Lady Florence Caroline Dixie née Douglas; 25 May 1855 - 7 November 1905

 

Born in Cummertrees, Dumfries, Scotland on 25th May 1855, Lady Florence Douglas was the daughter of Caroline Margaret Clayton (1821-1904) and Archibald Douglas (16 April 1818 - 6 August 1858), 8th Marquess of Queensberry.

She had a twin brother, Lord James Edward Sholto Douglas (d. 1891), an older sister, Lady Gertrude Douglas (1842-1893), and three older brothers: John, Viscount Drumlanrig (1844-1900), later 9th Marquess of Queensberry, Lord Francis Douglas (1847-1865), and Reverend Lord Archibald Edward Douglas (1850-1938). 

Florence has been described as a tomboy who tried to match her brothers in physical activities, whether swimming, riding, or hunting. She rode astride,wore her hair short in a boyish crop, and refused to conform to fashion when being presented to Queen Victoria. 

On 6 August 1858, when she was 3, Lady Florence's father died in what was reported as a shooting accident, but was widely believed to have been suicide. Then in 1862 his widow Caroline acted upon a long-formed conviction and converted to Catholicism. She took her youngest children, Archibald (12), Florence and James (7) to France, where she could educate them as she wished. This led the children's guardians to threaten Lady Queensberry with the loss of her children under English law. The three were too young to choose a guardian under Scottish law. They remained in France for two years. Falconer Atlee, British Consul at Nantes, offered them a place of safety when their first location was discovered, and Emperor Napoleon III eventually extended her his protection, ensuring that she could retain custody of the children. 

Eventually, it was agreed that Caroline would retain custody of the children, and they returned to England. Lady Florence was originally educated at home by a governess, but is described as "defiant, rebellious and restless". After returning from France at age 9, the twins were separated. James was sent to a Catholic boarding school, and Florence to a convent school, which she hated. 

Another tragedy struck the family just days before Florence's eldest brother, John Douglas, was to assume his majority as 9th Marquess of Queensberry. As guests gathered for a lavish celebration, word came that on 14 July 1865, 18-year-old Lord Francis Douglas had fallen to his death with three others, after achieving the first successful ascent of the Matterhorn. John Douglas travelled post-haste to Zermatt with the intention of bringing home his brother's body, but nothing had been found of Lord Francis but some tattered shreds of his clothing. Queensberry, alone, without a guide, and starting by moonlight, attacked the Matterhorn himself and made it as far as "the Hut". It was largely a matter of chance that two guides found and rescued him before he died of cold. He wrote apologetically to Florence, “I thought and thought where he was, and called him, and wondered if I should ever see him again. I was half mad with misery, [Florence], and I could not help it.” Exceedingly amiable and talented Francis' loss was deeply felt by his family. In 1876, Florence would accompany John Douglas on his return to Zermatt, and he would show her the slopes where Francis had died. 

On 3 April 1875, at the age of nineteen, Florence married Sir Alexander Beaumont Churchill Dixie, 11th Baronet (1851–1924), known as "Sir A.B.C.D." or "Beau". Beau, who had succeeded his father as the 11th baronet on 8 January 1872, had an income of £10,000 per year, a seat at Bosworth Hall, near Market Bosworth, Leicestershire, and a London townhouse in the fashionable residential district of Mayfair. He served as High Sheriff of Leicestershire for 1876. Though Florence was only five feet tall, while Beau stood 6′ 2′′, Florence became the dominant partner in the marriage, reportedly ruling her husband "with a rod of iron". 

The young couple had two sons, George Douglas (born 18 January 1876), who later became the 12th baronet, and Albert Edward Wolstan (born 26 September 1878, died 1940), whose godfather was the Prince of Wales. 

Both husband and wife shared a love of adventure and the outdoor life, and are generally considered to have had a happy marriage. Nonetheless, Beau's habits of drinking and of gambling for high stakes had catastrophic consequences for the family. In 1885 Beau's ancestral home and estate at Bosworth were sold to pay his debts. 

"For some time past I have been fighting against the terrible consequences of my husband's immense losses on the Turf and at gambling... It was a great blow to me to find that the last remnant of a once splendid fortune must at once go to pay this debt. Beau has been so accustomed to having heaps of money at his command that he cannot understand that it is all gone... By selling Bosworth and the property these (debts) could be met." - Lady Florence Dixie. 

Following the loss of the estate, the couple moved to Glen Stuart, Annan, Dumfriesshire, Scotland. One of the houses on Lord Queensberry's Scottish estate of Kinmount, it had previously been the home of Lady Florence's mother, the Dowager Marchioness. 

“Nature has unmistakeably given to woman a greater brain power. This is at once perceivable in childhood... Yet man deliberately sets himself to stunt that early evidence of mental capacity, by laying down the law that woman's education shall be on a lower level than that of man's... I maintain to honourable gentlemen that this procedure is arbitrary and cruel, and false to Nature. I characterise it by the strong word of Infamous. It has been the means of sending to their graves unknown, unknelled, and unnamed, thousands of women whose high intellects have been wasted, and whose powers for good have been paralysed and undeveloped.” 

Preface to her book Gloriana 

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