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The Great Historic Families of Scotland
The Hamilton-Douglases


LORD WILLIAM DOUGLAS, who married the heiress of the Hamilton family, was created Earl of Selkirk, Lord Daer and Shorteleuch, in 1644, when he was only ten years of age, and, at the Restoration, he was made Duke of Hamilton for life. His Grace frequently opposed the measures of the Court during the reign of Charles II., but his opposition even to the most flagrant acts of tyranny was timid and feeble. King James appointed him a privy councillor and one of the Commissioners of the Treasury, and he was implicated in many of the unjustifiable acts of the Scottish Privy Council at that period. He refused, however, to support the dispensing power claimed by the King. He was ‘a faithful and loyal subject,’ he said, ‘but there was a limit imposed by conscience.’ On the landing of the Prince of Orange, he headed the procession of Scottish noblemen and gentlemen who waited upon William at Whitehall, and he presided at their meeting held immediately after, when they resolved to request the Prince to assume the government of Scotland. Although his abilities were but moderate, and his political career by no means straightforward or consistent, he was selected by the Whig party as their leader, on account of his illustrious descent and vast influence. After a keen contest, he was elected President of the Convention at Edinburgh, in 1689, which declared that James had forfeited the throne. When the convention was formed into a Parliament, Hamilton was nominated Lord High Commissioner. He was appointed President of the Council and Lord High Admiral of Scotland; but he quarrelled with the Court, and retired for a considerable time into private life. He was ultimately reconciled to the Government, however, and having consented to quit his retreat, he was appointed Lord High Commissioner to the Parliament of 1693. The Duke was a man of fair abilities and respectable character, tried by the low political standard of the day; but he was fickle, false, and greedy, and so provoked King William by his factious conduct, that he exclaimed on one occasion, ‘I wish to Heaven that Scotland were a thousand miles off, and that the Duke of Hamilton were king of it; then I should be rid of them both.’ Bishop Burnet says, ‘The Duke wanted all sorts of polishing. He was rough and sullen, but candid and sincere [a great mistake]. His temper was boisterous, neither fit to submit nor to govern.’ The Duke died in April, 1694, in the sixtieth year of his age. One of his younger sons became Earl of Selkirk, another Earl of Ruglen, and a third Earl of Orkney. His eldest son—

JAMES, fourth Duke of Hamilton, was born in 1658. After completing his education at the University of Glasgow, he made a tour on the Continent, and on his return, in 1679, he was appointed one of the Gentlemen of the Bedchamber by Charles II., with whom he was a favourite on account of his humour and wit. In 1683 he was nominated Ambassador Extraordinary to France, and served in two campaigns as aide-de-camp to the French King Louis XIV. On leaving France, after the death of Charles II. in 1685, he was warmly recommended to his successor by Louis himself. The Earl of Arran, as he was then called, received from King James the office of Master of the Wardrobe, in addition to his former post, the command of the Royal Regiment of Horse, and a part of the forfeited estates of the Stewarts of Coltness, who were stripped of their property on account of their adherence to the Presbyterian Church.

When the Revolution took place, Arran adhered to the cause of the exiled monarch, while his father, the Duke, according to a course of policy common at that period, supported the claims of King William, so that whatever might be the result, the family titles and estates were safe. Arran was deeply implicated in Montgomery’s plot for the restoration of the Stewart family, and was twice confined to the Tower on suspicion of treason. On regaining his liberty, he returned to Scotland and spent several years there in retirement. The death of his father, in 1694, brought him no accession of title or estate, as both were possessed by his mother, who survived till 1717. But, in 1698, the Duchess resigned the family dignities into the hands of King William, who immediately conferred them on her son, to the no small surprise and disappointment of the friends of the Government, as the disaffection of Arran was notorious. During the excitement connected with the failure of the Darien expedition, the Duke acquired great popularity by heading the opposition to the ministry, and strenuously supporting the claims of the African Company. On the accession of Queen Anne, he protested against the legality of the meeting of the Convention Parliament, affirming that it ought to have been dissolved on the death of the King, and withdrew from the House, followed by seventy-nine of the members, a step which was warmly resented by the Queen. His Grace took an active part in the discussions respecting the union of the two kingdoms, and was regarded as the leader of the opposition to that measure. But he suddenly abandoned his party at a critical moment—through treachery, it was alleged, but more probably through fickleness and timidity—and, by his desertion, completely paralysed their movements. He continued to keep up a correspondence with the exiled monarch; but his attachment to James was not sufficiently strong to induce him to run much risk for his sake, for, on learning that a descent was about to be made on Scotland, the Duke retired to his estates in Staffordshire, and on the appearance of the French fleet on the coast, he was taken into custody and carried up to London. On the overthrow of the Whig ministry, in 1710, various offices and honours were bestowed upon the cautious and time-serving nobleman, and he was, in the following year, created a British peer by the titles of Duke of Brandon and Baron Dutton. But a considerable number of the members of the Upper House offered violent resistance to this step; and after a long and keen debate, it was decided that no Scottish peer who was created a British peer since the Union had a right to a seat in the House of Lords. This resolution, though quite illegal, was not rescinded till 1782, when Douglas, eighth Duke of Hamilton, was permitted to take his seat in the House of Lords as Duke of Brandon. In 1712 Duke James was appointed Master-General of the Ordnance, and received the Order of the Garter in addition to that of the Thistle, which had been conferred on him by King James. His Grace was shortly after nominated Ambassador Extraordinary to France, but before he could set out for the French Court, he lost his life in a duel (November, 1712) with Lord Mohun, an odious villain already stained with several murders.

The Jacobites, who had formed great expectations from the Duke’s mission, went so far as to affirm that Mohun had been instigated by some members of the Whig party to challenge the Duke, and that the unfortunate nobleman was killed not by his antagonist, who also fell in the rencontre, but by General Macartney, Mohun’s second, who fled to the Continent, and remained abroad for several years. He ultimately surrendered himself, and was tried, in 1716, and acquitted of the charge of murder, but was found guilty of homicide. The Duke resembled his predecessors both in the mediocrity of his talents and the fickleness of his disposition. Mackay, who gave him credit for bravery and good sense, speaks of his ‘black, coarse complexion,’ and rough manners, and adds, ‘He is very forward and hot for what he undertakes, ambitious and haughty, and a violent enemy.’ The character of the Duke is portrayed by Thackeray in his novel of ‘Esmond.’ His son—

JAMES, fifth Duke of Hamilton, and second Duke of Brandon, succeeded his father when he was only ten years of age, and died in 1743, in his forty-first year. The only noteworthy incident in the life of his son—

JAMES, sixth Duke of Hamilton, and third Duke of Brandon, was his marriage to Elizabeth Gunning, one of the three celebrated beauties, who, after his death, in his thirty-fourth year, married John, fifth Duke of Argyll, and was the mother of four dukes—two of Hamilton and two of Argyll—and was created a peeress of Great Britain in 1766, by the title of Baroness Hamilton. Her eldest son—

JAMES GEORGE, seventh Duke of Hamilton, on the death of the Duke of Douglas, in 1761, became the male representative and head of the house of Douglas. His guardians made an unsuccessful attempt to obtain for him possession of the family estates. (See THE DOUGLASES.) He died in 1769, in his fifteenth year, and was succeeded by his brother—

DOUGLAS, eighth Duke of Hamilton and fifth Duke of Brandon, who was a zealous and influential supporter of the Government of his day, and, in return, had honours and offices heaped upon him. He died in 1799, without issue, and was succeeded by his uncle—

LORD ARCHIBALD HAMILTON, who inherited, through his mother—daughter of Edward Spencer of Rendlesham—and grandmother— daughter of Digby, Lord Gerard—extensive estates in the counties of Suffolk, Lancaster, and Stafford. His elder son—

ALEXANDER, tenth Duke of Hamilton and seventh of Brandon, who succeeded his father in 1819, was noted for his taste in the fine arts, the vast sums of money which he spent in the improvement of his estates and the embellishment of his princely mansion, and no less for his pride in his family and position. He was appointed by the Ministry of ‘All the Talents,’ in 1806, British Ambassador at St. Petersburg, but resigned when they went out of office. He married the youngest daughter of William Beckford, of Fonthill Abbey, author of ‘Vathek’ and other works, through whom he inherited the Beckford library, and many rare and precious heirlooms. He died in 1852 at the age of eighty-five. His younger brother, LORD ARCHIBALD HAMILTON, who represented the county of Lanark from 1802 till his death in 1827, was distinguished for his patriotic spirit and his earnest efforts in the cause of burgh reform in Scotland.

WILLIAM ALEXANDER ANTHONY ARCHIBALD, eleventh Duke of Hamilton and eighth Duke of Brandon, married, in 1845, the Princess Marie of Baden, cousin-german of the French Emperor, Napoleon III., from whom he succeeded in obtaining a recognition of his right to the title of Duke of Chatelherault, conferred on the Regent Arran, in 1548, which was also claimed by the Marquis of Abercorn, as the representative in the male line of the Hamilton family. Duke William lost his life by falling down the stairs in a hotel in Paris, in 1863, in the fifty-second year of his age, and was succeeded by his elder son—

WILLIAM ALEXANDER LOUIS STEPHEN, twelfth Duke of Hamilton and ninth Duke of Brandon, born in 1845. It was said when the Duke came of age, that there are few positions in life more influential and—if (as Lord Bacon affirms) ‘power to good be the true and lawful end of aspiring‘—more desirable, than that which is occupied by the youthful heir of the house of Hamilton. The head of the most illustrious of our historical families, whose origin is hid in the mists of antiquity, and whose deeds are interwoven with the most momentous events in the history of our country; the possessor of the highest rank and of titles unrivalled as regards both their number and their renown—a triple dukedom, a triple marquisate, four earldoms, and seven baronies; premier peer of Scotland, male heir of the ‘doughty Douglases,’ the representative in the female line of the ‘princely Hamiltons’—at one time the heirs, after the Stewarts, to the Scottish crown—owner of their vast estates extending over four counties, situated for the most part in the richest districts of the kingdom, and yielding a rental of £157,602 a year, what wants this young patrician that a king would have? The influence which such a man might exercise for good on his tenantry and the peasantry on his estates is almost unbounded. In the days of old the heads of the great houses of Douglas and Hamilton were to be found wherever Scotland required their services, at home or abroad, in the council-chamber or on the battlefield. They laid down their lives in many a bloody fight in defence of their country’s independence and freedom; and their exploits in England, France, and Spain, as well as on their native soil, have been celebrated by the greatest writers in the English language. In later times they have been noted as excellent and liberal landlords, living among, and kindly caring for the welfare of, their kinsmen and retainers, and exerting themselves to promote the improvement of the agriculture and manufactures of the country. They upheld the banner of the ‘good old cause’ in the dark days when it seemed hopelessly crushed beneath the iron heel of last century’s Toryism, and Parliamentary and burgh reform in Scotland are indissolubly associated with the exertions and the memory of Lord Archibald Hamilton, the grand-uncle of the present representative of the family. There have been—and it is matter for thankfulness that there are still in our country—great landowners, like the Duke of Buccleuch, who have shown themselves much more careful to discharge faithfully the duties of their high position than to exact rigorously their rents and rights—men who might have sat for the portrait of the public benefactor portrayed in the sacred Scriptures, and of whom it might be said, as it was of him, ‘When the ear heard them then it blessed them, and when the eye saw them it gave witness to them, because they delivered the poor that cried, and the fatherless, and him that had none to help him. The blessing of him that was ready to perish came upon them, and they caused the widow’s heart to sing for joy.’ The memory of such men is blessed, and will be held in everlasting remembrance.

Unfortunately, there have been of late examples of noble and territorial magnates of another and very different kind, who have thrown away or utterly neglected the great opportunities of doing good which their rank, social position, and extensive possessions afforded, and whose names are associated with no service done to their country, no scheme of public usefulness, no deed of benevolence. They are negligent alike of their duties as legislators and as landlords—content to live lives of indolence or of fashionable dissipation, and at last go down to their tombs ‘unwept, unhonoured, and unsung.’ The public hope better things of the young possessor of the Hamilton titles and estates; but he must remember that it is not a hurried visit to his ancestral mansion, or a brief sojourn at Brodick while the grouse are in season, that will be regarded by the public as compensation for systematic absenteeism during eleven months in the year. Nor can small sums of money or a few cartloads of coals and pounds of tea doled out to the poor at Christmas, be accepted in lieu of the generous hospitality which such ‘large-acred men’ are bound, in virtue of their wealth and rank, to extend to their neighbours, and for the personal kindness which it is their duty to show to their dependents. In the well-known words of the lamented Edward Drummond, ‘Property has its duties as well as its right,’ a maxim not always kept in mind and acted on by the young patricians of the present day, much to the loss of the tenantry and the labourers on their estates, and not much to their own credit or profit. The Duke of Hamilton is now at the most critical point of his career. As our national poet said of the Prince of Wales, afterwards George IV.—

‘He may do weel for a’ he’s dune yet,
But only he’s no just begun yet.’

A recent authoritative announcement has made known to the public that the Duke has been relieved from the heavy pecuniary embarrassments in which he was involved at the outset of his career by his own thoughtlessness and inexperience. He has it, therefore, in his power now to start without hindrance on a career of usefulness and honour. It is hoped that he will henceforth ‘shun false delights and live laborious days’ in the diligent discharge of the duties incumbent on him as a landlord and a legislator; and that, carefully avoiding the ‘primrose path of dalliance,’ he will follow the course which is dictated alike by duty and self-interest, and by a regard to the honour of his family, the welfare of his dependents, and the good of his country.

It is, unfortunately, only too well known to the whole country how grievously these hopes have been disappointed. The Duke, who is now forty years of age, continues to ‘slug his life away’ in selfish and frivolous, if not vicious, amusements, utterly neglecting his duties both as a legislator and a landlord. He is a stranger in his ancestral halls, and his neighbours, his tenants and retainers, are not known to him even by sight. In no part of his Grace’s conduct is his habitual disregard of the claims alike of his own dependents and of the public at large more conspicuous than in the mode in which he employs his power as the proprietor of a large portion of Arran. That beautiful island is apparently regarded by him as a hunting-park or preserve for the exclusive use of himself and a few congenial companions, from which visitors are, as far as possible, to be excluded, and where even the natives are allowed to remain only on sufferance. The Duke scarcely ever sets foot in Arran, or sees the face of a tenant or crofter there, except for a few weeks in the shooting season. And yet, in order that his privacy during this brief visit may not be intruded on, or his game run the risk of being disturbed, he does everything in his power to entirely exclude his countrymen of all classes from the island. Arran is well known to be the finest of all the watering-places on the west coast of Scotland, whether the beauty and variety of its scenery is considered, or its bracing air and unrivalled facilities for sea-bathing. It is a favourite resort of the geologist and the botanist, as well as of the tourist and the invalid in search of health. But one and all are regarded as a nuisance by its lordly proprietor; and since they cannot be forcibly expelled, every expedient is tried to make their residence in the island uncomfortable and even dangerous. For the purpose of preventing the erection of new and commodious houses, feu charters are peremptorily refused, and sites can be obtained only on a yearly lease, so that the owner is always liable to ejection. The result is that thousands of the citizens of Glasgow, of all classes, who year after year repair to Arran to enjoy its splendid scenery and to recruit their health, are compelled to take up their residence in overcrowded little dens of houses, most unhealthy as well as uncomfortable. Even at Lamlash, which is a good many miles distant from Brodick Castle, and is one of the most popular watering places on the Clyde, permission cannot be obtained even to erect a pier for the accommodation of the crowds of visitors who frequent it, and who are consequently compelled at low tide to land in small boats, always inconvenient and not unfrequently dangerous. And when they do reach the shore, visitors have no resource but to take up their quarters in what is significantly called ‘The Colliers’ Row,’ or in some miserable low-roofed, smoky little croft-house on the hill-side or in a narrow glen. Such treatment of the citizens of Glasgow is peculiarly unworthy in the representative of a house whose chiefs in former days used to manifest a warm interest in the prosperity of that great commercial emporium, and were proud of their connection with it. It is no less ungrateful than unwise, for surely the owner of estates, whose value has been enormously increased through the trade and commerce of the large towns, is under peculiar obligations to do all in his power to promote the health and comfort of their teeming, toil-worn population. Such an abuse of the rights of property as the Duke persists in perpetrating in this case is fraught with imminent peril to his order, and he and landowners of his class would do well, for their own sakes, to desist from such a high-handed use of their proprietary rights as will raise the delicate and dangerous question whether the Legislature is not bound, from a regard to the public welfare, to interfere with their management, and to restrict their power over their estates.

The pecuniary affairs of the Duke of Hamilton have been brought so prominently before the public by his own proceedings, that there need be no hesitation in referring to them here. It transpired in the course of a lawsuit which he instituted against his late agent, three or four years ago, that the Duke’s liabilities amounted, at that time, to about a million and a half of money. In order to lessen somewhat this burden, his Grace has sold by auction in London the magnificent collection of paintings and rare and costly articles of virtu, probably unrivalled in Britain, which descended to him from his ancestors. It brought the large sum of £162,452. The splendid Beckford Library was next brought to the hammer. The sale, which occupied forty days, extended over a period of eighteen months, and realised £73,500. The Duke has obtained the disentail of the whole of his estates, and now holds them in fee.

Of the Duke’s younger brother, Charles, it is unnecessary to say anything, but his only sister, Lady Mary Victoria, has had a peculiar career. She was married in 1869 to the eldest son of the reigning Prince of Monaco. After bearing a son to him she left him, and took up her residence in Paris with her mother. In 1880 she applied to the Papal Consistory for the dissolution of her marriage with the Prince, on the plea that she had never in her heart consented to be his wife. She alleged that she had been forced to marry him by her mother and the Emperor Louis Napoleon, but that, while the marriage ceremony was proceeding, she kept saying to herself, ‘I will not marry him; he shall not be my husband.’ On this plea the marriage was declared null and void by the Papal Court, and Lady Mary very soon thereafter espoused Count Tasselo Festetics, a Hungarian nobleman.

The most ancient cadet of the house of Hamilton is the family of Hamilton of Preston and Fingalton, represented by Colonel Sir William Hamilton, son of the late Professor of Logic and Metaphysics in the University of Edinburgh, one of the most eminent metaphysicians in Europe. But the DUKE OF ABERCORN is the head of the most influential branch of the ducal family. Its founder, LORD CLAUD HAMILTON, was the fourth son of the second Earl of Arran and Duke of Chatelherault. He was created a peer by James VI., and received from that monarch a grant of the barony of Paisley, from which he derived his title of Baron Paisley. This donation was followed by the gift of the rich Abbey of Paisley, which was sold by one of his descendants; but the Duke still retains 662 acres in Renfrewshire, a remnant of these grants. JAMES HAMILTON, eldest son of Lord Paisley, was created by King James EARL OF ABERCORN, a place with which the Hamiltons had no connection; it seemed to have been chosen for his title because there the founder of the house deserted the Earl of Douglas, and thus greatly contributed to the downfall of the Douglas family. Lord Abercorn was one of the Scotsmen who followed James to England, and profited so largely by the liberality of the British Solomon that he obtained no less than 51,919 acres in Tyrone and 15,860 in Donegal out of the forfeited estates of the old Irish chieftains. Claud, a younger brother of this Earl, obtained a grant of 400 acres in Longford, and 2,000 acres in the barony of Strabane. In 1634 he was created by Charles I. LORD HAMILTON, and BARON OF STRABANE, in the peerage of Ireland. On the resignation of these honours by his elder brother, Sir George, Count of France (another fortunate younger son of Lord Abercorn, who married Frances Jennings, sister of the famous Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough), he obtained grants of land in Tyrone and Tipperary, and after the Restoration, in 1660, he received other donations of lands in Cork, besides which several lucrative offices were conferred upon him. The eldest son of Sir George Hamilton, who was one of the favourites of Charles II., obtained the grant of an estate in Meath, and £900 a year out of the first-fruits and tenths of the dioceses of St. David’s, Hereford, Oxford, and Worcester. His eldest son, James Hamilton, who was one of the Privy Councillors of James VII., and enjoyed his confidence, abandoned the cause of that wrongheaded and ill-fated monarch in the hour of his utmost need, went over to the side of the Prince of Orange, and took a prominent part in raising the siege of Londonderry. CLAUD HAMILTON, fourth Earl of Abercorn, unlike his self-seeking and politic kinsman, adhered firmly to the cause of James after the Revolution of 1688, accompanied him when he came from France to Ireland, and upon his arrival in Dublin was sworn a member of the Privy Council. After the defeat of James at the battle of the Boyne, the Earl embarked with him to return to France, but lost his life during the voyage. He was attainted, and his estates were forfeited for his adherence to the Jacobite cause; but his brother, Charles, who succeeded him in his earldom, obtained a reversal of the attainder. On his death, without issue, the titles and estates devolved upon the Captain James Hamilton who abandoned the cause of King James when it became evident that it was the losing side. Services so well timed as his were sure to meet with a liberal reward. He was created BARON MOUNT-CASTLE and VISCOUNT STRABANE, and lucrative offices—civil, military, and ecclesiastical—were bestowed upon his family. His grandson, the eighth Earl, about the year 1745, purchased the estate of Duddingstone, near Edinburgh, which had passed by marriage from the Lauderdale to the Argyll family, and erected on it a mansion that cost £30,000. He was created a British peer in 1786 by the title of VISCOUNT HAMILTON. His nephew, the ninth Earl, was made a marquis in 1790, and was succeeded by his grandson, who held the office of Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland in 1866—68, and again in 1874—76, and was created DUKE OF ABERCORN in 1868. His Grace died in October, 1885, in his seventy-fifth year. The family estates comprise 69,949 acres, with a rent-roll of £45,954.


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