With a Friend Like This, Who Needs Enemies?

It probably wasn’t considered very remarkable that the Marchioness of Queensberry gave birth to her third son on October 22, 1870. But that third boy, Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas, would later start a scandalous affair with none other than Oscar Wilde, destroying the career of one of the world’s most famous playwrights.

There was something about the Douglas family—misfortune seemed to find them. A decade before Bosie’s birth, his grandfather died in an apparent suicide (explained away as a “hunting accident”. One of Bosie’s uncles was overly attached to his twin sister and went nuts after she got married. He attempted to abduct a young girl and slid into alcoholism and depression, committing suicide in 1891. Another of Bosie’s uncles died while climbing the Matterhorn. Anybody sensible of all this would have stayed the hell away from this family, but Wilde refused to heed common sense, probably because Bosie was just so damn pretty. Soon after the two met in 1891, they began a relationship.

Aside from being a member of one of the most unfortunate families in England, Bosie was also apparently kind of a dick. He was spoiled, extravagant, and selfish. At one point, Wilde nursed Bosie back to health after Bosie fell ill with influenza. When Wilde himself became ill, Bosie not only refused to nurse him, he actually moved to a whole other hotel and then sent Wilde the bill. On Wilde’s 40th birthday. Awesome present!

Along with a childish streak and mammoth sense of entitlement, Bosie came with a vindictive father, the Marquess of Queensberry, who was not pleased with his son’s liaison with Wilde. He threatened to cut Bosie off, and when Bosie responded to his ultimatum with his usual flippant attitude, Queensberry turned his wrath on Wilde, even while increasingly vitriolic letters passed between father and son. When Bosie’s eldest brother, Queensberry’s heir, died in yet another suspicious hunting accident and rumors began circulating that he’d been enjoying a homosexual relationship with the Prime Minister, Queensberry became determined to “save” his younger son.

Queensberry started harassing Wilde, confronting the author in his own home and leaving insulting notes for him at his club. Because apparently these people all lived in middle school, a note was enough to send Wilde over the edge. Encouraged by Bosie (of course), though discouraged by his more intelligent friends, Wilde filed libel charges against Queensberry. Unfortunately, Bosie had held on to a number of erotic letters Wilde had sent him, and they were introduced as evidence. Before long, the trial became all about Wilde, who was portrayed as a vicious lecher who preyed upon and seduced young boys. Wilde dropped the libel charge, but the damage was done. He was arrested and charged with committing sodomy and “gross indecency,” a charge that covered all other non-sodomy homosexual acts. Wilde’s first trial ended in a hung jury, but the determined prosecutor decided to retry the case, and Wilde was convicted on May 25, 1895 and sentenced to two years’ hard labor. Bosie went on an extended vacation in Europe.

While in prison, Wilde wrote De Profundis, a long and critical letter directed at Bosie. Any insights into Bosie’s character seemed to be forgotten as soon as Wilde was released, however; the two were reunited at Rouen in August 1897. They only stayed together a few months before finally parting. Wilde lived out the remainder of his days in Paris, and Bosie returned to England in 1898.

Bosie went on to marry Olive Eleanor Custance in 1902, and she gave birth to his son, Raymond, later that same year. Unfortunately, Raymond continued the Douglas family curse, being diagnosed with a schizo-affective disorder at the age of 24 and spending the remainder of his days in a mental hospital. After the publication of De Profundis in 1912, Bosie repudiated Wilde, at one point referring to his former lover as “the greatest force for evil that has appeared in Europe during the last three hundred and fifty years.” Clearly not being a strong student of history, Bosie spent most of the rest of his life applying himself to the law by suing everyone he could for libel. He also occasionally found himself on the wrong end of a lawsuit, and in one case, he was sentenced to six months in prison for libeling Winston Churchill. Bosie had bizarrely claimed that Churchill had been part of a Jewish conspiracy to kill the Secretary of State for War. Just as strangely, in 1941 Bosie wrote a sonnet in praise of Churchill.

After his own stint in prison, Bosie’s feelings towards Wilde softened considerably. He also started corresponding with several people, including George Bernard Shaw, and he delivered a well-received lecture to the Royal Society of Literature entitled The Principles of Poetry. He died of congestive heart failure at Lancing in West Sussex on March 20, 1945 and was buried beside his mother. He published several volumes of poetry, two books about his relationship with Wilde, and an autobiography, but today, he’s mostly remembered as the pretty boy who brought down Oscar Wilde.

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