By Michael LeCompte
Boxing fans, even casual ones, are aware of the Queensberry rules. These twelve guidelines have been the basis of boxing since their inception in 1867. They standardized boxing matches and civilized the sport by requiring gloves to be worn. However, the average fan might be surprised by the interesting history of the Queensberry rules’ namesake and of his personal role in the downfall of Oscar Wilde.
The Marquess of Queensberry is a title in the peerage (a list of peers and their geneology, history, and titles) of Scotland held by a member of the Douglas family since its creation in 1682.
John Douglas, the 9th Marquess of Queensberry (1844-1900), by all accounts was not a nice man. He was haunted by both personal and political demons. His father, brother, and first son all committed suicide. He was twice divorced and all five of his children despised him. His second son was even known to brawl with his father in public on occasion.
The political establishment shunned the Marquess. His fellow Scots failed to re-elect him and the English government overlooked his title. When the Foreign Secretary, Lord Roseberg, elected the Marquess’ eldest son to peerage over him he challenged him to fisticuffs.
As his penchant for fighting illustrates the Marquess was an avid fan of boxing, as well as other sports, such as hunting. In 1866 he was one of the founders of the Amateur Athletic Club of England, from which his now famous boxing rules were produced.
The Marquess’ interactions with Oscar Wilde are less well known than his contributions to the sport of boxing, but as Linda Stratmann explains in her book “The Marquess of Queensberry: Wilde’s Nemesis,” he was instrumental in Wilde’s imprisonment.
When the Marquess learned of a supposed homosexual relationship between his son Alfred and Wilde he left a calling card reading “For Oscar Wilde, posing as Sodomite” for him. Wilde then sued the Marquess for criminal libel.
During the trial the Marquess’ lawyers planned to call on several male prostitutes willing to testify to their relations with Wilde. Subsequently Wilde dropped the case.
The Marquess could not let it go, though, and sent the evidence his lawyers had collected to Scotland Yard. Wilde was ultimately convicted of “gross indecency” in 1895 and was sentence to two years of hard labor. He died in 1900.
The 9th Marquess of Queensberry certainly had faults, he undoubtedly contributed to the downfall of an artist, but his contribution to the sport of boxing is undeniable. The Queensberry rules gave rise to and continue to govern the modern form of boxing.
The Queenserry Rules
1. A twenty-four foot ring shall be used.
2. No wrestling or hugging allowed.
3.Three minute rounds with one minute in between.
4. If a man falls he has ten seconds to get up. If a man fails to come to scratch the referee may give his award to the other man.
5. A man hanging on the ropes in a helpless state will be considered down.
6. No other persons are allowed in the ring during rounds.
7. Should the contest be stopped by unavoidable interference, the referee is to name the time and place for its conclusion, so that the match may be won or lost.
8. The gloves to be fair-sized boxing gloves of the best quality and new.
9. Should a glove come off it must be replaced to the referee’s satisfaction.
10. A man on one knee is considered down and if struck is entitled to the stakes.
11. No shoes or boots with springs allowed.
12. The contest in all other respects to be governed by the revised rules of the London prize ring.