Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

THE TRIALS OF OSCAR WILDE

Queensbury Rules

Marquis of Queensbury
Marquis of Queensbury

Lord Alfred Douglas was the son of the Marquis of Queensberry, a hotheaded Scotsman who was prone to violence. It could have been because he was punch drunk; Queensberry was a champion pugilist and created rules of boxing still in use today. He tended to settle things by fist and gun. He was well known for abusing his wife and children and had even brawled openly with one son in downtown London. The marquess was an avowed and belligerent atheist who saw nothing wrong with disrupting services by shouting. Once he disrupted the premiere of a play that he felt too pious and in front of the Prince of Wales attempted to whip a cabinet minister because he feared the man was courting his oldest son.

Queensberry seemed obsessed with sex, perhaps because his second wife had sought an annulment soon after marriage because of "malformation of the parts of generation, frigidity and impotence." His first marriage had ended because of his adultery.

The marquess had difficulty getting along with his son. The marquess could barely stand to be in the same room with Lord Alfred and the feeling was mutual. Everything Queensberry was, Lord Alfred was not. Lord Alfred was a poet and dreamer. He was handsome, frail and fair, where Queensberry was windblown, tough and leathery. The marquess was a fighter and Lord Alfred was a philosopher. Queensberry loathed Lord Alfred's way of life and let him know it in no uncertain terms. Lord Alfred once replied to one of the marquess's rantings with, "What a funny little man you are."

In normal circumstances, the marquess and his son would merely avoid each other and traveled in different circles. Upper class London was small, but not so small that one could not live a full life without encountering the other.

Queensberry suspected Wilde was a homosexual and was bent on seducing Lord Alfred. The publication of "Two Loves" proved it to him.

The Marquess tried everything he could to pull his son from Wilde's clutches. He stalked the men as they went about London and accosted any restaurateur who served them. He threatened his son with excommunication from the family. Still Lord Alfred and Oscar remained close friends.

"Your intimacy with this man Wilde must either cease or I will disown you and stop all money supplies," Queensberry threatened in 1893. He publicly scolded his son and even showed up at Wilde's house with a champion boxer to threaten the author. Wilde's response was, "I do not know what the Queensberry rules are, but the Wilde rules are to shoot on sight!"

The Importance of Being Earnest
Book cover: The
Importance of Being
Earnest

The feud between Queensberry and Wilde went on for several years and came to climax as Wilde's play The Importance of Being Earnest was set to premiere in London. Queensberry threatened to disrupt the premiere and ruin the performance. Given that he had previously successfully carried out a similar threat, Wilde took Queensberry seriously. He hired a cordon of guards to stand outside the theater while the play was on. The marquess tried to make good on his threat but was thwarted. He paced outside the theater with a bouquet of vegetables until the performance was over.

Queensberry wrote once more to his son, following through on his threat to disown him.

"You reptile, you are no son of mine and I never thought you were."

Lord Alfred answered, "If O.W. was to prosecute you in the criminal courts for libel, you would get seven years' penal servitude for your outrageous libels."

To Queensberry, a gauntlet had been thrown. If it took a libel trial to prove to the world that Oscar Wilde was a homosexual, so be it.

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