Wife Olive Custance, Partner Oscar Wilde

Queer Places:
Ham Hill House, Ham Ln, Powick, Worcester WR2 4RD, Regno Unito
35 Fourth Ave, Hove BN3 2PN, Regno Unito
Wixenford School, Ludgrove, Wokingham RG40 3AB, Regno Unito
Winchester College, College St, Winchester SO23 9NA, Regno Unito
University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 2JD, Regno Unito
26 Church Row, London NW3 6UP, Regno Unito
Friary Churchyard, Haslett Ave W, Crawley RH10 1HR, Regno Unito

Lord Alfred Bruce Douglas (22 October 1870 – 20 March 1945), nicknamed Bosie, was a British author, poet, translator, and political commentator, better known as the friend and lover of Oscar Wilde. Much of his early poetry was Uranian in theme, though he tended, later in life, to distance himself from both Wilde's influence and his own role as a Uranian poet. Politically he would describe himself as "a strong Conservative of the 'Diehard' variety".[1]

In 1891, Douglas met Oscar Wilde; although the playwright was married with two sons, they soon began an affair.[12][13] In 1894, the Robert Hichens novel The Green Carnation was published. Said to be a roman à clef based on the relationship of Wilde and Douglas, it would be one of the texts used against Wilde during his trials in 1895.

Douglas has been described as spoiled, reckless, insolent and extravagant. He would spend money on men and gambling and expected Wilde to contribute to funding his tastes. They often argued and broke up, but would also always reconcile.

Douglas had praised Wilde's play Salome in the Oxford magazine, The Spirit Lamp, of which he was editor (and used as a covert means of gaining acceptance for homosexuality). Wilde had originally written Salomé in French, and in 1893 he commissioned Douglas to translate it into English. Douglas's French was very poor and his translation was highly criticised; for example, a passage that runs "On ne doit regarder que dans les miroirs" ("One should look only in mirrors") he rendered "One must not look at mirrors". Douglas was angered at Wilde's criticism, and claimed that the errors were in fact in Wilde's original play. This led to a hiatus in the relationship and a row between the two men, with angry messages being exchanged and even the involvement of the publisher John Lane and the illustrator Aubrey Beardsley when they themselves objected to Douglas's work. Beardsley complained to Robbie Ross: "For one week the numbers of telegraph and messenger boys who came to the door was simply scandalous". Wilde redid much of the translation himself, but, in a gesture of reconciliation, suggested that Douglas be dedicated as the translator rather than credited, along with him, on the title-page. Accepting this, Douglas, somewhat vainly, likened a dedication to sharing the title-page as "the difference between a tribute of admiration from an artist and a receipt from a tradesman."[14]

On another occasion, while staying with Wilde in Brighton, Douglas fell ill with influenza and was nursed by Wilde, but failed to return the favour when Wilde himself fell ill in consequence. Instead Douglas moved to the Grand Hotel and, on Wilde's 40th birthday, sent him a letter saying that he had charged him the bill. Douglas also gave his old clothes to male prostitutes, but failed to remove from the pockets incriminating letters exchanged between him and Wilde, which were then used for blackmail.[14]

Alfred's father, the Marquess of Queensberry, suspected the liaison to be more than a friendship. He sent his son a letter, attacking him for leaving Oxford without a degree and failing to take up a proper career. He threatened to "disown [Alfred] and stop all money supplies". Alfred responded with a telegram stating: "What a funny little man you are".

Queensberry's next letter threatened his son with a "thrashing" and accused him of being "crazy". He also threatened to "make a public scandal in a way you little dream of" if he continued his relationship with Wilde.

Queensberry was well known for his temper and threatening to beat people with a horsewhip. Alfred sent his father a postcard stating "I detest you" and making it clear that he would take Wilde's side in a fight between him and the Marquess, "with a loaded revolver".

In answer Queensberry wrote to Alfred (whom he addressed as "You miserable creature") that he had divorced Alfred's mother in order not to "run the risk of bringing more creatures into the world like yourself" and that, when Alfred was a baby, "I cried over you the bitterest tears a man ever shed, that I had brought such a creature into the world, and unwittingly committed such a crime... You must be demented".

When Douglas's eldest brother Francis Viscount Drumlanrig died in a suspicious hunting accident in October 1894, rumours circulated that he had been having a homosexual relationship with the Prime Minister, Lord Rosebery, and that the cause of death was suicide. The Marquess of Queensberry thus embarked on a campaign to save his other son, and began a public persecution of Wilde. Wilde had been openly flamboyant, and his actions made the public suspicious even before the trial.[15] He and a minder confronted the playwright in his own home; later, Queensberry planned to throw rotten vegetables at Wilde during the premiere of The Importance of Being Earnest, but, forewarned of this, the playwright was able to deny him access to the theatre.

Queensberry then publicly insulted Wilde by leaving, at the latter's club, a visiting card on which he had written: "For Oscar Wilde posing as a somdomite (sic)". The wording is in dispute – the handwriting is unclear – although Hyde reports it as this. According to Merlin Holland, Wilde's grandson, it is more likely "Posing somdomite," while Queensberry himself claimed it to be "Posing as somdomite". Holland suggests that this wording ("posing [as] ...") would have been easier to defend in court.

After Wilde's death, Douglas established a close friendship with Olive Eleanor Custance, an heiress, poet and bisexual.[17] They married on 4 March 1902. Olive Custance was in a relationship with the writer Natalie Barney when she and Douglas first met.[18] Barney and Douglas eventually became close friends and Barney was even named godmother to their son, Raymond Wilfred Sholto Douglas, born on 17 November 1902.[19]

The marriage was stormy after Douglas became a Roman Catholic in 1911. They separated in 1913, lived together for a time in the 1920s after Olive also converted, and then lived apart after she gave up Catholicism. The health of their only child further strained the marriage, which by the end of the 1920s was all but over, although they never divorced.

external image II_Friary%20Churchyard,%20Crawley,%20UK%20(2).JPG
Friary Churchyard, Crawley

Douglas died of congestive heart failure in Lancing, Sussex, on 20 March 1945 at the age of 74. He was buried on 23 March at the Franciscan Friary, Crawley,[39] where he is interred alongside his mother, who had died on 31 October 1935 at the age of 91. A single gravestone covers them both.

The elderly Douglas, living in reduced circumstances in Hove in the 1940s, is mentioned in the diaries of Henry Channon and in the first autobiography of Donald Sinden, who, according to his son Marc, was one of only two people to attend his funeral.[40][41]

He died at the home of Edward and Sheila Colman. The couple were the main beneficiaries in his will, inheriting the copyright to Douglas's work. She endowed a memorial prize at Oxford in Douglas's name for the best Petrarchan sonnet.[42]

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  1. The Autobiography of Lord Alfred Douglas (1929) p220
  2. "Douglas, Lord Alfred Bruce (1870–1945)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/32869. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  3. "The Queensberry Divorce Case", The Times, 24 January 1887, p. 4
  4. Rupert Croft-Cooke, Bosie: The Story of Lord Alfred Douglas, His Friends and Enemies (1963), p. 33
  5. Linda Stratmann, The Marquess of Queensberry: Wilde's Nemesis, Yale University Press 2013 p.25
  6. Neil McKenna, The Secret Life Of Oscar Wilde, Random House 2011 p.427
  7. Lady Florence Dixie Archived 20 March 2008 at the Wayback Machine. at spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk (accessed 8 March 2008)
  8. Douglas, Murray, Bosie: A Biography of Lord Alfred Douglas, Chapter One online at nytimes.com (accessed 8 March 2008)
  9. G.E. Cokayne et al., eds., The Complete Peerage of England, Scotland, Ireland, Great Britain and the United Kingdom, Extant, Extinct or Dormant, new edition, 13 volumes in 14 (1910–1959; new edition, 2000), volume X, page 694
  10. Dixie, Lady Florence, poet, novelist, writer; explorer and a keen champion of Woman's Rights in Who Was Who online at 7345683[permanent dead link] at xreferplus.com (subscription required), accessed 11 March 2008
  11. Heilmann, Ann, Wilde's New Women: the New Woman on Wilde in Uwe Böker, Richard Corballis, Julie A. Hibbard, The Importance of Reinventing Oscar: Versions of Wilde During the Last 100 Years (Rodopi, 2002) pp. 135–147, in particular p. 139
  12. H. Montgomery Hyde, The Love That Dared not Speak its Name; p.144
  13. Ellmann (1988:98)
  14. Oscar Wilde by Richard Ellman, published in 1987
  15. Ellmann (1988:101)
  16. Borland, Maureen, Wilde's Devoted Friend: A Life of Robert Ross, 1869–1918 (Lennard Publishing, 1990) p. 206 at books.google.com, accessed 22 January 2009
  17. Parker, Sarah (September 2011). "'A Girl's Love': Lord Alfred Douglas as Homoerotic Muse in the Poetry of Olive Custance". Women: A Cultural Review. 22 (2-3): 220–240. doi:10.1080/09574042.2011.585045.
  18. Parker, Sarah (2013). The lesbian muse and poetic identity, 1889-1930. London: Pickering & Chatto. pp. 71–100. ISBN 184893386X.
  19. Adams, Jad (2018). "Olive Custance: A Poet Crossing Boundaries". English Literature in Transition. 61(1): 35–65 – via Project MUSE.
  20. Philip Hoare. (1999). Oscar Wilde’s Last Stand: Decadence, Conspiracy, and the Most Outrageous Trial of the Century. Arcade Publishing, p. 110.
  21. Toczek, Nick Haters, Baiters and Would-Be Dictators: Anti-Semitism and the UK Far Right Routledge (2016) p239
  22. The Autobiography of Lord Alfred Douglas (1929) p302
  23. The "Jewish Guardian" Again, Plain English No 21, 27 November 1920
  24. Lies, Plain English No 66, 8 October 1921
  25. Heathorn, Stephen Haig and Kitchener in Twentieth-Century Britain: Remembrance, Representation and Appropriation Routledge (2016) pp. 68-72.
  26. Toczek, Nick Haters, Baiters and Would-Be Dictators: Anti-Semitism and the UK Far Right Routledge (2016) p34
  27. Christian Charity and the Jews, Plain English No 4, 31 July 1920, p78
  28. The Jews, "The Britons" and the "Morning Post", Plain Speech No 10, 24 December 1921, p149
  29. The Autobiography of Lord Alfred Douglas (1929) pp303-304
  30. Holmes, Colin Anti-Semitism in British Society, 1876–1939 Routledge (1979)p218
  31. (Murray p 152)
  32. The Edinburgh Gazette Publication date:17 January 1913 Issue: 12530, Page 77
  33. Ransome, Arthur, Oscar Wilde – A Critical Study, 2nd edition, Methuen, 1913
  34. http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,727630,00.html accessed 10/2/2017
  35. http://www.jta.org/1923/12/13/archive/churchill-wins-libel-suit-against-douglas accessed 10/2/2017
  36. (Murray pp 309–310)
  37. (Murray pp 318–319)
  38. "Timeline to the Life of Lord Alfred 'Bosie' Douglas" anthonywynn.com Retrieved 24 August 2011
  39. Bastable, Roger (1983). Crawley: A Pictorial History. Chichester: Phillimore & Co. §147. ISBN 0-85033-503-5.
  40. Libby Purvis interviews Freddie Fox. The Times Page 8. 17 January 2013
  41. "Sir Donald Sinden: Legendary actor dies aged 90". BBC News. 12 Sep 2014. Retrieved 12 Sep 2014.
  42. A. N. Wilson in The Telegraph 26 November 2001
  43. Brown, William Sorley The Life and Genius of T.W.H. Crosland (1928) p394
  44. Jonathan Fryer (2000). Robbie Ross: Oscar Wilde's Devoted Friend. Carrol & Graf, New York and Constable & Robinson, London. p. 224. ISBN 0-7867-0781-X.