History: Scottish Family Hamilton

[Crest of Scottish Family, Hamilton] Crest of Scottish Family Hamilton
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At the time when the wars of independence began, Sir Walter, son of Gilbert of Hameldone, possessed properties in Renfrewshire. But King Robert Bruce rewarded him for his support with forfeited Comyn property that was in due course renamed Hamilton. Sir Walter's son, Sir David, was captured by the English in the battle of Neville's Cross in 1346, in company with his namesake David II, son of Bruce. Like the King, Hamilton was not released until a heavy ransom had been paid.

But an even closer association with the royal house began in about 1474, when James, 1st Lord Hamilton, married Princess Mary, daughter of James II, King of Scots. For more than a century thereafter, a Hamilton stood next in succession to the crown, while during much of this period the King was a minor. The son of the 1st Lord Hamilton and Princess Mary was created Earl of Arran, the Gaelic-speaking island in the Forth of Clyde on which, from 1503, the family made their Highland home at Brodick Castle.

It was the second Earl of Arran who acted as Regent for the baby Mary, Queen of Scots, as next heir to the crown. In this office, he plundered royal revenues, switched his allegiance between France and England according to the bribes he received, and was largely responsible for the provocations which led to Henry VIII's atrocities in Scotland. Among Arran's prizes was the French dukedom of Chatel-herault. His claim to the throne was challenged by the Stewart Earl of Lennox, who played the same game, and was Henry VIII's quisling claimant at the time of the Rough Wooing.

Arran possessed two remarkable brothers, bastard sons of the first Earl. One of these, John Hamilton (?1511-1571), became Archbishop of St. Andrews. In this office he attempted to reform the Church from within, and issued a catechism in English. He baptized Queen Mary's son, the future King James VI, in 1566, and remained loyal to the Queen after her downfall. But when her brother the Regent Moray was assassinated by a Hamilton, the party of Lennox hanged the archbishop in his pontifical robes from a common gibbet.

The fate of the 1st Earl of Arran's other remarkable bastard was little different. Sir James Hamilton of Finnart was wild and impetuous, but he possessed a personality that enabled him to retain the friendship of the fickle King James V, begun in youth, through almost his entire reign. It was partly because they shared a passion for the renaissance architecture which both men had admired in France, and which Finnart had the skill to plant in Scotland. It was he who carried out the incomparable renaissance work on the palaces of Linlithgow and Falkland, for which James V presented him with letters of legitimation amongst other rewards. But Finnart was also a leader of the deadly brawl in Edinburgh in 1520, known as `cleansing the causeway'. In 1526 he murdered the Earl of Lennox after the latter had surrendered his sword to him -- a crime that the Earl's son revenged on Finnart's brother, the archbishop. In 1528 he played a prominent part in bringing his cousin, Patrick Hamilton, to the stake for his Lutheran heresies. Patrick's father was a bastard of the 1st Lord Hamilton, so that he did not possess the blood of the Princess Mary. On the other hand, Patrick's mother was a grand-daughter of James II, while he himself was legitimate. Perhaps Finnart was moved by jealousy. He met his deserts in 1540 when Patrick's brother revealed to James V a plot to murder the King in which Finnart was alleged to be involved. He was instantly arrested and executed, and all his estates confiscated.

The royal connection continued to augment the family's fortune without other noticeable merit. The third Earl became the first Marquess of Hamilton; the third Marquess became the first Duke; and it was this Duke who contributed so much, byu his stupidity, arrogance and deceit to the downfall of Charles I.

The part of the Duke of Hamilton in securing the Union of Scotland with England in 1707 is particularly disreputable, for he professed to oppose it, and repeatedly undermined the opposition by treachery, to his own immense profit. Once again, it was a bastard line, descending from the first Lord Hamilton that restored the credit of his name. John Hamilton, 2nd Lord Belhaven and Stenton (1656-1708), made speeches against Union which are Scotland's supreme examples of parliamentary oratory. He was imprisoned in Edinburgh with other opponents of Union, and taken prisoner in London in 1708 on a charge of favouring a French invasion. He died there a few days after being granted bail.

by Dr. Ian Grimble

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