illustration of Sherlock Holmes in profile looking across a cityscape with a magnifying glass in the distance and a speckled band visible through the glass

The Adventure of the Speckled Band

by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
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In "The Adventure of the Speckled Band," how did the Roylott family lose all the money they had?

In "The Adventure of the Speckled Band," the Roylott family lost its wealth through a succession of poor heirs who, across the span of a century, squandered the family fortune, leaving the family in financial ruin. These details are important because they provide the motive behind Dr. Roylott's crimes.

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The details as to how the Roylott family lost its wealth are provided early in "The Adventures of the Speckled Band" when Helen Stoner visits Holmes to entreat him for assistance. As the story goes, the Roylotts had once been fantastically wealthy, but that wealth had been squandered through the preceding century. As she states, "four successive heirs were of a dissolute and wasteful disposition," and in this you can imagine that the results of their mismanagement compounded over time, so that the family fortunes gradually grew more and more distressed. Their ruination, she states, was finished by the work of a "gambler," resulting in the situation which Dr. Grimesby Roylott would inherit, with a once great fortune having been reduced to " a few acres of ground, and the two-hundred-year-old house, which is itself crushed under a heavy mortgage."

This context serves as the motivation for Roylott's crimes. Already in a state of severe financial distress, he manages to marry, gaining access to his wife's fortune, but under the terms that he provide each of his stepdaughters an annuity upon their getting married (a condition which, given his already severe financial distress, would result in financial ruin). When Helen's sister Julia is engaged to be married, she dies under mysterious circumstances (killed by Roylott), and now that Helen is engaged as well, that history is repeating once again. Terrified, she turns to Holmes for his assistance, and he proceeds to unravel the truth of the Roylott case, even as Roylott himself is killed.

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