Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Hamilton, Elizabeth (1641-1708)

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HAMILTON, ELIZABETH, Comtesse de Grammont (1641–1708), ‘la belle Hamilton,’ eldest daughter of Sir George Hamilton (d. 1679), fourth son of James, first earl of Abercorn [q. v.], by Mary, third daughter of Walter, viscount Thurles, eldest son of Walter, eleventh earl of Ormonde, was born in 1641. She was one of the most brilliant ornaments of the court of Charles II, and is described by her brother, Anthony Hamilton [q. v.], in his ‘Mémoires du Comte de Grammont,’ as of unrivalled beauty and intelligence. After refusing the Duke of Richmond, Henry Jermyn, nephew of the Earl of St. Albans, Henry Howard, brother of the Earl of Arundel, and afterwards Duke of Norfolk, and Richard Talbot, afterwards earl of Tyrconnel, she married Philibert, comte de Grammont, probably near the end of 1663 (Notes and Queries, 1st ser. ix. 583; Pepys, Diary, ed. Braybrooke, v. 437–9). Grammont, born in France in 1621, belonged to a distinguished family, was educated at Pau, lived in youth a life of pleasure in Paris and Turin, fought under Condé and Turenne, and was banished from France in 1662 for making advances to one of the French king's mistresses, Mademoiselle de la Motte. He came to London, was well received by Charles II and Lady Castlemaine (December 1662), and was a leading spirit in all the diversions of the court. ‘La belle Hamilton's’ brother Anthony became his close friend, and Anthony describes the course of Grammont's courtship of his sister in the ‘Mémoires du Comte de Grammont,’ but he suppresses the important part which he himself played in bringing about the marriage. The story is told in a letter from Lord Melfort to Richard Hamilton, dated in 1689 or 1690, that Grammont, being suddenly recalled to France, was on the point of returning without the lady, and had actually got as far as Dover, when he was overtaken by Anthony and his elder brother George, who asked him in French, ‘Chevalier de Grammont, n'avez-vous rien oublié à Londres?’ to which the count replied, ‘Pardonnez-moi, messieurs, j'ai oublié d'épouser votre sœur.’ He then returned to London, and the marriage was at once solemnised. The incident is said to have furnished Molière with the idea of ‘Le Mariage Forcé.’ The story is hardly consistent with Hamilton's statement that, apparently in 1663, Grammont's sister, the Marquise de St. Chaumont, wrote informing him that Louis XIV had consented to his recall, and that he hurried to Paris to find the information untrue, and was in a few days ordered to leave France again. The count and countess on 3 Nov. 1664 certainly left London for France, where they thenceforth principally resided (Hist. MSS. Comm. 8th Rep. App. 493a; Voisenon, Œuvres Complètes, 1781, iv. 129). They paid, however, frequent visits to the English court, on their return from one of which in 1669, Charles II wrote to his sister, the Duchess of Orleans, commending the countess to her for ‘as good a creature as ever lived’ (Dalrymple, Memoirs, i. App. 26, 24 Oct. 1669; Hist. MSS. Comm. 6th Rep. App. 762). Evelyn says that he dined in the count's company in London in 1671. In 1688 Grammont came as a special envoy from Louis XIV to congratulate James II on the birth of a son, and received a gratuity of 1,083l. 6s. 8d. (Secret Services, Camd. Soc., p. 207). He delighted in frivofrivolities till his death. At the age of eighty (1701) he dictated his famous 'Memoirs,' chiefly dealing with his life in England, to Anthony Hamilton. When in Grammont's own interests the censor of the press, Fontenelle, declined to license them, Grammont indignantly appealed to the chancellor and got the prohibition removed. He died 10 Jan. 1707, but his 'Memoirs' were not published till 1713, when they appeared at Cologne. The countess died on 3 Jan. 1708. They had issue two daughters only: (1) Claude Charlotte, who married at St. Germains on 3 April 1694 Henry Howard, earl of Stafford, and (2) Marie Elisabeth, who became the abbess of Ste. Marie de Poussey in Lorraine. The countess's portrait was painted several times by Lely with more than usual care, and was considered by him to be his best work. Some of these pictures are now at Windsor Castle, others are at Hampton Court, and one is in the National Portrait Gallery.

[Mémoires du Comte de Grammont, cap. vii. and ix.; Douglas's Peerage of Scotland, i. 6; Anderson's Scottish Nation; art. 'Philibert, Comte de Grammont,' in Biographie Générale.]

J. M. R.