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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 morning of 30th August 1780 his mother, Lady Anna Maria Boughton, gave him his prescribed physic and insisted he take it, despite his disgust at the taste. Shortly after swallowing the mixture, he was dead.

What follows is a battle between Lady Anna Maria and her daughter's (the equally delightfully named Theodosia) husband John Donellan. Did somebody tamper with Theodosius's physick? Was Anna Maria attempting to blackmail Donellan into doing what she wanted within hours of her sons death? Did Donellan's refusal to do what Anna Maria wanted lead to his arrest on purely circumstantial evidence, or was he a fortune hunter who resented his younger brother in law? This book is full of scandal, gossip and sheer horror - including a ghoulish public autopsy where the corpse was reported to be, "a spectacle of horror scarce to be endured" and the death of a servant who may have had vital evidence.

Both the death and the trial are wonderfully recreated and the whole book, including the conclusion, well documented and interesting, if often sad. Whether Donellan was guilty or not, it is certain that he never had a fair trial, but read this yourself and make your own mind up. It is guaranteed you will be unable to put this down until you have finished it.
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on 21 May 2012
This was a fascinating retelling of how murder was investigated and tried before modern forensics. All the evidence was circumstantial but in an age when justice was influenced by social circumstances and who you knew, Donellan was damned as soon as the suspicion of poison was raised. The frustrating thing was the death may not have been caused by murder at all. It was easy to think that this was fiction and expect a neat conclusion, but this was history and in the end we will never know if an innocent man was condemned, if a guilty women got away with it, or if there was a murder at all.
The author gave just the right amount of background history of the people involved and it was interesting to read about what happened after.
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on 18 February 2013
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 during that warm summer of 1780. The young Baronet, a headstrong womaniser, had come down with syphilis and was under the care of the local apothecary. What truly happened that day in August is still shrouded in mystery and conjecture.

Rumour had it that Theodocius Boughton had been poisoned. Whether this was true or not, was less concerning than the rumour. Once the rumour was started, the search was on for a poisoner, irrespective of whether a poisoning took place. The accused was John Donellan.

The book follows the aftermath of the death and the subsequent trial of Donellan, followed by an analysis by the author and the thoughts of others that had looked at the case in the subsequent years.

Whilst entertaining, this is not a classic whodunit. Unlike fiction, factual events rarely have clear cut and definitive answers, so anyone looking for a simple `was Donellan guilty?' will be disappointed. However, the journey is worth the time and provides an entertaining read.

The editing is of a high quality with few grammatical errors.
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on 6 December 2011
Just finished this book and what a book it was. I bought it because of all the great reviews, particularly the most recent in The Times. It certainly lived up to expectation for me. It's a beautifully put together, non-fictional account of John Donellan's trial set against the backdrop of Georgian England. The plot unravels in a way that is both entertaining and ultimately devastating. I can really see this book made into a film - some extraordinary characters in such an outrageous setting - you cannot help but have an opinion on this world and the people in it. A real gem of a read and a fantastic, intelligent piece of storytelling.
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on 3 October 2014
Loved this book, a wonderful insight into 18th Century rural England, recommended
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on 28 March 2012
We chose this book for our reading group because of a local connection with the author. It certainly provoked much discussion both about the book and the period.
It is a literary "cold case" - a man is dead and there are several possible explanations and several possible murderers - if murder it was!
Thinking of the way in which the book is constructed I am left with a sense of awe for the amount of research that has gone in to it and the cross referencing about timings, motives and relationships. Like Elizabeth Cooke I needed to check and double check and keep telling myself that it was fact and not fiction.
I am not certain that I liked any of the characters - Anna Maria is certainly a mother in law from hell and, as for Justice Buller, well - he should be taken out and shot!
Intrigued? Still think that the old days were better? Read this fascinating and intriguing tale and find out.
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on 3 August 2011
Heard an interview on radio about this; really intriguing story full of family scandal. A battle to the death really between mother and son-in-law! Lots of interesting period detail esp about medical care; also about London society - those Georgians were party people, to say the least. I wont spoil the end of the story, but Elizabeth Cooke comes up with a theory as to what really killed Theodosious Boughton. Reminded me of 'The Suspicions of Mr.Whicher'. A great read, the ultimate detective mystery!
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on 10 August 2011
A really well laid-out book. The scene is set, the characters are introduced then the trial unfolds. What follows is a fascinating insight into a 230 year old legal drama. Not exactly a 'whodunnit' more a 'didhedoit'! A great read.
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on 5 September 2011
Intrigued by the title, I picked up "The Damnation of John Donellan" in a bookshop and after thumbing through the pages, realised that as a sucker for a scandal I might enjoy it and I was not to be disappointed. They say that truth is stranger than fiction and although Elizabeth Cooke has theorised and speculated around many aspects of this factual case, the known evidence could hardly have been made up any better to make this book such an interesting and enjoyable read. The death of Theodosius Broughton today would clearly have been investigated by the forensic science team, but the lack of what we might call a proper investigation at the time made a suspect of every member of the family and the household so we can all come to our own conclusion. This book is a testament to how grateful we must all be today to have the benefit of modern crime investigation in proving our innocence as well as our guilt when a crime is committed and I therefore cared about the fate of John Donellan, guilty or not whose fate hung on such tenuous threads, the pendulum swinging either way. So many times I wanted to question him myself and with modern knowledge, undisputably disprove something that his accusers used against him. Elizabeth Cooke has written something that gave me an insight into the Georgian period,the aristocracy of the time, medicine and the intricacies of law without making me feel I was wading through a history book, and I didn't know I was so interested in all this until I read it which I believe was due to her obvious extensive research and the quality of her writing. This wasn't a "Pot Noodle" of a book but a really satisfying three course meal with coffee and canapes.
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on 18 August 2011
What a great read, so much detail it takes you right back, a real history lesson and so enjoyable, a must read for 2011.
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