Madeleine Smith


In the mid 19th century the population of Glasgow was growing, hurtling towards the half million mark, despite the high infant death rate and absolute poverty crippling the working classes. With tenement houses full to bursting with families the upper classes were thriving in the cities affluent centre.

Madeleine Smith was born on Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow in 1835 . Her father the famed architect James Smith, Madeleine grew up in wealth and affluence. At aged 15,

Madeleine Smith circa 1855
already a highly regarded young socialite, she  embarked on an elicit affair with an older man, one Pierre Emile L’Angelier.

Throughout their affair  they would send each other hundreds of  letters and under the spell  of young love she agreed to marry him. Her family, unaware of the affair and eager to match make, set her up to marry a middle class gent by the name of William Harper Minnoch. Subsequently, it would seem, she called off the affair and became engaged to Minnoch instead. The couple then moved into an apartment in 7 Blythwood Square.

7 Blythswood Square 


Pierre was, understandably, unimpressed and he threatened to show her father the letters and generally ruin her reputation.



Conveniently for Madeleine,  Pierre then popped his clogs.

Later sociological evidence confirmed the victim died of arsenic poisoning and its speculated L’Angelier had unwittingly ingested the deadly poison in spiked cups of cocoa which Madeleine had allegedly served him at 7 Blythswood Square.

It followed that Madeleine was charged with his murder. The circumstantial evidence against her was considerable, they had the letters and eye witness accounts of their meeting in the past and  most damningly she was seen signing for and ordering arsenic at the druggists under her own name. Some believe L’Angelier poisoned himself in an act of revenge. This theory stems from some journal entries  that L’Angelier kept in the weeks before his death that seemed to suggest he was planning revenge, but the excerpts were pretty cryptic and couldn’t really be further investigated.

Pierre Emile L’Angelier

As far as the evidence of poisoning; the doctors were told to search solely for a poison, and poison is the only thing they searched for and could testify about.

In court the jury was unconvinced that Smith was innocent, but the prosecution had produced insufficient evidence to the contrary and so a verdict of not proven was presented which resulted in riotous applause from the public galleries.

Madeleine, who had spent much of the preceding days looking quite emotionless and vacant, was said to have cracked a brief smile upon hearing the news

After the trial, the scandal having sufficiently ruined her reputation in Glasgow, Madeleine moved to London where she married into money. It is reported she died in

Lena Wardle Sheehy in 1920s New York
New York City in  1928 aged 92 and is  buried under the name Lena Wardle Sheehy

Most modern scholars believe that Smith committed the crime and the only thing that saved her from a guilty verdict and a death sentence was that no eyewitness could prove that Smith and l’Angellier had met in the weeks before his death

7 Blythswood Squre today
7 Blythswood Square is now part of a busy business district with offices occupying the space

L’Anglier is buried in Glasgows Ramshorn Kirk cemetry.


One thought on “Madeleine Smith

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  1. Mary Buchanan was the grand-daughter of my great-grandfather x 8? John Dickson of Dumbarton Glassworks. She went to school in London with Madeleine Smith and actually accompanied her to the chemist when M bought the poison. She had no idea what she would use it for ( allegedly use it for!) Another irony was that the judge was Lord Handyside and he shares a surname with me as that was my maiden name and my father’s family were from Edinburgh and probably a branch of the same family.

    Liked by 1 person

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