A few infamous poisoners in European history….

[A few infamous poisoners in European history. In Goethe’s Faust, Mephistopheles provides Faust with a “sleeping” potion which kills Gretchen’s mother. Oops!

Well, Gretchen’s mother was sure to get in the way, and Mephistopheles was no apothecary. How was he to know? For getting rid of unwanted in-laws and husbands, you wanted to go to someone who knew what they were doing. At the domestic level, poisoning was suited to long-suffering wives particularly, who couldn’t use violence against their husbands, but were in the position of being able to slip something into their food or drink, and then care for them to the end of their lives.

But how was a girl to find a good poison and know how to use it?

It’s easy when you think about it. Women mixed with the criminal underbelly of society through their encounters with fortune tellers, astrologers, healers, and medicine and cosmetics dealers. Private consultations were normal and intimate. The woman would share details of her problems and the consultant would determine the best way to satisfy her and take her money. For the consultant, in lieu of simple poisoning, there was also fraud and extortion.]

From Wikipedia’s History of Poison:

“In the Medieval Europe, poison became a more popular form of killing, though cures surfaced for many of the more widely known poisons. This was stimulated by the increased availability of poisons; shops known as apothecaries, selling various medicinal wares, were open to the public, and from there, substances that were traditionally used for curative purposes were employed for more sinister means. At approximately the same time, other areas of the world were making great advances in terms of poison; Arabs had successfully made arsenic odorless and transparent, making assassinations impossible to detect. This “poison epidemic” was also prevalent in parts of Asia at this time, as well.”

Pasted from <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_poison>

“According to the charges laid against her in 1675, in 1666 Marie-Madeleine-Marguerite de Brinvilliers had conspired with her lover, Captain Godin de Sainte-Croix, also called the Chevalier de Sainte Croix, to poison her father Antoine Dreux d’Aubray, and in 1670 she had likewise killed two of her brothers, Antoine and François d’Aubray, in order to inherit their estates. Her alleged accomplice Sainte-Croix had died of natural causes in 1672, so could not be charged. There were also rumours that Brinvilliers had poisoned poor people during her visits to hospitals, but she was not charged with any such killings.

The charges against Brinvilliers originated from diaries and letters found in the possession of Sainte Croix after his death, contained in a red leather box which he had marked as not to be opened until after the death of Brinvilliers. She was accused of using Tofana poison and was reported to have learned how to make it from Sainte Croix, who had himself learned the method from Exili, an Italian poisoner who had been his cellmate in the Bastille.

In 1675, on being accused, Brinvilliers fled to England, the Netherlands, and finally a convent near Liège, where she was arrested by a policeman pretending to be a priest. On 17 July 1676, she was tortured with the water cure, that is, made to drink sixteen pints of water (more than 9 litres) and forced to confess. On the strength of the documents left behind by Sainte Croix and her own confession she was sentenced to death, despite the objections of her defence counsel that there was no good evidence for her guilt. She was then beheaded, and her body was burned at the stake.”

Pasted from <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Madame_de_Brinvilliers>

“The Affair of the Poisons (Affaire des Poisons) was a major murder scandal in France during the reign of King Louis XIV. During it, a number of prominent members of the aristocracy were implicated and sentenced on charges of poisoning and witchcraft. The scandal reached into the inner circle of the king.”

Pasted from <

Giovanna Bonanno (… – July 30, 1789), was an alleged Italian witch and professional poisoner.
Little is known of Giovanna Bonanno’s early life, though she is believed to have been the same woman called Anna Panto, mentioned in 1744 as the wife of one Vincenzo Bonanno. She was a beggar in Palermo, Sicily in the reign of Viceroy Caracciolo. During her trial, she confessed to being a poisoner, and that she sold poison to women who wanted to murder their husbands. The typical client was a woman with a lover; she bought the first dose to give her husband stomach pains, the second to get him to hospital, and the third to kill him. The doctor was, in these cases, unable to ascertain the cause of the deaths. In the Ziza quarter in Palermo, several suspicious cases had occurred. The wife of a baker, a nobleman who had wasted his family’s fortune, and another baker’s wife (who was thought to have had an affair with a gardener) had all became ill.

One day, a friend of Bonanno, Maria Pitarra, was delivering a poison when she realized that the victim was to be the son of a friend, and decided to warn the mother. The mother made an order for the poison herself, and when Bonanno arrived, she was arrested. The trial opened in October 1788. Bonanno was accused of sorcery. Some of the apothecaries who were selling her potions were called to testify. She was executed by hanging in 1789.”

Pasted from <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giovanna_Bonanno>

[In the witches’ kitchen scene of Goethe’s Faust, Faust asks Mephistopeles why they have to resort to a witch for a potion; why can’t Mephistopheles create one?

Why is that old witch necessary!
Why can’t you, yourself, make the brew?

What a lovely occupation for me!
And build a thousand bridges, meanwhile, too.

It’s not just art and science that tell,
Patience is needed in the work as well.

A calm mind’s busy years in its creation,
Only time strengthens the fermentation

And everything about it
Is quite a peculiar show!

It’s true the Devil taught it:
The Devil can’t make it though.


So forgive Mephistopeles, if he tries, but fumbles a few. It’s not an easy business—how well would you do?