Prologue
Looking Back
In midsummer of 1676, at the peak of Louis XIV’s power in France and
throughout Europe, a once-beautiful sixty-eight-year-old woman named
Marie Fyot gazed upon a convicted murderer being led through the streets
of Paris on her way to her execution. Executions were public events, and
to catch a glimpse of the criminal on her way from the jailhouse to the
stake, thousands of Parisians lined narrow cobbled streets, stood perched
onrooftops,leanedfromrailingsof balconies,andpeeredthroughthewin-
dows of the typical three- and four-story stone, plaster, and timber dwell-
ings that housed the half-million people inhabiting France’s great capital.
A frail, petite woman sat hunched in the tumbrel that trundled slowly over
the bridge spanning the Seine and rolled lugubriously along Paris’s right
bank toward the Place de Grève. Shewas flanked on one side bya priest who
accompanied her to hear her final confession. On her other side stood her
executioner.
The convicted murderer was an illustrious lady, and the spectacle of
bringing down someone so high made for good theater. But for Marie Fyot,
watching the baleful procession must have brought back painful memo-
ries from her own past. On this day, 17 July, one week past her sixty-eighth
birthday, the once-beautiful Marie Fyot gazed upon the murderer Marie-
Madeleine Dreux d’Aubray, the marquise of Brinvilliers, as the felon inexo-
rably approached the stake where she was to be burned alive.The marquise
was sentenced to suffer such a painful fate (and according to legal proce-
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