Poets have a reputation for being moody, dark, and maybe a bit overdramatic. Well, Lord Alfred Douglas does nothing to overturn that stereotype. An avid poet and journalist and one of Oscar Wilde’s most infamous lovers, Lord Alfred Douglas’s life was filled with strife, both personal and political. This poet’s life was one of passion, romance, and bad decisions. His story is not one you want to miss.
1. He Had Noble Beginnings
On October 22, 1870, Lord Alfred Bruce Douglas was born, the third child of John Douglas, 9th Marquess of Queensberry and his first wife Sibyl. Now, our friend Lord Alfred wasn’t the son of just any old noble house; in fact, Lord Alfred came from one of the noblest and oldest families in Scotland. Unfortunately for Lord Alfred, his noble house came with its fair share of family drama.
2. He Had An Absentee Father
By the time little Alfred was born, things weren’t going so well in the Queensbury household. For one, Alfred’s dad recently got himself a big promotion and became Master of the Worcestershire Foxhounds, meaning he was constantly away from home. This put a major strain on the relationship between Alfred’s parents, which led to some life-changing consequences for the little boy.
3. His Mom Spoiled Him
Since Alfred’s dad was away so often, her mom started seeing little Alfred as a replacement for her perpetually absent husband. As a result, his mom spoiled Alfred rotten. Whether it was land, money, gifts, or servants, all Alfred had to do was ask for it, and his mom gave it to him. It’s no wonder that Douglas became, in his own words, a “very sensitive” child. What happened next only made that sensitivity worse.
4. His Dad Did Whatever He Wanted
You see, Alfred’s dad had a nasty habit of doing whatever he wanted to his family, usually without their consent. At the end of the 1870s, Alfred’s dad made the decision to sell their home and move everyone to London, which greatly upset Alfred and the rest of the family. Next, Alfred’s dad enrolled Alfred in a boarding school called Winchester, again without asking for Alfred’s opinion. Ironically, sending Alfred to Winchester ended up being a terrible idea.
5. School Nearly Destroyed Him
At the time, Winchester was the perfect school on the surface, but, as young Alfred soon discovered, there was a hidden darkness to that place. Winchester suffered from a huge problem with abuse, and Douglas’s good looks made him a prime target for unwanted attention from his seniors. This kind of environment should have crushed someone as spoiled as Douglas, but his actual reaction shocked and surprised his peers.
6. He Found Popularity
In time, Lord Alfred Douglas became one of the most popular boys in the school. He excelled at sports, was a total looker, and had a natural knack for the arts. He also likely began several steamy relationships with his male peers at school, but it likely did little to improve his relationship with his father. At this point, though, little Alfred still loved his father regardless. Then, a disturbing incident destroyed Alfred’s admiration for his dear old dad.
7. He Lost Faith In His Father
In 1886, Alfred witnessed something that completely turned him against his dad. His mom had arranged a house party for their friends to celebrate race week. However, a mere 24 hours before the start of the party, Alfred’s dad showed up with a group of his own buddies—including his mistress.
When Alfred’s mom was rightfully upset, Alfred’s dad had the gall to suggest a truly outlandish solution.
8. He Despised His Dad
According to Alfred’s dad, the three of them—himself, the mistress, and Alfred’s mom—should just start living together. Alfred must have realized just how messed up this was, and the event likely kickstarted a tumultuous chapter in his relationship with his dad. Unfortunately, his dad’s promiscuous ways definitely rubbed off on Alfred, and the young man had his own fair share of affairs too.
9. He Found Love In All Forms
In 1888, Alfred traveled to France under the supervision of a tutor named Gerald Campbell. There, Alfred learned a great deal, including the fact that he had a taste for both men and women. While staying in a hotel in the South of France, our venerable Lord Alfred began an affair with the divorced wife of an earl.
Sadly for Alfred, this lady also happened to be his tutor’s cousin. This could only end in disaster.
10. He Got Caught
During one of Alfred’s evening trysts with his new lady love, his tutor rudely interrupted by loudly banging on his bedroom door. Alfred answered the door—while dressed in his lover’s nightgown. Caught red-handed, Alfred’s tutor demanded the return of his lady cousin at once. Alfred was in tears over the whole affair, but it was what happened to his lady love that really mortified him.
11. His Love Life Took A Turn
To Alfred’s horror, his lady love’s peers accused her of seducing “an innocent young boy.” Alfred actually attempted to protest, describing himself as “far from innocent,” but no one believed him. To make matters worse, Alfred, in his autobiography, pointed to this incident as the reason why he began exclusively dating men.
Either way, Alfred was turning out to be quite the troublemaker, and the next chapter of his life only brought his penchant for mischief to the surface.
12. He Was A Total Jock
The following year, 19-year-old Lord Alfred Douglas started his education at Oxford University. Alfred had very little interest in book learning; instead, he spent his days messing around with the boys, getting into sports, and writing poetry. His first poem, “Autumn Days,” appeared in Oxford Magazine. Upon reading it, the college’s president called it “really passionate and fine.” This talent for poetry eventually led to a meeting with a man who changed his life.
13. He Met His One True Love
In late June of 1891, Douglas’s cousin introduced him to famed playwright Oscar Wilde. By this time, Wilde was a wildly successful man, especially after he published The Picture of Dorian Gray. During the meeting, Douglas and Wilde hit it off, and soon, Wilde invited Alfred for a dinner or lunch date.
Douglas, being a huge Oscar Wilde fanboy (he had read The Picture of Dorian Gray upwards of 14 times before this meeting), immediately agreed. Thus began one of the most passionate and infamous affairs of Douglas’s life.
14. He Tried Resisting
A few days later, Douglas and Wilde had their date with destiny. According to Alfred, Wilde attempted to get handsy later in the evening, but Alfred resisted. Although Alfred had nothing against relationships between men, Wilde was already married. Furthermore, Wilde wasn’t exactly much to look at—one high-society lady actually described Wilde as “the great white caterpillar.” Despite this, Douglas couldn’t resist the talented playwright’s affections for long.
15. He Succumbed To His Charm
After six months of enduring Wilde’s relentless charm, Douglas gave in and began an affair with the famous author. In January of 1892, Lord Alfred’s sordid relationship with Wilde went up a notch. The pair tumbled into bed together for the first time. While Douglas was unusually candid about the acts that took place between them, this part of their relationship ended up being Douglas’s least favorite—for a very awkward reason.
16. He Thought His Lover Was Ugly
While Douglas’s new boy toy turned out to be an extremely adventurous bedfellow, Wilde just wasn’t the usual type of guy that Lord Alfred messed around with. By this time, Wilde was 37 and, according to a biographer, he was “large, bloated and coarse-featured.” Alfred’s type tended to be decidedly more youthful. Thankfully, Douglas’s new lover stopped pushing him for regular romps in the bedroom—but that didn’t make their relationship any less passionate.
17. His Love Inspired Him
Alfred’s new relationship with Wilde inspired a flurry of romantic poems, almost all of which made obscure or muddied references to the passionate love between two men. The most famous of these poems included “Two Loves,” in which Alfred personified a character named “Shame.” What’s so significant about this? Well, “Shame” was a slang term for the love between two men. Anyone reading between the lines knew exactly what Alfred meant in his poem.
Obviously, the poem ruffled a few feathers. And when Alfred wasn’t writing poetry, he found other ways to cause mayhem.
18. He Was A Terrible Student
By 1893, Douglas’s devil-may-care attitude towards his education finally caught up with him. To keep himself from failing out of school, Douglas hired the services of a tutor named Campbell Dodgson. Dodgson had no idea what he was in for. Instead of spending his days buried in books, Alfred dragged his new tutor to the town of Torquay, where Wilde lived.
Lord Alfred spent his days drinking and partying with Wilde, but his happy days didn’t last long.
19. His Love Life Was Chaotic
During that trip, Douglas and Wilde had their first (of many) quarrels that led to the young lord storming out of Torquay in a fit of rage. Alfred set up shop in Bristol, where he immediately regretted his actions and sent a telegram to Wilde, begging him for forgiveness. Wilde, totally in love with Lord Alfred, immediately forgave him and the two decided to meet up in London. This visit ended up being a fateful one for Douglas.
20. He Cared Little For Propriety
While in London, Douglas and his lover rented rooms beside each other in the Savoy Hotel. Unfortunately, this was about as careful as Lord Alfred cared to be in regards to hiding his illicit relationships. Douglas made no effort to hide the aftermath of his wild nights in bed with Wilde, and at one point, a hotel staff member caught Douglas in bed with another young man.
This was bad enough for Alfred’s reputation, but somehow, things got worse.
21. He Nearly Destroyed A Marriage
After spending some time riding high on the passion of their relationship, real life came crashing down on Douglas with a vengeance. Wilde’s wife, Constance, made an appearance in London, begging her husband to come back home with her. His answer was devastating. He cruelly refused to return. Instead, Douglas and Wilde stayed in London until they eventually returned to Oxford, where Lord Alfred continued to make a mess of things.
22. He Fought For Equal Rights
Back at Oxford, Douglas made very little headway in terms of his education. However, he did make another important decision that defined his career: he became the editor of the Oxford magazine, The Spirit Lamp. The magazine became a place for Douglas to publish works that explicitly supported romantic relations between men. Did that get him in trouble? You bet it did!
23. His Work Landed Him In Hot Water
As the head of the magazine, Douglas published submissions from other gay poets like him, such as John Addington Symonds and Lord Henry Somerset. Douglas himself contributed a piece called “Sicilian Love Song,” describing his agony of having to wait until nightfall to visit his male lover. Douglas’s publication got him into a ton of trouble with the university’s authorities, but he didn’t have to worry about that for long…
24. He Was A University Dropout
By the end of the summer term of 1893, Douglas—having failed to do much in terms of actual studying—dropped out. The school tried to give him a second chance to get his degree, but Douglas turned it down, saying, “I really don’t care twopence about having a degree.” Instead, Lord Alfred waltzed off to Goring-on-Thames, where he stayed with a delighted Wilde. His parents, on the other hand, were a whole lot less delighted.
25. His Dad Harassed Him
At Goring-on-Thames, Lord Alfred’s parents—his dad, in particular—sent him a series of increasingly worried and angry letters regarding his refusal to finish his degree or get a job. Eventually, his dad cut him off financially, writing that “I utterly decline…to just supply you with sufficient funds to enable you to loaf about.” His sweet, doting, and utterly naive mother continued to finance him, and in a surprising twist, ended up helping him to evade the law.
26. He Was Impulsive
While staying in Goring, Douglas ran into some boy trouble. An acquaintance introduced Lord Alfred to a 16-year-old boy named Philip Danney, who immediately captured his, uh, “interest.” Lord Alfred made a trip to London (where Danney was staying), seduced him, and brought him back with Goring, where he joined Douglas and Wilde in their bedroom exploits. As you can imagine, this incident nearly landed Douglas’s lordly rear behind bars.
27. His Lover Saved Him
Luckily for Douglas, Danney’s father realized that reporting the incident would actually land his own son in the slammer too, so he refrained from going straight to the authorities. On top of that, Wilde wrote a letter to Douglas’s mother suggesting that a trip to Egypt would do the young lord some good, as staying in London “may spoil his young life irretrievably.”
Lord Alfred, eager to escape until things cooled down, made his merry way to Egypt. If Douglas was grateful for his lover’s intervention, however, he had a funny way of showing it…
28. He Preyed On His Lover
As their relationship progressed, more and more fights broke out between Douglas and Wilde. Douglas lived a wild life and regularly spent his money on boys and gambling, while expecting Wilde to pay for it all. Lord Alfred’s poor lover, too in love to see the young man’s faults, often fell victim to Douglas’s reckless ways, and he frequently ended up paying the price financially, and emotionally.
29. He Thought Only Of Himself
Around 1894, Douglas fell ill with influenza. Worried, Wilde nursed Douglas back to health, only to catch influenza himself. Instead of returning the favor, Douglas moved to the opulent Grand Hotel, where he had a wonderful view of the south coast of England. But wait, it gets more outrageous! On Wilde’s 40th birthday, Lord Alfred sent his love a letter stating that he charged Wilde with the hotel bill. And that wasn’t the worst part of this entire mess.
30. He Was Incredibly Sassy
By this time, Douglas’s dad suspected that the relationship between Alfred and Wilde was more than just friendship. He wrote a scathing letter to Douglas, telling him that his relationship with Wilde “must either cease or I will disown you and stop all money supplies.” Enraged, Lord Alfred sent back a telegram simply stating, “What a funny little man you are.”
With that, all bets between Douglas and his dad were off, and the feud of the century began.
31. His Dad Threatened Him
What followed was a series of increasingly angry letters and telegrams exchanged between Douglas and his dear old dad. Douglas’s dad called Alfred and Wilde “impertinent young jackanapes” in his next letter, and warned that “if I catch you again with [Wilde] I will make a public scandal in a way you little dream of.” In his infinite wisdom, Douglas decided to make good use of his poetry writing skills to get back at his father.
32. He Fought Back
Soon, a poem by Lord Alfred Douglas appeared in the Pall Mall Gazette, entitled “A Ballad of Hate.” The poem, which included lines like, “Here’s a short life to the man I hate!” was clearly written to publicly embarrass his dad. Infuriated, Douglas’s dad began stalking him, determined to catch him and Wilde dining together in restaurants so that he could make a public scene. This failed, but it succeeded in escalating the battle between father and son.
33. He Gave His Dad An Ultimatum
Although Douglas’s dad never managed to catch the two men together in public, he did succeed in creating waves of gossip that likely made Lord Alfred more than a little annoyed. To quell the gossip mongers, Douglas wrote a stunningly audacious letter to his father, stating that “if you try to assault me, I shall defend myself with a loaded revolver.” Obviously, things between Douglas and his dad were going poorly, but they could get a whole lot worse.
34. He Provoked His Dad
Douglas’s dad became increasingly manic, while Lord Alfred himself became increasingly unashamed. His dad hired private detectives to amass evidence of Douglas’s illicit activities with his male lover, while Lord Alfred brazenly appeared in public with Wilde, hinting at—but never confirming—a relationship between them. Eventually, Douglas’s dad took things one step too far.
35. He Gave Terrible Advice
In 1895, Douglas’s dad left a calling card at Wilde’s club with a particularly inflammatory message that read: “For Oscar Wilde posing as sodomite [sic].” Since sodomy was a crime, Lord Alfred enthusiastically encouraged Wilde to sue his dad for criminal libel. Much to Lord Alfred’s glee, Wilde agreed. Douglas didn’t know it yet, but his advice ended up ruining his lover’s life.
36. He Got His Lover In Trouble
During court proceedings, Douglas’s dad revealed several key pieces of evidence that painted Alfred’s lover as a vicious older man who preyed upon vulnerable young boys. To make matters worse, his dad revealed several romantic and explicit letters written by Wilde to Douglas, and even falsely attributed Douglas’s poem, “Two Loves,” to Wilde. As the evidence mounted, Wilde’s case collapsed. Lord Alfred now needed a way to save his lover from his own dad.
37. He Was Loyal
At first, Douglas begged his love to leave the country, but Wilde stoutly refused. Unfortunately, this didn’t just put Wilde in danger, but it also put Douglas and every other gay man in the country in danger too. Wilde’s case against Douglas’s dad made public the underground gay culture of London, and many men fled the country as a result. Douglas, to his credit, stayed in London for Wilde’s sake—but the danger soon grew too great.
38. He Was Helpless
At the urging of his brother and Wilde’s lawyer, Douglas left for France on April 24, 1895. There was little else Lord Alfred could do for his lover, since he managed to spend every penny he had on Wilde’s case. It was probably a good thing that Douglas left too; a trial against Wilde found him guilty of gross indecency with men, and he was thrown behind bars. The guilty verdict led to a marked change in how the upper echelons of society treated Douglas.
39. He Became An Outcast
After Wilde’s imprisonment, Douglas became something of a social pariah. He spent three and a half years bouncing between France and Italy, where many snubbed him for his associations with Wilde. Despite this, Douglas’s writing grew more prolific; he wrote several poems during this time, along with letters and articles defending romantic relationships between men. For two years, Douglas worked tirelessly to rehabilitate Wilde in the public eye…and it ended up being all for naught.
40. His Lover Turned Against Him
In the last months of Wilde’s prison sentence, he wrote a letter to Douglas called “De Profundis.” It was, effectively, a long letter full of hate and vitriol aimed at his onetime lover. While Douglas supposedly didn’t read the full letter until 1905, it was clear that Wilde didn’t feel quite so warm towards his Lord Alfred any longer. After a short period of reconciliation in 1897, Douglas and Wilde called it quits on the relationship—but it didn’t make what came next sting any less.
41. His Life Lost Meaning
In 1900, Wilde’s health finally failed him. The man defined so much of Douglas’s life that his passing unmoored the poor lord. After the funeral (during which Douglas got into a brawl with a man named Robbie Ross, one of Wilde’s friends and former lovers), Douglas turned to breeding horses, but it got him nowhere financially. With his money running out and with a growing desire for companionship, Douglas decided that it was time to marry—and he had just the lady in mind.
42. He Fell In Love Again
A few months after Wilde’s passing, a poet and rich heiress by the name of Olive Custance caught Lord Alfred’s eye. To Douglas, Custance was perfect; she enjoyed poetry, was of good social standing, and most importantly, she was rolling in cash. She had a boyish charm that Douglas appreciated too. The two began exchanging letters and, eventually, fell in love. There was just one huge problem that plagued their romance.
43. He Had A Whirlwind Romance
Due to Douglas’s social standing, Custance believed that marriage between them was impossible. Instead, she became engaged to a man named George Montagu, a former school friend of Douglas’s. When Douglas heard of the engagement, he immediately proposed to Custance and suggested they elope. Custance agreed, and the two married on March 4, 1902. Almost immediately, problems with the marriage reared their ugly heads.
44. His Marriage Was Rocky
Lord Alfred’s father-in-law was absolutely livid upon hearing of the marriage. He went straight to Scotland Yard, hoping to dig up dirt on Douglas that could annul the marriage, but came out empty-handed. They eventually got along, but another event threw a wrench into the couple’s happy marriage. Their son, born on November 17, 1902, began showing signs of mental instability as a youth, further putting pressure on their relationship.
Then, Douglas himself made a decision that nearly destroyed the marriage for good.
45. He Grew Bitter
In 1911, Douglas made the sudden decision to convert to Roman Catholicism, which severely strained his relationship with his new wife. Douglas also began to turn against his former lover, Wilde, after sections of “De Profundis” went public. To top it all off, Douglas founded a magazine called Plain English, which condemned the Jewish population. His bitterness didn’t stop there either.
46. He Thrived On Conspiracies
Soon, Douglas’s anti-Jewish magazine got him into deep trouble. In one edition of Plain English, Douglas accused Winston Churchill of falsifying an official report on the Battle of Jutland in 1916, apparently in an attempt to manipulate stock market prices to benefit a group of Jewish financiers. This led to the Crown finding Douglas guilty of libeling Churchill in 1924, and it earned the lord six months of prison time. Lord Alfred’s time behind bars dramatically changed the aging man.
47. He Changed His Views In The End
Although his imprisonment negatively affected Lord Alfred’s health, some good came out of it. While in the slammer, Douglas wrote his last poetic work, “In Excelsis.” Douglas’s views on Wilde also softened, and he grew decidedly more sympathetic towards his former lover. He made one last public appearance in 1943 to deliver a lecture called “The Principles of Poetry,” before falling to congestive heart failure on March 20, 1945, at the age of 74.
48. They Blackmailed Him
Douglas’s life was by no means easy—but he didn’t exactly do himself any favors. While staying at the Grand Hotel, Douglas spent much of his time messing around with young men, whom he paid in exchange for their companionship. At one point, Lord Alfred gave them his old clothes, forgetting he left several incriminating letters between himself and Wilde in the pockets. That turned out to be a terrible mistake. The young men then forced Douglas and his lover to pay them for their silence.
49. A Family Tragedy Destroyed His Life
It was a horrible family tragedy that doomed Douglas’s relationship with his father forever. In October of 1894, Douglas’s older brother proposed to the wealthy daughter of a high-ranking general. This should’ve been a happy moment for Douglas’s entire family, but it quickly became a nightmare. On the 18th of October, while Douglas’s brother was out on a hunting trip, members of the hunting party heard a loud bang. Soon after, they found Douglas’s older brother lifeless, with a bullet from his own weapon in his head.
These suspicious circumstances got the rumor mill going at full speed, and it ended up taking over Douglas’s life in a devastating way.
50. He Was The Victim of His Dad’s Grief
What was first ruled an unfortunate hunting accident turned into a wild story of a romance gone wrong. According to some, Lord Alfred’s brother was having an affair with one Lord Rosebery, and chose to take his own life rather than enter a loveless marriage with a woman. Douglas’s dad took this as a personal insult. In an effort to salvage his late son’s reputation, he lashed out against Alfred and Wilde.
Though they two never saw eye to eye, it was this family tragedy that destroyed their relationship for good.