John Douglas, 9th Marquess of Queensberry

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John Marquess of Queensberry
John Queensberry in 1896
Born (1844-07-20)20 July 1844
Florence, Grand Duchy of Tuscany, Italy
Died 31 January 1900(1900-01-31) (aged 55)
London, England, United Kingdom
Title Marquess of Queensberry
Tenure 6 August 1858 – 31 January 1900
Spouse(s) Sibyl Montgomery (m.1866–1887)
Ethel Weeden (m.1893–1894)
Issue Francis Douglas, Viscount Drumlanrig & Baron Kelhead
Percy Douglas, 10th Marquess of Queensberry
Lord Alfred Douglas
Lord Sholto Douglas
Lady Edith Douglas
Parents Archibald Douglas, 8th Marquess of Queensberry
Caroline Margaret Clayton

John Sholto Douglas, 9th Marquess of Queensberry (20 July 1844 – 31 January 1900) was a Scottish nobleman, remembered for his outspoken views, for lending his name to the "Queensberry Rules" that form the basis of modern boxing, and for his role in the downfall of author and playwright Oscar Wilde.


John Douglas was born in Florence, Italy, the eldest son of Conservative politician Archibald Viscount Drumlanrig and Caroline Margaret Clayton. He had three brothers, Francis, Archibald, and James, and two sisters, Gertrude and Florence. He was briefly styled Viscount Drumlanrig following his father's succession in 1856, and on the latter's death in 1858 he inherited the Marquessate of Queensberry. The 9th Marquess was educated in the training ships Illustrious and Britannia at Portsmouth, and served in the Royal Navy until resigning in 1864.[1] He was Lieutenant-Colonel commanding the 1st Dumfriesshire Rifle Volunteers from 1869 to 1871.[2]

In 1864 Queensberry entered Magdalene College, Cambridge, which he left two years later without taking a degree.[3] He was more distinguished in sport, playing college cricket as well as running, hunting, and steeplechasing.[4]

He married Sibyl Montgomery in 1866. They had four sons and a daughter; his wife successfully sued for divorce in 1887 on the grounds of his adultery.[5] She survived him to the age of 90, dying in 1935.[1] Queensberry married Ethel Weeden in 1893 but the marriage was annulled the following year.

Queensberry sold the family seat of Kinmount in Dumfriesshire, Scotland, an action which further alienated him from his family.

He died, two months after a stroke, and after a period of mental decline believed to be caused by syphilis, in his club room in Welbeck Street, west London,[6] aged 55, nearly a year before Oscar Wilde's death. He wrote a poem starting with the words "When I am dead cremate me." After cremation at Woking Crematorium his ashes were buried in the family graveyard at Kinmount, Dumfriesshire.[1][6]

In a surprising turn of events, for a man famed for his atheism and secularism, he apparently confessed his love for Christ and was received into the Catholic Church on his deathbed, at his own request.[7]

His eldest son and heir apparent was Francis Viscount Drumlanrig, who was rumoured to have been engaged in a homosexual relationship with the Liberal Prime Minister, Arcihbald Earl of Roseberry. He died unmarried and without issue.

Douglas' second son, Lord Percy Douglas (1868–1920), succeeded to the peerage instead.[8] Lord Alfred "Bosie" Douglas, the third son, was the close friend and lover of the famous author and poet Oscar Wilde. Queensberry's efforts to end that relationship led to his famous dispute with Wilde.

Contributions to sports[edit]

Queensberry was a patron of sport and a noted boxing enthusiast. In 1866 he was one of the founders of the Amateur Athletic Club, now the Amateur Athletic Association of England, one of the first groups that did not require amateur athletes to belong to the upper-classes in order to compete. The following year the Club published a set of twelve rules for conducting boxing matches. The rules had been drawn up by John Graham Chambers but appeared under Queensberry's sponsorship and are universally known as the "Queensberry rules".[9][10]

A keen rider, Queensberry was also active in fox hunting and owned several successful race horses. As a rider his first winner was in the Dumfriesshire Hunt Club chase in 1865, and his last was at Sandown Park in 1883. He was Master of the Worcester Fox Hounds in 1870. He was on the committee of the National Hunt but never won a Grand National as a rider, a last-minute substitution on the victorious "Old Joe" keeping him out of the 1886 National. During his riding career he recovered from a series of serious injuries.[11]

Political career[edit]

1877 caricature of Queensberry in Vanity Fair.

In 1872, Queensberry was chosen by the Peers of Scotland to sit in the House of Lords as a representative peer. He served as such until 1880, when he was again nominated but refused to take the religious oath of allegiance to the Sovereign. Viewed by some as an outspoken atheist,[12] he declared that he would not participate in any "Christian tomfoolery" and that his word should suffice. As a consequence neither he nor Charles Bradlaugh, who had also refused to take the oath after being elected to the House of Commons, were allowed to take their seats in parliament. This prompted an apology from the new Prime Minister, William Gladstone. Bradlaugh was re-elected four times by the constituents of Northampton until he was finally allowed to take his seat in 1886. Queensberry, however, was never again sent to parliament by the Scottish nobles.

In 1881, Queensberry accepted the presidency of the British Secular Union,[citation needed] a group that had broken away in 1877 from Bradlaugh's National Secular Society. That year he published a long philosophical poem, The Spirit of the Matterhorn, which he had written in Zermatt in 1873 in an attempt to articulate his secularist views. In 1882, he was ejected from the theatre after loudly interrupting a performance of the play The Promise of May by Alfred Lord Tennyson, the Poet Laureate, because it included a villainous atheist in its cast of characters. Under the auspices of the British Secular Union, Queensberry wrote a pamphlet entitled The Religion of Secularism and the Perfectibility of Man. The Union, always small, ceased to function in 1884.

His divorces, brutality, atheism, and association with the boxing world made Queensberry an unpopular figure in London high society. In 1893 his eldest son Francis was made a baron, thus giving him an automatic seat in the House of Lords. Queensberry resented his son sitting in a chamber that had refused to admit him, leading to a bitter dispute between himself and both his son and the Earl of Rosebery, who had promoted Francis' ennoblement and who shortly thereafter became Prime Minister. Francis was killed in a shooting accident in 1894; the inquest returned an "accidental death" verdict,[13] but his death may have been a suicide. Queensberry believed, as he put it in a letter, that "snob queers like Rosebery" had corrupted his sons, and held Rosebery responsible for Francis's death.[14]

Dispute with Oscar Wilde[edit]

The card which was the basis of the lawsuit.
Main article: Wilde vs Queensberry

In February 1895, angered by the apparent ongoing homosexual relationship between Oscar Wilde and his son Alfred, Queensberry left a calling card reading "For Oscar Wilde, posing as Somdomite" at Wilde's club. Wilde sued for criminal libel, leading to Queensberry's arrest.

Queensberry's lawyers, headed by barrister Edward Carson, portrayed Wilde as a vicious older man who seduced innocent young boys into a life of degenerate homosexuality. Wilde dropped the libel case when Queensberry's lawyers informed the court that they intended to call several male prostitutes as witnesses to testify that they had had sex with Wilde. According to the Libel Act 1843, proving the truth of the accusation and a public interest in its exposure was a defence against a libel charge, and Wilde's lawyers concluded that the prostitutes' testimony was likely to do that. Queensberry won a counterclaim against Wilde for the considerable expenses he had incurred on lawyers and private detectives in organising his defence. Wilde was left bankrupt; his assets were seized and sold at auction to pay the claim.

Queensberry then sent the evidence collected by his detectives to Scotland Yard, which resulted in Wilde being charged and convicted of gross indecency under the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885 and sentenced to two years' hard labour. His health and reputation destroyed, Wilde went into exile in France and died, ten months after Queensberry, at the Hotel d'Alsace in Paris in 1900.


Screen portrayals[edit]

Queensberry has been portrayed by a number of actors in later dramatisations of the Wilde-Alfred Douglas affair, notably:

He is featured as a main character in the Adult Swim cartoon "Mike Tyson Mysteries" in which he serves as a lifestyle coach to Mike Tyson.



  1. ^ a b c The Complete Peerage, Volume X. St Catherine's Press. 1945. p. 706. 
  2. ^ Kelly's Handbook to the Titled, Landed and Official Classes, 1895. Kelly's. p. 1000. 
  3. ^ "Queensberry, John Sholto (Douglas), Marquess of (QNSY864JS)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge. 
  4. ^ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Volume 16. Oxford University Press. 2004. p. 693. ISBN 0-19-861366-0.  Article by John Davis.
  5. ^ "The Queensberry Divorce Case", The Times, 24 January 1887, p. 4
  6. ^ a b Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Volume 16. p. 695. 
  7. ^ Pearce, Joseph, "Literary Converts", p. 17
  8. ^ [1] Archived 15 April 2015 at the Wayback Machine.
  9. ^ Queensberry Rules The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable
  10. ^ Harris, Brian (2008) Intolerance: divided societies on trial p.182. Wildy, Simmonds & Hill Publishing, 2008
  11. ^ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Volume 16. p. 694. 
  12. ^ Dowling, Linda C (1994). Hellenism and homosexuality in Victorian Oxford. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. p. 141. ISBN 9780801429606. 
  13. ^ The Complete Peerage, Volume X. p. 707. 
  14. ^ John Queensberry to Alfred Montgomery, 1 November 1894. Quoted in Murray, Douglas (2000). Bosie: A Biography of Lord Alfred Douglas. Hodder & Stoughton. ISBN 978-0-340-76770-2. 


External links[edit]

Peerage of Scotland
Preceded by
Archibald Douglas
Marquess of Queensberry
Succeeded by
Percy Douglas