Early Life of Giulia Tofana
Born in 1620 in Palermo, Italy, Giulia probably learned from her mother the art of mixing potions for various reasons, included was a vial of poison that was deadly. Giulia became known as a friend to troubled women. Giulia's mother, Thofana d' Adamo, made her own concoctions and probably passed the secrets. Thofana was executed on July 12, 1633, for murdering her husband.
Guilia developed her own secret portion called Aqua Tofana. It was a mixture of arsenic, lead, and the poisonous plant belladonna. It was colorless, tasteless, and deadly. She designed it put it in a vial with an image of St. Nicholas to avoid detection. As her business grew, she and her daughter moved from Palermo to Naples, finally to Rome.
One has to remember it was the 17th century when women had no rights, often were in arranged marriages, and divorce was not available. The husband often was abusive or drunk, leaving them only one alternative. Poison was their only weapon.
One day, her secret was made public when one of her clients stopped her husband from eating his soup, which was laced with poison. After confessing to him, her husband called the police. Giulia and her daughter Giolama fled to safety in a church, but the townspeople stormed the church, and Giulia and her daughter were arrested and held for trial.
At the trial, she indicated she had served over 500 ladies between 1633-1651 with her Aqua Tofana. In July 1659, at the scaffold built at Campo de'Fiori in Rome and three of her helpers and her daughter. Some of her lower-class customers were also executed, while some upper-class customers were sentenced to prison. They were sealed in an enclosed space with no exits or windows and left to die.
Royal Court of King Louis XIV of France
It was not uncommon to have poison available for women to use as their weapon. So many poisonings were happening that the king was concerned and afraid of his own life. In 1760, the Marchioness de Brinvilliors was accused of poisoning her father and two brothers simply for their estates. She was found out and fled to England, then to the Netherlands, finally to a convent. Tracked down, she was arrested by a policeman posing as a priest.
Brinvilliors was tortured first by the water cure and shortly confessed. She was beheaded, and her body burnt. This led to the Affair of the Poisons. After investigations ordered by the king, even his mistress Madame Montespan (1640-1707) was accused of poisoning her rival. She and the king had seven children together, and she was sent in exile to a convent. The investigation resulted in 442 suspects, 267 arrests, 36 executions, five sent to the galleys, and twenty-three exiled. Madame Montespan gave hundreds away to hospitals and charities. When she died, the king forbade her children to wear mourning clothing.
The investigation ended proclaimed by the king to avoid any other publicity.
Poisoning All Over Europe
Most of the time, women kept their secrets because if found out, death or imprisonment was possible. One wonders how many times poison was used and gotten away with exposure. After all, this was odorless, tasteless, and virtually undetectable but deadly.
It was definitely a time to be secretive for women if they used poison as their weapon.
An excellent book by The Oracle Glass, exposes the subject in detail, especially the Affair of the poisons. It is highly recommended.
Rosina S Khan on December 16, 2020:
It seems in the seventeenth century, women made poisons to protect themselves from abusive relationships. Who can blame them as they had no rights at that time? Marvelous article, Fran.
MG Singh emge from Singapore on December 16, 2020:
Necessity is the mother of invention. That goes for abused women in that age. This is a fascinating article.