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The Damnation of John Donellan: A Mysterious Case of Death and Scandal in Georgian England

3.40  ·  Rating details ·  86 ratings  ·  17 reviews
In August 1780 Sir Theodosius Boughton, a dissolute Old Etonian twenty-year-old and heir to a Warwickshire fortune, died in painful convulsions after taking his medicine. The following year after an inquest and trial which became a cause celebre, his brother-in-law, Captain John 'Diamond' Donellan, Irish soldier of fortune and man about town, was tried for his murder. The ...more
Paperback, 304 pages
Published August 4th 2011 by Profile Books (first published 2011)
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Apr 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is the fascinating story of the delightfully named Theodosius Boughton, heir to a vast fortune and the seventh Boughton baronetcy, who died at the age of only twenty - less than a year before he due to inherit. Theodosius was a young man who loved life - he fought in taverns, was known for his carousing, loved women and contracted VD whilst still a student at Eton. When we meet him he has been taking medication for his "condition", although he was not good about taking his medicine. On the ...more
Katherine Addison
The murder of Sir Theodosius Broughton--or maybe the not-murder of Sir Theodosius Broughton, since Cooke's speculation that he was (a) epileptic, (b) killing himself with quack medicines (18th century "cures" for syphilis all involve great quantities of mercury), or (c) both, seems not unreasonable--and the question of who did it. Did John Donellan kill his 20 year old brother in law, or did Sir Theodosius' mother kill him? Since everything we've got is documents from 1780 when neither forensic ...more
Jan 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: challenge-2013
The sordid underbelly of Georgian England made for very interesting reading. The author's research and excellent storytelling kept me engrossed in the aftermath of the mysterious death of a debauched 20-year-old (!) aristocrat. Unlike most fictional mysteries, the players in this story acted in seemingly contradictory and confusing ways, as real people do. There was never a clear villain, but several people with motive and means to do away with Theodosius Boughton. The train wreck of a trial was ...more
Geoff (G. Robbins) (merda constat variat altitudo)
A fascinating read for anyone with an interest in history.

John Donellan was a former army officer, returned from serving in India, who married the heiress to a title, lands and hall in Warwickshire in the 18th century. The case of his accusation and trial was a cause celebre in its day and was debated for many years after.

Elizabeth Cooke’s book is an entertaining read that could quite easily been buried in dry facts. She brings a sense of the times to the events that happened at Lawford Hall
Kathryn Stewart
Jan 07, 2017 rated it did not like it
This book was too all over the place. Jumping between generations of family that share similar names (several generations of Edwards for example) left a large chunk of this confusing to follow. A lot of the family backgrounds also seemed to be unnecessary and "filler" content.

I am a pretty big fan of true crime, but I personally didn't enjoy this one.
Interesting, but you have to LOVE minutiae. I ended up skimming the book, and don't think I missed too much.
Sep 19, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: world-history
Interesting topic and a well written book, but it went on way too long for the information available. This is basically a long magazine article that has been stretched into a book.
Diane Lewis
Jul 04, 2014 rated it really liked it
I read this book due to the poisoning aspect, which takes place in the exact same year as my current WIP, 1781. I didn't learn anything new, so I must have gotten the research right.
I came away from this story disgusted by the court system in the case of John Donellan; the man never had a chance.
When his young brother-in-law dies suddenly with convulsions, after drinking a draught, Donellan is blamed for the simple fact that he has rinsed out the medicine bottle afterwards, an action that
Aug 14, 2012 rated it liked it
The Damnation of John Donellan: A Mysterious Case of Death and Scandal in Georgian England takes on the shocking death of Theodosius Boughton, the 20-year-old heir to a fortune and baronetcy, in August 1780. Within an hour of taking a physic prescribed by his doctor, Boughton suffered convulsions and died. Could he have died of natural causes or accidentally died of poisoning from his medical treatments? Was he truly murdered? Although there could have been many natural causes of his death or ...more
Aug 21, 2013 rated it it was ok
This book is excruciatingly researched. My eyes crossed with irritation as I read the minutiae of the legal system in 18th century England. If you are outraged by the fact that the aristocracy would always throw the non-aristocracy to the wolves, if you love endless genealogies of families who give their first male child the same name (& in one instance ALL their children), then this book is for you. If you aren't excited by interpreting history by today's standards & knowledge, forget ...more
Aug 03, 2014 rated it did not like it
Shelves: history, london
This book *COULD* have been promising, but it is another case of an author thinking that what they think is fascinating will enthrall everyone else. Cooke is repetitive, stating and restating the same piece of evidence over and over, while mentioning other important "pieces" of the mystery once. (See: motive- children). Also, if readers don't understand the English judicial system, they can look into it on their own. Once again, I am left asking- WHY DO I CARE? What is this saying about ...more
Sep 19, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Being of a shy, retiring, modest frame of mind, I gave it five stars.....

Two years in the making, and I enjoyed every minute. The Boughton family were a revelation, but, as breathtaking as they were, it was nothing to the state of 18th century medecine and London in the 1780s.

Hope you enjoy.

All star ratings/comments/insights/information received with interest.

Liz Cooke (also writes as Elizabeth McGregor)
A young baronet dies just before he reaches his majority - was he poisoned by his brother in law, by his mother or did he just die of 'natural' causes due to being epileptic and syphillitic. This book examines the case and the suspects and tells the story of how John Donellan was executed as a murderer. Interesting read about crime and punishment in Georgian England.
Oct 07, 2012 rated it did not like it
I was expecting a lot from this book but it was really dry and hard to get through. Pages and pages are taken up with tiny details of the trial like whether a cork was put into a bottle lightly or firmly. Just not interesting.
Apr 17, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A real life Georgian England murder mystery. A suspect is identified, tried and executed, but did he really do it?
Sophia Stephen
Mar 21, 2013 rated it it was ok
Found it hard to read through. Found the last few chapters (starting from chapter 14) to be more interesting.
I read the beginning, skimmed/ignored the entire court proceedings, and read the final 2 chapters.
Paavo Ojala
rated it it was amazing
Jul 24, 2018
rated it it was amazing
May 23, 2013
Kate McDonald Walker
rated it really liked it
Nov 10, 2019
Lisa Humphries
rated it it was amazing
Jun 08, 2014
rated it did not like it
Mar 27, 2013
Brooke Cale
rated it it was ok
Dec 06, 2012
Helen Astley
rated it really liked it
Jul 12, 2013
rated it it was amazing
Mar 08, 2018
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Oct 25, 2012
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Jul 23, 2018
rated it it was ok
Jan 07, 2013
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Aug 11, 2015
rated it it was ok
Jun 23, 2015
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author of this book offers insights/discussion 1 5 Sep 19, 2011 07:56AM  

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See also Elizabeth McGregor and Holly Fox.

Elizabeth Cooke lives in Dorset in southern England and is the author of fourteen novels, many of which she wrote under the pseudonym Elizabeth McGregor, as well as a work of nonfiction, The Damnation of John Donellan: A Mysterious Case of Death and Scandal in Georgian England. Acclaimed for her vivid, emotionally powerful storytelling and rigorous