Anyone who follows me on social media knows how I feel about author Jessica Cale and her books. If you love historical romance, actually any romance, I suggest you read her Southwark Saga. It’s just that good. Real them all. Read them often.
Today, Jessica is here to introduce book 3, The Long Way Home. I’m reading it now and love it. Another keeper!
Magic and Sacrilege in the Court of Louis XIV
The belief in magic plays a large part in my new book, The Long Way Home. Many of the strangest things that happen to the characters are based on fact. Although the book takes place at the dawn of the Enlightenment, superstition and belief in magic was still common and in some cases, all-consuming. Let’s take a closer look.
In spite of the devout Catholicism of Louis XIV’s court, many courtiers not only believed in but attempted to practice magic, often with the intent of harming others, and usually with the assistance of a sorceress or renegade priest. While the courtiers attending the king were expected to attend mass every day without fail, business in spells, poisons, and magic charms was booming.
The Affair of the Poisons uncovered a thriving underworld of sorceresses and magicians trading in everything from cosmetics, love charms, and divination to demon conjuration, poisons, and even human sacrifice. The more potent the charm, the higher the price, and there were a number of ordained priests who were willing to assist with the most dangerous and powerful tasks: the conjuring of demons.
Why would anyone in their right mind want to conjure a demon? The hope was that demons could be compelled to do the will of the person conjuring them, which, if you believe it is even possible, sounds a bit like trying to trap a tornado in a mason jar.
At best, magic could be dismissed as superstition at the dawn of the Age of Reason, or worse, the serious crime of sacrilege. Admittedly, demon conjuration, murder, and human sacrifice don’t sound particularly Christian to the modern reader. So why involve priests?
As Mollenauer explains in Strange Revelations: “Paris’ magical underworld exploited the practices, imagery, and sacramental of the Catholic Church to increase the efficacy of their magic. The composition of their spells and charms illustrates that the distinction between superstition and orthodox Christian belief was still very blurred in seventeenth-century France. … The simple spells known as oraisons found in La Voison’s grimoires, for example, were made up of a linguistic hodge-podge of Christian imagery, ‘debased’ holy languages (Latin, Greek, or Hebrew), and simply alliterative nonsense.”(1)
By involving priests and Christian rituals and imagery, they attempted to harness the power of the Catholic mass to serve their own ends. It is the idea of the priest as an intercessory between God and laymen which gave Catholic priests their power and their elevated status. The superstition could not be denied without also denying this power or that of the devil on the other hand.
One way to guarantee the efficacy of a potion or charm would be to have a priest say a mass over it. Although the Council of Trent had advised against superstition and divination in 1566, there were some priests who were willing to accept to the freelance work as compensation for a life of poverty. It was believed to be a sin not only to have one’s fortune told, but to even believe that such a thing was possible.
Still, magic flourished. Along with cosmetics, fortune tellers and some midwives sold cures for ailments from headaches to leprosy, charms for love, luck, or impossibly long lives.
Gambling was very popular, and charms to bring luck at the gaming tables were prohibitively expensive and difficult to come by. With the huge sums of money won and lost often over single hands, it is easy to see why some people would think it was worth it.
The list of charms is not for the squeamish, however. The preserved cauls of infants were popular charms, as were tiny miscarried or stillborn fetuses. Many sorceresses worked as or with midwives, so these could be obtained for a price. The most expensive and least ethical of the money charms was the main de gloire, which involved sacrificing a particular kind of mare, skinning it, and preparing its hide in an elaborate fashion for several days, after which point it was said to transform into a live snake that could double almost any amount of money put into its box…as long as you slept with the box.
Love magic was more popular than money magic, and many spells and charms were sold that claimed to be able to inspire love in others, or to help one to gain the approval of troublesome relatives. If these didn’t work to remove impediments to love, there was always poison.
Poison was sold by sorceresses, magicians, fortune tellers, and sometimes even midwives. It was alarmingly easy to obtain and more common than one would think. The sale of arsenic had not yet been limited to those professions requiring it, so anyone without fear or moral compass could mix “inheritance powder”. Although arsenic is strong enough to cause death or serious damage on its own, it was believed that magic gave it its power, and so renegade priests were often involved directly or indirectly in its sale.
The Affair of the Poisons exposed the activities of Paris’ criminal underworld and resulted in the arrest, imprisonment, exile, or execution of hundreds of people from all levels of society, including some within the king’s inner circle. As a result, the sale of arsenic was restricted and superstition was forbidden by law, but fear of death by poison remained a serious concern throughout the country throughout the Age of Enlightenment.
- 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.
The Long Way Home
(The Southwark Saga, Book 3)
By Jessica Cale
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.
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?
“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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Fun (PG, 506 words)
“Do you have a sweetheart?”
Alice’s spine went rigid at the question. Why would he care?
“That is to say, a man. A person, rather. A lover?” Jack cleared his throat. “That’s none of my concern, really. I apologize. Forget I asked.”
How could she answer that? She couldn’t very well tell the strange man Jack had grown into that she’d dreamed of him to the exclusion of all others for eight years. If her freakish memory didn’t frighten him off, her obsession definitely would.
She turned, very slowly, and forgot what she was thinking when she saw him. Jack was reclining on his elbows, looking at the stars. The odd posture only really drew attention to the span of his chest, the slight rise and fall of his breath. He’d dressed in a hurry and his collar had come undone, revealing an inch of collarbone and hinting at the lean muscle beneath. His dented chin was pointed heavenward, lengthening his bare neck. If Alice stared any harder, she’d be able to see the blood flowing within.
She thought about putting her lips on his throat and the fluttering she usually felt in her heart moved decidedly lower.
That was new.
“Just you.” She sighed and then cringed as she realized she’d said it aloud. “Married, remember?”
Jack turned and gave her a boyish smile that made her toes go numb. “I suppose we are. What do you make of that?”
Alice blinked. It was everything she’d ever wanted, but Jack…he was young, handsome, kind, wonderful, and everything that was right in the world. He could have any woman he wanted. Or could have, before she ruined that for him. She wiped away another tear. “I’m sorry, Jack.”
He shrugged. “Whatever for?”
“You deserve a wife of your own choosing,” she said, feeling brave.
He lay on the roof, stretching his arms behind his head with a smile. “Don’t shed any tears for me. I got the prettiest Henshawe girl. The boys back home will be sick with envy.”
Alice’s laugh came out as a snort. She held her nose in embarrassment. “Don’t jest.”
Alice curled up on her side facing him, reasonably certain she was dreaming. The cool tile beneath her cheek was real enough. She contracted her nails against the rough surface, wondering if she imagined the vibration in her fingertips. Any moment now, she would wake up.
“I don’t expect you to keep me, of course. That would be something, wouldn’t it? You stuck with someone like me?” He laughed.
“This will be good, though, truly. I can protect you, and we can spend some time together, like the old days.”
Alice sighed. Yes, like the old days, but I’m talking to you now, and making a mess of it, and you’re all grown and gorgeous while I’m more awkward than ever.
Jack smiled, his teeth bright in the night. “It’ll be great fun to pretend to be married.”
Alice fell onto her back with a disappointed grimace. “Fun.”