Don’t Poison the Patriarchy

Poison has always been described as a woman's weapon, with shameful and cowardly connotations. It's time to put an end to that stigma and give poisoning the credit it deserves.

My book, Milady, is a new take on The Three Musketeers—with the story told from the point of view of literature’s most notorious villainess, Milady de Winter. In Dumas’ tale she’s harshly condemned. But in Milady, we see another side to her story and realize the Musketeers were the villains all along. Despite her virtues, though, Milady is still a spy, assassin, seductress… and poisoner.

Catherine de’ Medici set the trend, killing her religious and political rival with a pair of poisoned gloves. (Possibly—you know how history treats strong women.) Shakespeare had six poisonings in his plays—five by women. Since then it has been echoed by everyone from Sherlock Holmes to Game of Thrones: poison is a woman’s weapon.

More than that, it is usually portrayed as a shameful, cowardly way to kill someone. Why is that? Because historically, that’s what the people in power want you to think.

People in power are always on the lookout for the moment when the powerless have finally had enough. Poison is a threat to the status quo. It is a threat to hierarchy and patriarchy. It is a way any subjugated woman or downtrodden peasant can strike back at their masters. (Though the wealthy had a habit of accidentally poisoning themselves anyway.)

Poor people couldn’t spend their youth taking fencing lessons, and they couldn’t spend their limited wages on a sword or dagger. But for a few pennies, they could buy rat poison. Historically, women couldn’t be lawyers, jurists, or judges to find someone guilty. They could rarely divorce. But they did have access to all the food eaten by the men who controlled them.

In the original book, it is implied that she poisoned her husband. She also sends poisoned wine to D’Artagnan and his friends. (He did rape her by subterfuge, don’t forget.) And finally, she poisons Constance, the married woman seduced by D’Artagnan.

In my take on the story, Milady learns about poisons at her mother’s knee. Only, she doesn’t realize she’s learning about poison. In a time when doctors were few and clueless, when clysters and leeches were the remedies of choice, women tended to their families with herbs. When Milady learns what can cure, she also learns what can kill. A little foxglove can treat congestive heart failure. A bit more can stop the heart.

Women shared knowledge of what could cure a baby’s croup as much as they shared potions that might encourage or stop a pregnancy, or perform that time-honored task of “killing vermin.” Later in life, Milady puts that innocently acquired knowledge to good use.

My Milady has a knife, but poison becomes her weapon of choice. Rather than a cowardly weapon, it is the weapon of a keen intellect. Men with blades can kill on impulse (and possibly regret it later.) A poisoner has to plan. A poisoner thinks things through. A poisoner has to be sure.

I certainly don’t advocate murder as an instrument of social change. But when murder is committed with that end in mind, poison levels the playing field, allowing physically weaker, socially repressed, and economically limited people to take illegal and deadly action as easily as one aristocrat challenging another to a fatal duel.

(Author’s note: If you are poor, subjugated, fed up with the status quo, feel like your rights aren’t being safeguarded, please don’t poison anyone! Take legal action. Vote. Volunteer. Be active in politics. Rant and rave and sue! Because we’re not in the 17th century anymore. Er… right?)

About Milady:

From the glittering ballrooms of 17th Century England to the dangerous intrigues of the French court, Laura L. Sullivan brings an unlikely heroine to the page, turning on its head everything we’ve been told about The Three Musketeers and their ultimate rival.

I’ve gone by many names, though you most likely know me as Milady de Winter: Villainess. Seductress. A secondary player in someone else’s tale.

It’s finally time I tell my own story. The truth isn’t tidy or convenient, but it’s certainly more interesting.

Before you cast judgment, let me start at the beginning, and you shall learn how an innocent girl from the countryside became the most feared woman in all of Europe.

Because we all know history was written by men, and they so often get things wrong.

Comment below for a chance to win a copy of Milady by Laura L. Sullivan!

To enter, make sure you’re a registered member of the site and simply leave a comment below.

Milady Comment Sweepstakes: NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN.  A purchase does not improve your chances of winning.  Sweepstakes open to legal residents of 50 United States, D.C., and Canada (excluding Quebec), who are 18 years or older as of the date of entry.  To enter, complete the “Post a Comment” entry at beginning at 10:00 a.m. Eastern Time (ET) July 2, 2019. Sweepstakes ends at 9:59 a.m. ET July 16, 2019. Void outside the United States and Canada and where prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules here. Sponsor: Macmillan, 120 Broadway, New York, NY 10271.

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  1. John Q

    Neat idea. I’m looking forward to checking it out.

  2. John Quiring


  3. Doug Gordy

    What a gr8 premise!

  4. Asa Guice

    sounds wonderfully intriguing.

  5. Holly Reifke

    I really love the blurb and premise of this story. Off to add to my TBR on Goodreads…

  6. Cherie Gravette

    This sounds like an incredible read! Thank you for this chance!

  7. Tiffany

    This looks good

  8. Joanne Hicks

    Greatly appreciate a woman’s viewpoint on this subject. Women in history don’t get a fair shake.

  9. Kerry

    Looks like a great Summer read

  10. mommykat007

    I absolutely love the cover! A woman with a knife…this is gonna be good! Thanks for the chance to W-I-N!!

  11. joel timmons

    Oh. Need. To. Read. This. Thriller.

  12. Gordon

    I love how changing the Point of View completely opens all kinds of possibilities. John Gardner’s Grendel has encouraged me to rewrite 13 of Shakespeare’s plays from the perspective of a minor character, ie. The nurse tells Romeo and Juliet. I try hard to keep the characters true to what Shakespeare intended, but it still is different. Another favorite of mine is Rashomon

  13. Sonya L Loyer

    Would love to read the story from her point of view!

  14. Marla Jones

    Would love to win and review

  15. Carolyn

    Interesting! Sounds great!!!

  16. Diana Hardt

    Interesting book. Thank you for the chance.

  17. C

    This sounds like a very interesting take on the Three Musketeers story.

  18. Shirley Evans

    Whoa, treating congestive heart failure. I have that. Sounds really intriguing!

  19. Phyllis McGuire

    Would love to win and review!

  20. Molly Lugene Satterfield

    I’ve always enjoyed reading about various plants and how they are made into poison (Wicked Plants is an awesome book I’d recommend) and this sounds like a fabulous book. I never understood why poison is considered “a woman’s weapon”. After all, death by poison is often an excruciating event.

  21. Jamie Rutland Gillespie

    This sounds very interesting!! I would love to win, read and review this one!! Thanks for the chance!

  22. Suzanne McMannis

    Wrong/right? Poison/medicine? Lose/win??

  23. Peter W.

    Poison! Yes!

  24. Michael Carter

    Please enter me in this sweepstakes.

  25. paul klumbach

    A story by “the other woman”-sounds very interesting

  26. Christal Mormann

    Looks like a good read.

  27. Karen Hilligoss

    As a fan of the Three Musketeers I’m putting this on my TBR list. I am interested to hear Milady’s story.

  28. Lisbeth Mizula

    Yes to women being visible in literature.

  29. Janet Gould

    Great article, can’t wait to read the book.

  30. L.A. Ward

    Looks like an interesting story — this book is definitely on my to read list!!

  31. L

    I love the twist on the standard Musketeer story. I look forward to learning more about Milady!

  32. Athena Corodimas

    I don’t advocate murder, but, hypothetically I would totally be a poisoner like my all time favorites Ankorette and Etayne from Kingfountain, or Ismae from Grave Mercy…. I would LOVE a chance to win and read this book because poisoners are bad asss!

  33. Jane Schwarz

    Interesting article. Great idea for a book. Thanks for the opportunity to win a copy of “Milady”.

  34. Linda McCutcheon

    This original idea to tell the female point of view of the Three Musketeers is pure genius! I think.this story will easily be made into a movie. I hope I get the chance to read it first!

  35. Susan T.

    My favourite use of poison has to be Olenna Tyrell in Game of Thrones. “Tell Cersei. I Want Her to Know It Was Me” There was nothing weak about that power move!

  36. susan beamon

    It’s true, the winners write the story. Time to change the winners.

  37. Trisa @ Absolute Bookishness

    Very interesting! I appreciate your perspective on this. I never really thought about the amount of knowledge and skills that went into poisoning. (My focus is usually on medicine and the skills and intellect needed to counter the effects of things that harm.) Or the means by which poisons were acquired versus other weapons–and the skills necessary to wield them.
    It gave me lots of food for thought. And I’m always interested in historical tidbits and different perspectives on them! Which is why I love historical fiction, and why I’d love a chance to read your book, Milady! ^_^

  38. Jana

    Enjoyed the post. Thanks for the giveaway!

  39. Marisa Young

    Liked the author’s note.

  40. Julie C.

    Intriguing idea.

  41. Rebecca Brothers

    Really looking forward to this one.

  42. Sunnymay

    How does such an innocent lady wreak havoc and become a killer, the slow or the fast way; poison or a knife? It looks like a story which holds your attention to the edge of reason.

  43. Melissa Keith

    Damn, and I just bought a new poison ring…..M’dear, you have no idea how badly I want to read MILADY!!

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