700 Year-old Murder Solved?: Did Foxglove Do In Cangrande della Scala?

17 Mar

You might find Foxglove in your garden. It’s a beautiful plant with clusters of trumpet-like flowers. It’s also a deadly poison. It’s the source of the cardiac medication digitalis that is commonly used for certain cardiac arrhythmias and a few other medical conditions.


Foxglove has been around for thousands or years and has long been known for its poisonous properties. In 1329, at the ripe old age of 38, Cangrande della Scala, the ruler of Verona, Italy, and patron of Dante Alighieri, died after complaining of gastrointestinal symptoms. These symptoms are common in cases of digitalis toxicity.


Now his exhumed body has been subjected to a more modern analysis and it seems that digitalis spores were detected in his colon. Was he poisoned with this deadly drug? Maybe, maybe not. But it is intriguing.


Posted by on March 17, 2015 in Interesting Cases, Poisons & Drugs


8 responses to “700 Year-old Murder Solved?: Did Foxglove Do In Cangrande della Scala?

  1. Susan Shea

    March 17, 2015 at 11:46 am

    Why “maybe not?” Unless foxglove was even then used medicinally, there’d be no reason to find the spores in his intestines, would there? Maybe he inhaled it on a walk in the garden? If so, there must have been some other unexplained deaths there and then?


    • D.P. Lyle, MD

      March 17, 2015 at 11:48 am

      Yes the finding could be from a casual exposure to the pollen and not necessarily from any evil intent.


  2. Suzanne Joshi

    March 17, 2015 at 1:24 pm



  3. Cheryl B. Dale

    March 17, 2015 at 1:58 pm

    Interesting. I wonder how many intentional deaths can be attributed to it.


  4. Aileen Baron

    March 17, 2015 at 10:47 pm

    He still has a colon after 700 years?



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