Edward John Barrington Douglas-Scott-Montagu, 3rd Baron Montagu of Beaulieu

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3rd Baron Lord Montagu  

Edward John Barrington Douglas-Scott-Montagu, 3rd Baron Montagu of Beaulieu (20 October 1926 - 31st August 2015)  is a British Conservative politician well known in Britain for founding the National Motor Museum, as well as for a pivotal cause célèbre in British gay history, his 1954 conviction and imprisonment for homosexual sex, a charge he denied.

Lord Montagu was born in London, and inherited his barony in 1929 at the age of two, when his father John Douglas-Scott-Montagu, 2nd Baron Montagu of Beaulieu, was killed in an accident. His mother was his father's second wife, Alice Crake (1895–1996). He attended St. Peter's Court School and Ridley College in Canada, Eton College and New College, Oxford. He served in the Grenadier Guards, including service in Palestine before the end of the British Mandate.

On coming of age, Lord Montagu immediately took his seat in the House of Lords and swiftly made his maiden speech on the subject of Palestine.

Lord Montagu gained an interest in motoring from his father — who had commissioned the original "Spirit of Ecstasy" mascot for his Rolls-Royce — and with his family collection of historic cars this led him to open the National Motor Museum in the grounds of his stately home, Palace House, Beaulieu, Hampshire in 1952.

From 1956 to 1961 he held the influential Beaulieu Jazz Festival in the grounds of Palace House; this was a leading contribution to the development of festival culture in Britain, as it attracted thousands of young people who, from 1958 on, would camp out and listen and dance to live music. The 1960 festival saw an altercation between modern and trad jazz fans, in a very minor riot that became known as the Battle of Beaulieu.

Lord Montagu founded The Veteran And Vintage Magazine in 1956 and continued to develop the museum, making a name for himself in tourism. He was chairman of the Historic Houses Association from 1973 to 1978 and chairman of English Heritage from 1984 to 1992. Whilst there he appointed Jennifer Page (later of the Millennium Dome) as Chief Executive in 1989.

In the 1999 reform of the House of Lords, Lord Montagu was one of 92 hereditary peers selected to remain in Parliament pending further reform of the upper chamber.

Lord Montagu knew from an early stage of life that he was bisexual, and while attending Oxford was relieved to find others with similar feelings. In a 2000 interview he stated, "My attraction to both sexes neither changed nor diminished at university and it was comforting to find that I was not the only person faced with such a predicament. I agonised less than my contemporaries, for I was reconciled to my bisexuality, but I was still nervous about being exposed."

Despite keeping his homosexual affairs discreet and out of the public eye, in the mid-1950s, Lord Montagu became "one of the most notorious public figures of his generation," after his conviction and imprisonment for "conspiracy to incite certain male persons to commit serious offences with male persons," a charge which was also used in the Oscar Wilde trials in 1895, which was derived from a law that remained on the statute books until 1967.

In the cold war atmosphere of the 1950s, when witch hunts later called the Lavender Scare were ruining the lives of many gay men and lesbian women in the United States, the parallel political atmosphere in Britain was virulently anti-homosexual. The then Home Secretary, Sir David Maxwell Fyfe, had promised "a new drive against male vice" that would "rid England of this plague." As many as 1,000 men were locked up in Britain's prisons every year amid a widespread police clampdown on homosexual offences. Undercover officers acting as "agents provocateurs" would pose as gay men soliciting in public places. The prevailing mood was one of barely concealed paranoia.

On two occasions Lord Montagu was charged and committed for trial at Winchester Assizes, firstly in 1953 for having underage sex with a 14-year-old Boy Scout at his beach hut on the Solent, a charge he has always denied. When prosecutors failed to achieve a conviction, in what Lord Montagu has characterised as a "witch hunt" to secure a high-profile conviction, he was arrested again in 1954 and charged with performing "gross offences" with an RAF serviceman during a weekend party at the beach hut, located on Lord Montagu's country estate. Lord Montagu has always maintained he was innocent of this charge as well ("We had some drinks, we danced, we kissed, that's all"). Nevertheless, he was imprisoned for twelve months for "consensual homosexual offences" along with Michael Pitt-Rivers and Peter Wildeblood.

Unlike the other defendants in the trial, Lord Montagu continued to protest his innocence. The trial caused a backlash of opinion among some politicians and church leaders that led to the setting up of the Wolfenden Committee, which in its 1957 report recommended the decriminalisation of homosexual activity in private between two adults. Ten years later, Parliament finally carried out the recommendation, a huge turning point in gay history in Britain, where anal sex, a form of "buggery", had been a criminal offence ever since the Buggery Act 1533.

In a 2007 interview, when asked if he felt that he and his co-defendants had been instrumental in the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Britain, Lord Montagu said, "I am slightly proud that the law has been changed to the benefit of so many people. I would like to think that I would get some credit for that. Maybe I'm being very boastful about it but I think because of the way we behaved and conducted our lives afterwards, because we didn't sell our stories, we just returned quietly to our lives, I think that had a big effect on public opinion."

In 1958, he married Belinda Crossley, a granddaughter of Savile Crossley, 1st Baron Somerleyton, by whom he had a son and a daughter before their divorce in 1974:
Ralph Douglas-Scott-Montagu (born 13 March 1961), 4th Baron
Hon. Mary Rachel Scott (born 1964)

In 1974, he married his second wife, Fiona Margaret Herbert, with whom he has a son:
Hon. Jonathan Deane Douglas-Scott-Montagu (born 11 October 1975), heir presumptive.

Fiona, Lady Montagu, was born about 1943 in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), the daughter of Richard Leonard Deane Herbert, of Clymping, Sussex. She attended school in Switzerland, and following her education, she worked as film production assistant. She is a director of Beaulieu Enterprises and a trustee of the Countryside Education Trust. She serves as an international advisor to the World Centre of Compassion for Children, led by Nobel Peace Laureate, Betty Williams, as well as a Trustee of Vision-in-Action, led by Yasuhiko Kimura. She additionally serves on The World Wisdom Council, alongside Mikhail Gorbachev, former head of the state of the Soviet Union. She was appointed the first global ambassador to the Club of Budapest.

His sons are also in the line of succession to the Dukedom of Buccleuch and the Dukedom of Queensberry.

For nearly half a century, Lord Montagu steadfastly refused to speak publicly about the conviction. Lord Montagu focused his energies instead on the National Motor Museum and other activities. However, in 2000, he finally broke his silence with the publication of his memoirs, Wheels Within Wheels, of which two chapters are devoted to the story of his trial and imprisonment. In interviews, Lord Montagu has stated that by publishing his story, he wanted to "put the record straight"[ because "I felt it was important to get it accurate."

The story of Lord Montagu's trial is told in a 2007 Channel 4 documentary, A Very British Sex Scandal.

The Newport Beach Film Festival in Newport Beach, California, screened Lord Montagu, a documentary by Luke Korem on Edward Douglas-Scott-Montagu's life and accomplishments in April 2013.

Lord Montagu, founder of the National Motor Museum, died at the age of 88 on 31 August 2015. The peer died peacefully at his home following a short illness.

Images of Lord Montagu of Beaulieu by kind permission of the photographer, Allan Warren

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Last modified: Friday, 17 May 2024