Q&A: Churchill Libeled by Lord Alfred Douglas

Q&A: Churchill Libeled by Lord Alfred Douglas

Q: The libel case, 1917-23

“I came across infor­ma­tion that an aris­to­crat libeled Churchill over the Bat­tle of Jut­land, say­ing he was work­ing for the Jews. Can you help?” —P.B., London

A: Lord Alfred Douglas

You refer to the 1917 accu­sa­tion by Lord Alfred Dou­glas (1870-1945), poet son of the 9th Mar­quess of Queens­ber­ry and some­time friend of Oscar Wilde. Dou­glas was clear­ly guilty. He alleged that Churchill had prof­it­ed by £40,000 after manip­u­lat­ing the press with false com­mu­niques fol­low­ing the Bat­tle of Jut­land in May 1916.

Lord Alfred Dou­glas, 1903. (Wiki­me­dia Commons)

It is pos­si­ble that Dou­glas act­ed more from his vir­u­lent anti-Semi­tism than dis­dain for Churchill. He claimed that WSC was in the pay of his Jew­ish banker friend Sir Ernest Cassel.

Accord­ing to Dou­glas, Churchill arranged for the gov­ern­ment to announce a naval defeat at Jut­land (which it did). The result was the col­lapse of British stocks in New York (which they did).

Churchill then alleged­ly issued a state­ment (which he did) say­ing it wasn’t such a defeat after all. The stocks rebound­ed and Cas­sel and his friends, who had alleged­ly bought low, alleged­ly sold high.

To bol­ster his case, Dou­glas point­ed to Churchill’s bach­e­lor flat at 12 Bolton Street, where Cas­sel had pro­vid­ed library fur­nish­ings when Churchill had moved there in 1905.


The First World War pre­vent­ed a response by Churchill at the time, but it fol­lowed six years lat­er. In 1923 on Churchill’s behalf, the Crown filed a crim­i­nal libel action against Lord Alfred Dou­glas. Churchill tes­ti­fied, deny­ing the accu­sa­tions or any con­tact with Ernest Cas­sel con­cern­ing the Bat­tle of Jut­land. He stat­ed that he was asked to issue his favor­able analy­sis of Jut­land by the gov­ern­ment in order to boost pub­lic morale.

Although Sir Ernest did help the young Win­ston with books for his first bach­e­lor flat, it had noth­ing to do with Jut­land, which occurred over a decade lat­er. Dou­glas was found guilty and sen­tenced to six months in prison.


The years passed and by 1940 Churchill was prime min­is­ter. Time had mel­lowed Lord Alfred Dou­glas. In July 1941, he pub­lished a son­net, Win­ston Churchill:

Not that of old I loved you over-much
Or fol­lowed your quick changes with great glee
While through rough paths or harsh hostility
You fought your way, using a sword or crutch
To serve occa­sion. Yours it was to clutch
And lose again. Lack­ing the charity
Which looks behind the mask, I did not see
The immi­nent shad­ow of “the Win­ston touch.”
Axe for embed­ded evil’s can­cer­ous roots,
When all the world was one vast funer­al pyre,
Like genie smoke you rose, a giant form
Clothed with the Addis­on­ian attributes
Of God-direct­ed angel. Like your sire
You the rode the whirl­wind and out-stormed the storm.

Douglas’s nephew sent an advance copy of the son­net to Churchill. The Prime Minister’s response lived up to his mot­to, “In vic­to­ry, magnanimity”:

Thank you very much for the son­net you sent me which I shall keep and val­ue. Tell [Lord Alfred Dou­glas] from me that “Time Ends All Things.”

Further reading

The most thor­ough account of these events, with tran­script excerpts from two court tri­als, is Michael McMe­namin, “Churchill and the Liti­gious Lord: Two Tri­als and a Son­net,” pub­lished by the Hills­dale Col­lege Churchill Project: Part 1 and Part 2.

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