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Q: Infamous Poisoners 1500-1800 ( Answered,   1 Comment )
Subject: Infamous Poisoners 1500-1800
Category: Reference, Education and News > Education
Asked by: zender24-ga
List Price: $200.00
Posted: 14 Dec 2004 21:52 PST
Expires: 13 Jan 2005 21:52 PST
Question ID: 442807
What is the detailed life of Exili, and or any other notable Poisoners
of the time? I need a bio on Exili.
His real name is believed to be Nicolo Egidi or Eggidio. I believe I
read once he married in southern italy to the sister or daughter of
the Duke of Modena. I also know he was imprisoned in france, and that
he worked with Glasser a german Alchemist. I need much more than this.
Who was Exili, who were his enemies, what was it like in a regular day
of his life, who did he kill? Who he worked for? This is the type of
detailed Bio I am looking for.

Request for Question Clarification by leapinglizard-ga on 15 Dec 2004 09:13 PST
Given the dearth of details on Exili, would you be happy with a
detailed bio of the Marquise of Brinvilliers, another notorious
poisoner who lived at the same time? I can provide plenty of
biographical detail on the Marquise, noting her connection with Exili.


Clarification of Question by zender24-ga on 15 Dec 2004 21:49 PST
Marquise of Brinvilliers, is to me just a small part of the life Exili
lived. I have a good chunk of info on her, and her husband/boyfriend,
and how she poisoned in the sick in hospitals, and then ultimately her
own father. I am sorry but I Have dug very deep on the people around
Exili, and Exili is the one who really fascinates me. All the others
around him to me make Exili even more interesting.

Request for Question Clarification by nancylynn-ga on 16 Dec 2004 06:44 PST
Hello zender24-ga: 

I have found *some* information on Egidio Exili (a.k.a. Nicolo Egidi)
and some information about his notorious contemporaries during the
"The Affair of the Poisons" era.

It would help me to know:

Do you read any other language besides English? (I may be able to find
some Web resources in French or Italian or Spanish.)

Will you accept offline resources as part of my answer? For instance
there's a new book that includes information on Exili.

Are you in the United States? (I may be able to find some articles
that you can find in a library's magazine archives.)

I will try to track down as much information as I can on Exili, but as
one brief article I've found notes "Few authentic details of his life
exist," so I can't provide truly abundant information.

Best regards,
Google Answers Researcher

Clarification of Question by zender24-ga on 16 Dec 2004 12:51 PST
  I am in the united states. I do not speak any other languages except
for english. I am aware that "Few authentic details of his life
exist," I am willing to work with what details exist, and any type of
connection that can be made with him and other poisoners. As far as
articles and books he is in I want those to be listed as a source for
further details on Exili. Figure its like a Biography on Exili and the
books and articles he appears in would be the sources, so Offline
sources are a yes, but I want the info found in sources to be
compiled. I realize this is a lot of work, Thats why I picked the high
reward for this. I myself have been hunting on and off for about a
year about Exili. I have found out much about assasins, about othe
rinfamous poisoners and various poison era's, "The Affair of the
Poisons" is a new one to me so you must be on the right track to
bringing something fresh about Exili. I hope I am clear, if not I
check this everyday if I must clarify more.

Request for Question Clarification by nancylynn-ga on 16 Dec 2004 13:36 PST
I have found quite a few resources that discuss Exili and such
contemporaries as Glasner, but I can't possibly write a biographical
essay on him! Not only don't I have enough information to do that, we
researchers are discouraged from writing essays because that may
violate rules regarding homework. See:
We are supposed to *assist in gathering resources*; not write essays. 

All I can do is give you all the online and offline resources I've
found. The most promising resource is a brand new book about poisoners
and the court of Louis XIV. Intriguingly, the author of this acclaimed
book argues that Exili might *not* have been a pivotal player in the
Brinvilliers murder at all. (The book doesn't focus completely on
Exili; he is discussed in one section of the book, and referenced a
few more times.)

So, the single best resource about Exili -- and his era and his
contemporaries -- appears to be this book, which is, of course, an
offline resource.

The online resources I've found do a good job of explaining the era,
the general background; I even found one site that describes the
street where the Brinvilliers lived. There are tidbits of information
about Exili at various sites; not comprehensive information on him
specifically. Some of the information is dubious: for instance, I've
seen a reference to Exili dying after inhaling the fumes from one of
his concoctions, yet I've seen that same story attributed to Glasner.
(Btw, I did find an encyclopedia entry that states Exili moved back to
Italy and married a cousin to the Duke of Modena -- so you were on the
right track regarding that point.)

All I can do is give you those resources and research more infamous
poisoners from later eras. (At this point I haven't even gotten past
the 17th century!)


Clarification of Question by zender24-ga on 16 Dec 2004 14:12 PST
I understand the issue with it being in essay form. This is not a
homework project. I'm not even in school. I'm looking for someone to
read and ingest all info on exili, compile it even if its key events
with detail in his life chronologically, and then the links to support
it. About the inhaling fumes I'm pretty sure it wasn't Exili, it was
glasser-glasner in a hidden room in his house when the glass mask slid

"Intriguingly, the author of this acclaimed
book argues that Exili might *not* have been a pivotal player in the
Brinvilliers murder at all." 
Well I have read many times he was in the cell with her
boyfriend/husband at the time. I also have read that Exili was part of
the Italian school of poisoners, I wonder who the rest of them were as

This is not an easy question by anymeans, I am willing to share
everything I know, if your willing to do the task. I have found a lot
but yet it is not enough for what I would conisder knowing who Exili

Request for Question Clarification by nancylynn-ga on 16 Dec 2004 16:35 PST
The author of the new book that I referred to isn't arguing that Exili
wasn't a cellmate of Saint-Croixe's, but is contending that Exili's
role or influence in the Brinviller case has been greatly exaggerated.
This is a new theory that goes against the grain, but this book has
been highly acclaimed and is based on archival research, including
personal letters, pertaining to the Court of Louis XIV.

I'm glad you understand about the problems with the essay format! I
really couldn't write an essay on this topic, as I don't have enough

What I've found, so far, is: a capsule biography of Exili (about two
paragraphs summarizing his life) that I can post, and, at this point,
I have about four pages (in Word) worth of references on him, some
scholarly articles, and some from historical fiction novels. However,
this doesn't amount to detailed information; Exili is mentioned mostly
in conjunction with Brinvilliers and Saint-Croixe. (For instance, I
can't find any details re: his services to several royals as sort of
poisoner-in-residence, just several references to that.)

The fact is this is an ancient, obscure subject, so little
information, let alone concrete and/or expansive information, is
available, especially online.

What is available online are resources about this era that note Exili
-- sometimes just in passing -- as well as his contemporaries and
associates. As far as the Italian School of poisoners, yes, I've found
some information on that, but the most comprehensive information is in
books on that topic, not in online resources. Even that subject can be
dicey: I've seen Glaser (aka Glasner) identified as Italian and as
French. Another example of why I think you may have to ultimately rely
on books, not so much the Web, to find what you want.

You wrote:

"I'm looking for someone to read and ingest all info on exili, compile
it even if its key events with detail in his life chronologically, and
then the links to support it."

That's exactly what we GA researchers do: we compile information with
references! What we do is basically write up the answer as an outline
with references.

I'll be glad to do that, and provide references on the Italian School,
and on later poisoners.

If that isn't satisfactory -- and it may well not be; I'll certainly
understand if you feel it isn't -- I will release this question and
let one of my colleagues take a crack at this.


Clarification of Question by zender24-ga on 17 Dec 2004 21:35 PST

Sorry I didn't post back earlier. I trust that you know what you are
doing. I completely understand that there are several versions of the
same historical facts on Exili. I need more then a paragraph and and
links, with books to check in to.  I know I'm getting very demanding.
It's just that I myself got frustrated when looking him up myself. I
had to sift through 30 pages to get a single paragraph on the man, and
most times is was a variation of something I had already read. I would
Like to see what you got so far. It's my first time using GA so I'm
not sure how to do this so that we are both protected, you with your
research and me with paying for the right anwer. The more I can get
out of the world of poisoners, and especially Exili (whom is most
interesting in my opinion its almost like he doesn't exist) the closer
you are to the proper answer. Figure if your answers where based on
making a story on Exili for the newspaper, or a novel, would it be
enough to determine what the world was like and how this poisoner
effected it? If yes then let me see what you've got....

(sorry for the terrible grammar, and spelling)

Subject: Re: Infamous Poisoners 1500-1800
Answered By: nancylynn-ga on 18 Dec 2004 17:27 PST
I?m not sure your wants can be satisfied *precisely*.  Exili is an
ancient and fairly obscure person, so there isn?t a wealth of details
available on him, and much of that  information stems from folklore.
(Fortunately, I did find some more factual information.)

As for his ?effect? or impact: as far as I can tell, he was a
supporting player, not quite a star, in the whole Louis XIV/ ?Poisons?
era. The new book, which I?m citing in this answer, casts new doubt on
Exili?s abilities as a chemist/poisoner and further argues that Exili,
in being made a scapegoat in that case (along with Glaser), was
essentially hyped into myth.

I?d say Exili was more a product of his time, rather than a creator of
the times in which he lived. If it weren?t for the de Brinvilliers
murders, I doubt he?d be even the footnote to history that he is now.
There were innumerable sorcerers and alchemists in his time: for
example: just from 1679-1682 alone, 34 (alleged) poisoners and
occultists were executed in France?s Chambre Ardente. Exili does stand
out, but again, only because of his ties to Saint-Croixe and de

But, my job here is to research, not necessarily to cast judgment upon
the subject matter I?m researching! This topic is somewhat subjective
(in part because it?s so opaque), so you ? or anyone ? may evaluate
Exili?s significance differently than I would.

I?m giving you everything I?ve found. Yes, this is enough information
to write a newspaper article (I am a former newspaper reporter, btw),
but with the caveat that much of Exili?s life remains a mystery, and
some of the information about him is dubious.

I realize you?re a bit confused about how Google Answers functions,
and I do realize this service can be bewildering to newcomers! (I used
to be new at this!) I urge you to browse this site and read other
answers so you can better evaluate this answer, and so that you have
an easier time crafting your next question. (Your question is a
fascinating topic, the type that appeals to researchers, and I
certainly hope you will come back!) Browsing the site will also help
you to see how other customers (especially veteran customers) frame
their questions.

I understand your concern about getting your money?s worth: You may
also want to re-read the pricing guidelines. Customers should pay not
only according to what the information is worth to them, but for the
amount of time the researcher must spend researching and/or the
complexity of the subject matter:
That page also provides good examples pay rates re: the complexity of
the question. As you?ll see, you have asked a mulit-part question that
requires a lot of work, so, all in all. I do think this is a $200
project/ answer. (Bear in mind, too, researchers receive 75% of the
customer?s fee.)

Exili and ?The Affairs Of The Poisons? Era 

Copyright restrictions prevent me from quoting passages at any great
length, so you will have to read some material at the cited pages. (A
few other works are in the public domain, so I was able to post large

First, you?ll need to setup an account at
Setting up an account is free and won?t make you obligated to buy
anthing. You?ll need to register, though, in order to read excerpts
from several books I?m citing.

Let?s start off with a capsule biography of Exili, from "Love To Know
1911 Online Encyclopedia. © 2003, 2004 LoveToKnow?:

"EXILI, an Italian chemist and poisoner in the 17th century. His real
name was probably Nicolo Egidi or Eggidio. Few authentic details of
his life exist. Tradition, however, credits him with having been
originally the salaried poisoner at Rome of Olympia Maidalchina, the
mistress of Pope Innocent X.

"Subsequently, he became a gentleman in waiting to Queen Christina of
Sweden, whose taste for chemistry may have influenced this
appointment. In 1663 his presence in France aroused the suspicions of
the French government, and he was imprisoned in the Bastille. Here he
is said to have made the acquaintance of Godin de Sainte-Croix, the
lover of the marquise de Brinvilliers (q.v.). After three months
imprisonment, powerful influences secured Exilis release, and he left
France for England. In 1681 he was again in Italy, where he married
the countess Fantaguzzi, second cousin of Duke Francis of Modena."

The only supporting reference I found regarding his tenure with
Maidalchina is in "Deadly Doses: A Writer's Guide to Poisons," by
Serita Deborah Stevens and Anne Klarner, paperback. (Howdunit Series;
Writer's Digest Books; 1st ed edition: July 1, 1990.)
Scroll down that page to "Search Inside The Book" and type in "Exili."

That will bring up a match for page 6 "... In the early 1600s, notorious
poisoner Antonio Exili toured the courts of Europe from the Vatican to
Sweden and France to the Baltic countries, making his services welcome ..."

Click on the link "on Page 6" to bring up the full page:
(This reference cites him as "Antonio Exili," a variation of his alias
that I would stumble upon one more time; see "Golden Dog," below.)

So, this book?s reference to the Vatican appears to buttress the ?Love
To Know? claim that Exili had at least some connection to the pope?s

Here?s a references to his tenure with Queen Christina: 

From Melissa de Graaf's ?World of Lully and Molière?:
? . . .Exili, the well-known adventurer and professional poisoner in
the employment of the ex-Queen Christina of Sweden.?

It is impossible to find factual details on Exili?s life between his
royal tenures and then his imprisonment in the Bastille in 1663.
Historical fiction writer William Kirby offers this scenario in his
novel "Golden Dog/ Le Chien d'Or (which appears to be in the public
domain as it?s also available at Project Gutenberg), posted at Full  

?Antonio Exili, an Italian, like many other alchemists of that period,
had spent years in search of the philosopher's stone and the elixir of
life. His vain experiments to transmute the baser metals into gold
reduced him to poverty and want. His quest after these secrets had led
him to study deeply the nature and composition of poisons and their
antidotes. He had visited the great universities and other schools of
the continent, finishing his scientific studies under a famous German
[sic] chemist named Glaser. But the terrible secret of the agua tofana
and of the poudre de succession, Exili learned from Beatrice Spara, a
Sicilian, with whom he had a liaison . . . .

?Exili, to escape the vengeance of Beatrice Spara, to whom he had
proved a faithless lover, fled from Naples, and brought his deadly
knowledge to Paris, where he soon found congenial spirits to work with
him in preparing the deadly poudre de succession, and the
colorless drops of the aqua tofana.

?With all his crafty caution, Exili fell at last under suspicion of
the police for tampering in these forbidden arts. He was arrested, and
thrown into the Bastile, where he became the occupant of the same cell
with Gaudin de St. Croix, a young nobleman of the Court,
the lover of the Marchioness de Brinvilliers . . . .?

I thought Spara might be a fictious character, but "The Slow
Poisoners" (referenced, below), cites a woman poisoner named La Spara.
As always with historical fiction, it's impossible to know where to
draw the line.

Here?s a brief bio of Kirby at Bartleby:

Kirby?s novel makes frequent references to Exili, so you may want to
read the entire thing, which you can do right at that site. For
?. . . In that box of ebony was the sublimated dust of deadly
nightshade, which kindles the red fires of fever and rots the roots of
the tongue. There was the fetid powder of stramonium, that grips the
lungs like an asthma; and quinia, that shakes its victims like the
cold hand of the miasma of the Pontine marshes. The essence of
poppies, ten times sublimated, a few grains of which bring on the
stupor of apoplexy; and the sardonic plant, that kills its victim with
the frightful laughter of madness on his countenance.

The knowledge of these and many more cursed herbs, once known to Medea
in the Colchian land, and transplanted to Greece and Rome with the
enchantments of their use, had been handed, by a long succession of
sorcerers and poisoners, down to Exili and Beatrice Spara, until they
came into the possession of La Corriveau, the legitimate
inheritrix of this lore of hell. . . . 

?La Corriveau rose up now . . . . Her look into the future was
pleasant to her at this moment. There was the prospect of an ample
reward for her trouble and risk, and the anticipated pleasure of
practicing her skill upon one whose position she regarded as similar
to that of the great dames of the Court, whom Exili and La Voisin had
during the high carnival of death, in the days of Louis XIV.?

La Corriveau and La Voisin, like Exili, were real people.

See this translated page on serial killer/poisoner ?Marie-Josephte Corriveau?:

Catherine DeShayes was aka ?La Voisin,? and ?The Neighbor.? You can
read about her at this translated page which documents sorcery in
France in the 1600s:
She is also referenced in Chapter IV, ?Three Centuries of Occultism,?
from "Secret Societies, Subversive Movements," by Nesta Webster:
?Thus La Voisin must be placed in the second category ; ?in spite of
her luxury, her profits, and her fame,? she ?is only a subaltern agent
in this vast organization of criminals.  She depends entirely for her
great enterprises on the intellectual chiefs of the corporation. . .
?Who were these intellectual chiefs ? The man who first initiated
Madame de Brinvilliers' lover Sainte-Croix into the art of poisoning
was an Italian named Exili or Eggidi ; but the real initiate from whom
Eggidi and another Italian poisoner had learnt their secrets is said
to have been Glaser . . .
What these references make clear is that Exili lived in a world that
was obsessed with magic, sorcery, and alchemy. Poisoning became the
preferred method of removing unwanted persons. Poisoning was
especially attractive to female killers, as it negated their inability
to physically overpower a victim with sheer physical strength.

From "The Poisons Affair - poisoning scandals in French court of Louis
XIV," by Reggie Oliver, published in "History Today,"  March, 2001:

?History records only one time and place at which poisoning became the
preferred means of dispatch and in which its practice reached epidemic
proportions. This was France -- more particularly, Paris -- in the
last quarter of the seventeenth century.

?There were a number of sociological and scientific reasons for this.
In the first place, forensic pathology was virtually non-existent. The
Marsh Test (for arsenic) was not discovered until 1838. Death came
naturally in many unknown guises, so that poison, though often
suspected, could rarely be proved. At the same time poisoning may on
occasion have been erroneously suspected, as was the case with
`Madame', Louis XIV's beloved sister-in-law, Henrietta of England, who
died in 1670 almost certainly of natural causes.

?Chemistry was beginning to emerge from the dark ages of alchemy. It
became a fashionable pursuit for the rich, and a lucrative one for
some of the more disreputable elements of society. Small laboratories
began to spring up everywhere, attracting the gullible and
ill-intentioned in equal numbers. In these dens coining was practised,
while quack nostrums, love philtres and poisons -- wittily dubbed
`Succession Powders' -- were manufactured.?

Poisoning became so widespread that categories, such as the ?French
School? and the ?Italian School,? were established.

From "Poisoning in the 16th, 17th and 18th Century," at the Electronic Medical
Curriculum, University of Edinburgh:
?In the latter part of the sixteenth century, the popularity of
homicidal poisons spread from Italy to France, where those practising
criminal poisoning became known as the ?French School of Poisoners?.
Around the time of 1572 there were about thirty thousand sorcerers in
Paris and the practice of poisoning was supposedly epidemic. Although
the use of poisons was widespread, rumours of poisoning and fantastic
plots were even more so. . . .
?The person with probably the greatest responsibility for introducing
the Italian methods to France was Catherine De' Medici. She was adept
at mixing poisons into sweetmeats and articles of food, and her
accomplice Bianco supplied the Queen with any poisonous substances
that she required. Cosme Ruggieri was another Italian that followed
her to France, and after poisoning Charles IX, was hanged.?
Volume 2, Section 2 of "Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the
Madness of Crowds," by Charles MacKay, posted at World Wide School:
provides a great overview of poisoning madness in Italy and France in
the 17th century. It also references such notable poisoners as La
Spara (who, here, seems older than Kirby?s  description of Exili?s
supposed lover, Beatrice Spara, but it could be the same woman, albeit
at a later time), and Tophania (aka Toffana), who will be referenced
again in this answer.

Getting back to Exili: All that is known for certain after his tenures
at the Vatican and with Queen Christina, is that Exili made his way to
France where, in 1663, he was imprisoned in the Bastille in February
1663. There, he met up with Godin Saint-Croixe, the adulterous lover
of Antoine Gobelin de Brinvilliers. Saint-Croixe had been imprisoned
on orders from the Marquise?s father in an attempt to quash the

MacKay, at the aforementioned page:
reports that ?As in Italy, the first notice the government received of
the prevalence of this crime was given by the clergy, to whom females
of high rank, and some among the middle and lower classes, had avowed
in the confessional that they had poisoned their husbands. In
consequence of these disclosures, two Italians, named Exili and
were arrested, and thrown into the Bastille, on the charge of
compounding and selling the drugs used for these murders. Glaser died
in prison, but Exili remained without trial for several months; and
there, shortly afterwards, he made the acquaintance of another
prisoner, named Sainte Croix, by whose example the crime was still
further disseminated among the French people.?

This is an interesting, but highly dubious, recounting. I?m including
it because I want to give you everything I?ve found. But the reference
about Glaser being imprisoned at, and dying at, the Bastille; and the
story about Exili and Glaser being tossed into prison as
co-conspirators in the husband-murdering cases ? I?ve haven?t seen any
other references to those points. And, Glaser wasn?t Italian; that?s
an error.
According to de Graaf and other historians, Saint-Croixe learned the
art of poison from Exili and, according to de Graaf
 ?As soon as Sainte-Croix was released, he made his way to Glazer's
shop and shared his goods and knowledge with his lover.?

This reference to ?Glazer?s shop,? is a reference to Christophe Glaser
(aka Christopher) an associate, possibly former tutor of, Exili?s.

See: "Allured by chemistry - what Charles II, Casanova and Elgar had in common,"
by Pete Cooper, published in  The Pharmaceutical Journal, Vol 267 No 7179,
22-29 December 2001:
"Contemporaneous with [George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham]
Buckingham were two other doubtful characters who turned to chemistry
for devious purposes. Christophle Glaser, a native of Basle [France],
graduate in medicine and was appointed chemistry demonstrator at the
Jardin du Rois in Paris. In 1658 he set up a laboratory where, among
others, he taught Nicholas Lemery, a chemistry student from Rouen.
Glaser's "Traité de la chimie" first published in 1663, ran to 40
editions. He had aristocratic clients, but some shady individuals like
Gaudin de Sainte-Croix sought his guidance. . . ."

It appears that Glaser was among the most significant chemists of all
time; his textbook enjoyed considerable success and is still studied

At the "Heremetic Garden"
I found the full title of Christopher Glasner's textbook (I had seen
some references to it in other resources):
?Christopher Glaser, ?The Complete Chemist? (1677). Reprint Kessinger.
A Chemistry manual, important to understand the terminology that is
still used by present day practitioners of the Art.? [There are
references to the book having first been published in the 1660s; as
noted, this is a later edition.] The term ?Glaser?s Salt? is still
used today in honor of Glaser?s discovery of impure sulphate sodium.

Glaser?s importance and expertise are beyond dispute. He was even the
apothecary (pharmacist) to Louis the XIV. He?s also of concern to us
because in researching this project, I found that Exili?s name popped
up most frequently in conjunction with Glaser, who appears to have
been Exili?s teacher or, more informally, an associate/mentor.

Virginia Commonwealth University hosts a "19th-Century German Stories"
site, which features "Mlle de Scudéri: A Tale of the Times of Louis
the Fourteenth," by E.T.A. Hoffmann. (Translated by Alexander Ewing.) 
This ?tale? briefly concerns Exili and Glaser:
?Glaser, a German apothecary, the most learned chemist of his day,
occupied himself - as people who cultivate his science often do - with
alchemical researches and experiments. He had set himself the task of
discovering the philosopher's stone. An Italian of the name of Exili
associated himself with him; but to him the art of goldmaking formed a
mere pretext. What he aimed at mastering was the blending,
preparation, and sublimation of the various poisonous substances which
Glaser hoped would give him the results he was in search of; and at
length Exili discovered how to prepare that delicate poison which has
no odour nor taste, and which, killing either slowly or in a moment,
leaves not the slightest trace in the human organism, and baffles the
utmost skill of the physician who, not suspecting poison as the means
of death, ascribes it to natural causes. But cautiously as Exili went
about this, he fell under suspicion of dealing with poisons, and was
thrown into the Bastille.?

Again: "Allured by chemistry - what Charles II, Casanova and Elgar had in common"?
"[Glaser] had aristocratic clients, but some shady individuals like
Gaudin de Sainte-Croix sought his guidance. This man had served an
imprisonment with an Italian exile, Exili, in 1663 and had learned
some of the secrets of the Borgia poisons. [I couldn?t find any
material actually linking Exili to the infamous Borgias.] Gaudin set
up a private laboratory where, under the guise of alchemy, he
manufactured preparations of mercury, arsenic, antimony and opium. In
pursuing the perfect poison he met a mysterious end at his bench,
apparently attributable to toxic fumes when his respirator fell away.
Glaser fled and was not heard of again.?

What is murky is 1): the depth of the relationship between Exili and
Glaser (and was Glaser, like Exili, really a devious character?) 2):
just how much of a role either played in the De Brinvilliers murders;
and, 3): We know Glaser was a great chemist, but is Exili?s reputation
as a master poisoner wholly deserved?

According to "Poisoning in the 16th, 17th and 18th Century," at the
Electronic Medical
Curriculum, University of Edinburgh:
"Exili was said to have caused the death of 150 people in Rome, and to
have instructed many of the famous poisoners of that city. . . ."

At Rocket Reader free e-books, you can read " 'CELEBRATED CRIMES'
VOLUME 8 (of 8), Part 1 by Alexander Dumas Sr. 'The Marquise De
Brivillers " (which appears to be a forerunner of the historical
fiction genre):
" 'Well, since you must know," said the stranger, "I am the Italian Exili.' 

?Sainte-Croix shuddered anew, passing from a supernatural vision to a
horrible reality. The name he had just heard had a terrible notoriety
at the time, not only in France but in Italy as well. Exili had been
driven out of Rome, charged with many poisonings, which, however,
could not be satisfactorily brought home to him. He had gone to Paris,
and there, as in his native country, he had drawn  the eyes of the
authorities upon himself; but neither in Paris nor in Rome was he, the
pupil of Rene and of Trophana, convicted of guilt . . .

?Exili was no vulgar poisoner: he was a great artist in poisons,
comparable with the Medici or the Borgias. For him murder was a fine
art, and he had reduced it to fixed and rigid rules: he had arrived at
a point when he was guided not by his personal interest but by a taste
for experiment. God has reserved the act of creation for Himself, but
has suffered destruction to be within the scope of man: man therefore
supposes that in destroying life he is God's equal. Such was the
nature of Exili's pride: he was the dark, pale alchemist of death:
others might seek the mighty secret of life, but he had found the
secret of destruction.?

Clearly, Dumas believed Exili to be a master poisoner and an agent of evil. 

(You can read Dumas Sr.?s biography at Pegasos:

But is such folklore ? he killed 150, etc., -- just that, folklore? It
may be true, or it may simply have been hype manufactured by Exili, or
those around him. Was Exili a great, albeit mad, scientist, or a
ne?er-do-well gadfly with a penchant for chemistry but an even greater
gift for self-mythologizing?

It is the latter theory that is argued in a book published just this
past October: "The Affair of the Poisons: Murder, Infanticide, and
Satanism at the Court of Louis XIV," by historian Anne Somerset.
(Publisher: St. Martin's Press: October 12, 2004.)
The product description notes that "Anne Somerset has gone back to
original sources, letters and earlier accounts of the affair. By the
end of her account, she reaches firm conclusions on various crucial

Here?s some background information on author Anne Somerset from the
?Tangled Web British Crime? site:
You?ll see that Somerset has written about at least one other
notorious poisoning case, as well as an acclaimed biography of 
Elizabeth I.

Scroll down that page to "Search Inside The Book" and type in "Exili."
Here, you'll see all eight references to him in that book, but
(maddeningly) you can?t read all of those pages:

Exili is discussed mostly in pages 10-14. (Note: You?re only allowed
to view two consecutive pages in a session, so you may have to even
leave the site and then log in again.)

Page 10:
Noting Exili was arrested in France on February 2, 1663, ?shortly
after his arrival in France. Exili was in the service of the former
Queen Christina of Sweden [the first and only reference I found that
he was still in the employ of Christina at this time], who was
currently on strained terms with the French court, and Louis XIV had
ordered his arrest because he wanted to find out the reason for his
presence in his kingdom.? Though inquiries were made about Exili, ?. .
. there is no reason to think that these uncovered anything which
suggested he might be a poisoner or, indeed, a criminal of any sort.?
Exili was released that summer.

This is the first and only really authoritative account I?ve found as
to why Exili was in France in 1663 and why he was arrested.

On page 11:

You'll see that Somerset disputes the widely held belief that Exili
was a "key figure in the Brinvilliers murder case," and she further
challenges Exili's "mythic status as 'a great artist in poison . . .
.' "  Somerset also refers to a ?paucity of evidence? pertaining to
Exili in the de Brinvilliers case.

See this review of Somerset's book, written by critic Carol Herman for
 the ?Washington Times,? Nov. 20, 2004:
Herman quotes from the book ?. . . ?To make matters worse, she [the
marquise] appears to have learned how to poison from Egidio Exili, 'an
Italian who knew more about poison than almost anyone in the world.'
As the author explains, 'Wildly exaggerated notions were held about
Italian prowess in this field, for the French believed their neighbors
had developed secret formulas for poisons that worked through
inhalation, or proved fatal if they came in contact with the skin.' "

Again, Somerset argues that Exili and Glaser were basically scapegoats
in the de Brinvilliers murders, and that the prevailing
Italians-are-magicians-of-poison prejudices of the day either created,
or greatly contributed to, Exili?s reputation as a master poisoner.

Going back to Somerset?s book at, page 12 of the book:

Somerset throws yet another apparent monkey wrench into the commonly
held theory on the de Brinvilliers murders by reminding us that
Glaser, the supposed supplier of the lethal poison, had actually died
*before* the murders, which occurred in 1676.

This doesn?t rule out the possibility that Glaser advised Saint-Croixe
on poisoning back in the 1660s, but it does give pause regarding his
direct and immediate involvement in those deaths.

Regarding the date of Glaser?s death:

Professor of analytical chemistry Stephen L. Morgan, of the University
of South Carolina, hosts a page devoted to famous chemists:
And Glaser?s date of death is given there as 1670-1673.

?Love To Know? states that Glaser is believed to have died prior to 1676:
"GLASER." LoveToKnow 1911 Online Encyclopedia. © 2003, 2004 LoveToKnow.

On page 14 of Somerset?s book:
Somerset re-states her doubts: ? . . . Saint-Croixe?s assertions that
Exili and Christophe Glaser initiated him into mysteries unknown to
other practitioners of the art of poison, should therefore be treated
with caution.?

Somerset offers a tidbit about Exili that I haven?t seen reference to
anywhere else: that he sometimes cast horoscopes. See page 303:
The marquise?s sensational arrest and trial served as the tipping
point in what was about to became known as "The Affair of the
Poisons.? MacKay?s essay, cited earlier:
paints a vivid picture of a society reeling from sorcery and poisoning
madness (and rumors thereof), which compelled Louis XIV to establish
the ?Chambre Ardente, or Burning Chamber, with extensive powers, for
the trial and punishment of the prisoners.?
 ?It was now that the mania for poisoning began to take hold of the
popular mind. From this time until the year 1682, the prisons of
France teemed with persons accused of this crime; and it is very
singular, that other offences decreased in a similar proportion. We
have already seen the extent to which it was carried in Italy. It was,
if possible, surpassed in France. The diabolical ease with which these
murders could be effected [sic], by means of these scentless and
tasteless poisons, enticed the evil-minded. Jealousy, revenge,
avarice, even petty spite, alike resorted to them. Those who would
have been deterred, by fear of detection, from using the pistol or the
dagger, or even strong doses of poison, which kill at once, employed
slow poisons without dread. . . .?

Although the de Brinvilliers murders is most certainly the opening
bell in the ?Affairs of The Poisons? era, that period *officially*
began in 1679, when the official commission ??the Chambre Ardente? ?
convened its inquiry.

See Alice Munro?s Sept. 15, 2003 review of Somerset?s book for The
London Telegraph, archived at Alt Religion:
and the aforementioned Washington Times review, for more details.

As for Exili, what happened to him after he was freed from the
Bastille is unclear. Again, ?Love To Know? reports that, after going
to England, ?In 1681 he was again in Italy, where he married the
countess Fantaguzzi, second cousin of Duke Francis of Modena."

As with his date of birth, I can?t find Exili?s date of death. 

A few other tidbits:

The marquis was one of those libertines so rare at that time, a period
less unhappy than is
generally believed, who made science dependent upon, atheism.  It is
remarkable that great criminals of this epoch, Sainte-Croix for
instance, and Exili, the gloomy poisoner, were the first unbelievers,
and that they preceded the learned of the following age both, in
philosophy and in the exclusive study of physical science, in which
they included that of poisons.

My translation of the name of this French site is (roughly) "History
of Streets and laces,"  and includes a description of the street, "RUE
DE BIÈVRE, "where de Brinvilliers lived. Exili is mentioned very
briefly. The translated page is at:
(This site takes quite a while to load.)
Notice the reference to ?The Neighbor? ? that would be Catherine
DeShayes, aka, ?La Voison.? (Exili, as far as I know, was not
subjected to the ?burning room? (Chambre Ardente).

Exili?s Contemporaries
Some of the articles/stories I?ve cited note some peers and associates. Also see:

At WorldCat's "find a library" site:
"Princes and poisoners: studies of the court of Louis XIV," by Frantz
Funck-Brentano and George Charles Maidment (Published: London :
Duckworth and Co., 1901.)

That book is referenced in this cached post at an Italian government
site. (The current page for that site isn't working):
The post mentions Glaser and Exili and their contemporary, "Toffana."
This post also suggests Exili may have used the aliases "Egide or

Toffana, aka Tophania and Tophana, took her name from the poisonous
aqua tofana (aka ?Naples Water?) , which novelist Kirby suggests Exili

La Voison:
"LA VOISIN." LoveToKnow 1911 Online Encyclopedia. © 2003, 2004 LoveToKnow.?

Italian School of Poisoners

At BMJ Bookshop:
I found "Criminal Poisoning: An Investigational Guide for Law
Enforcement, Toxicologists, Forensic Scientists and Attorneys," by
John H. Trestrail (Publisher: Humana Press; Date:  01/03/02), which
includes the "Italian School of Poisoners."
You can purchase it via a U.S. dealer, Amazon:

You can see a summary of the book at Court TV?s ?Crime Library?
(It includes Madame Toffana.)  

At Kessinger Publishing:
? ?Poison Mysteries in History, Romance and Crime? ? (1924) AUTHOR: 
Thompson . . .   A comprehensive history, full of delightful
anecdotes, of the types, uses, and abuses of poison. Illustrated with
photographs. Sample contents: . . . The Italian school of poisoners .
. . .?
At that page see links for purchasing the book from either
or from Barnes & Noble Online. As always, you can always check your
library, too. If they don?t have either of these books, they may be
able to get them via  interlibrary loan.
Infamous Poisoners of the 16th, 17th, 18th Centuries

See ?The Slow Poisoners" from ?Memoirs of Popular Delusion,? by
Charles MacKay, at WorldWide School:

Also review to "Poisoning in the 16th, 17th and 18th Century," at the
Electronic Medical
Curriculum, University of Edinburgh:
That page has several links at the bottom, including ?Poisoning in
Victorian Times? (although it?s a later period than what you cited, it
is interesting):

Also from the Electronic Medical Curriculum:
?The History of Poisoning ? Timeline?:

This list wouldn?t be complete without the Borgias:
?The Borgias: The First Crime Family,? at Crime Library:

?The Poison Hunters,? adapted from an Article by Ian Burney in Welcome
News #20, 1999?:

?Famous cases in history, by Barry James, the December 13, 2004
edition of Australia?s News Interactive:,4057,11671158%255E28102,00.html

From the PBS series ?Secrets Of The Dead?: ?The Witches? Curse,? which
theorizes that the infamous Salem witches may have been poisoned:

Some of the search strings used:

Exili Queen Christina
Exili AND poison
Exili poison
Exili Glasner
Exili Glaser
Louis XIV AND Exili
Louis XIV poisoners Exili
"Nicolo Egidi"
"Egidio Exili"
?Chambre Ardente? AND ?Louis XIV?
?Italian School poisoners?
famous poisoners
famous poisoners 16th century
famous poisoners 17th century
famous poisoners 18th century
infamous OR famous AND poison AND "16th century"
infamous OR famous AND poison AND "17th century"
infamous OR famous AND poison AND "18th century"
famous killers poison
famous poison cases

All in all, I think the single best resource you can invest in is
historian Anne Somerset?s "The Affair of the Poisons.? I urge you to
consider buying that book, or seeking it via your local public
library. Somerset is a renowned historian, and I?ve seen several
reviews ? from readers and critics ? lauding it. The fact that she
went through so much archival material ? she even found the exact
dates of Exili?s arrest and release in France ? seem pretty reassuring
to me that she?s written a truly authoritative summation of the
?Poisons?/ Louis XIV era.

I hope my research is of help to you. If you have trouble navigating
any of the links, please post a ?Request For Clarification? and I will
assist you. If you would like more information, simply repeat my
search strings in your favorite search engine.

Best regards,
Google Answers Researcher

Request for Answer Clarification by zender24-ga on 20 Dec 2004 04:45 PST
I've been away. 

I just got back. Your answer looks like its in good shape. I have to
run to work so I've only skimmed it. So far There are a lot of things
that I already found, but there are some new things. When I get more
time to dig through your answer I will rate it. I think its pretty
cool that you have a different view on Exili. You think that he was a
nobody who only gets a mention cause he was used as a scapegoat with
the Brenvilles case. Where I want to believe that he was so
mysterious, and good at being a poisoner that he only got caught once.
Anyway I am excited to finish everything, and see if its what I am
looking for. I  believe you hit it on the head.... I am glad that this
question/person fascinated you as much as it fascinates me... I'll
keep in touch.

Clarification of Answer by nancylynn-ga on 20 Dec 2004 08:55 PST
I lack the expertise to pass judgment on Exili. It's historian Anne
Somerset who is casting doubt on whether or not Exili was a poisoner
or even a criminal. Somerset further theorizes that Mme de Brinvillier
tried to make Exili and Glaser into scapegoats in the murders of her
father and brother.

I made an error re: the dates of the de Brinvillier deaths: though the
marquise's trial and execution occurred in 1676, she murdered her
father in 1666, and her two brothers during 1670. See:
 "MARQUISE DE BRINVILLIERS." LoveToKnow 1911 Online Encyclopedia. ©
2003, 2004 LoveToKnow.  

I mistakenly thought the murders occurred in 1676, the same year as
the trial. Even though those murders occurred while Glaser was still
alive, you'll see in the references I cited from Somerset that
Somerset believes Glaser and Exili were not directly tied to these
murders, and were used as scapegoats by the marquise. (In matters as
ancient and muddled as this, one finds various dates, as well as a
variety of name spellings, etc.! I apologize for any confusion I may
have caused in citing the incorrect date for the murders in my

I just found this biography of Glaser from the "Galileo Project":
"After a short stay in the Bastille [this is now the second reference
I've seen that Glaser was imprisoned; am still not certain of this,
but Somerset's book may confirm if it's true.] until it was determined
that Glaser did not know how the white arsenic he sold Saint-Croix was
to be used, Glaser disappeared from public life. At her interrogation
in 1676 [by which time Glaser was dead], the marquise confirmed that
Glaser had prepared the poison for Sainte-Croix."

Somerset doesn't seem to find Glaser all that nefarious a figure, and
points out that since Glaser held public workshops on chemistry,
anyone (even Exili and Saint-Croix) could have attended those
seminars, and Glaser did discuss arsenic and dangerous concoctions in
his lectures and in his famed textbook.

My best guess is Exili had dabbled in poison prior to meeting up with
Glaser, but learned a lot from him. Even if Saint-Croix also spent
some time under Glaser's tutelage, there's still no firm evidence that
Glaser engaged in criminal activities himself. We just don't know: did
Glaser make himself oblivious to some of his students' real motives;
or was he aware, but figured it wasn't his business what his students
did? There isn't enough factual information to feel certain of

Glaser was dead by the time of the 1676 trial, so never had the chance
to explain himself. Furthermore Saint-Croix, too, was dead by that
time -- ironically, he was poisoned. So, there isn't a trial record of
Glaser's explanation of 1): whether he was truly involved in any way
in this case; and 2): if he did tutor Saint-Croix, did he know what
Saint-Croix was up to? (Somerset notes that there was talk of bringing
Glaser's widow in to testify at the marquise's trial. I'm not sure if
she did -- I can't access that part of the book. When you browse "The
Affairs of The Poisons" at, try typing Glaser into the
"Search Inside The Book" function, for more information.)

While it makes sense that Exili might have given Saint-Croix some
pointers on poisoning while they were in the Bastille, Somerset is
unconvinced that Exili had any great knowledge to pass along. She also
speculates that Saint-Croix exaggerated what he'd learned from Exili
and, much more importantly, from Glaser, in order to get a higher fee
from Mme de Brinvillier, who, although his lover, still had to pay him
to carry out the murders.

This is my feeling and I can't emphasize enough that I'm NOT an
expert. (I'd never even heard of Exili before I answered your
question!): Based on my research, I would say: The weight of folklore
regarding Exili provides considerable evidence that he was a shady
character who spent much of his life among a nefarious crowd,
including poisoners Tophania and La Spara.

While I'm not convinced he was a pioneer among alchemists of his day,
I think it *likely* that Exili did practice poisoning and was likely
involved in some very nasty business throughout much of his life. But
I don't think he's on a par with, say, Lucrezia Borgia, when
considering the all-time most notorious poisoners in history.

The fact that Exili was in service to Queen Christina, I think, tends
to buttress the notion of Exili as a poisoner. Christina was
enthralled with science -- she established "the Court of Learning" --
and was a benefactress to artists and scientists. (Many scientists of
the day were alchemists, not noble scientists as we think of them in
modern terms: doing good: working to cure disease, to understand the
universe, etc.). Christina was also involved in various machinations
(she abdicated her throne and sought to regain power; at one point she
tried to take the throne of Poland).

So, when you look at those aspects of Christina's character, you
really do have to wonder why precisely she chose Exili to make what
appears to have been sort of a scouting expedition to France! French
authorities had Exili tossed into the Bastille because they were
worried about his real motives for being in France. Exili's reputation
as a master poisoner (whether that reputation was wholly deserved or
not), combined with concerns over just what Christina was really up to
in sending him to France, is what prompted Exili's arrest.

My best guess: Exili probably was a poisoner and probably engaged in
many questionable -- even criminal -- activities, but whether he was
as great a chemist, or as prolific a killer, as his legend purports --
I don't know. It was his association with the de Brinvilliers case--
however tenuous that connection was -- that really made his legend. I
believe that if not for his association with the de Brinvilliers case,
he would now be totally forgotten.

Btw, you can learn more about Queen Christina at's "Women's History":
Please see the bibliography at the bottom of that page. You may be
interested in reading a book about her -- it's possible that one of
these books even contains information on Exili. (These books can't be
read online, but your library may be able to get them.)

You may also be interested in this book about another notorious
poisoner: "Lucrezia Borgia: Life, Love And Death In Renaissance
by Sarah Bradford. (Penguin Books; Reissue edition" April 1, 2002.)
Read about it at
I also need to make another correction: "Glaser's Salt" is impure
sulphate potassium, not sodium.
Subject: Re: Infamous Poisoners 1500-1800
From: cynthia-ga on 15 Dec 2004 00:48 PST
Scroll down this cached page for a couple morsels:

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