Oscar Wilde's Gross Indecency Trial

On May 25th, 1895, Oscar Wilde was put in prison for gross indecency. Queensberry (Sir John Sholto Douglas) accused him of having homosexual relationships with other men and Wilde tried to deny these claims by accusing Douglas of libel. When this backfired, he refrained from leaving England, stayed for his gross indecency trials, and ended up getting sentenced to two years in prison with hard labor. Before the trial began there were several events that familiarized England with acts of homosexuality. For example, as stated in source 5, the Cleveland street scandal revealed an event where aristocrats engaged in sexual activities with male brothels (Source 5). This event would be covered up by the English police department because of the aristocratic powerful men who were involved in the scandal. This event would also be referenced by the Scots Observer in their review of a Picture of Dorian Gray, which in the review subtly suggested that Oscar Wilde committed acts of gross indecency. 

Before the trial began, it is believed Wilde got romantically involved with Alfred Douglas, whose father, Sir John Sholto Douglas, found out and accused Wilde of sodomy. Queensberry told his son Alfred to stop all contact with Wilde or he’d “disown… and stop all money supplies” (Source 2). Queensberry provoked Wilde first by slipping him a note that said “For Oscar Wilde, posing sodomite” (Source 6). As a way to defend himself, he went on to convict Sir Douglas of libel. However, Douglas argued that Wilde solicited twelve men to commit sodomy with him between the years of 1892 and 1894, which the court seemed to sympathize with in the first trial. On the third day of the proceedings, Wilde's Lawyer found there was “abundant evidence of clients guilt” and he chose to withdraw from the case (Source 1).

After the libel drama with Queensberry, Sir Edward Clarke, Wilde’s lawyer, “urged Wilde to drop the case” and flee to France until the drama over his public image dies down (Source 2). After failing to accuse Queensberry of libel, Wilde was accused of gross indecency, a very serious charge up until the late 1960s when England decriminalized same sex relationships. Wilde remained in England throughout the gross indecency trials. During this time, the lines from A Picture of Dorian Grey and Two Loves, such as  “love that dare not speak its name,” were cross examined extensively (Source 1). While Oscar Wilde secured a mistrial on his first trial, during the second trial, beginning on May 21st, Oscar Wilde was convicted of gross indecency. Despite many potential witnesses not betraying Wilde, the jury found Wilde guilty and the judge punished Wilde to the greatest degree he could; two years in prison with hard labor and no bail. What Source five argues however, is that the court didn’t have adequate evidence to charge Oscar Wilde. The source argues that Wilde was found guilty upon speculation that he committed gross indecency, while in actuality writing about homosexual desires inside a novel isn’t conclusive proof that one actually committed sodomy upon another person (Source 5). By the time Oscar Wilde got out of prison on May 19th of 1897 he was exiled to France and died there three years later at age 45 in poverty. 


  1. https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/oscar-wilde-is-sent-to-prison-for-indecency (Source 1)
  2. https://www.biography.com/news/oscar-wilde-trials-downfall-gross-indecency (Source 2)
  3. https://time.com/3890539/oscar-wilde-trial-history/ (Source 3)
  4. ​​https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XXbpox7l8r0 (Source 4) 
  5. https://www.branchcollective.org/?ps_articles=andrew-elfenbein-on-the-trials-of-oscar-wilde-myths-and-realities (Source 5) 
  6. https://www.biography.com/news/oscar-wilde-trials-downfall-gross-indecency (Source 6).

Associated Place(s)

Event date:

The end of the month Spring 1895 to The end of the month Spring 1897

Parent Chronology: