Circulating Scandalous News in Early Modern Europe

By Sandra Toffolo |

In 1637 in Grenoble Magdeleine d’Auvermont was accused of adultery by relatives of her husband: she had given birth to a son, but her husband had been away in Germany for the past four years. This was according to a pamphlet published in Paris that same year. Magdeleine, however, claimed that she had lived a chaste life ever since her husband had left. The explanation she provided for her pregnancy, still according to the pamphlet, was that one night she dreamt of sleeping with her husband, and afterwards she felt the signs of a pregnancy. Four women – their own names as well as their husbands’ names and titles specified – testified that Magdeleine had indeed told them this story already around the time of the child’s conception. What is more, the four women declared that this can indeed happen to women and that it had happened to themselves as well. Four midwives and five doctors from the University of Montpellier – again all named individually – were also called to the trial to provide information. On the 13th of February 1637 the court declared in favour of Magdeleine: her son Emmanuel should indeed be acknowledged as a legitimate son of her husband Jérôme Auguste de Montléon. Later the same year, however, the Parliament of Paris decided that the story was a joke and forbade people from publishing it any further.

In the meantime the story quickly attracted attention across Europe. Printers in different parts of France published first the report of the trial in Grenoble, and then the response of the Parliament of Paris. One of our Preserving the World’s Rarest Books partners, the Bibliothèque Méjanes in Aix-en-Provence, holds a copy of a pamphlet on the Grenoble trial, printed in Paris in 1637 entitled Arrest notable de la Cour de Parlement de Grenoble, donné au profit d’une Damoiselle, sur la naissance d’un sien fils, arrivé quatre ans après l’absence de son mary, et sans avoir eu cognoissance d’aucun homme (USTC 6030412, Rec. D. 9, 1533). Their collection also holds a copy of the text in which the sentence was declared false: Arrest de la Cour de Parlement, sur le pretendu Arrest du Parlement de Grenoble, daté du treiziéme Fevrier mil six cens trente-sept, by the Parisian printers Antoine Estienne, Pierre Mettayer, Claude Prevost, and Pierre Rocolet in 1637 (USTC 6029945, Rec. D. 9, 1534), as well as a rare copy of the Arrest de la Cour de Parlement de Dauphiné, contre l’arrest imprimé à Paris, et faussement supposé avoir esté donné par ladite Cour au profit d’une Damoiselle sur la naissance d’un sien fils, arrivée quatre ans apres l’absence de son mary, et sans avoir eu connaissance d’aucun homme, printed by Pierre Verdier in Grenoble in 1637 (USTC 6809713, Rec. D. 9, 1535).

6809713, title page
The Paris Parliament declared the story was false. (USTC 6809713, Bibliothèque Méjanes, Aix-en-Provence Rec. D. 9, 1535.).


The story also garnered interest outside of France. In the Hague, Isaac Burchoorn decided early in 1637 that this story would probably also sell to a Dutch audience. He published a Dutch translation, entitled Sendt-brief van doctor Delord aen mijn heere De Montrabbe, waer in ondersocht werden de certificatien over een kindt geboren nae vier-jarigh af-wesen van sijn gepretendeerde vader, of both the trial report and a long letter, dated the 24th of May, by a professor of the University of Montpellier who criticised the case (USTC 1031118). The later sentence by the Parliament of Paris was not included, suggesting that the booklet was published before the Grenoble sentence was declared spurious later that year. Burchoorn also added a preface to the texts, in which he scarcely hid his amusement over the case and predicted that the reader would laugh as well – ‘but don’t laugh too much, so that you won’t judge too little.’ The preface offers us an insight into how well this story sold: Burchoorn wrote that he had previously published the report of the trial in Grenoble and sold almost all copies, but now he had received the letter of one of the physicians of the University of Montpellier and he had therefore decided to publish a new version. This version can be found in two of our Preserving the World’s Rarest Books partners: the Museum Meermanno in the Netherlands (141 A 103) and the University of Ghent in Belgium (BIB.TIEL.002626).

Meermano copy
Edition printed in the Hague (Museum Meermanno, 141 A 103).

Burchoorn was not even the only printer in the Hague to publish the story: a version printed in the same year by Ludolph Breeckevelt has also survived (USTC 1018643). In France, the story was not only printed in Paris and Grenoble (USTC 6030412, 6029945, 6030452, 6030451, 6809713) but also, for example, in Lyon (USTC 6904593). It was still popular enough to be printed years later, as shown by a much later copy from 1662. The strange story of Magdeleine d’Auvermont therefore shows us how bringing together the catalogues of libraries across the world can allow us to catch a glimpse of how scandalous stories could be circulated and translated across Europe.


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Sandra Toffolo is a postdoctoral researcher for Preserving the World’s Rarest Books at the University of St Andrews. Her current research focuses on early modern pilgrimage and on geographical descriptions of Venice and the Venetian mainland state. You can follow her on


Images: courtesy of Bibliothèque Méjanes in Aix-en-Provence and Museum Meermanno in the Hague.

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