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The Marquess of Queensberry

The Marquess of Queensberry: Wilde's Nemesis

Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    The Marquess of Queensberry
    Book Description:

    The Marquess of Queensberry is as famous for his role in the downfall of one of our greatest literary geniuses as he was for helping establish the rules for modern-day boxing. The trial and two-year imprisonment of Oscar Wilde, lover of Queensberry's son, Lord Alfred Douglas, remains one of literary history's great tragedies. However, Linda Stratmann's riveting biography of the Marquess paints a far more complex picture by drawing on new sources and unpublished letters. Throughout his life, Queensberry was emotionally damaged by a series of tragedies, and the events of the Wilde affair-told for the first time from the Marquess's perspective-were directly linked to Queensberry's personal crises. Through the retelling of pivotal events from Queensberry's life-the death of his brother on the Matterhorn and his fruitless search for the body; the suicides of his father, brother, and eldest son-the book reveals a well-meaning man often stricken with a grief he found hard to express, who deserves our compassion.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-19483-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. viii-ix)
  4. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  5. Author’s Note
    (pp. x-xii)
  6. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  7. Queensberry Family Trees
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  8. Introduction: The Card
    (pp. xvii-xviii)

    At 4.30 p.m., on 18 February 1895 John Sholto Douglas, ninth Marquess of Queensberry entered the Albemarle Club, near London’s fashionable Piccadilly. He had never felt more alone, or more desperate. For the last two weeks he had been trying unsuccessfully to arrange a confrontation with Oscar Wilde, whose relationship with his son Lord Alfred (Bosie) Douglas, was the talk of London society.

    Queensberry had known for some time that Bosie had been blackmailed over homosexual liaisons at Oxford University but had kept this distressing information secret. It was galling enough that Bosie had failed to take his degree and...

  9. CHAPTER 1 Son and Heir
    (pp. 1-15)

    John Sholto Douglas, ninth Marquess of Queensberry has a unique and unfortunate place in the history of literature: he is almost universally reviled as the man who precipitated the tragic downfall of Oscar Wilde. The ultimate though not exclusive responsibility for Wilde’s downfall must be borne by Wilde, who committed a criminal offence, had the man who exposed him put on trial for libel, and then lied in the witness box, but Wilde’s well-deserved rehabilitation as a literary genius and a good if not flawless human being has led to the demonising of his accuser. Queensberry, denounced by biographers as...

  10. CHAPTER 2 The Queensberry Inheritance
    (pp. 16-26)

    In January 1855 Lord Aberdeen resigned, and in the following month Lord Palmerston was asked to form a government. Palmerston was everything Archibald was not: a long-serving dedicated statesman, a Whig, an old opponent of Peel and an advocate of religious tolerance. Court appointments remained unchanged, but Archibald, with his seventy-five-year-old father’s health giving cause for concern, knew that his time in the Commons was running out. Archibald desperately wanted to remain in politics and the only certain way he could do so after his father’s death was to be awarded a British peerage. He asked for his uncle’s old...

  11. CHAPTER 3 The Young Gentleman
    (pp. 27-41)

    The primary task of a naval cadet was study and training to fit him as an officer destined for command. As one of the 113 cadets on theIllustriousQueensberry would have received lessons every day except Sunday, and a monthly allowance of £3 16s. A substantial part of his education consisted of mathematics and navigation with additional classes in French and drawing. There were four instructors although occasionally the boys were treated to a lecture from Captain Harris on subjects such as the construction of ships and the currents of the ocean. Menial duties – the daily cleaning, frequent...

  12. CHAPTER 4 Night on a Mountain
    (pp. 42-51)

    After leaving the navy Queensberry spent a few months visiting family and friends, then on 9 November 1864 he formally enrolled at Magdalen College, Cambridge University, where almost certainly his intention was not to study for a degree but to mark time until he reached the age of twenty-one and gained control of his inheritance. No records remain to show what he studied, but an article inBailey’s Monthly Magazinesuggests classics and mathematics.¹ His chief interest however would have been sport, which from the middle of the nineteenth century was a central part of the education of the elite....

  13. CHAPTER 5 ‘He Thought He Loved’
    (pp. 52-66)

    Sybil Montgomery’s father, Alfred was born on 13 April 1814, the fourth son of Sir Henry Conyngham Montgomery of Donegal who had served in India as a cavalry officer, and later as a member of parliament. The opportunities for even such a well-connected fourth son being limited, Alfred, who was educated at Charterhouse, became a clerk in the Admiralty, and soon demonstrated a capacity for reliability, trustworthiness, and a meticulous attention to duty. He was also well dressed, well read, amusing company, and very handsome. Even his faults were attractive. A lisp and a stammer which for another man might...

  14. CHAPTER 6 The Game and Sporting Lord
    (pp. 67-80)

    The sport with which Queensberry is now most closely associated is boxing, but while his actual contribution to the revival of a sport that had by the 1860s virtually been declared dead was not, at the time, regarded as ground-breaking, what he did was to set in motion a series of events that were to have far-reaching consequences.

    The legislation that had doomed the prize ring was the Metropolitan Police Act of 1839 which made it lawful for any constable to take into custody, without a warrant, anyone he found disturbing the public peace, or whom he suspected of having...

  15. CHAPTER 7 Original Notions
    (pp. 81-94)

    Queensberry’s long spiritual journey which had begun in 1865 with grief and confusion would pass through a process of enquiry followed by enlightenment leading to bombastic certainty, missionary zeal and finally rage, but its progress was almost certainly slowed by the responsibilities of marriage, family and estates and the consolations of sport. Outwardly he would not have struck an observer as concerned with anything beyond the living of life in the present. His sporting acquaintances, though not his close friends, would have been amazed at the notion of Queensberry as a thinker. C. M. Croker Pennell, an admiral’s son from...

  16. CHAPTER 8 Judged by his Peers
    (pp. 95-106)

    Queensberry expected, somewhat naïvely, that at the next general election he would be automatically re-elected as a Scottish representative peer. The smart money was on an autumn 1880 contest, and if Queensberry had been able to bide his time – although it must be admitted that the chances of his remaining silent were slim – there was almost a year for the furore about hisVanity Fairletters to die down and his position to be better understood. In the event Prime Minister Lord Beaconsfield astonished practically everyone by dissolving parliament in March 1880. Queensberry had yet to publish a...

  17. CHAPTER 9 An Undercurrent of Eccentricity
    (pp. 107-120)

    The public vilification of Queensberry after he declared himself an agnostic destroyed his chances of ever being well thought of in respectable society, but in the more bohemian world of gentlemen’s entertainment, it was another matter.

    A slow, quiet revolution had been taking place in the sport of boxing, and the resurgence of pugilism gave Queensberry another arena, a place where he could meet people who were good company and didn’t care about his religion or what he thought about marriage. The rules devised for the Queensberry Cups had become established in the public mind as the Queensberry Rules, and...

  18. CHAPTER 10 Full of Woes
    (pp. 121-136)

    In February 1886 Queensberry was officially ‘pilled’ or blackballed from the Reform Club. He had been proposed by Lord Rosebery and seconded by Lord Kensington, but ‘the members of the Reform protest that they do not want in their midst a peer who would destroy all the furniture to prove his belief in nothing at all.’ Either Queensberry’s comments in his letter of 30 January had been shown to others or the threat of smashing furniture was one he had made before. ‘The Marquis is a most unfortunate man,’ observed theLiverpool Mercury. ‘He is not thought fit to be...

  19. CHAPTER 11 Four Sons and a Daughter
    (pp. 137-148)

    As a father, Queensberry must have been a source of ambiguity and confusion to his offspring, the children who by his own lights carried on the existence of his soul. Although absent for most of their upbringing he remained a distant presence whose activities were constantly reported in the newspapers. A source of notoriety and money, he would visit them infrequently, correspond occasionally and hover over the family like some rumbling unpredictable cloud that might either storm or reveal sunshine. ‘As a boy I adored my father,’ wrote Bosie in 1929, ‘and looked up to him as a wonderful man...

  20. CHAPTER 12 The Antipathy of Similars
    (pp. 149-160)

    In 1891 seventy-year-old dowager marchioness Caroline had lost none of her fire, and remained an ardent Fenian, although her letters to the newspapers were less frequent than in her heyday. Florence had effectively taken over her mother’s campaigning role, supporting the women’s suffrage movement and Home Rule for Ireland, although her reputation had been permanently damaged by her long discredited story of the attempt on her life at Windsor. The Dixies’ finances continued to slide, and they were obliged to give up the Fishery and settle in Glen Stuart where they lived in ‘somewhat reduced circumstances’.¹ Florence returned to her...

  21. CHAPTER 13 A Serious Slight
    (pp. 161-173)

    By 1893 Queensberry was no longer the trim figure of his youthful days. Thickset and muscular he had given up riding and, looking for new ways of burning energy and keeping himself fit, he became a keen cyclist. ‘“Q” as his intimate friends called him, once spun up from the Star and Garter, Richmond, to his place in town in forty minutes. A punch-ball used to be one of his favourite methods of taking exercise, and that, again, if one has a suitable room for it, is a rare good way of keeping oneself fit in town.’¹

    In his late...

  22. CHAPTER 14 Wounded Feelings
    (pp. 174-188)

    There was another disappointment awaiting Queensberry on his return from the Continent in 1893. Bosie had left Oxford without a degree, having failed to turn up for his final exams in June. Queensberry was understandably angry, and wrote what Wilde later described as ‘a very vulgar, violent and abusive letter. The letter [Bosie] sent him in reply was every way worse.’¹ Bosie claimed that he missed the examination because of illness and might have taken his degree later but that his father was happy for him not to, saying that ‘he had never known a degree to be worth twopence...

  23. CHAPTER 15 Catastrophe
    (pp. 189-202)

    Perhaps Queensberry had taken Labouchère’s advice and was trying to wash his hands of Bosie. Made miserable by events in London he felt a need to get away, and headed off to Scotland, staying at Glen Stuart. ‘I am so much better in the country and have taken such a horror of London life that I feel I shall never go back there and live the terrible life,’ he wrote. ‘I was so utterly depressed and wretched when I left London.’¹

    He had become reconciled to Percy’s marriage and sent him an affectionate letter with a ‘small cheque’ a ‘pony’...

  24. CHAPTER 16 A Family Divided
    (pp. 203-213)

    In the winter of 1894 Queensberry was staying in the forester’s cottage at Comlongon Castle. It was ‘dismal and austere, but it was a better life than I am accustomed to’.¹ Unfortunately he quarrelled with his cousin Arthur Douglas and his wife ‘the holy christian Jane’,² who decided that she didn’t want him there. He had probably been unable to restrain himself from diatribes against Christianity, which had become entangled in his mind with the circumstances of Francis’s death. In late December or early January he left the cottage and went to stay at the County and Station Hotel, Carlisle,...

  25. CHAPTER 17 The Peer and the Poet
    (pp. 214-226)

    Bosie was sufficiently alarmed by his father’s bid to shower Wilde with vegetables to buy Wilde a swordstick so that he could defend himself against possible assault. Wilde in the meantime had instructed his solicitor to prosecute Queensberry for threats and insulting conduct. Humphreys responded on 28 February, saying he was unable to comply, ‘inasmuch as upon investigating the case we have met with every obstruction from Mr George Alexander, the manager, and his staff at the theatre, who decline to give us any statements or to render any assistance to you’.¹

    Had Lord Queensberry been permitted to carry out...

  26. CHAPTER 18 In the Dock
    (pp. 227-238)

    The trial of Queensberry, commented Sir Travers Humphreys, ‘exhibited all the features of a cause célèbre. It is not every day that a Marquess can be seen in the dock of the Old Bailey charged with libel.’¹ Since the plaintiff was a playwright with two plays currently enjoying a successful London run and it was understood that the decency of Wilde’s writings would be called into question, there was an immediate clamour by all classes of society for admission to the court. What they expected may have been a demonstration of Wilde’s flashing wit, and that, to begin with, they...

  27. CHAPTER 19 The Price of Victory
    (pp. 239-254)

    Only a brave or foolhardy man would speak out in defence of Wilde but on 16 April a letter calling for more charitable treatment for the fallen poet was published inThe Star. The writer was author Robert Buchanan, who asked whether those who were casting stones were ‘without sin’ or ‘are themselves notoriously corrupt’.¹ Queensberry thought the question was aimed at him, and responded ‘I certainly don’t claim to be [without sin] myself, though I am compelled to throw the first stone. Whether or not I am justly* notoriously corrupt I am waiting patiently for the future to decide.’²...

  28. CHAPTER 20 ‘Where Stars shall ever shed their Light’
    (pp. 255-273)

    The Douglases and Montgomerys were never to admit, at least in writing, that Queensberry’s allegations were neither an insane delusion nor a deliberate, malicious invention. Perhaps they preferred to believe that whatever had been true about Wilde and other young men, Bosie had somehow been exempt. Alfred Montgomery, already a broken and declining man after the death of Francis, never recovered from the terrible blow of Bosie’s disgrace. He died on 5 April 1896.

    Once the public acclaim following Wilde’s exposure had evaporated, Queensberry found himself back on the fringes of society, which was probably where he felt most comfortable....

  29. Epilogue
    (pp. 274-278)

    For too long John Sholto Douglas, ninth Marquess of Queensberry has been represented as an evil, brutal, insane bigot who set out to destroy literary genius Oscar Wilde. In biographies of Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas (Bosie) the exaggerated and sometimes demonstrably untrue allegations against Queensberry made in Bosie’s hysterical and self-justifying letters and memoirs are often repeated as fact without further examination. Events in which Queensberry had no hand, such as the criminal prosecution of Wilde, are attributed to his personal malice. The motives for his actions are frequently misinterpreted, so the prudent financial management of his estates has...

  30. Notes
    (pp. 279-291)
  31. Bibliography
    (pp. 292-303)
  32. Index
    (pp. 304-316)