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Significant Scots
James Hamilton


HAMILTON, JAMES, third marquis, and first duke of Hamilton, was born in the palace at Hamilton, on the 19th of June, 1606. His father, James, marquis of Hamilton, was held in high favour by James I., who, amongst other honours which he bestowed on him, created him earl of Cambridge, a title which was at an after period a fatal one to the unfortunate nobleman who is the subject of this memoir.

Before the marquis had attained his fourteenth year, his father, who was then at St James’s court, sent for him for the purpose of betrothing him to the lady Margaret Fielding, daughter to the earl of Denbigh, and niece of the duke of Buckingham, and then only in the seventh year of her age. After this ceremony had taken place, the marquis was sent to Oxford, to complete those studies which he had begun in Scotland, but which had been seriously interrupted by his coming to court. He succeeded his father as marquis of Hamilton, March 2, 1625, while as yet considerably under age.

An early and fond intimacy seems to have taken place between prince Charles and the marquis. That it was sincere and abiding on the part of the latter, the whole tenor of his life and his melancholy and tragical death bear testimony. On Charles succeeding to the throne, one of his first cares was to mark the esteem in which he held his young and noble friend, by heaping upon him favours and distinctions.

Soon after the coronation of the king, however, in which ceremony he carried the sword of state in the procession, he returned to Scotland for the purpose of superintending in person his family affairs, which had been much deranged by the munificence of his father. The marquis, who does not seem to have ever been much captivated by the life of a courtier, soon became warmly attached to the quiet and retirement of the country, and spent the greater part of his time at Brodick castle, a beautiful and romantic residence in the island of Arran.

The king, however, whose attachment to him seems to have gained strength by his absence, wrote to him repeatedly, and with his own hand, in the most pressing terms, to return. All these flattering invitations he for some time resisted, until his father-in-law, the earl of Denbigh, came expressly to Scotland with another earnest request from the king that he would come up to London, and at the same time, offering him the appointment of master of the horse, then vacant by the death of the duke of Buckingham.

Unable longer to resist the entreaties of his sovereign, now seconded by the earl, the marquis complied, and proceeded with his father-in-law to court, where he arrived in the year 1628. The promised appointment was immediately bestowed on him; and in the fullness of his majesty’s happiness at his young friend’s return, he further made him gentleman of his bed-chamber, and privy councillor in both kingdoms. The amiable and unassuming manners of the marquis saved him at this part of his career from all that hostility and jealousy which usually attend the favourite of a sovereign, and he was permitted to receive and enjoy all his offices and honours without a grudge, and without the cost of creating an enemy.

At the baptism of prince Charles in 1630, he represented the king of Bohemia as one of the sponsors, and on this occasion the order of the garter was conferred upon him, together with a grant of the office of chief steward of the house and manor of Hampton court. A more active life, however, was now about to open upon the favourite courtier. King Charles, having in the duke’s name entered into a treaty with the celebrated Gustavus Adolphus, king of Sweden, to furnish him with 6000 men for his intended invasion of Germany, with the view of thus enabling his brother-in-law, the Elector Palatine, to regain his hereditary territories from which he had been driven, the marquis was empowered to raise the stipulated force. These he soon collected, and was on the point of embarking with them himself, when he found that a charge of high treason had been preferred against him by lord Ochiltree, son of that captain James Stewart who had usurped the Hamilton estates and dignities in the time of his grandfather. The king himself was the first to inform the duke of the absurd charge which had been brought against him, and which consisted in the ridiculous assertion, that the marquis intended, in place of proceeding to Germany with the forces he had raised, to employ them in asserting a right to the Scottish crown. Although, in the face of all existing circumstances, it was impossible that any one could be expected to believe that there was any truth in the accusation, yet the marquis insisted that his innocence should be established by a public trial. To this proposal, however, the king not only would not listen, but to show his utter incredulity in the calumny, and his confidence in the marquis’s fidelity, he invited him to sleep in the same bed-chamber with him, on the very night on which he had informed him of the charge brought against him by lord Ochiltree. The forgeries of the latter in support of his accusation having been proven, he was sentenced to perpetual imprisonment, and thrown into the castle of Blackness, where he remained a captive for twenty years, when he was liberated by one of Cromwell’s officers.

On the 16th of July the marquis sailed from Yarmouth roads with his army and forty ships, and arrived in safety at Elsineur on the 27th of the same month. Here he went on shore to wait upon the king of Denmark, and on the 29th sailed again for the Oder, which he reached on the 30th. Here he landed his men, and having previously received a general’s commission from the king of Sweden, marched into Silesia, where he performed many important services, took many fortified places, and distinguished himself on all occasions by his bravery and judicious conduct. After various turns of fortune, however, and much severe service, during which his army was reduced by the casualties of war, and by the plague, which swept off great numbers of his men, to two incomplete regiments; and, moreover, conceiving himself slighted by the king of Sweden, who, flushed with his successes, forgot that respect towards him with which he had first received him; he wrote to the king, requesting his advice as to his future proceedings, and not neglecting to express the disgust with which Gustavus’s ungracious conduct had inspired him. Charles immediately replied "that if he could not be serviceable to the Palatinate he should take the first civil excuse to come home." This he soon afterwards did, still parting, however, on good terms with the Swedish king, who expressed his esteem for him by saying at his departure, "in whatever part of the world he were, he would ever look upon him as one of his own." There seems to have been a sort of understanding that the marquis would return to Germany with a new levy of men; but this understanding does not appear to have been very seriously entertained by either party; at all events it never took place. The marquis, on his return to the English court was received with unabated kindness, and again took his place amongst the foremost in the esteem of his sovereign.

In 1633, he accompanied the king to Scotland, when he came down to receive the crown of that kingdom; but from this period until the year 1638, he meddled no further with public affairs.

The troubles, however, of that memorable year again brought him on the stage, and his love for his sovereign, and zeal for his service, induced him to take a more busy and a more prominent part then than he would otherwise have done. To put an end, if possible, to the religious distractions in Scotland, and which were then coming to a crisis, the marquis was despatched to Scotland with instructions, and a power to grant further concessions on some important points. The demands of the covenanters were, however, greater than was expected, and this attempt at mediation was unsuccessful. He returned to London, and was a second time sent down to Scotland with enlarged powers, but as these embraced no concession regarding the covenant, this journey was equally fruitless with the other. The marquis now once more returned to London. In the beginning of winter, he was a third time despatched, with instructions to act as commissioner at the General Assembly, which had been appointed to meet for the settlement of differences, and which sat down at Glasgow in November. The concessions, however, which he was authorized to make, were not considered at all sufficient. The opponents of the court in the assembly proceeded from measure to measure inimical to the king’s authority, carrying every thing before them in despite of all the marquis’s efforts to resist them, and to stem the tide of disaffection. Finding this impossible, he dissolved the court. The covenanters, however, were in no humour to obey this exercise of authority. They continued their sittings, went on subscribing the covenant, and decreed the abrogation of bishops in the Scottish church. Having been able to render the king little more service than the gain of time which his negotiations had secured, the marquis returned to London. Indeed more success could not have been expected from an interference where the covenant, the principal subject of contention, was thus spoken of by the opposite parties: the king writing to his commissioner, "So long as this damnable covenant is in force, I have no more power in Scotland than a duke of Venice;" and the covenanters again replying to some overtures about its renunciation, that "they would sooner renounce their baptism." The king, who had long anticipated a violent issue with the Scottish malcontents, had in the meantime been actively employed in collecting a force to subdue them; and the marquis, soon after his arrival in England, was appointed to a command in this armament, and sent down to Scotland, no longer as a negotiator, but as a chastiser of rebels. Whilst the king himself proceeded over land with an army of 25,000 foot and 3000 horse, the marquis sailed from Yarmouth with a fleet, having on board a further force of 5000 men, and arrived in Leith roads on the 1st of May. On his arrival, he required the leaders of the covenanters to acknowledge the king’s authority, and seemed disposed to proceed to hostilities. But the king, in the meantime, having entered into a pacific arrangement with the covenanters, his military command ceased, and he proceeded to join his majesty at his camp near Berwick. Soon after this, the marquis once more retired from public employment, and did not again interfere in national affairs for several years. In 1642, he was once more sent to Edinburgh by the king to promote his interest, and to resume negotiations with the covenanters; and on this occasion was so successful as to alarm Pickering, the agent of the English parliament at Edinburgh, who wrote to his employers, recommending them to bring him immediately to trial as a disturber of the harmony between the two kingdoms. This representation of Pickering’s, however, was attended with no immediate result, whatever effect it might have on his ultimate fate; and it is not improbable that it was then recollected to his prejudice. As a reward for his faithful and zealous services, the king now bestowed upon him by patent, dated at Oxford, 12th April, 1643, the title of duke. The same patent invests him also with the lathe of marquis of Clydesdale, earl of Arran and Cambridge, and lord Avon and Innerdale. By one of those strange and sudden reverses, however, to which the favourites of kings are so subject, the duke was thrown into prison by that very sovereign who but a short while since had loaded him with titles and honours.

Various misrepresentations of the duke’s conduct in Scotland had reached the king’s ears. He was charged with unfaithfulness to the trust reposed in him; of speaking disrespectfully of the king; and of still entertaining views upon the Scottish crown. These accusations, absurd, incredible, and contradictory to facts as they were, had been so often repeated, and so urgently pressed on the unfortunate and distracted monarch, that they at length shook his faith in his early friend. Deserted, opposed, and harassed upon all hands, he was prepared to believe in any instance of treachery that might occur, and clinging to every hope, however slender, which presented itself, was too apt to imagine that the accusation of others was a proof of friendship to himself on the part of the accuser.

The king’s altered opinion regarding him having reached the ears of the duke, he instantly hastened, accompanied by his brother, the earl of Lanark, who was also involved in the accusation, to Oxford, where his majesty then was. Conscious of his innocence, the duke, on his arrival, sought an audience of the king, that he might, at a personal interview, disabuse him of the unfavourable reports which he had heard regarding him. An order, however, had been left at the gates to stop him until the governor should have notice of his arrival. Through a mistake of the captain of the guard, the carriage which contained the duke was allowed to pass unchallenged, but was immediately followed with a command directly from the king himself, that the duke and his brother should confine themselves to their apartments. This intimation of the king’s disposition towards him was soon followed by still more unequivocal indications. Next day a guard was placed on his lodgings, with orders that, no one should speak with him but in presence of one of the secretaries; and finally, notwithstanding all his protestations of innocence, and earnest requests to be confronted with his accusers, he was sent a prisoner, first to Exeter, and afterwards to Pendennis castle in Cornwall. His brother, who had also been ordered into confinement in Ludlow castle, contrived to make his escape before his removal, and returned to Scotland; a circumstance which increased the severity with which the duke was treated. His servants were denied access to him, his money was taken from him; and he was refused the use of writing materials, unless to be employed in petitioning the king, a privilege which was still left to him, but which availed him little, as it did not procure him any indulgence in his confinement, or effect any change in the sentiments of the king regarding him. Whilst a prisoner in Pendennis castle, the duke’s amiable and gentle manners so far won upon the governor of that fortress, that he not only gave him more liberty than his instructions warranted, but offered to allow him to escape. With a magnanimity, however, but rarely to be met with, the duke refused to avail himself of a kindness which would involve his generous keeper in ruin. The intimacy between the governor and the duke reaching the ears of the court, the latter was instantly removed to the castle of St Michael’s Mount at Land’s End, where he remained a close prisoner till the month of April, 1646, when he was released, after an unmerited confinement of eight and twenty months, on the surrender of the place to the parliamentary forces. Feeling now that disgust with the world, which the treatment he had met with was so well calculated to inspire, the duke resolved to retire from it for ever. From this resolution, however, his affection for the king, which, notwithstanding the hard usage he had received at his hands, remained as warm and sincere as ever, induced him once more to depart; and when that unhappy monarch, driven from England, sought protection from the Scottish army at Newcastle, the duke of Hamilton was amongst the first to wait upon him there, with offers of assistance and consolation; and this at a time too, when he was abandoned by many on whom he had much better, or at least, more unqualified claims. When the king and the duke first met on this occasion, both blushed; and the latter in the confusion of the moment, after saluting his majesty, was about to retire into the crowd which filled the apartment, when the king asked him "If he was afraid to come near him." The duke returned, and a long and earnest conversation ensued between them. The king apologised for his treatment of him, and concluded by requesting that he would not now leave him in the midst of his distresses. The appeal was not made in vain. The duke once more embarked with all his former zeal in the cause of his beloved master, and made every effort to retrieve his desperate fortunes. These efforts were vain, but they have secured for him who made them a lasting and an honourable fame; and now that the conflicting opinions of the times in which he lived have long since been numbered with the things that were, we can recognise in the conduct of James, first duke of Hamilton, only a noble example of unshaken and devoted loyalty.

When the question, whether the king, now in the hands of the Scottish malcontents, should be delivered up to his English subjects, was discussed in the Scottish parliament, the duke exerted his utmost influence and power to prevent its being carried in the affirmative. "Would Scotland," he exclaimed, in an elegant and enthusiastic speech which he made on the occasion, "Would Scotland now quit a possession of fifteen hundred years’ date, which was their interest in their sovereign, and quit it to those whose enmity against both him and themselves did now so visibly appear? Was this the effect of their protestations of duty and affection to his majesty? Was this their keeping of their covenant, wherein they had sworn to defend the king’s majesty, person, and authority? Was this a suitable return to the king’s goodness, both in his consenting to all the desires of that kingdom in the year 1641, and in his late trusting his person to them? What censure would be passed upon this through the whole world? What a stain would it be to the whole reformed religion? What danger might be apprehended in consequence of it, both to the king’s person and to Scotland from the party that was now prevalent in England?" The duke’s brother, the earl of Lanark, was not less earnest in his opposition to the disgraceful proposal, and when his vote was asked, he exclaimed with much energy, "As God shall have mercy upon my soul at the great day, I would choose rather to have my head struck off at the Market-cross of Edinburgh than give my consent to this vote." These generous efforts of the noble brothers, however, as is well known, were unavailing, the measure was carried, and the unfortunate monarch was delivered into the hands of the English parliament.

Defeated in his attempts to prevent the king’s being given up to his English subjects; the duke, still hoping to avert the consummation of his unfortunate sovereign’s misfortunes, now entertained the idea of relieving him by force of arms. Encouraged in this project by something like a reaction of public feeling in favour of the king, and, sanctioned by the vote of the estates, though not of the kirk of Scotland, he proceeded to raise an army with which he proposed to march into England, where he expected to meet with an active and powerful co-operation from the royalists of that kingdom. With these views, he hastily collected together a force of 10,000 foot and 4000 cavalry, and with this army, which, besides the inadequacy of its numbers, was indifferently appointed, ill disciplined, and unaccompanied by artillery, he marched into England. Passing Carlisle, where he was received with ringing of bells and other demonstrations of welcome, he continued his march by Penrith, Appleby, and Kendal, driving before him detached bodies of Cromwell’s troops, and finally reached Preston on the 17th of August, where he was opposed by Cromwell in person with his veteran battalions; and notwithstanding that the duke had been reinforced since he entered England, by 3000 to 1000 loyalists under Sir Marmaduke Langdale, and afterwards by 2000 foot and 1000 horse, commanded by Sir George Munro, the result of various skirmishes which here took place, was the total defeat of his army. The duke himself, accompanied by a few officers and cavalry, proceeded on to Uttoxeter in Staffordshire, where he surrendered to Lambert, on assurance of personal safety to himself and his followers. The unfortunate duke was now carried to Derby, thence to Ashby-de-la-Zouchie, where he remained till December, when he was removed to Windsor, and placed under a strong guard. On the secondl night of his confinement here, while taking a turn after supper iu the courtyard, a sergeant made up to him, and, with the utmost insolence of manner, ordered him to his apartment: the duke obeyed, but remarked to lord Bargeny, who was then a prisoner also that what had just happened was a singular instance of the mutability of worldly things—that he who, but a short while since, had the command of many thousand men, was now commanded by a common sergeant.

A few days after the duke’s arrival at Windsor, his ill-fated master, who was then also a prisoner there, was ordered for trials. Having learned when the king was to proceed to the tribunal, the duke prevailed upon his keepers to allow him to see his majesty as he passed. On the approach of the king, he threw himself at his feet, exclaiming in an agony of sorrow, his eyes suffused with tears, ‘‘My dear master!" The king, not less affected, stooped down and embraced him, replying, with a melancholy play upon the word dear, "I have indeed been so to you." The guards would permit no further conversation, but, by the order of their commander, instantly hurried ooff the king. The duke followed his beloved master, with his eyes still swimming in tears, so long as he could see him, impressed with the belief that they would never meet on earth again. Aware from the king’s execution, which soon after took place, that a similar fate awaited him, the duke, with the assistance of a faithful servant, effected his escape from Windsor. Two horses waited at a convenient place to carry him and his servant to London, where he hoped to conceal himself until an opportunity occurred of getting to a place of greater safety ; but he was instructed not on any account to enter the city till seven o’clock in the morning, when the night patrols, who prowled about the town and suburbs, should have retired front duty. By an unaccountable fatality, the unfortunate duke neglected to attend to this most important injunction, and entered the city at four o’clock in the morning. As if every thing had resolved to concur in the destruction of the unfortunate nobleman, besides the risk which he ran as a matter of course from the patrol, it happened that there was a party of horse and foot in Southwark, where the duke entered, searching for Sir Lewis Dives and another gentleman, who had also escaped from confinement the night before. By these the duke was taken while in the act of knocking at a door where he had been long seeking admittance. At first he imposed upon the soldiers by a plausible story, and as they did not know him personally, they were disposed to allow him to depart; but some suspicious circumstances attracting their notice, they searched him, and found in his pockets some papers which at once discovered him. He was how carried to St. James’s, where he was kept a close prisoner till the 6th of February, 1648, when he was brought to trial before the high Court of Justice, and arraigned as earl of Cambridge, for having "traitorously invaded this station (England) in a hostile manner, and levied war to assist the king against the kingdom and people of England, &c." The duke pled that he was an alien, and that his life besides was secured by the articles of his capitulation to Lambert. To the first it was replied, that he always sat as a peer of England, and as such had taken the covenant and negative oath. With regard to the second objection, it was affirmed by two witnesses, lords Grey and Lilburn, that he was taken prisoner before the treaty was signed. After a lengthened trial, in which none of his objections availed him, the unfortunate nobleman was sentenced to be beheaded on the 9th of March. The whole tenor of the duke’s conduct after sentence of death was passed upon him, evinced the greatest magnanimity and resignation. He wrote to his brother in favour of his servants, and on the morning before his execution, addressed a letter to his children, recommending them to the protection of their heavenly Father, now that they were about to be deprived of himself. He slept soundly on the night previous to his death, until half-past three in the morning, when he was attended by his faithful servant Cole, the person who had assisted him in his attempted escape. To him he now, with the utmost composure, gave a variety of directions to be carried to his brother. The remainder of the morning, up to nine o’clock, he spent in devotion. At this hour he was desired to prepare for the scaffold, which he soon after ascended with a smiling and cheerful countenance, attended by Dr Sibbald. After again spending some time in secret prayer, he arose, and embracing Dr Sibbaid, said, laying his hand upon his heart, "I bless God I do not fear - I have an assurance that is grounded here;" he next embraced his servants severally, saying to each of them, "You have been very faithful to me, the Lord bless you."

Turning now to the executioner, he desired to know how he should place himself to receive the fatal stroke. Having been satisfied regarding this fearful particular, he told the executioner, that after he had placed himself in the necessary position, he would say a short prayer, and that he would extend his right hand as the signal for his doing his duty. He now stretched himself along, and placed his neck ready for the blow, prayed a short while with much appearance of fervour, then gave the fatal signal, and with one stroke his head was severed from his body.

The head of the unfortunate nobleman was received in a crimson taffeta scarf, by two of his servants, who knelt beside him for the purpose of performing this last act of duty for their kind master.

The duke’s head and body were placed in a coffin which lay ready on the scaffold, and conveyed to a house in the Mews, and afterwards, agreeably to his own directions before his death, conveyed to Scotland, and interred in the family burying ground.

Thus perished James, duke of Hamilton, a nobleman whose fortitude at his death gives but little countenance to the charge of timidity which has been insinuated against him, and whose zeal for, and adherence to, the royal cause, in the most desperate and trying circumstances, afford less encouragement to the accusation of infidelity to his sovereign with which he has been also assailed.


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