1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Hamilton, James Hamilton, 1st Duke of

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HAMILTON, JAMES HAMILTON, 1st Duke of (1606–1649), Scottish nobleman, son of James, 2nd marquess of Hamilton, and of the Lady Anne Cunningham, daughter of the earl of Glencairn, was born on the 19th of June 1606. As the descendant and representative of James Hamilton, 1st earl of Arran, he was the heir to the throne of Scotland after the descendants of James VI.[1] He married in his fourteenth year May Feilding, aged seven, daughter of Lord Feilding, afterwards 1st earl of Denbigh, and was educated at Exeter College, Oxford, where he matriculated on the 14th of December 1621. He succeeded to his father’s titles on the latter’s death in 1625. In 1628 he was made master of the horse and was also appointed gentleman of the bedchamber and a privy councillor. In 1631 Hamilton took over a force of 6000 men to assist Gustavus Adolphus in Germany. He guarded the fortresses on the Oder while Gustavus fought Tilly at Breitenfeld, and afterwards occupied Magdeburg, but his army was destroyed by disease and starvation, and after the complete failure of the expedition Hamilton returned to England in September 1634. He now became Charles I.’s chief adviser in Scottish affairs. In May 1638, after the outbreak of the revolt against the English Prayer-Book, he was appointed commissioner for Scotland to appease the discontents. He described the Scots as being “possessed by the devil,” and instead of doing his utmost to support the king’s interests was easily intimidated by the covenanting leaders and persuaded of the impossibility of resisting their demands, finally returning to Charles to urge him to give way. It is said that he so far forgot his trust as to encourage the Scottish leaders in their resistance in order to gain their favour.[2] On the 27th of July Charles sent him back with new proposals for the election of an assembly and a parliament, episcopacy being safeguarded but bishops being made responsible to future assemblies. After a wrangle concerning the mode of election he again returned to Charles. Having been sent back to Edinburgh on the 17th of September, he brought with him a revocation of the prayer-book and canons and another covenant to be substituted for the national covenant. On the 21st of November Hamilton presided over the first meeting of the assembly in Glasgow cathedral, but dissolved it on the 28th on its declaring the bishops responsible to its authority. The assembly, however, continued to sit notwithstanding, and Hamilton returned to England to give an account of his failure, leaving the enemy triumphant and in possession. War was now decided upon, and Hamilton was chosen to command an expedition to the Forth to menace the rear of the Scots. On arrival on the 1st of May 1639 he found the plan impossible, despaired of success, and was recalled in June. On the 8th of July, after a hostile reception at Edinburgh, he resigned his commissionership. He supported Strafford’s proposal to call the Short Parliament, but otherwise opposed him as strongly as he could, as the chief adversary of the Scots; and he aided the elder Vane, it was believed, in accomplishing Strafford’s destruction by sending for him to the Long Parliament. Hamilton now supported the parliamentary party, desired an alliance with his nation, and persuaded Charles in February 1641 to admit some of their leaders into the council. On the death of Strafford Hamilton was confronted by a new antagonist in Montrose, who detested both his character and policy and repudiated his supremacy in Scotland. On the 10th of August 1641 he accompanied Charles on his last visit to Scotland. His aim now was to effect an alliance between the king and Argyll, the former accepting Presbyterianism and receiving the help of the Scots against the English parliament, and when this failed he abandoned Charles and adhered to Argyll. In consequence he received a challenge from Lord Ker, of which he gave the king information, and obtained from Ker an apology. Montrose wrote to Charles declaring he could prove Hamilton to be a traitor. The king himself spoke of him as being “very active in his own preservation.” Shortly afterwards the plot—known as the “Incident”—to seize Argyll, Hamilton and the latter’s brother, the earl of Lanark, was discovered, and on the 12th of October they fled from Edinburgh. Hamilton returned not long afterwards, and notwithstanding all that had occurred still retained Charles’s favour and confidence. He returned with him to London and accompanied him on the 5th of January 1642 when he went to the city after the failure to secure the five members. In July Hamilton went to Scotland on a hopeless mission to prevent the intervention of the Scots in the war, and a breach then took place between him and Argyll. When in February 1643 proposals of mediation between Charles and the parliament came from Scotland, Hamilton instigated the “cross petition” which demanded from Charles the surrender of the annuities of tithes in order to embarrass Loudoun, the chief promoter of the project, to whom they had already been granted. This failing, he promoted a scheme for overwhelming the influence and votes of Argyll and his party by sending to Scotland all the Scottish peers then with the king, thereby preventing any assistance to the parliament coming from that quarter, while Charles was to guarantee the establishment of Presbyterianism in Scotland only. This foolish intrigue was strongly opposed by Montrose, who was eager to strike a sudden blow and anticipate and annihilate the plans of the Covenanters. Hamilton, however, gained over the queen for his project, and in September was made a duke, while Montrose was condemned to inaction. Hamilton’s scheme, however, completely failed. He had no control over the parliament. He was unable to hinder the meeting of the convention of the estates which assembled without the king’s authority, and his supporters found themselves in a minority. Finally, on refusing to take the Covenant, Hamilton and Lanark were obliged to leave Scotland. They arrived at Oxford on the 16th of December. Hamilton’s conduct had at last incurred Charles’s resentment and he was sent, in January 1644, a prisoner to Pendennis Castle, in 1645 being removed to St Michael’s Mount, where he was liberated by Fairfax’s troops on the 23rd of April 1646. Subsequently he showed great activity in the futile negotiations between the Scots and Charles at Newcastle. In 1648, in consequence of the seizure of Charles by the army in 1647, Hamilton obtained a temporary influence and authority in the Scottish parliament over Argyll, and led a large force into England in support of the king on the 8th of July. He showed complete incapacity in military command; was kept in check for some time by Lambert; and though outnumbering the enemy by 24,000 to about 9000 men, allowed his troops to disperse over the country and to be defeated in detail by Cromwell during the three days August 17th–19th at the so-called battle of Preston, being himself taken prisoner on the 25th. He was tried on the 6th of February 1649, condemned to death on the 6th of March and executed on the 9th.

Hamilton, during his unfortunate career, had often been suspected of betraying the king’s cause, and, as an heir to the Scottish throne, of intentionally playing into the hands of the Covenanters with a view of procuring the crown for himself. The charge was brought against him as early as 1631 when he was levying men in Scotland for the German expedition, but Charles gave no credence to it and showed his trust in Hamilton by causing him to share his own room. The charge, however, always clung to him, and his intriguing character and hopeless management of the king’s affairs in Scotland gave colour to the accusation. There seems, however, to be no real foundation for it. His career is sufficiently explained by his thoroughly weak and egotistical character. He took no interest whatever in the great questions at issue, was neither loyal nor patriotic, and only desired peace and compromise to avoid personal losses. “He was devoid of intellectual or moral strength, and was therefore easily brought to fancy all future tasks easy and all present obstacles insuperable.”[3] A worse choice than Hamilton could not possibly have been made in such a crisis, and his want of principle, of firmness and resolution, brought irretrievable ruin upon the royal cause.

Hamilton’s three sons died young, and the dukedom passed by special remainder to his brother William, earl of Lanark. On the latter’s death in 1651 the Scottish titles reverted to the 1st duke’s daughter, Anne, whose husband, William Douglas, was created (third) duke of Hamilton.

Bibliography.Article in the Dict. of Nat. Biog. by S. R. Gardiner; History of England and of the Civil War, by the same author; Memoirs of the Dukes of Hamilton, by G. Burnet; Lauderdale Papers (Camden Society, 1884–1885); The Hamilton Papers, ed. by S. R. Gardiner (Camden Society, 1880) and addenda (Camden Miscellany, vol. ix., 1895); Thomason Tracts in the British Museum, 550 (6), 1948 (30) (account of his supposed treachery), and 546 (21) (speech on the scaffold).  (P. C. Y.) 

  1. James, Lord Hamilton=Princess Mary Stuart,
    (d. 1479).|
     daughter of James II.

    James, Lord Hamilton and 1st earl of Arran
    (d. c. 1529).
    James, duke of Chatelherault, and 2nd earl of Arran
    (d. 1575)
    James, 3rd earl of Arran
    (d. 1609).
    John, 1st marquess of Hamilton
    (d. 1604).
    James, 2nd marquess of Hamilton
    (d. 1625).

    James, 3rd marquess and 1st duke of Hamilton.
  2. See S. R. Gardiner in the Dict. of Nat. Biography.
  3. See S. R. Gardiner in the Dict. of Nat. Biography.