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William Douglas - third Earl March, Fourth Duke of Queensbury 1725-1810
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or 'Old Q' as he was knownThe duke of Queensbury was one of eighteenth century England's most notorious rakes. He was known for three things - his love of the turf, his love of 'Bacchus' - or wine and his love of women. Perhaps because he lived well into his 80's - dying in 1810 at the age of 85, that he most notoriously known. For his career as a rake was both long, and unrelenting.
It should be noted, that for many years old Q was in fact known as the Earl of March. He only became heir to the dukedom when his two cousins died. Their father, the third duke of Queensbury died in 1778 and March, at the age 52 inherited the title and estates . In most of this extract I have referred to March rather than Queensbury - although of course they are the same person.
It was observed by Goede in his memoirs "A Stranger in England" that 'old Q' known for his fox hunting even though he was into his seventies. Goede commented further, "There are old fools who affect the dress, levity, the pleasures of youth and frequent the seminaries of licentiousness." It is Beresford (from Lives of the Rakes - vol 5) that sums up the feeling, "Much is forgiven a young rake because there is always the possibility of reform"
The fact was that the duke of Queensbury was immensely rich, had no wife, and no children. He was also known to be
intelligent and of engaging manners - and so he made a tempting target for men and women who were eager to forward their
own interests and perhaps - had he not lived so long he would have been forgiven his earlier exploits. But he took shameless
and good natured advantage of his position.
ExploitsHis exploits and his love of a wager are legendary and it is perhaps appropriate to his times. There were many young, intelligent young men brimming with energy and nothing practical to do to set themselves too, and so they devised bets and wagers to occupy their time. March pursued his with energy and ingenuity, putting incredible cost and effort into his success.
He was elected the gentleman's club, White's, in 1747 and one of his best known wagers is laid in the famous White's
betting book. Dated October 18 1749 it reads;
Lord March immediately put all his ingenuity to the problem for he had bet another thousand guineas on the outcome. The rules were carefully regarded and, as no carriage body was required, this was stripped away from the frame by carriage makers he had contracted. In fact he commissioned several carriages to be built, and at great expense, to find the fastest, lightest one for the race. Even the equipment was given careful scrutiny and the traces were made of silk and harnesses of silk and whalebone. The total weight of the carriage and harness was an incredible two and a half hundredweight.
The event took place on Newmarket Heath on August 29 1750 at seven O'clock in the morning. Lord March was a spectator the dubious privelege of riding in the 'carriage' with no seat, no support and little to cling on to was given to his groom. It is said they went off so fast that the carriage had covered four miles in first nine minutes. In fact the entire nineteen miles was covered in a phenomenally fast 53 minutes and 27 seconds.
March pursued other bets he made with the same ingenuity. He once bet that he could cause a letter to cover 50 miles in an hour. The bet was duly accepted. Lord March had the letter enclosed in a cricket ball and had twenty cricketers stand in a carefully measured circle throwing the ball as fast as they could. Needless to say the distance was easily covered.
He was also very shrewd with his money and with his bets, and it has been said that he only bet with people whom he knew could afford to lose. He didn't mind losing if it was valid, but strenuously pursued the case if he thought it unfair. In one case he laid a bet of five hundred guineas with young Mr Pigot that old Mr Pigot would die before Sir William Codrington. On the day the bet was laid old Mr Pigot conveniently died. Young Mr Pigot refused to pay the bet on the contention that if a horse dies before the race he is entered for, the bets on it are called off. March refused to follow this analogy and when no compromise could be reached, he took the matter to the Kings Bench. There was a hearing, a number of witnesses were brought forward and a verdict was brought in his favour.
Although March was a member of Whites and Brooks he was blackballed that same year for membership to those two other great London Clubs, Boodles and Almacks.
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WomenWhile his passions were not lasting or exclusive they appear to be good natured. He remained friendly with most of his 'Cyprian's' all of whom seemed to share Italian heritage - Tondino, Rena, the opera girl Zampirini. But in his own words about one of his latest charmers:
"I like this little girl, but how long this liking will last I cannot tell: it might increase or be quite at an end before you arrive."
The only child he is thought to have had is a daughter Maria, born on August 24, 1771 to his mistress Fagniani and to whom he left a large inheritance on his death.
It seemed he pursued a number of ardent courtships in his time with same energy he pursued his bets. In 1752 he moved to Number 17 Arlington Street, for the primary reason that it was next door to Miss Frances Pelham to whom he had a tendre. Miss Pelham's brother, the Hon. Henry Pelham, was not enamoured of Lord March as a suitor for his sister and had him thrown out of the house. Lord March, undaunted, had a bow window built in his house which commanded a view of a convenient window of Miss Pelham's so he could continue his ardent courtship with her.
Two years later when Henry Pelham died and all objection to his union removed, he did not propose to Frances. It is probable that this was because the first of his Italian inamorata's, Rena, had arrived in his life and marriage was not such a tempting prospect.
In 1786 he made his only proposal to the daughter of his next door neighbour in Piccadilly, a Miss Gertrude Vanneck. Despite the fact that he was a rich duke, and he proposed three times, her father, Sir Joshua Vanneck, could not bring himself to accept the hand of an aging unrepentant old roue, who was by this time 61 years old.
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TurfHe first began to run horses at Newmarket when he was 23, although he had been visiting race courses and betting from the age of 15. He was known as a competent 'gentleman jockey' in his day and his love of the turf was also reflected in an uncanny knowledge of it. His racing colours of Red and Black were seen almost without a break on the turf from 1748 to 1805 - a period of 57 years, an incredible feat.
One of his most famous rides was against his cousin the duke of Hamilton (married to one of the Gunning sisters) on May 5th 1757. Although March won the race he lost the bet as it was judged that he had lost half a pound, so Hamilton won by default.
At one stage bookies tried to bribe one of his jockeys to throw a race. They had misjudged their man, and his loyalty to the duke, for he immediately went to March and told him of the attempt. The duke, with his usual insouciance, advised him to take the money. On the day of the race the duke went to the circle to review the horses before the race, and on seeing this horse, declared it was a fine looking animal and he would ride it himself. He threw of his coat revealing his riding costume and rode the horse to win the race. It is said that no one ever tried to buy the duke's men again.
Many of our most famous horse riding events can be traced back to this period, the Derby in 1780, The Oaks 1779. It was in part due to the efforts of 'The Jockey Club'. This group started as an informal gathering of interested people who met at the Star and Garter Tavern in Pall Mall and included such notables as the duke of Cumberland, the Duke of Grafton, the Earl of Barrymore and the Earl of Clermont. But there interest in horse racing was intense and it was through their efforts that the sport was systemised.
As an interesting side note - Tattersalls, famous for its horse sales was founded around this time in 1766, with its first quarters on Hyde Park corner.
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Later yearsIt is Queensbury who made the famous remark, "What is there to make so of in the Thames? I am quite weary of it: there it goes, flow, flow, flow, always the same."
For he loved London, and his house in Piccadilly, but even he could not stay there on his balcony all year round - it was too hot and dusty in summer, and of course, being out of season, there was no company. So he removed to a house in Richmond, by the Thames. Richmond was a very fashionable suburb in the 1770's, it had a famous theatre and Kew Palace was a popular spot for royalty. Queensbury's house is no longer there however - it was built over in 1831 by Sir William Dundas.
Towards the end of his life Queensbury made a notable figure about London when he drove out, he always wore dark green and had long tailed black horses, in winter he would also carry a muff. Two servants were seated behind him and his groom, Jack Radford followed on horseback ready to execute any commissions. As Radford's commissions were usually taking notes and messages to desirable looking girls that took the duke's eye he managed to increase his unsavoury reputation. That because of his wealth and unmarried state many women still found him an attractive target only increased the disapproval of society. When not out driving he would sit on the balcony of his house at 138 Piccadilly ogling the passing women and again using Radford to take notes to them. It was here that the poet Leigh Hunt saw him in the early 1800's and "wondered at the longevity of his disspation and the prosperity of his worthlessness."
He was regularly lampooned and satirised in his later years as he made a figure sitting on his balcony. He was known as 'the star of Piccadilly' in many of these. Wordsworth produced a sonnet in which he talks of the duke as 'degenerate Douglas'
As a final oddity to his life - the duke was known to bathe in gallons of milk, believing that the milk would help recuperate his strength. J H Jesse writing in 1843 (33 years after the death of the duke, remembered that in London there was an almost universal prejudice against drinking milk because of the suspicion that it might have been sold from the duke, and been used for his baths.
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SourcesLives of the Rakes - E Beresford
Posthumous Memoirs - Wraxall
The Duke of Queensbury - M J Robinson
The Beautiful Duchess - Horace Bleackley
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