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Family spat: Queensberry and his son Percy came to blows over the former's treatment of Oscar Wilde

The life of John Sholto Douglas, 9th Marquess of Queensberry, was not a happy one. While he was a teenager his father shot himself. His 21st birthday was interrupted by news of the death of one of his brothers on the Matterhorn. Another brother later slashed his neck and bled to death in a London hotel room. His first son and heir shot himself in what may or may not have been an accident. Marriage to the mother of his children led to divorce for his unreasonable behaviour. A second marriage — to a woman half his age — was swiftly annulled due to the groom's impotence. Long before his death in 1900 at the age of 55 all his children hated him. When Percy, his second son and eventual heir, came to see him on his deathbed Queensberry apparently sat up and spat at him.

Against this are two claims on posterity: he put his name to the rules of boxing and, as the father of Lord Alfred Douglas, he caused the downfall of Oscar Wilde.

Given time the biography industry turns on all minor as well as major players. The Wilde affair is no exception. There have already been biographies of most of Wilde's family and friends. Fifteen years ago I wrote the biography of Lord Alfred "Bosie" Douglas. There have been several biographies of Wilde's wife as well as friends such as Robbie Ross, Ada Leverson and Frank Harris and also several books on the Douglas clan. This is the first full biography of John Sholto Douglas. It is not hard to see why.

The twin criteria for a good biography are that the subject should have lived in (and preferably contributed to) interesting times and that they should have left posterity with something worthwhile. Bosie suffered interesting times even after Wilde was dead and left a small quantity of good poetry. Ross nurtured two generations of writers. By contrast, though Queensberry contributed destructively to a moment, he left nothing of worth.

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