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The Curse of the Queensberrys

 

Extracted from the Daily Express, 4th August 2009

LORD Milo Douglas who threw himself to his death from a tower block was the latest member of a troubled aristocratic family with a chequered history that has links to both Oscar Wilde and Osama Bin Laden


On a rainy night last month (July 2009) a 34-year-old charity worker named Milo Douglas climbed to the top of a block of council flats in central London and jumped off.

His body was found in front of Reading Tower on the Hallfield Estate, Bayswater, at 6.30am on July 21. It is believed he fell from the eighth floor of the nine-storey block.

It was the saddest of endings to a life that had long been troubled by manic depression – and sadly only the latest incident in a trail of tragedy visited upon one of the oldest families in the land.


For Milo, a teacher turned outreach worker for the charity Action Against Hunger UK, was also Lord Milo Douglas, third son of the 12th Marquess of Queensberry.

Milo was not due to inherit the title, that will go to his older brother Sholto, Viscount Drumlanrig, 42.


But he is the latest victim of what might be termed the Queensberry Curse, an affliction that has seen several family members meet untimely ends. Few seem to have died peacefully in their beds.

In life they have forged alliances which are unconventional, to say the least. The current generation of the extended ­Douglas clan includes a former bank robber, the owner of a respected private investigation firm and a brother of the world’s most wanted man Osama Bin Laden.

As Lady Alice Douglas, half-sister of Milo put it in 2002: “Despite our 700-year heritage we are proud to be a very modern and ­gloriously dysfunctional family.”

The Queensberry name occupies a noteworthy place in the history books for two very different reasons. The first is that the rules of boxing are named after the 9th Marquess who, though he did not draft them, publicly endorsed the measures which largely put an end to bare knuckle fighting after the mid 19th century.

The second reason is the role played by that same 9th Marquess in the disgrace and ruination of playwright Oscar Wilde.

Lord Alfred Douglas, Wilde’s lover, was Queensberry’s son and it was Wilde’s ill-advised decision to sue the Marquess for libel that led to his exposure, trial and conviction for the then illegal offence of homosexuality.

However the taint of accursedness in the Queensberry family goes back much further to the Scotland of the Dark Ages.

The Queensberry title came into being in the 17th century when William Douglas was ele­vated from earl to marquess in 1681 by Charles II after the Restoration of the monarchy.

“Basically the Queensberrys were royalists who got their titles by toadying up to the monarchy,” says social commentator Richard Compton-Miller.

In 1858 the 8th Marquess, who was an MP and Lord Lieutenant for Dumfriesshire, shot himself dead with his own gun while out hunting rabbits, whether or not it was accidental is not known.


In 1865 his second son Lord Francis was killed while climbing the Matterhorn. In 1891 his third son Lord James Edward Sholto Douglas committed suicide by cutting his throat with a razor in a London ­hotel.


A month earlier he had been summonsed to appear in court on charges of defacing his census return: he had described his wife as a “cross sweep” and “lunatic”.

In the same year Oscar Wilde met Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas, son of the 9th Marquess (and nephew of the deceased Francis and James), setting off a calamitous chain of events.


Furious at his son’s relationship Queensberry, who was vile-tempered at the best of times, was determined to bring Wilde down. He left a card at Wilde’s club in which he blatantly accused him of homosexuality.

Egged on by Bosie, who hated his father, Wilde sued Queensberry for libel in 1895. He lost, leaving auth­orities with no option but to prosecute him for indecency.


Wilde was sentenced to two years with hard labour and lost all his money in court costs. Neither his reputation nor his finances ever recovered.

Despite winning in court, 1895 was a terrible year for Queensberry. As well as losing Bosie, who was driven abroad by the disgrace of the trial, he lost his eldest son Francis in a shooting accident and another son, Sholto, was arrested in California for insanity.


Bosie married in 1902 but his only child died insane. The women of the family did not always fare better. Lady Patricia Douglas, granddaughter of the 9th Marquess and niece of Bosie, was a “free-spirited” woman who became the lover of philosopher Isaiah Berlin.


Lady Dorothy Douglas, daughter of the 11th Marquess, married an Army officer who drank away their money and left her living in penury in ­Oakley Green, near Windsor.

Social historian and writer Hugo Vickers recalls how in her later years Lady Dorothy would be invited to lunch every Sunday at the home of two spinster sisters, Joan and ­Christian Kappey in Windsor.


“She was dull company because she was very deaf but it was virtually the only square meal she got all week. Her older brother Lord Cecil was ­always pleading poverty yet he used to send postcards from the Bahamas. One Christmas when Dorothy was in hospital after a bad fall they said they could only spend a part of the day with her as she was expected to lunch with the other patients.”

The 12th and present Marquess is David Harrington Angus Douglas, 79, whose personal life has been distinctly colourful: he has been married three times and has eight children by four women.


A professor of ceramics at the Royal College of Art from 1959 to 1983 he was part of the swinging Sixties set which included photographers David Bailey and his fellow aristocrat Patrick (Earl of) Lichfield and the artist David Hockney.


His first marriage to Anne Jones produced two daughters, Emma and Alice. They divorced in 1969 after 13 years and David married model ­Alexandra Wyndham.


She had ­already given birth to Sholto, ­David’s heir, two years earlier while David was still married to Anne. However David ­ already had a son Ambrose Carey, who was born in 1961, also during his marriage to Anne but Ambrose could not inherit because David never married his mother.

Ambrose runs a successful private investigation company and it was his half-sister Caroline Carey now 50, who married Salem Bin Laden, older brother of Osama, when she was an art student.


She was pregnant with their first child when he was killed in an air crash in 1988. Ten years later she married his younger brother Khaled and lives with him in Saudi Arabia.

Meanwhile Lady Alice Douglas, half-sister to Milo, married Simon Melia, whom she met when she was conducting a drama workshop in a prison.


He was serving nine years for armed robbery but was allowed five days’ leave to marry and have a honeymoon. The marriage foundered after his affair with an au pair.

Milo Douglas had struggled with bipolar disorder for most of his life.


“It’s a terrible thing to happen but I guess it has to happen to somebody sometimes,” his father said with the stoicism that only a man with centuries of family tragedy behind him could muster.

 

 

 

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Last modified: Saturday, 18 March 2017