From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Marguerite Coste, a 25-year-old prostitute from Marseille, was the victim of a non-lethal poisoning case, one of the scandals of Marquis de Sade, usually known as the "Marseilles affair". The perpetrators, Marquis de Sade and his servant Latour were caught and imprisoned at the Fortress of Miolans, in late 1772, but escaped four months later. On September 12 Sade and Latour were executed in effigy on the Place des Prêcheurs, in Aix-en-Provence.
On Saturday evening June 27, 1772 Marguerite met the Marquis Sade in her Marseilles apartment. The Marquis offered her several pastilles from his crystal candy box. After an encounter that included attempted sodomy and other debaucheries the Marquis paid her six francs and left. Ms. Coste spent the next week vomiting and suffering from severe stomach pain. Apparently Sade had dosed his candy with cantharis ("Spanish Fly") and Ms. Coste (among several other prostitutes visited by the Marquis) got violently ill. The next days the prostitutes filed complaint. Despite the fact that these complaints were later retracted it came to a court case.
In September of that same year the final verdict was passed. Sade and Latour were found guilty, the former of the crimes of poisoning and sodomy and the latter of the crime of sodomy, and are condemned to expiate their crimes at the cathedral porch before being taken to the Place Saint-Louis "for the said Sade to be decapitated...and the said Latour to be hanged by the neck and strangled...then the body of the said Sade and that of the said Latour to be burned and their ashes strewn to the wind."
Flight to Italy
Sade and Latour at that time were in Italy (see Sade in Italy). They were able to flee France and Sade took his sister-in-law Anne-Prospère de Launay with him, with whom he had an affair. Sade's mother-in-law never forgave him for this. She obtained a lettre de cachet for his arrest (a royal order by which an individual could be arrested and imprisoned without stated cause and without access to the courts).
On December 8, 1772 Sade and Latour were arrested in Italy. They were imprisoned at the Fortress of Miolans in late 1772 but managed to flee four months later.
As reported in the Mémoires secrets de Bachaumont
Mémoires secrets de Bachaumont daté du 25 juillet 1772 :
- « On écrit de Marseille que M. le comte de Sade, qui fit tant de bruit en 1768, pour les folles horreurs auxquelles il s’était porté contre une fille, vient de fournir dans cette ville un spectacle d’abord très plaisant, mais effroyable par les suites. Il a donné un bal, où il avait invité beaucoup de monde, et dans le dessert il avait glissé des pastilles au chocolat, si excellentes que quantité de gens en ont dévoré ; mais il y avait amalgamé des mouches cantharides. On connaît la vertu de ce médicament : elle s’est trouvé telle, que tous ceux qui en avaient mangé, brûlant d’une ardeur impudique, se sont livrés à tous les excès auxquels porte la fureur la plus amoureuse. Le bal a dégénéré en une de ces assemblées licencieuses réputées parmi les Romains ; les femmes les plus sages n’ont pu résister à la rage utérine qui les travaillait. C’est ainsi que M. de Sade a joui de sa belle-sœur, avec laquelle il s’est enfui, pour se soustraire au supplice qu’il mérite. Plusieurs personnes sont mortes des excès auxquelles elles se sont livrées dans leur priapisme effroyable, et d’autres sont encore très incommodées. »