John Douglas, 9th Marquess of Queensberry

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John Sholto Douglas

Birthplace: Firenze, Granducato di Toscana, Italia (Italy)
Death: January 31, 1900 (55)
London, County of London, England, United Kingdom
Immediate Family:

Son of Archibald Douglas, 8th Marquess of Queensberry and Caroline, Marchioness of Queensberry
Husband of Sibyl Douglas
Father of Francis Archibald Douglas; Percy Sholto Douglas, 10th Marquess of Queensberry; Lord Alfred Douglas; Lord Sholto George Douglas and Lady Gertrude Edith Fox-Pitt
Brother of Lord Francis Douglas; Lady Florence Dixie and Lord James Edward Sholto Douglas

Occupation: 9th Marquess of Queensbury, invented rules of boxing
Managed by: Will Holmes à Court
Last Updated:

About John Douglas, 9th Marquess of Queensberry,_9th_Marquess_of_Queensberry

Douglas was born in Florence, Italy, the eldest son of Archibald, Viscount Drumlanrig, who was the heir of the 7th Marquess of Queensberry. He was briefly styled Viscount Drumlanrig following his father's succession in 1856, and on his father's death in 1858 he inherited the Marquessate of Queensberry. The 9th marquess was educated at the Royal Naval College, becoming a midshipman at the age of twelve and a lieutenant in the navy at fifteen. In 1864 he entered Magdalene College, Cambridge, which he left two years later without taking a degree. He married Sibyl Montgomery in 1866. They had four sons and a daughter, but divorced in 1887. Queensberry married Ethel Weeden in 1893, but the marriage was annulled the following year.

His eldest son and heir apparent was Francis, Viscount Drumlanrig, who was rumoured to have been engaged in a relationship with the Liberal Prime Minister, Archibald Primrose, 5th Earl of Rosebery. He died unmarried and without issue.

Douglas' second son, Lord Percy Douglas (1868-1920), succeeded to the peerage instead. Lord Alfred "Bosie" Douglas, the third son, was the lover of the famous author and poet Oscar Wilde. Douglas' efforts to end their relationship led to his famous dispute with Wilde and the latter's bankruptcy and exile.

Contributions to sports

Queensberry's sister Lady Florence Dixie, feminist, big game hunter, and war correspondent

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 at the "Marquess of Queensberry rules". Queensberry, a keen rider, was also active in fox hunting and owned several successful race horses.

Political career

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. An outspoken atheist, 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, but Queensberry was never again sent to Parliament by the Scottish nobles.

In 1881, Queensberry accepted the presidency of the British Secular Union, 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 humanistic views. In 1882, he was ejected from the theatre after loudly interrupting a performance of the play The Promise of May by 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, atheism, and association with the boxing world made Queensberry an unpopular figure in London high society. In 1893 his eldest son, Francis, Viscount Drumlanrig, was created Baron Kelhead in the Peerage of the United Kingdom, thus giving the son an automatic seat in the House of Lords, from which the father was excluded. This caused a bitter dispute between Queensberry and his son, and also between Queensberry and Lord Rosebery, the patron who had promoted Lord Drumlanrig's ennoblement and who shortly thereafter became Prime Minister. Drumlanrig was reported to have been killed in a hunting accident in 1894, but his death may have been a suicide.

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

Dispute with Oscar Wilde

Main article: Wilde vs Queensberry

In March 1895, Queensberry was arrested and sued for criminal libel by Oscar Wilde, whom he had publicly accused of "posing as a somdomite" (sic). Libel charges could be brought as homosexuality was a crime at the time. Queensberry made the allegation because he was angered by Wilde's apparent ongoing homosexual relationship with his son, Lord Alfred Douglas.

Queensberry's lawyers 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 defense 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 charges of sodomy and "gross indecency" against Wilde, who was convicted of gross indecency under the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885 and sentenced to two years' hard labour. His reputation destroyed, Wilde went into exile in France and died in poverty 3 years after his release.


Lord Queensberry died in London, aged 55, nearly a year before Oscar Wilde's death. Although he wrote a poem starting with the words "When I am dead cremate me," he was buried in Scotland.

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John Douglas, 9th Marquess of Queensberry's Timeline

July 20, 1844
Firenze, Granducato di Toscana, Italia (Italy)
February 3, 1867
8 Chesterfield Street, Mayfair, London, England
October 13, 1868
October 22, 1870
Worcestershire, England, United Kingdom
June 7, 1872
January 31, 1900
Age 55
London, County of London, England, United Kingdom