Caroline Douglas

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Caroline Douglas (1821 – 1904) was a Marchioness of Queensberry, and Irish nationalist benefactor.

Caroline Douglas was born Caroline Margaret Clayton in Ireland in 1821. Her father was a former army general and MP for Marlow, Buckinghamshire, England, Sir William Clayton, and Alice Clayton (née O'Donel). Her mother was from County Mayo, and was a Catholic, despite this the couple's four children were raised as Protestants. Douglas lived in Bantry, County Cork until the age of 2, when the family moved to England to the family seat of Harleyford House, Buckinghamshire. This house was regularly visited by royalty and politicians, including Napoleon III. Her father refused to give his consent for her to marry Archibald Douglas, Lord Drumlanrig, the couple eloped and married at Gretna Green on 28 May 1840.

The couple went on to have 5 sons and two daughters: Gertrude, John, Francis, Archibald, and twins James and Florence. One son died in infancy. Their marriage suffered due to Archibald's gambling and adultery. He died in 1858 in a hunting accident, leaving Douglas to live what has been described as a "restless life." She travelled between fashionable resorts in Britain and Europe, or at the Douglas estate, Glen Stuart, in Dumfries, Scotland. In 1861 Douglas converted to Catholicism, shocking her family. She became aware that her mother-in-law planned to take her children from her, prompting her to flee to France and was granted official protection by her old acquaintance Napoleon III. A number of her children also became Catholic converts, with one son and one daughter taking holy orders. She returned to England in 1864 when her mother-in-law's health started to decline.

Douglas always considered herself to be Irish, and caused scandal in London society in 1867 when she raised money to aid in the defence of the Manchester Martyrs. She wrote to all three men while they were in prison, and sent a cheque of £100 for their dependants. She continued to support Irish nationalism, regardless of the cold reception she received in English society because of it. Douglas wrote pamphlets on the subject, including the 1897 Let there be light. She also regularly corresponded in the press about the Irish question, was a regular donor to Irish radicals, and there were rumours she funded a Fenian newspaper clandestinely.

Douglas supported a number of Scottish Catholic charities, aiding her son Archibald in his parish duties. It is believed her corresponded with James Connolly from 1896 to 1903, and was a subscriber to the Irish Socialist Republican Party's literature. It had been incorrectly assumed that Douglas became a nun later in life, due to a letter she wrote to John Devoy from a Franciscan convent in Bayswater. However, she lived in Boulogne in later life, living on a small annuity bequeathed to her by her father. She died on 14 February 1904 at Glen Stuart.


Sources for this article include:
•  Dictionary of Irish Biography; Cambridge University Press.

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Last modified: Friday, 17 May 2024