Lady Florence Douglas

Lady Florence Dixie by Théobald Chartran, from Vanity Fair, 5 January 1884

Lady Florence Caroline Dixie (24 May 1855 – 7 November 1905) was a British traveller, war correspondent, writer and feminist.

Dixie was a sister of the 7th Marquess of Queensberry, who gave his name to the rules of boxing and who brought down Oscar Wilde.

Born in Scotland at Glenstuart, Cummertrees, Dumfries, Lady Florence Douglas was the daughter of the 8th Marquess of Queensberry and his wife Caroline, daughter of General Sir William Clayton, 5th Baronet (1786–1866), Member of Parliament for Great Marlow. She had a twin brother, Lord James Douglas (d. 1891), an older sister, Lady Gertrude Douglas (1842-1893), and three older brothers: John, Viscount Drunlanrig (1844–1900), later the 9th Marquess of Queensberry; Lord Francis Douglas (1847–1865), who died in a climbing accident on the Matterhorn; and Lord Archibald Douglas (1850–1938), who became a clergyman.

In 1860, Lady Florence's father died in what was reported as a shooting accident, but was widely believed to have been suicide. In 1862 his widow converted herself and her youngest children, Florence and her brother James, to Roman Catholicism, taking them to live in Paris for two years. This led the children's guardians to threaten Lady Queensberry with the loss of her children, a real possibility at a time when women's rights were very limited. In later life, Lady Florence campaigned on such injustices, highlighted in her book The Story of Ijarn (1903).

Lady Florence was educated at home and, after returning from Paris, in a convent school. She hated the school's repressiveness and the dogmatism of its religious teaching and took to writing poetry. Her childhood verses were published in 1902 as Songs of a Child, under the pseudonym 'Darling'.

From an early age, Lady Florence showed a love of sport and travel and a gift for writing.

On 3 April 1875, at the age of nineteen, Lady Florence Douglas married Sir Alexander Beaumont Churchill Dixie, 11th Baronet (1851-1924), known as "Sir A.B.C.D." or "Beau".  His father of the same name, the 10th Baronet, had died in 1872. The young couple lived at first at Bosworth Hall, near Market Bosworth in Leicestershire. They had two sons, George Douglas (born 18 January 1876), who later became the 12th baronet, and Albert Edward Wolstan (born 26 September 1878, died 1940), whose godfather was the Prince of Wales. Sir Alexander Beaumont Dixie was High Sheriff of Leicestershire for 1876. In 1877, Lady Florence published her first book, Abel Avenged: a Dramatic Tragedy.

Husband and wife shared a love of adventure and the outdoor life, but a shadow was cast over them by his habit of gambling for high stakes; eventually his ancestral home and estate at Bosworth were sold to pay his debts. After this, in the 1880s, the couple moved to Glen Stewart, one of the houses on Lord Queensberry's Scottish estate of Kinmount, previously the home of Lady Florence's mother, the Dowager Marchioness.

Several members of the Queensberry family were affected by mental illness. As mentioned above, Lady Florence's father is believed to have committed suicide. Her twin brother, Lord James Douglas (known to his family as Jim), was deeply attached to her and was heartbroken when she married. In 1885, he tried to abduct a young girl, and after that became ever more manic. In 1888, he married a rich woman with a ten-year-old son, but this proved disastrous. Separated from his twin sister 'Florrie', James drank himself into a deep depression and in 1891 committed suicide by cutting his throat.

Lady Florence's eldest brother, the 9th Marquess of Queensbury, is remembered for his contribution to the sport of boxing and to the downfall of the writer Oscar Wilde. The Queensberry rules for the sport of boxing, written in 1865 by John Graham Chambers and published in 1867, were endorsed by the young Queensberry, an enthusiastic amateur boxer, and thus took his name. In 1887, Queensberry and his wife Sibyl Montgomery were divorced. During the 1890s, their youngest son, Lady Florence's nephew, Lord Alfred Douglas (1870–1945), had a close relationship with Wilde, to the growing fury of his father, who accused the writer of "posing as a somdomite" (sic). Wilde sued Queensberry for libel, a bold step which ultimately led to his downfall and imprisonment.

Lady Florence's great-nephew Raymond Douglas (1902-1964), the only child of Lord Alfred, spent most of his life in a mental hospital.

Weary of her life in English society, during 1878-1879 Dixie travelled with her husband, two of her brothers and a friend in Patagonia in South America. There, she hunted big game and ate it with gusto. On one occasion, while riding on the prairie, her party was overtaken by a huge prairie fire, and her horse bolted with her.On her return, Dixie wrote her book Across Patagonia (1880). A hotel at Puerto Natales in the Chilean part of Patagonia is named the Hotel Lady Florence Dixie in her honour. When she returned from Patagonia, Dixie brought home with her a jaguar, which she called Affums and kept as a pet. Affums killed several deer in Windsor Great Park and had to be sent to a zoo.

In 1881, Dixie was appointed as a field correspondent of the Morning Post of London to cover the First Boer War (1880-1881) and the aftermath of the Anglo-Zulu War. Her husband went out to South Africa with her. In Cape Town, she stayed with the Governor of the Cape Colony. She visited Zululand, and on her return interviewed the Zulu king Cetshwayo, who was being held in detention by the British.

Her reports, followed by her A Defense of Zululand and Its King from the Blue Book (1882) and In the Land of Misfortune (1882), were instrumental in Cetshwayo's brief restoration to his throne in 1883. In Dixie's In the Land of Misfortune, there is a struggle between her individualism and her identification with the power of the British Empire, but for all of her sympathy with the Zulu cause and with Cetshwayo, she remained at heart an imperialist.

Dixie played a key role is establishing the game of women's association football (soccer), organizing exhibition matches for charity, and in 1895 she became President of the British Ladies' Football Club, stipulating that "the girls should enter into the spirit of the game with heart and soul." She arranged for a women's football team from London to tour Scotland.

Dixie was an enthusiastic writer of letters to newspapers on liberal and progressive issues, including support for Irish Home Rule. Her article The Case of Ireland was published in Vanity Fair on May 27, 1882. Nevertheless, she was critical of the Irish Land League and the Fenians, who in 1883 made an unsuccessful attempt to assassinate her. As a result, Queen Victoria sent her servant John Brown to investigate.

Dixie held strong views on the emancipation of women, proposing that the sexes should be equal in marriage and divorce, that the Crown should be inherited by the monarch's oldest child, regardless of sex, and even that men and women should wear the same clothes. She was a member of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies, and her obituary in the Englishwoman's Review emphasized her support for the cause of women's suffrage (i.e. the right to vote): "Lady Florence... threw herself eagerly into the Women's Movement, and spoke on public platforms."

In 1890, Dixie published a remarkable utopian novel, Gloriana, or the Revolution of 1900, which has been described as a feminist fantasy. In it, women win the right to vote, as the result of the protagonist, Gloriana, posing as a man, Hector l'Estrange, and being elected to the House of Commons. The character of l'Estrange is clearly based on that of Oscar Wilde. The book ends in the year 1999, with a description of a prosperous and peaceful Britain governed by women. In the preface to the novel, Dixie proposes not only women's suffrage, but that the two sexes should be educated together and that all professions and positions should be open to both. In this preface, she goes farther and says:

“ Nature has unmistakeably given to woman a greater brain power. This is at once perceivable in childhood... Yet man deliberately sets himself to stunt that early evidence of mental capacity, by laying down the law that woman's education shall be on a lower level than that of man's... I maintain to honourable gentlemen that this procedure is arbitrary and cruel, and false to Nature. I characterise it by the strong word of Infamous. It has been the means of sending to their graves unknown, unknelled, and unnamed, thousands of women whose high intellects have been wasted, and whose powers for good have been paralysed and undeveloped. ”

During the 1890s, Dixie's views on field sports changed dramatically, and in her book The Horrors of Sport (1891) she condemned blood sports as cruel.

The New York Times dated March 19, 1883, reported an attack on Lady Florence Dixie by two men disguised as women, under the heading A DASTARDLY IRISH CRIME AN ATTEMPT TO ASSASSINATE LADY FLORENCE DIXIE. SHE IS WAYLAID BY TWO MEN DISGUISED IN WOMEN'S CLOTHES - HER LIFE SAVED BY A ST BERNARD DOG.

The New York Times dated March 30, 1883, carried a further story headed "LADY FLORENCE DIXIE'S OWN STORY. From the Pall Mall Gazette of March 19".

Reports are published of an attempt to assassinate Lady Florence Dixie at her residence, the Fishery, situated near the Thames, and about two and a half miles from Windsor. Lady Florence Dixie gives the following account of the occurrence:

“ I was out walking near the Fishery last evening, about 4:30, when two very tall women came up and asked me the time. I replied that I had not got my watch with me, and, turning, left them. Opening a small gate which led into the private grounds of Capt Brocklehurst, of the Blues, I made toward a stile, and was just going to get over, when I heard the gate open behind, and the two women followed me in. Somehow or other I felt all was not right, so I stopped and leaned against the rails, and then, as they came on, went to meet them. One on the right came forward and seized me by the neck, when by the strength of the clutch I felt it was no woman's power that pulled me down to the ground. In another second I saw the other would-be woman over me, and remember seeing the steel of the knife come right down upon me, driven by this person's hand. It struck through my clothes and against the whalebone of my stays, which turned the point, merely grazing the skin. The knife was quickly withdrawn and plunged at me again. I seized it with both hands and shouted as loud as I could, when the person who first pulled mr down pushed a large handful of earth into my mouth and nearly choked me. Just as the knife was wrenched from my hands, a very big and powerful St. Bernard dog I had with me broke through the wood, and the last thing I remember was seeing the person with the knife pulled backward by him. Then I heard a confused sound of rumbling of wheels, and I remember no more. When I came to myself I was quite alone. From what I saw of the knife I believe it to be a dagger, and the persons were undoubtedly men. They were dressed in long clothes, and were unnaturally tall for women; the one who stabbed me had on a thick veil, reaching below the mouth; the other was unveiled, but his face I did not notice much. This is all the information I can give. My head is very confused and painful, and I expect they must have stunned me. This is a wretched scrawl, but my hands are very much cut, and it pains me so much to write. ”

Lady Ripon and Sir H. Ponsonby called yesterday with a message of sympathy from the Queen to Lady Florence.

However, the New York Times of April 8, 1883, carried a further report:

LONDON, March 21 - It has been boldly suggested by the St. James's Gazette that Lady Florence Dixie is labouring under a mistake in regard to the dramatic occurrence which has occupied so much attention during the last 48 hours. Possibly when this reaches you its boldness will have been justified. The Tory journal does not believe that her ladyship has been attacked at all. Others share this opinion. In a week's time, the general public may share it.

When Dixie died in November 1905, the New York Times carried a report headed LADY FLORENCE DIXIE DEAD This stated that the "Author, Champion of Woman's Rights, and War Correspondent" had died on November 7th "at her home, Glen Stuart, Dumfriesshire", and included the following passage:

Lady Florence Dixie was a member of the Queensberry family and inherited the eccentricities as well as the cleverness possessed by so many members of it. Some years ago she startled London by declaring that she had been kidnapped she believed by Irish agitators, and had been held for some days in captivity. Her story was never disproved, but neither was it proved, and there were many people who said that the whole affair was imaginary.

Lady Florence Dixie's eldest son, George Douglas Dixie (18 January 1876–25 December 1948) served in the Royal Navy as a midshipman and was commissioned into the King's Own Scottish Borderers in 1895. On 26 November 1914, he was promoted a temporary captain in the 5th Battalion the KOSB. He married Margaret Lindsay, daughter of Sir Alexander Jardine, 8th Baronet, and in 1924 succeeded to his father's title and was known as Sir Douglas Dixie, 12th Baronet. When he died in 1948, Sir Douglas was succeeded by his son Sir (Alexander Archibald Douglas) Wolstan Dixie, 13th and last Baronet (8 January 1910–28 December 1975). Married Dorothy Penelope (Lady Dixie) King-Kirkman in 1950 as his second wife, and they had two daughters; 1) Eleanor Barbara Lindsay; and 2) Caroline Mary Jane. Both daughters have issue.

Lady Florence Dixie's grandson Sir Wolstan Dixie wrote an autobiography called Is it True What They Say About Dixie? The Second Battle of Bosworth (1972). The title alludes to a 1940s song by Irving Caesar, Sammy Lerner and Gerald Marks recorded by Al Jolson in 1948.

Cover of Lady Florence Dixie's book published by: Long Riders' Guild Press

When asked in 1879 why she wanted to travel to such an outlandish place as Patagonia, the author replied without hesitation that she was taking to the saddle in order to flee from the strict confines of polite Victorian society. “Palled with civilization and its surroundings, I wanted to escape to some place where I might be as far removed from them as possible.

FlorenceIn January 1877, 21 year-old Florence was known as a fearless horsewoman.

 

 

This page was last updated on 20 August 2018

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