On August 30, 1780--at the height of the American Revolution--twenty-year-old Theodosius Boughton, the dissolute heir to a vast fortune and the seventh Boughton baronetcy, died suddenly and in painful convulsions after taking a medication prescribed by his doctor. He was buried in a vault shortly thereafter, but his body was exhumed three days later when rumors began to circulate that the young man had been poisoned. The evidence of poison was compelling, but who could be responsible was far from clear.
Theodosius mother had given her difficult son the medicine and insisted he drink it, even though she thought it smelled suspicious. His brother-in-law, Captain John Donellan, an Irish soldier of fortune who lived in the house with Theodosius sister, coveted the inheritance that would flow to his wife if Theodosius died. A maid in the house with whom Theodosius--whose taste for women was voracious--had cavorted might well have been jealous at the rumor he was to be married.
With the cleverness of a master detective and the literary skill of the finest crime writers, Elizabeth Cooke deconstructs the evidence and chronicles the sensational trial that ensued, providing in the process a fascinating portrait of Georgian society, high and low. The Damnation of John Donellan is a masterpiece of forensic reconstruction.