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