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This study examined relationships between foodborne outbreak investigation characteristics, such as the epidemiological methods used, and the success of the investigation, as determined by whether the investigation identified an outbreak agent (i.e. pathogen), food item and contributing factor. This study used data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) National Outbreak Reporting System and National Environmental Assessment Reporting System to identify outbreak investigation characteristics associated with outbreak investigation success. We identified investigation characteristics that increase the probability of successful outbreak investigations: a rigorous epidemiology investigation method; a thorough environmental assessment, as measured by number of visits to complete the assessment; and the collection of clinical samples. This research highlights the importance of a comprehensive outbreak investigation, which includes epidemiology, environmental health and laboratory personnel working together to solve the outbreak.
Agnès Sorel (1428-1450), beautiful favourite of Charles VII of France and first in the long genealogy of French royal mistresses, was mysteriously poisoned in the prime of life. Agnès, part of a network of royal 'favourites', is equally interesting for her political activity. And yet, no scholarly study in English of her exists. This study brings her story to an English-speaking audience, examining her in her historical context, that is, the factional struggle for power waged against Charles VII by the dauphin Louis and the king’s final routing of the English. It then traces Agnès’s afterlife, exploring her roles as founding mother of the tradition of the French royal mistress and foil for the less popular holders of the 'office'; as erotic fantasy figure for nineteenth-century historians 're-inventing' the Middle Ages; and, most recently, as poignant victim for fans of the true crime genre.
WHO WAS AGNÈS Sorel? Historians and history buffs with an interest in Old Regime France are likely to reply that she was the first “official French royal mistress.” By this they seem to mean that she received an official designation, an acknowledged appointment (“élection officielle de la favorite,” writes one), as royal mistress. “Of course, Charles VII was far from the first king of France to have an extramarital lover,” explains a popular historian, “but he did formalize his mistress's place at court in unprecedented ways that eclipsed the role even of the queen.” She is also frequently referred to as the first “maîtresse-en-titre.” Another popular historian of mistresses sums it up: “The first of the great French royal mistresses was Agnès Sorel, lady-in-waiting to Isabelle of Lorraine, who attracted King Charles VII. It was for her that the title maîtresse en titre was created to denote the official mistress of the King of France, who rewarded and honoured her in every way he could.”
And yet, the expression “maîtresse-en-titre” was not invented for Agnès Sorel. No contemporary document refers to her in that way. In fact, the word “maistresse” to designate a beloved woman begins to appear only in the sixteenth century. Neither the Dictionnaire du Moyen Français (1330–1500) nor Godefroy's Dictionnaire de l’ancienne langue française, et de tous ses dialectes du IXe au XVe sièle records this definition, restricting the meaning to a woman holding authority or property. In contrast, the first (1694) edition of the Dictionnaire de l’académie française defines the word as “girls and women sought after for marriage” and adds that it can also be applied “to someone who is loved by another.” But the definition articulates a trend visible earlier. Henri IV routinely addresses his favourite, Gabrielle d’Estrées, as “ma maistresse,” in letters of the last years of the sixteenth century. Brantôme, writing during the same period, refers to the Duchess of Étampes as François I's “principal lady and mistress” (“sa principalle dame et maistresse”). For him, however, Agnès is only “la belle Agnez” with whom the king was in love (“ennamourché”).
As for the later addition, “en titre,” it normally means incumbent, as in “champion du monde en titre,” the current world champion, although it can sometimes mean “official,” as in “comptable en titre,” a qualified or official accountant.
AT SOME POINT in the early decades of the sixteenth century, Agnès, formerly a woman whom living people had known personally or known about through others who had known her, becomes a cultural memory, a figure of “objectivized culture,” that is, a figure known only through texts, images, or monuments. Agnès's image, in the forms that I have just discussed, was transmitted to the court of François I where courtiers accustomed to crossing paths with a highly visible royal mistress appreciated and adapted it, setting the “objectivized meaning into [their] own perspective, giving it [their] own relevance.” The visual images, coupled with the narrative of Agnès as saviour of the realm, gave the long-dead royal favourite a renewed presence among a relatively large audience.
With her transition to cultural memory, Agnès also attains what I suggest we can most usefully understand as posthumous celebrity, as a figure who fascinated and continues to fascinate primarily for her beauty and fashion. As helpful as the concept of cultural memory is for recognizing the values that Agnès came to symbolize long after her death, the notion of posthumous celebrity allows us to make still better sense of her afterlife's trajectory and the status that she still retains today as a popular figure in historical romance, documentary, and on numerous social media platforms. It is true that Agnès's celebrity is a strange case even among posthumous celebrities, whose rise normally begins while they are still alive. And yet, the concept provides precisely the right framework for exploring how a young woman whose most obvious attributes, according to contemporary chronicle accounts, were loveliness and charm became an internationally recognized icon long after her death. The nature of her fame is easily distinguishable from that of someone like Cleopatra or Elizabeth I, who were powerful queens. The concept also helps clarify her status within the genealogy of the French royal mistress, where she can be contrasted with members who never became celebrities, or, conversely, later royal mistresses like Diane de Poitiers or the Marquise of Pompadour, who were celebrities in the sense that they were observed as glamourous court figures while also being recognized as political actors.
IN THE POPULAR imagination the French royal mistress has always been the glamourous face of court life, focus of the desire for luxury and power. But she has also always represented the court's high-stake political intriguing and its culture of dissimulation and debauchery.
Agnès Sorel (ca. 1422–1450), mistress of Charles VII (1403–1461) and the first famous female favourite of a king of France, is the exception that proves the rule. In contrast with later royal mistresses, she is supposed to have used her influence only for good, inspiring Charles VII to rout the English and restore the French monarchy. Although Chateaubriand deemed the “reign” of favourites a “calamity for the old monarchy,” he claimed that Agnès Sorel was different from her counterparts, “useful to the prince and the patrie.” François-Marie Cayot Délandre compares Diane de Poitiers unfavourably to Agnès, lamenting that Henri II had no Agnès Sorel. Even the most recent accounts of Agnès contrast her generosity with the self-dealing and greed of her successors. During the six years of her liaison with Charles VII, writes one historian, “she made use of her status as the first lady of France only with decency and sobriety.” “There would be in the future arrogant, insolent, hateful mistresses,” affirms another, but Agnès Sorel belongs to a different category, “that of the modest and respectful favourite, because she was of a sweet and good nature…” Except for the odd discordant note, the literature related to Agnès shows none of the ambivalence that marks discussion of her later counterparts.
And yet, nothing in her biography predicts this status. Her perduring popularity took hold only some seventy years after her death, when her memory, carefully tended by her family and friends, was welcomed at the court of King François I (r. 1515–1547), and her celebrity increased and flourished in the culture of gallantry that characterized court and salon life in France from the mid-seventeenth century on. Embellished by writers of this tradition, the story of Agnès today remains a fixture in popular histories, novels, and documentaries, and Agnès herself enjoys a widespread social media presence, her picture adorning Internet fan sites, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, and Facebook.
THE FIRST ATTEMPT to preserve Agnès's image for posterity after her premature death comes in the form of the gisants on her two tombs commissioned by the king. Agnès's heart was laid to rest in the abbey church at Jumièges, in accordance with her dying wishes. Jean Chartier explains that the young woman had given the abbey a large donation for this purpose. Although this tomb was damaged by Huguenots and destroyed during the Revolution, descriptions of it passed down in numerous documents reveal it to have been a black marble bed, rising three feet above the floor, on which a kneeling white marble Agnès offered her heart to the Virgin. At the base of the tomb, which stood in the middle of the chapel of the Virgin, lay another marble heart. Four separate epitaphs, two in French, two in Latin, praised her.
As for Agnès's body, it returned to the collegiate church of St. Ours of Loches. Her tomb there subsists, although it too was heavily damaged during the Revolution and restored by Pierre-Nicolas Beauvallet. Comparison of the Beauvallet's restoration with a sketch of the original from the collections of François Roger de Gaignières (1642–1715) (Figure 3) shows certain differences. Gilles Blieck, conservator of Historical Monuments within the regional direction of the Cultural Affairs of the Centre-Val de Loire (DRAC), enumerates the changes. Whereas Beauvallet's Agnès sports the crown of a duchess, the original wore a simple band around her head. The other repairs involved “the nose, one ear, the hands (joined without a book), a large portion of the body, the wings and hands of the angels, the head of the lamb on the right, the muzzle of that on the left, and the horns of both.” According to another of Gaignières's drawings, a now-lost bronze epitaph resembling those of Jumièges decorated the tomb at Loches, displaying Agnès, once again with a band around her head, kneeling with St. Agnès before the Virgin. The epitaphs on both tombs stressed Agnès's charity toward the Church and the poor. They also praised her administration of La Roquecezière, Vernon, and Issoudun, describing her as “gentle in her words, soothing quarrels and scandals,” and, in a clear reference to the assumption of the Virgin, as ascending into heaven where she would take her place on a throne surrounded by saints.
RETURNING TO THE primary sources directly related to Agnès to evaluate what they suggest about the real person and her role at court is an enterprise fraught with peril. Most chroniclers had no personal access to women at court, depending instead on informants who may themselves have been biased against women. The genre of the memoir with its focus on personal relationships did not exist in the fifteenth century—although we see leanings in that direction in some chronicles—which means that we have very few close observations of individual women. Moreover, the primary sources do not offer a sustained narrative, but rather give us disconnected bits and pieces. Agnès is summoned abruptly into male-dominated episodes and then dismissed too soon for us to get much concrete information about her. Further complicating the matter, her narrative purpose is often more symbolic than realistic: she distracts the king after the manner of Phyllis and Aristotle or Bathsheba and David. Reconstructing her story means piecing snippets together, and, then, to avoid mistaking allegorical for literal meaning, checking the reconstructed story against a larger historical context to see if it seems plausible. But this creates still another problem, because this larger historical context is just another construction based on the very texts that we are trying to understand how to read. Were contemporaries genuinely disapproving of Agnès or is this an impression created by chronicles?
And yet, primary sources are all we have, unless we opt for historical nihilism. In Agnès's case, even if the primary sources demonstrate nothing else for certain, one thing is clear: relative to the Duchess of Étampes some ninety years later, Agnès flummoxed contemporaries, who did not know what to make of the king's raising an unknown young woman to such a position of luxury. Charles VII's court lacked any concept of the royal mistress as a powerful and iconic figure; the role, like that of the mignon, was discursive, in the sense that it came into existence when the king and his courtiers tacitly agreed that it did and accorded it a significance expressed symbolically. Legitimacy and authority are produced as much through symbols and ritual as force. The king could ensconce his mistress wherever he chose. But this did not automatically create a position for her that others acknowledged and accepted.
HENRIIV, THE vert galant (lusty seducer), who ascended the throne in 1594, was well aware of the discourse surrounding Agnès Sorel. His secretary, Jules Gassot, describes the king comparing his passion for Gabrielle d’Estrees and, after Gabrielle's death, other mistresses, to Charles VII's for Agnès. The king “never got tired of such loves,” writes Gassot, “saying that Charles VII with his lady Agnès Sorel had conquered the kingdom.” By claiming that Gabrielle was the inspiration behind his chivalry, the king may also have hoped to enhance her chances of being accepted as his queen. Henri IV had emphasized his reassuring virility as one justification for succeeding the childless Henri III on the French throne, but he needed to produce a legitimate heir to make good on the claim. Gabrielle, like Agnès, bore the king three children, and Henri IV's associating her with this earlier mistress seems strategic. The pairing of the two women will recur. In his false memoir of Gabrielle, Paul Lacroix has Henri IV's mistress declare that she will aid her king by keeping his spirits up. “I will be your Agnès Sorel,” she cries, “and I will guard you from despair as long you have a sword in your hand and a hand to hold it.” Henri IV tears up, commending Gabrielle's noble words and assuring her that he counts on her to inspire his martial ardor and his honour.
We have noted that the first clear example of the identification of Agnès as the Melun Virgin dates from Henri IV's reign. As we saw in Chapter Four, the king's son, the dauphin who became Louis XIII, was sent to Melun to marvel at the diptych in 1608. In 1610 the king attempts to buy the diptych from the church for ten thousand livres. Based on his show of interest in this painting, François Avril posits that, during construction under his watch of a new portrait gallery of the kings and queens of France in the Louvre, Henri IV may have commissioned a copy of the Melun diptych to hang there.
Avril also attributes Henri IV with being the force behind a new series of portraits of Agnès, which begin to proliferate around the end of the sixteenth century. Possibly at the king's instigation, painters turned away from the Fouquet sketch and returned to the Melun diptych as a model, Avril explains.
HISTORY, ESPECIALLY THE history of France, was already popular when it experienced an explosion of interest at the beginning of the nineteenth century. The much-loved genre then underwent a transformation, dividing over the following decades into two quite clearly demarcated versions, popular and scholarly, which came to be distinguished by distinct protocols, standards of proof, aims, and style. At the same time, history and literature, which had converged in the historical fictions of late seventeenth-century writers like Mesdames de Villedieu, La Roche-Guilhem, and Durand, as we saw in Chapter Six, came to be defined in opposition to each other. It is true that certain earlier historians had reflected critically on their materials, Dom Mabillon, for example, publishing in 1681 his De re diplomatica on how to authenticate documents. However, the professionalization of the field of history was different in quality and quantity, the process visible in the institutions established to support it: the École des Chartes, founded in 1821 to train archivists, paleographers, and librarians; the Société de l’histoire de France, created in 1833 to regenerate historical scholarship by editing and publishing a wide variety of medieval and early modern French texts; the École pratique des hautes études, established in 1868 to fix history definitively as a science; and, more generally, from the 1870s, the newly invigorated university system.
Professional historians in France committed themselves “to saying only how it actually was,” in Ranke's immortal words. And yet, in reality, their scholarship was shaped to a large extent by their nationalism. The French history absorbed into school curricula and circulated among scholars and the educated reading public wove events recorded in archives with myths about the patrie that were stored in the cultural memory, myths about the origins of the nation, universalism, monarchy. In this way, scholarly history reflected and contributed to the patriotic discourses that sustained citizens who saw their government careen from one extreme to another, from imperial to monarchical to republican. In what follows I explore the story of Agnès among nineteenth-century historians, focusing on this intersection between scholarly history and nationalism.
Agnès, as we have seen, was a perennial figure in chronicle and history from the fifteenth century onward, and she remained popular into the nineteenth century in a variety of genres.
AT FIRST GLANCE, tediously detailed forensic evidence related to a murder case would seem unlikely to excite a popular audience. Not so, writes television critic Jack Seale: “If you slow a true-crime documentary right down so you’re lingering obsessively on every detail of the case, it's not boring; it's fascinating, because the significance of each small development is highlighted.” True-crime murder has entranced audiences for centuries now. But this new variation, with its emphasis on laboratory analysis of trace evidence—clues often barely perceptible to the naked eye like hairs, skin fragments, fibres—has in recent decades developed a mass following, growing into a wildly popular genre in print, on television, and, now, in podcast series.
When the news broke in 2005 that Dr. Philippe Charlier and his team had undertaken a project to exhume and examine the remains of Agnès Sorel, a ready-made public welcomed the story. Six months of testing confirmed or revealed several important facts: Agnès's age at the time of death, the number of her pregnancies, and the impossibility that her last baby survived more than a few hours. Feeding the inevitable fascination for murdered beautiful young women, the findings also revealed that Agnès had died of an overdose of mercury so enormous as to exclude the possibility that her doctor could have administered it by accident. The findings have since been published in a variety of genres, written, electronic, and audiovisual, and incorporated into new scholarly work. Moreover, they have inspired a series of documentaries, docu-fictions, and semi-fictionalized murder mysteries based on Agnès's life and death.
Although the suspicious circumstances of her sudden demise have attracted attention since shortly after the event, details of the lab tests proving that she died by poison brought an attention so avid that it seems appropriate to claim that Agnès has reached a new stage in her post-mortem celebrity. In what follows I lay out the findings of Charlier and his team to integrate them into the narrative about Agnès. But I begin by examining what we know of the chain of custody associated with her remains, because whether they are actually hers is a question of the utmost importance. Before her tomb was moved in 1777, her remains were inspected, placed in an urn, and replaced in the tomb.
ALTHOUGH THE PRIMARY sources leave many gaps, they allow us to form an outline of Agnès's life, and this skeleton can be fleshed out to some extent with evidence from other sources not directly related to Agnès. In this chapter I draw on some of these to animate Agnès's story while retaining a distinction between what the evidence says and my own conclusions.
I begin with a discussion of the young woman's move to the royal court. Then, to create the context for her activity there, I cut away from Agnès herself to focus on her environment, turning first to the royal family, whose problematic relationships represent the background against which the king formed his attachment to Agnès. What might have motivated Charles VII to enter into such an apparently intense liaison at that moment? I then broaden the scope to court factionalism, going into some detail about the conflicts that divided the court during Agnès's tenure, proposing that although to modern eyes these quarrels often seem to focus on gossip and petty jealousies, they represented deadly serious plays for power in a society where the signs of status often had material consequences.
After reconstituting this context, I bring Agnès back into the story, examining the references to her political intriguing in greater detail against their larger background. I conclude with a discussion of her mysterious death, prepared by the discussion of factionalism. Throughout I am conscious of manoeuvring between the related problems of historical timidity, given the relative dearth of sources, and unjustified ambition, given the relative abundance of them. But I hope to establish parameters for imagining what her role plausibly might have been by forming an idea of the world in which Agnès lived.
Agnès Arrives on the Scene
A long tradition held that Yolande, Duchess of Anjou (1379–1442), regent after the death of her husband in 1417 and mother of the duke's heir, Louis (1403–1434), Marie (1404–1463), René (1409–1480), and Charles (1414–1472) spotted the beautiful Agnès at the Angevin court and, hoping to influence Charles VII through her, proposed to the king that he take the young woman as his mistress.
In recent years, political scientists increasingly have used data-science tools to research political processes, positions, and behaviors. Because both domestic and international politics are grounded in oral and written texts, computerized text analysis (CTA)—typically based on natural-language processing—has become one of the most notable applications of data-science tools in political research. This article explores the promises and perils of using CTA methods in political research and, specifically, the study of international relations. We highlight fundamental analytical and methodological gaps that hinder application and review processes. Whereas we acknowledge the significant contribution of CTA to political research, we identify a dual “engagement deficit” that may distance those without prior background in data science: (1) the tendency to prioritize methodological innovation over analytical and theoretical insights; and (2) the scholarly and political costs of requiring high proficiency levels and training to comprehend, assess, and use advanced research models.