Madeleine Smith’s Trial: A Scotland Murder Mystery

The story of Madeleine Smith’s trial is still popular in books, musicals, and movies. After over 160 years, the murder of her lover is still a mystery. How did her story capture the minds of the public? Why is Madeleine’s story still talked about today?

The murder of Madeleine’s lover, Pierre Emile L’angelier took place in 19th century Scotland, in the city of Glasgow. Murder cases were not new in the country before then. Eight years earlier, in 1848, there had been the murder of James Young. However, in Madeleine’s case, it was called the murder of the century.

19th Century Scotland

The 19th century was an era when Scotland moved towards modernization, with Glasgow and the River Clyde being a major shipbuilding center. The lifestyle during that era was quite different from the way it is now. They were a Victorian society upholding the rules of decency greatly. This view will help you understand why Madeleine’s story gained popularity.

Madeleine’s Early Life

Madeleine Hamilton Smith was born on 29th March 1835 to a middle-class family in Glasgow. Her father, James Smith, was an architect. Her mother, Elizabeth Smith, was the daughter of David Hamilton, a neoclassical architect.

The Smith family had their home at No 7, Blythswood Square, Glasgow. They also owned a country property at Rhu, on the Power Clyde, near Helensburgh. Madeleine was sent to school in London from 1851-1853 before returning to Glasgow at age 18.

The Secret Affair

In 1855 when Madeline was 20, one of her neighbors first introduced her to Emilie L’angelier. Emile was 29 and was originally from Channels Island. He worked as a packing clerk in a warehouse at 10 Bothwell Street.

Their match was unlikely at the time. While Madeleine was from a wealthy family, Emile was a working professional who was almost ten years older. They both began a love affair. The lovers would frequently meet at Madeleine’s bedroom window at night.

The pair would also begin communicating in secret by letter. Emile would deliver by hand through her window. Madeleine used the local postal service to deliver hers. Their love letters had records of several steamy conversations relating to their sex life.

Madeleine was well aware her family would never approve of such a match due to Emile’s financial and social status. They continued the affair anyway, and Madeleine promised to marry him.

In January 1957, things took a different turn. Her family approved a proposal for her with William Harper Minnoch, whom they considered a suitable suitor. In February, Madeleine agreed to marry Minnoch and asked Emile to return her letters. He refused, threatening to forward the explicit letters to her father if she didn’t marry him.

The Murder

Between February and March that year, Madeleine was known to have made three purchases of arsenic. Her third and last purchase was on 18th March.

In the early morning of 23rd March, Emile died after falling ill. The coroner later revealed that enormous amounts of arsenic were in his stomach.

On discovering Madeleine’s letters at his apartment, the police went on a raid of her home. They found a receipt for the purchase of arsenic from a local chemist. These revelations saw Madeleine arrested on 31st March and charged with murder.

Madeleine Smith’s Trial

On 1st July 1857, Madeleine Smith’s trial began at the High Court in Edinburgh. The court learned how the deceased had spent two months battling an unknown ailment. His landlady revealed that one February morning, he had been vomiting uncontrollably, and his complexion was pale.

The jury charged Madeleine with administering arsenic on three separate occasions with the intent to kill. The poison was allegedly given through cups of cocoa to the deceased through her bedroom window. The volume of letters between the two lovers formed a core part of the trial.

Throughout the eight days of the trial, she maintained her innocence and pleaded not guilty. Due to a lack of evidence, the prosecution could not prove that Madeleine was the murderer. The jury finally returned a verdict of “not proven.”

In Scottish law, a ‘not proven’ verdict doesn’t establish the innocence of the defendant.  Rather it concludes that the prosecution does have sufficient evidence to prove that the accused is guilty. Madeleine got away scot-free, and opinions remain divided over her innocence.

The Scandal

In the context of her time, Madeleine’s letters were a shocking revelation. Not only because of her gender and class, but because of their explicit content. As a member of Glasgow’s genteel high society, she had gone against the strict Victorian conventions.

It led to many questions about womanhood at the time. How a young woman could have sex before marriage and be bold enough to write about how much she enjoyed it. It was a crucial issue to society, and her trial became a scandal in Scotland.

How’s Scotland Like Today?

The lifestyle today in Scotland, just like the rest of the world has changed, particularly as it applies to women.  Today’s Scotland is a busy industrialized nation. The country experiences short durations of extreme weather.

You can experience extreme cold one day, and the next morning you can have sunshine. Living here means you’ll have to beef up your heating and cooling system for whatever the weather brings. The best option for you during winter might be a tankless water heater. When it gets warm, an air cooler will be best.

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