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The Burns Encyclopedia
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Douglas, William, third Earl of March and fourth Duke of Queensberry — 'Old Q' — (1724 — 1810)

Only son of William, second Earl of March, and his wife, Lady Anne Hamilton. He succeeded his father to the Earldom of March in 1731, and his cousin to the Dukedom in 1786. An inveterate speculator, he was notorious for his behaviour on the Turf. As an early mentor of Fox, he was blamed for teaching the future political his extravagant gambling habits.

Queensberry was Lord of the Bedchamber to George III from 1760 to 1789. During the King's illness, Queensberry went to extraordinary lengths to assess the probability of recovery. However, he made a wrong decision, supported the Prince of Wales's claim to full sovereign powers, and, on the King's recovery was dismissed on the instance of the Queen and Pitt.

Queensberry was the most considerable landlord in Nithsdale, and although Burns sent him a copy of 'The Whistle' with a fulsome letter dated 24th September 1791, the poet loathed him, as is shown by these lines:

"All hail, Drumlanrig's haughty Grace —
Discarded remnant of a race
Once godlike, great in story!
His forbears virtues all contrasted —
The very name of Douglas blasted
His that inverted glory!
"Hate, envy, oft the Douglas bore;
But he has superadded more
And sunk them in contempt!
Follies and crimes have stained the name,
But, Queensberry, thine the virgin claim,
From aught that's good exempt!"

The Duke's dislike of the King, of whom Burns himself, it should be said, was in his heart no ardent supporter, drew from Burns further lines on the Duke of Queensberry, which conclude:

"The turn-coat Duke his King forsook
When his back was at the wa', man:
The rattan ran wi' a' his clan
For fear the hoose should fa' man.
"The lads about the banks of Nith,
They trust his Grace wi' a', man:
But he'll sair them as he sair'd the King —
Turn tail and rin awa', man."

A paragraph appeared in the Star of 22nd February 1790, with which Burns was credited: 'The agents of his (Sir James Johnstone's) Ducal Opponent are perfectly on a par with their degraded master, whom they are a-kin to in everything but that nobility which he has so long debased by his apostasy from the best Kings, in the moment of distress...

'When old Q was last amongst us, Scorn and execration followed wherever he went; and it is a notorious fact that he was obliged, in more places than one, to collect his vassals to protect him from insult.'

On that occasion, Burns was engaged in electioneering; but more dispassionately, he had written of the Duke to Graham of Fintry on 9th December 1789: 'Were you to know his sins, as well of Omission as Commission to this outraded land, you would club your curse with the execrating voice of the Country.'

In 1795, the Duke stripped the woodlands around Drumlanrig Castlle and Neidpath Castle in Peebleshire, to find money for a dowry for Maria Fagniani, whom he fancied was his daughter, when she married the Earl of Yarmouth. (Incidentally, George Selwyn, a well known wit of the day, also left this lady a fortune, under the impression that she was his daughter!) This action incurred the immediate wrath of Burns, and the later wrath of Wordsworth. Burns was said to have inscribed his 'Verses on the Destruction of the Woods near Drumlanrig' on the back of a window shutter in an inn or toll house near the scene of the devastations. In this poem, the wandering poet meets the 'genius of the stream', and asks if the destruction has been caused by some 'bitter Eastern blasts', but is told:

" 'Nae eastling blast', the sprite replied,
'It blew na here sae fierce and fell,
And on my dry and halesome banks
Nae canker-worms get leave to dwell:
Man! Cruel man!' the genius sighed —
As through the cliffs he sank him down —
'The worm that gnawed my bonny trees,
That reptile wears a ducal crown'."

In the Burns Chronicle for 1919, however, the Burns scholar J C Ewing, demonstrated conclusively that these verses are by Henry Mackenzie and not Burns, his authority being a letter from Mackenzie to Dr Currie dated 22nd October 1802, and explaining that Mackenzie, viewing the destruction of the woods with his daughter, wrote them in the manner of Burns as a jeu d'esprit, pretending that he had copied them from 'the Window-Shutter of a little inn'.

Nevertheless, Mackenzies indignation sounds genuine enough.

After his visit of 18th September 1803, Wordsworth burst out:

"Degenerate Douglas! Oh the unworthy Lord!
Whom mere despite of heart could so far please,
And love of havoc (for with such disease
Fame taxes him) that he could send forth word
To level with the dust a noble horde,
A brotherhood of venerable Trees,
Leaving an ancient Dome, and towers like these,
Beggared and outraged! Many hearts deplored
The fate of those old trees: and oft with pain
The traveller, at this day, will stop and gaze
On wrongs, which Nature scarcely seems to heed;
For sheltered places, bosoms, nooks and bays
And the pure mountains and the gentle Tweed,
And the green silent pastures, yet remain."

Queensberry was a liberal patron of Italian opera, although, it was said, more out of interest in the prima donnas and dancers than in the music.

In later years he sold his house at Newmarket and lived at Richmond, where he collected pictures and objets d'art.

Finally, he was largely confirmed to his house in Picadilly. In his last infirmity, he employed the former physician to Louis XV, Pere Elisee, who was to be paid a large sum for every day his patient was kept alive, but nothing from the moment he died.

Raikes, in his Journal, said of 'Old Q': 'He was a little sharp-looking man, very irritable, and swore like ten thousand troopers.' Mackenzie, in Anecdotes and Egotisms claimed that he was 'a disciple of Epicurus but without the virtue of the Epicurean system; and he had none of the hypocrisy of pretending to virtue or disinterestedness.' Although he had a number of illegitimate children, he never married, and his titles were dispersed on his death. The dukedom of Queensberry, with some other titles were dispersed on his death. The dukedom of Queensberry, with some other titles and Drumlanrig Castle, passed to the third Duke of Buccleuch, in whose family they remain.

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