Caroline Clayton, the Gretna Green Marchioness, 1822-1904


Caroline Margaret Clayton grew up only partially shielded from the cause celebre that was her parents’ divorce. A pretty, strong minded girl, she was adored by her father, Sir William Robert Clayton, MP for Great Marlow in Buckinghamshire and a Waterloo veteran.


Sir William’s finances were always unstable. When the family estate was let out to Joseph Bonaparte, elder brother of Napoleon, Caroline’s friendship with Prince Louis Napoleon, with whom she would go on boat trips along the Thames, raised her father’s hopes that his daughter might become a French empress. Caroline had other ideas.

The object of her affections was Archibald Douglas, Viscount Drumlanrig, heir to the Queensberry title. “Drum” was adventurous and dashing. Socially his family was superior to that of the Claytons, but Sir William refused his request to marry his daughter. When Drum suggested elopement, it appealed to the young, impetuous Caroline and they made a dash to Gretna Green. Whatever anger was heaped upon them afterward, a few days after their return, a church ceremony was arranged in London.


The couple settled down to married life at Kinmount, the family estate near Dumfries in Scotland.

Drum carried on much as he had done before his marriage. He tried a spell in the army then applied himself to politics, but neither occupation satisfied him so he fell back on the the only outlets that provided the excitement he craved – boxing, racing, hunting, prize fighting and most particularly, gambling.

Caroline worked hard on the marriage, supporting her husband’s political ambitions and playing the hostess but she found life at Kinmount austere and whenever she could, she escaped south. Over the next thirteen years they had six children, but by the time twins James and Florence were born in 1855, the couple were virtually estranged.


Everything changed on August 6th 1858. Caroline and the children had just returned from a visit away. Drum disappeared to shoot rabbits and about mid afternoon, the shocking news arrived that he had been found dead. spread-eagled in a field with his gun at his feet. A tragic accident had occurred. This explanation however seemed very unlikely and murmurs about Drum’s gambling debts were aired but whatever the cause, thirty-six year old Caroline was now a widow.


Distressed by the death of her husband, Caroline found comfort in the religion of her Irish grandmother and turned to the Catholic church. She could not have been prepared for the response from her strictly Presbyterian mother-in-law who immediately took steps to have the children removed. Caroline responded by fleeing to France, seeking refuge with her Bonaparte friends.

Thus began a peripatetic existence. The family was now fragmented, the younger children being sent to school in France and for the first time, the twins were separated. Florrie reacted so badly that her brother Francis intervened and she was released from the constraints of a convent school.

Another Death

July 20 1867 was the day upon which Caroline’s eldest son, John Sholto, now Marquess of Queensberry, came of age. Returning to Kinmount for the celebrations, Caroline made preparations for a family reunion. At the time, Francis, who had earned a commission in the Black Watch, had been spending his last weeks of freedom in a challenging climb on the Matterhorn. He was due back before the party. On the very eve a telegram arrived to announce that Lord Francis had been lost in a climbing accident. John, “half mad with grief” set out to single-handedly find his brother’s body. it was never recovered.

The Fenians

Caroline was crushed by the death of her second son. Shortly afterward, John married and Caroline, now the Dowager Marchioness set out on a meandering, purposeless tour of Europe with her three youngest children in tow. In November 1867 she found a cause that once more gave her life direction.

Caroline, an English woman married into the Scottish nobility, embraced the roots of her Irish ancestors, taking up the cause of Irish independence. She outraged many by sending £100 to support the families of three Irish Fenians sentenced to hang at Manchester. Undeterred by the hostility Caroline campaigned on their behalf and when things got too hot, she moved first to Norfolk then again to France.

Caroline’s Children

Throughout her life, Caroline’s children, strong minded, passionate, unpredictable and self destructive, were to cause her grief.

John, the eldest, battered his way through a divorce and espoused atheism bringing disapproval on his head. He inherited his father’s passion for sport developing the rules governing boxing that still bear his name. Always in dispute with some cause or person, he is mostly remembered for his part in the downfall of Oscar Wilde, the lover of his son Lord Alfred Douglas. Following a stroke and a mental breakdown he died aged 55..

Gertrude, the eldest girl twice took her vows as a nun but then left the convent. She tried her hand as a novelist and along with her brother Archie, who had become an ordained priest, helped to run St Vincent’s Home for Boys. Here, she met an inmate, Tom Stock, then in his late teens. Now aged forty, Getrude astounded family and public alike by marrying him. Together they ran a bakery in London but it failed. They then tried market gardening but this too collapsed, at which point Tom left to seek adventure in Africa. Gertrude, abandoned and unhappy, died aged only 51. Archie continued with his ministry into his mid seventies, dying peacefully in England.

This left the twins. Throughout their lives Florence and James were emotionally bound together, the stronger, rebellious Florrie taking the lead. Tragically Jim, separated from Florence and struggling with debts and alcohol abuse, killed himself in a lonely hotel. He was thirty-six. As a young woman, Florrie embraced life as an explorer, novelist and journalist. Frustrated by society’s restrictions on women, she became a women’s rights campaigner and a vegetarian. Married with two sons, she was eventually forced by debt to settle at the Scottish family home of Glen Stuart. Here, like brother John an atheist, and crippled by arthritis, she continued to campaign on behalf of women and animal welfare until her death in 1905.

Caroline too ended her days at Glen Stuart. Throughout her turbulent life she was sustained by her religious faith. On February 14 1904, Caroline died. The Freeman’s Journal saluted “…a true friend of Ireland and a gentle and blameless lady.”