On August 30, 1780, in Warwickshire, England, twenty-year-old Theodosius Boughton, the dissolute heir to a vast fortune and baronetcy, died suddenly and in violent convulsions after taking a medication prescribed by his doctor. Was he poisoned by his mother, who insisted that he drink the draught despite its scent of bitter almonds? His brother-in-law, John Donellan, who hurriedly rinsed and broke the bottle containing the medicine after Theodosius’s death? His cousin, who desperately wanted the baronetcy? The jealous maid with whom Theodosius frequently cavorted? Many had a score to settle or stood to benefit financially from his demise.
But perhaps he wasn’t murdered at all. Could he have died from the quack medicines, including mercury, he used to treat his debilitating syphilis? Or was it a heart attack or stroke, rare in young men but the cause of the deaths of his father and grandfather? Or an epileptic fit? With the cleverness of a master detective and the literary skill of the finest crime writers, Elizabeth Cooke deconstructs the evidence, chronicles the sensational trial that ensued, and provides intriguing new proof that Donellan, who was executed for the murder, may not have been guilty after all. In the process, she opens a fascinating window on the dark and violent underbelly of Georgian society.