In March of this year, an 18-year-old woman was found unconscious at a house party in Notting Hill with needle marks in her arm. An inquest last week recorded the cause of her untimely death as a cardiac respiratory failure, and cocaine and heroin poisoning.
She was revealed to be Lady Beth Douglas, the youngest daughter of the Marquess of Queensberry. She was also a talented violinist and excelled academically.
This dichotomy of tragedy and excellence is one that has followed Britain’s Queensberry aristocrats throughout history. In fact, the family is so prone to misfortune, that their tragedies have been described as the “Queensberry curse”.
Here’s The Telegraph:
It was Oscar Wilde who called them “the mad, bad line”, his own fortunes and reputation ultimately winding up in their hands when his relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas (nicknamed Bosie below with Wilde) and the quarrel that it caused with Lord Alfred’s father, led to his infamous jailing.
The man who accused Wilde of sodomy was the ninth Marquess of Queensberry. Lady Beth’s father, David Douglas, is the 12th.
David Douglas would go on to witness the death of two of his eight children. His son, Lord Milo Douglas, took his life in 2009.
Beth (below), of course, died of an overdose in March this year.
The list goes on, and the deaths get more bizarre as you travel further into the past.
If the family is “cursed”, as has been suggested, certain of its members seem to be as aware of this as anyone. Lord Gawain Douglas, great-nephew of Lord Alfred Douglas, wrote in 2000 of “the dark history of the Douglas line”. “Barbarity,” as he put it, “runs thick in the Douglas blood.”
The misadventures of the Douglas clan date back to the 13th century, where Sir William Douglas died a prisoner in the Tower of London after joining William Wallace (below) in his revolt against English rule in Scotland.
Sir William’s son, Sir James Douglas, fared little better: he was killed while taking the heart of Robert the Bruce on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1330.
In 1358, the family were created earls. The second earl was killed at the Battle of Otterburn between the Scottish and the English in 1388. The fourth earl, also a warrior, was killed in 1424.
James, Earl of Drumlanrig (later the third Marquess of Queensberry) was nicknamed “the cannibalistic idiot”. He was “recognised as unhinged from an early age” and was kept locked away.
In 1707, at the age of 10, he escaped from his cell into the kitchens of Holyrood Palace, where he is said to have grabbed a young kitchen boy, killed him and roasted him on a spit. James himself died at the age of 17. “There could be a predisposition for human flesh in our family,” Lord Gawain was to muse, centuries later.
In 1858, the eighth Marquess allegedly fatally shot himself with his own gun while out hunting rabbits. His son, Lord Francis, was killed while climbing the Alps in 1865.
In 1981, Lord James Edward Sholto Douglas cut his own throat in a London hotel.
As for the more recent members of the clan, their fortunes have been mixed. Lady Alice Douglas, an older half-sister of Lady Beth, caused shock in society circles by marrying an armed robber she met while volunteering in a prison.
Simon Melia, a drug addict, ran off with the family au pair, and the couple split up in 2003.
Lord Cecil Douglas also took his life at the age of 82, in the mistaken belief he was suffering from cancer.
Cursed or plagued by a bizarre set of coincidences? Either way, the history is a long and bizarre one.
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