was she simply a palm reader who got caught up in the scandal of the time? We're going to talk about it all and then you can draw your own conclusions.


So Katherine was born in 60-40, probably in Paris, which is where we know she lived as an adult from a very early age, it said that Katherine had a knack for fortunetelling. An account suggests that she was able to read a person's body language so well that she could convince them she knew things about them that she couldn't possibly have known, which is a skill fortunetellers called cold reading, and they work at it. It doesn't usually come quickly, but by the time she was nine, she was already learning palmistry.


And Katherine married Antoine Lavoisier, a jeweler, when she was still in her teens.


The couple went on to have at least three children, including a daughter named Marguerite, who is going to play a role later on in her mother's story.


So her family, they lived a pretty comfortable life, that is, until the jewelry business that they had failed, not wanting to return to poverty like she grew up in, Katherine decided to use her childhood interests in the arcane arts to support her family. And she was very successful at it.


And she worked under a professional alias, Lavoie's, which is a playful pun on the French word for neighbor, as well as her last name. She told Fortunes, and she practiced hand and face readings from a discreet spot in the overgrown garden in her yard.


And it sounds really kind of lovely. You know, I just brings you a cup of tea and you get your palm read.


And I literally, when I was reading this story was like, how can I build a discreet garden in my yard where I could shoot you and pretend to be getting readings by lovers?




And for me, there's like a lovely tree swing, like a little table anyway, much like what we were just talking about.


Katherine also put a lot of thought into her professional appearance and into the atmosphere she provided for her clients and she was all about creating the experience.


So speaking of that experience, let's talk about her robes for a minute because her robe needs a little attention. Multiple sources refer to this accessory. So we like to think that it actually did exist. It said that Katherine performed her spells while she wore a crimson red velvet rope that was embroidered with gold eagles, which she bought for what would be about an equivalent in today's U.S. dollars, about 2000 dollars.


I'm not going to lie like I might be shopping for Red Velvet Online while we talk about this. I don't doubt it because I was wearing it right now. I mean, I did get married in red velvet. So there's there's a historical precedent. Yeah.


Fortunetellers at this time, we're available to indeed tell your fortune. But as this research was playing out, it became apparent that fortunetellers in Paris at the time were also often women who could help you if you wanted to, say, terminate a pregnancy. This was something of a coded catchall term, this idea of a fortune teller.


So as a midwife, Catherine would have performed abortions which were illegal in France at this time. Some versions of her story suggest she also helped facilitate secret adoptions. And as far as we can tell, she provided her services to anyone who needed assistance. And because of her discretion in these matters, she had many high profile clients, including some from the royal court.


But things never change, right? Success is always going to bring out haters 60s by the mid 20th century.


It does not matter is the same game with different technology. But by the mid 60s, Catherine and her act in her career had become quite good. And she had grown so famous around the city for her fortunetelling skills that she was challenged by a priest to prove she was not a heretic. I feel like we have to comment on how hard it is to prove that something isn't a thing, to prove it's not.


Well, OK. So fortunetelling in 17th century, France was considered to be a pagan superstition, using quotes around that by the Catholic Church. Yet most people didn't actually agree with that assessment. And if the population had been polled by, say, like Gallup or the Harris poll, like we would today, most people would have said that they believe there was a science behind it.


Rather than rising above the priest's accusations and just going about her business, Catherine defended herself. She appeared before the professors at the Sorbonne Theological College in Paris and successfully defended the, quote unquote, science behind her practices. She argued that if she did have any spiritual powers, they were, of course, a gift from God.


And that was that. And really bright and that was that. I mean, good for her, for defending herself. They were satisfied that there was no heresy here, but little did they know what Catherine's business would expand into next.


By the 60s and 70s, Catherine grew her business to also include what else poisons it was believed that imbuing them with a magic spell was what gave her poisons, their potency, and it was her work with poison that would eventually lead to, unfortunately, her downfall. When we return, we're going to talk about how Catherine might have also dabbled in performing black masses. Welcome back to criminality, where we're looking into whether or not Katherine tried to poison the king of France.


We have mentioned black masses in passing in this episode and previously on the show, but we haven't really talked about them in any detail yet and the phrase tends to conjure these images of satanic ceremonies. But that's way oversimplified, right?


So in the 16th and 17th centuries, black masses weren't always held with the intention of worshipping the devil. They were mostly actually held as theatrical events that were intended as a way to protest against the Catholic Church, as well as to shock the community.


And depending on what sources you read, they maybe would end with an orgy.


Maybe, maybe not.


Madame de Montalbán, one of King Louis, the 14th favorite mistresses and mother to seven of his children, was a frequent client of Katherine's, relying on her for various magical powders and love potions for several years. So when she suspected that the king was becoming interested in another and younger woman, she again sought Katherine services.


So Olivia was actually interested in many, many women and he was notorious for his mistresses.


And so she was going to need a pretty powerful spell.


So as the story goes, Catherine and a defrocked clergyman named Etienne Quebecer performed a black mass for her.


So let's set the scene. My husband would have been lying naked on an altar and she would have been holding a black candle in each of her hands. The priest, he would have placed an empty chalice on her stomach and Catherine would have performed a human sacrifice, specifically an infant whose blood would be poured into that chalice. There would have been a little more hocus pocus going on, but that was pretty much the end of the performance. Remember when we mentioned earlier that Catherine had a daughter that would play into this story as a witness to the event?


That daughter Marguerite would later testify that her mother's black mass rituals were just a lot of smoke and mirrors. The altar, she claimed, was actually a mattress that had just been elevated on a few chairs. And the sacrifice, well, it wasn't a human infant that was later burned in a furnace. The blood, she said, actually came from pigeons, which had been purchased and bled for the occasion.


It's all about lighting, and the darker it is, the less you're going to see the magistrate.


We'll just throw a cloth over it. It's going to be fine. I love her performance. I just really do.


That is, unless you're reading a different pile of books.


So if you're looking at the sources for what Catherine's black masses were like, there's a problem when you look into historical records and especially records at the time when it was in many people's best interest to spin a story or cover things up.


Some versions of this testimony don't mention pigeons at all, actually, and instead tell tales of a black mass with human sacrifice that shocked everyone, including authority.


So to be clear, those were misrepresentations of Margaret's testimony where they kind of deleted all of the stuff that made it a fairly mundane theatrical event and actually supported the more sensational view. Right. Similarly, some versions of the legend of Catherine spin her story with spun a little differently. The alternate version and the one that earns Lavoie's a place in this season goes like this.


So instead of holding a black mass to invoke some sort of spell over the king to keep him from his new mistress, Mantus conspired to poison him instead and sort Katharine's help. The women agreed Catherine would poison an object. And in this case, they decided it would be a paper petition that they would put poison on and they would hand it to the king. But this attempt failed.


And for the most, Boehringer, it's terrible. It's all there were just simply too many other petitioners presenting papers to the king that day. And Catherine, who had, you know, presumably waited in line for her turn, was just not able to hand any papers directly to her alleged victim. And the way that this version of the story ends is that Catherine was scheming a new attempt on the king's life when she was arrested.


Now, here is where things start to go sideways. In her story, Catherine had a rival and that was a woman named Marie Busse. So Marie was also a successful Parisian fortuneteller, but she was arrested after she couldn't stop bragging about her elite clientele, which is very much the opposite of Katherine's discretion. So you may know the idiom loose lips sink ships, and it's pretty good policy whether you're in the military or whether you're a fortune teller. After Marie was arrested, she did not hesitate to give up Kathryn's name to the authorities and she just kept talking at the top of her agenda.


Wasn't that Catherine was a poisoner, though? Instead, she wanted authorities to know that Catherine performed illegal late term abortions, burned the. In her furnace and buried the remains in her garden, Katherine's work as a midwife caused quite a stir in the rumor mill during the trial.


Word was the remains of anywhere between 1000 and 2500 infants were exhumed from her garden, which kind of makes me wonder what my neighbors might have buried in our garden.


But there's no actual evidence to suggest Katherine buried any corpses in her yard, infant, adult pigeon, for that matter.


Katherine, who around this time would have been about 40 years old, was accused of witchcraft and for providing her sorcery talents, too.


Well, a lot of people, but in particular to members of the royal court, it was believed Katherine not only had a network of apothecaries to facilitate the delivery of her poisons, but that she also had a network of abortion providers to whom she would refer her clients and take a percentage of the profit, as most of us would in this situation.


Katherine denied everything. She tried to defend herself, claiming that Maryborough's had only made those accusations against her because she was a rival fortuneteller and she was only trying to save herself from execution. While that does sound like a plausible out, Marie and her children were all executed just two months after Katherine's arrest.


So if she had been trying to save herself, that was a poorly laid plan because it did not work.


It's kind of weird, actually, that Marie didn't see that coming in her horoscope, I think, considering what she did for a living. But once Katherine was arrested, an entire network of alchemist's fortunetellers and poisoners fell.


She became one of the main accused in the scandal that became known as by historians.


The affair of the poisons.


We are going to dig into the affair of the poisons a little bit more. But first, we're going to take a little break.


Welcome back to criminality. This isn't the first time that we've talked about the affair of the poison's, which took place during the reign of King Louis the 14th between 16, 77 and 16, 82 in Paris. As you'll recall from our previous episode, two years prior to Katherine's arrest, Merida, Birendra was accused of and executed for poisoning her father and her two brothers to inherit their fortunes. And it was Marie's trial that kicked off the scandal at which we quote all.


France trembled during the affair of the poison's.


Hundreds of people were accused of murder, conspiracy, witchcraft and Satanism. And by the time it was over, more than 300 people had been tortured, executed, imprisoned or exiled, many of whom were members of the inner circles of the highest French society.


Nicola de la Hynie, who was the chief of police, tracked all sorts of accusations to a number of fortunetellers, alchemist's and even Falen priests throughout Paris. He described finding tools and potions, including everything from vials, vats and jars to crystals, poisonous ingredients such as Belladonna and other.


We quote strange implements, which always makes me think of like Johnny Depp in Sleepy Hollow.


And he like draws pictures of all of his strange, strange eyes. Ichabod Crane. Exactly.


And I think it's like his he's like thick leather bound books, his drawings in his goggles.


And so the subsequent investigation of potential poisoners led to accusations of witchcraft, which doesn't surprise any of us.


Some confessed under torture, as one does, and gave authorities lists of their clients.


The Court of Justice formed a new group to handle the investigation. This was known as the Burning Court, and it's described as being a lot like regular court, but in a dark mood like literal darkness.


The windows were covered and the room was lit only with torches. Any records kept were for the king's eyes only. And the most famous prisoner tried and convicted. There was Catherine.


A formal order was issued allowing for her to be tortured like everyone else caught in this net. But it was never actually put to use. And Catherine was never subjected to the rack broken on the wheel or given the water cure.


It's not that she necessarily had friends in high places who helped her escape all of it, but she did to be, to be frank.


But historians believe that there was likely a high level of fear surrounding her arrest and specifically that Catherine would name names of influential clients if she were tortured. And we couldn't have that. Of course not.


These these are not names that the king would have wanted included in the public record. Remember, his mistress would have been implicated. And he was like the first one at the top. Yeah. Like, here's my best client. And going back on his word that investigators should spare no one regardless of their rank, King Louis the 14th is said to have suppressed all sorts of information about Catherine's case.


So instead of the usual methods of torture, which I just named a few of popular at the time, authorities instead took advantage of the fact that Catherine was well known to be a high functioning alcoholic and they interrogated her while they kept her intoxicated.


Initially, during her inebriated interrogation, she kept quiet.


And here is where we have some differing versions of things yet again. So some accounts go on to say that she did eventually implicate a number of people, including the king's mistress and other individuals in the French court. But most accounts say she did no such thing.


Similarly, it appears to also be debated whether or not she confessed to any of her alleged crimes. Most accounts, again suggest she never did confess.


But in the end, the debate over whether Lavoie's confessed or not is ultimately of no consequence. Because Catherine went on trial in February of 16 80, she was found guilty to no one's surprised and sentenced to death for both witchcraft and poisoning. She was burned at the stake on February 22nd, less than a week after her trial ended.


The affair of the poison's would go on for another two years after Katherine's execution and those two very intense years of accusations and arrests in that vein.


It wasn't until after her execution that Katherine's list of clients, as well as the details of her black masses and her connections to the royal court, were all revealed by her daughter, who authorities brought in for questioning. Why did they ask for testimony? Well, after the trial and execution were over, you might be wondering.


It seems they were just trying to get their hands on Catherine's client list, which leads me to believe that she really didn't give it up. Under her intoxicated interrogation, but the bottom line is that they got it all. It was marguerites statement that implicated the royal mistress, Madame de Modise ban, as well as other aristocrats, including the Duke delux. In the contest is Suazo and her sister, the Duchess W.L. and the contest of Vimal. And it was Catherine's client list that motivated the king to classify this testimony as secret as well.


As a result of the affair of the poison's, some measures were put in place to limit the availability of poisonous ingredients to professions that actually did need them, and that was determined by the king.


I can't think of what those professions specifically would be, but they certainly didn't include fortunetellers.


I'm trying to think of professions that would involve legitimate purchase of poisons. Right. You could be handling rodents. You could be a farmer. Yeah.


Clear out rodents from your your insecticides and your plants, like diatomaceous earth isn't going to kill anybody, so.


Right. Probably possibly people in the medical field. Right. Pharmacology would include that. It'd be difficult because the apothecaries might need it, but they might not be given. Right. Tricky, but fortunetellers for sure.


Yeah, definitely not. Palm reader. So Hollick this time. This time in our episode today to talk about what's your poison.


Well, I know you had one idea.


Well, it was my idea. Was it an ounce of warm pigeon blood?


Well, I don't really want anybody to have to drink that, please.


But I did I did see while I was sort of looking up, you know, different drinks that might be appropriate for Katherine, that you could make a blood stain to remove your chalice just with some red gel food coloring and corn syrup, which I'm not real handy with things like that. So I set that aside as a note to self.


Oh, that sounds perfect.


Actually, that'd be great for the Halloween season, right. Drifting down the edge of your chalice, I think. Delicious. Delicious. So what are you putting in it?


So I'm thinking of Catherine, who I personally think was wrongfully maligned. I kept thinking about her robes and so I wanted to do something that had a velvety feel and texture, which naturally led me to a place that not everyone likes to go.


So please come with me of a cocktail involving an egg.


Oh, take us there. I'm a little. Do you like egg cocktails? No, I love them. I always thought I didn't like them. And then I started drinking them and I'm like, why have I not been doing this well?


So I might I don't like eggs, so I'm kind of loathe to try and delight you.


This might delight you. So this is just something that I'm calling Lavasan and you start with two ounces of BlackBerry moonshine.


You could also do another berry if you can't get a BlackBerry, one ounce of raspberry syrup and then an egg white.


And I just put that in a mixer and I hit it with my immersion blender and it became this beautiful pink velvety yumminess.


I bet the texture was absolutely beautiful. And I poured that over ice and then I topped it with about two and a half ounces of ginger ale.


Oh, Maria, I might be a genius. So while you're writing this down, I'm like I just try this. I'm just I'm just going to send it to you. I would encourage people. Obviously, there are some some safety things you want to consider when using and particularly anybody. I mean, if you're pregnant, you should not be drinking this cocktail anyway, probably for two reasons.


But yeah. So if if there's a sensitivity there, obviously I would not encourage it.


But if you are a person who is, you know, careful with your food handling and has no reason not to eat. Right.


Yeah, it's actually quite delicious. And Egg White in particular really adds this beautiful rich fluffiness to cocktails that I like I said, I have fallen in love with in the last several years.


And this one, it just it just feels like freakishly decadent, even though it's really not it's really quite a light cocktail, even though it has syrup in it, because the moonshine is not a very heavy thing. It has the berry flavor, but it's not super sweet. So it's not very heavy. And then although the ginger ale is is one of the lighter sodas, in my opinion, I actually ended up using diet ginger ale for mine. And so it was very light.


It was, um, but it still felt very decadent and a little bit like a nod to Witchey things, but also velvety like her beautiful robes.


That egg white gave it like the little X. You know how they were saying that Katherine's poison got a little bit more potent because she put a magic spell on it. That's the egg white in your drink. Yeah.


If you don't like if you're absolutely like. No way. There's no way I'm touching egg in a cocktail. You could make this exact thing without it. It just won't have that same level of richness because it really does.


It becomes like a very thick, puffy thing. It's quite lovely.


So while you're drinking that, I want to go make one right now. So I will just thank everyone for joining us today. If you want to subscribe to criminal. Yeah, that is easy peasy. You can do it on the I Heart radio app or wherever you listen to your favorite podcast. Criminality is a production of QandA Land Audio in partnership with a heart radio for more podcasts from Shadowland Audio. Please visit the I Heart radio app, Apple podcasts or wherever you listen to your favorite shows.