Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Hamilton, James (1606-1649)

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1341688Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 24 — Hamilton, James (1606-1649)1890Samuel Rawson Gardiner

HAMILTON, JAMES, third Marquis and first Duke of Hamilton in the Scottish peerage, second Earl of Cambridge in the English peerage (1606–1649), born on 19 June 1606, was the son of James, second marquis [q. v.], and of his wife, Anne Cunningham, fourth daughter of the Earl of Glencairn. In his fourteenth year he was married to Mary Feilding, daughter of Lord Feilding (subsequently first Earl of Denbigh) and of Susan Villiers, sister of the Duke of Buckingham (Douglas, Scottish Peerage). He was then sent to Exeter College, Oxford, where he matriculated on 14 Dec. 1621. On his father's death on 2 March 1625, he became, in his eighteenth year, Marquis of Hamilton and Earl of Cambridge, and the accession of Charles I shortly afterwards brought him into court favour. After the king's coronation on 2 Feb. 1626, his private affairs took him to Scotland. Later in the year he thought of taking part in Lord Willoughby's naval expedition, though he soon abandoned his intention (Giffard to Buckingham, 29 Aug. 1626, State Papers, Dom. xxxiv. 52), and did not return to England until 1628. He reached London on 20 Oct. (Mead to Stuteville, 1 Nov. 1628, Court and Times of Charles I, i. 419), and on 7 Nov. succeeded to Buckingham's office of master of the horse (Sign-Manuals, ix. 64). He also became gentleman of the bedchamber and a privy councillor in England and Scotland. Towards the end of 1629 he offered, to join Gustavus Adolphus in his approaching intervention in Germany, and on 30 May 1630 the king of Sweden agreed to take him into his service on condition of his bringing with him a force of six thousand men. Gustavus landed in Germany in June, and in August Hamilton received the necessary permission from Charles to levy soldiers. In March 1636 Charles gave him 11,000l. towards the expenses of the levy, and to this a further sum of 15,015. was subsequently added (Gardiner, Hist. of Engl. vii. 178). In the same month Hamilton went to Scotland to collect his men, but could not induce more than four hundred to follow him. In his absence Lord Reay brought forward a charge which never ceased to pursue him as long as he lived. Hamilton was the next heir to the throne of Scotland after the descendants of James VI, and Reay now declared that he intended to use his levies to seize it for himself. To this charge Charles, always faithful to his favourites, gave no ear, and, upon Hamilton's return to England, insisted upon his sleeping in the same room with himself, as an expression of his confidence. Hamilton not being able to find volunteers in England had recourse to official pressure, and at last, on 16 July, he sailed with six thousand Englishmen, by no means of the best quality. By this time one thousand recruits had been obtained from Scotland, so that he carried seven thousand men with him. The number was, however, reduced to six thousand on 3 Aug., on which day he had completed his landing near the mouth of the Oder.

The whole enterprise failed signally. Hamilton was sent to guard the fortresses on the Oder while Gustavus fought Tilly at Breitenfeld. His men were swept away by famine and plague. His diminished forces were then employed in the blockade of Magdeburg, which he entered after it had been abandoned by the enemy. By this time his army had almost ceased to exist. He had reason to believe that Gustavus distrusted him, fearing lest he should use in the special service of the elector palatine any power that he might acquire. In September 1634 he therefore returned to England. Possibly any other man might under the circumstances have failed equally, but Hamilton had certainly not displayed any of the qualities which go to make either a successful general or a successful statesman.

After his return Charles took Hamilton as his adviser in all matters relating to Scotland. His hereditary influence was great in that kingdom, and, what was of special importance in a country where the nobility were of more weight than they were in England, a considerable number of the nobles attached themselves to him from considerations of interest. When the king visited Scotland in 1633, the collection of a taxation granted by parliament was placed in Hamilton's hands, with leave to repay himself out of it for the expenses of his German expedition. For some time little is heard of him, though he seems, as was natural for a Scotsman, to have opposed Charles's policy of allying himself with Spain. He had his share in the good things which Charles had to give away. In 1637 he became licenser of hackney coaches, and in 1638 he gained 4,000l. a year from the payments exacted from the Vintners' Company.

By far the most important part of Hamilton's life commenced when, in May 1638, Charles selected him as the commissioner to be sent to Scotland to pacify the country after the disturbances consequent upon the attempted introduction of the new prayer-book had culminated in the signature of the national covenant. Hamilton's conduct during the remainder of his career has been variously estimated. His character seems to have been devoid of intellectual or moral strength, and he was therefore easily brought to fancy all future tasks easy and all present obstacles insuperable. Accordingly, whenever he found himself engaged in a piece of work more than usually surrounded with difficulties, his instinct led him to turn back and to seek some way of escape. Add to this that, though he was personally attached to Charles, and was incapable of entertaining those designs upon his life and crown which were attributed to him, he was never whole-hearted in his devotion, and was disinclined to serve him beyond the point at which his own interests would be imperilled by more chivalrous conduct. He had property both in England and Scotland, and he could never persuade himself so to play his part as to bring heavy losses upon himself in either kingdom. He was at all times an advocate of compromises, because he had no interest in the higher religious or political issues of the strife.

Already, before he started, Hamilton anticipated evil. His countrymen, he declared, 'were possessed by the devil.' He arrived in Scotland on 4 June. On the 7th he informed Charles that it would need an army to force the Scots to abandon their demands. On the 8th he entered Edinburgh amidst a hostile population. On the 15th he wrote that it was useless to negotiate on terms short of the calling an assembly and parliament which would be certain to require the reversal of the king's ecclesiastical policy. He was by this time thoroughly cowed, and on the 24th he offered to the covenanters to return to England to urge the king to give way. Fresh orders from Charles interrupted his movements, and on 4 July he had to order the reading in public of a royal declaration to the effect that the prayer-book and canons would not be pressed except in a legal way. A declaration of this kind served only to exasperate the Scots, and Hamilton had to return to England to persuade Charles to yield more completely to the covenanters, as he had failed in inducing the covenanters to yield to Charles. It is said, and on good evidence, that before he left he tried to curry favour with the covenanting-leaders by encouraging them to stand firm in their resistance (Guthry, Memoirs, p. 40).

On 27 July Hamilton received instructions from Charles to go back once more to Edinburgh, and to allow the election of an assembly and a parliament. He was to protest against any proposal to abolish episcopacy, but might assent to any plea for making bishops responsible to future assemblies. On 10 Aug. he arrived in Edinburgh. He was at once involved in a controversy upon the mode of electing the promised assembly, and on the 25th he again returned to England. On 17 Sept. he appeared for the third time in Edinburgh, bringing with him a revocation of the obnoxious prayer-book, canons, and high commission, and also a new king's covenant less offensive to Charles than the national covenant was. To this he attempted to obtain signatures, but it found only a few supporters.

The assembly met in Glasgow Cathedral on 21 Nov., with Hamilton presiding as the royal commissioner. On the 28th, upon its declaring itself competent to judge the bishops, Hamilton dissolved it. It, however, continued its sittings in spite of the dissolution, and Hamilton returned to Charles to give an account of his mission.

On 15 Jan. 1639 he told his story to the English privy council. Charles was now resolved on war, and Hamilton was chosen to lead an English force to take possession of Aberdeen. Suspicions were abroad that he had acted as a traitor in the preceding year, and Dorset openly charged him with treason. Aberdeen having been lost to the royalists, Hamilton was ordered in April to transfer his expedition to the Forth, where he would threaten the rear of the Scottish army, while Charles faced it on the borders. Seizing Scottish shipping on the way, he reached the Forth on 1 May, only to find that Leith had been fortified and that the country was too hostile to give him a chance of success. He again wrote despairing letters to the king. After a short time he was recalled, and on 7 June he was in Charles's camp, once more urging him to give way to the covenanters.

After the signature of the treaty of Berwick (18 June 1639) Hamilton was sent to instal Patrick Ruthven as governor of the castle, and was there received with derisive shouts of 'Stand by Jesus Christ,' and treated as an enemy of God and his country. On 8 July he resigned his commissionership. Hamilton was always ready to take part in an intrigue, and on 16 July Charles authorised him to open friendly communications with the covenanters with the object of betraying their plans. Later in the year he supported Wentworth's proposal to summon the Short parliament. He took care, however, to ingratiate himself with the queen, and advocated the claims of her candidate for the secretaryship, the elder Vane. True to his dislike of violence, he persuaded Charles to attempt to conciliate the Scots by setting Loudoun free in June 1640, though it is said that he recommended the seizure of the Spanish bullion in the Tower to be used to .supply funds for the new expedition against Scotland, which had by that time been resolved on.

Hamilton was again designed for service on the east coast of Scotland. His troops, however, broke out into mutiny in consequence of the appointment of catholic officers to command them, and were disbanded before the end of August. It is not likely that he felt any good-will to the organisers of an expedition which threatened to bring him for a second time into collision with the bulk of his countrymen. Early in August he had dissuaded the king from going to York to take the command of the English army. After the rout of Newburn he offered to Charles to go among the covenanters, apparently as a friend, in order to betray their secrets. Charles accepted the proposal, and Hamilton had therefore an excellent opportunity of passing himself off as a friend of both parties. When the Long parliament met, Hamilton was anxious to be on friendly terms with the parliamentary leaders, whose policy of an alliance with the Scots exactly accorded with his own wishes. It was believed in Strafford's family that he joined with the elder Vane in sending for Strafford in order to work his ruin. At all events, in acting against Strafford he may have fancied himself to be reconciling patriotic with loyal sentiments, and to be aiming at the removal from the king's councils of the man who was most forward in injuring both the king and the Scots by stirring up enmity between them. Moreover, if he knew of the intention of the parliamentary leaders to add his own name to the list of those whom they proposed to impeach, his knowledge can only have served to drive him to make his peace with those who had such a terrible weapon at their disposal. He soon made his peace with Strafford's enemies, and in February 1641 it was upon his advice that Charles admitted their leaders to the privy council. Though he took no active part in bringing Strafford to death, there can be no doubt that he had no friendly disposition towards him.

Men of Hamilton's character never fail to find enemies among the generous and outspoken, and Strafford was no sooner dead than Hamilton found a fresh opponent in Montrose, with whom he had already come into collision [see Graham, James, first Marquis of Montrose]. When Walter Stewart was captured on 4 June 1641, a paper, which apparently emanated from Montrose, was found upon him, in which the king was warned against placing confidence in Hamilton. Hamilton in fact was busily employed on a scheme for reconciling Charles with Rothes and Argyll, apparently on the basis, on the one hand, of a complete acceptance of presbyterianism by the king, and on the other of armed assistance to be given by the Scots to Charles against the English parliament. He had, in short, already sketched out the design which brought his master and himself to the scaffold in 1649. On 10 Aug., when Charles set out for Scotland, he was one of the few who accompanied him.

At Edinburgh Hamilton attached himself entirely to Argyll, even when he found that any real understanding between Charles and Argyll was impossible. This desertion of the king was an object of bitter comment. On 29 Sept. Lord Ker challenged him. Hamilton gave information to Charles, and extracted an apology from Ker. He soon discovered that Charles himself was displeased with him on account of the course which he had taken, and had spoken of him to his brother the Earl of Lanark as being 'very active in his own preservation.' Montrose wrote to Charles offering to prove Hamilton to be a traitor. Then came the discovery of the plot, known as the Incident, to seize Argyll and the two Hamilton brothers, and if necessary to murder them. On 12 Oct. all three fled from Edinburgh. Charles had to plead ignorance of the whole affair. After some little time Hamilton returned to Edinburgh, and accompanied the king when he left Scotland. On 5 Jan. 1642, when Charles went into the city of London, after the failure of the attempt on the five members, Hamilton was with him in his coach.

During the spring of 1642, for some time after the king left London, Hamilton was ill. In July, after subscribing to raise sixty horse for the king's service, he went to Scotland in the hope of being able to induce the Scots to abstain from an intervention on the parliamentary side in the approaching civil war. This mission produced no result except a breach between Hamilton and Argyll. In the spring of 1643 certain Scottish commissioners prepared to wait on the king with a petition urging him to allow them to appear as mediators in England, with the intention of driving the king to assent to the establishment of presbyterianism in England. On this Hamilton tried to gain a hold upon Loudoun, who was the principal of them, by getting up what was known as 'the cross petition,' in which the king was asked to abandon the annuities of tithes which had been granted him by act of parliament. Hamilton in fact knew that Charles had sold these annuities to Loudoun, so that their abandonment would strike him, and not the king. As this petty trick did not succeed, and Loudoun was not to be frightened into taking the king's part, Hamilton then asked Charles to send to Edinburgh all the Scottish lords of his party to counteract Argyll, and to keep Scotland from interfering in England, by outvoting Argyll in the Scottish parliament. This advice at once aroused the indignation of Montrose, who was with the queen at York, and who, believing that the Scots would certainly send an army across the border, wished to anticipate the blow by a military rather than by a political operation. Upon this Hamilton betook himself to York, and induced the queen to countenance his scheme rather than that of Montrose. He held that if Charles would only convince the Scots that their own presbyterian church was out of danger, they would not trouble themselves about the fortunes of the English church. This, however, was precisely what Charles was unable to do. When on 10 May a Scottish convention of estates was summoned without the king's authority, Hamilton attempted to hinder its meeting under such circumstances ; but on 5 June, finding his opposition useless, he dissuaded Charles from prohibiting it. Before the elections were held news arrived of a plot of a combined movement of English and Irish against the Scottish army in Ulster, and for a joint invasion of Cumberland if not of Scotland itself. Under these circumstances, when the convention met it was found that Hamilton's supporters were in a minority.

Though success was evidently hopeless Hamilton's influence with the king was still so great that Charles refused again to listen to Montrose's plan of attacking the Argyll party while they were still unprepared. Events soon justified Montrose's prescience. There was no longer room for parliamentary royalism in Scotland, and in November Hamilton and his brother were compelled to leave Scotland upon their refusal to sign the solemn league and covenant. On 16 Dec. they arrived in Oxford. Every royalist at court was open-mouthed against them, and Charles could no longer resist the tide. Lanark escaped, but Hamilton, in the beginning of January 1644, was sent as a prisoner to Pendennis Castle.

In July 1645 Hamilton, being still a prisoner, had an interview with Hyde, and confidently professed his assurance that if he were allowed to go to Scotland he would be able to induce the Scots either to mediate a peace in England or to declare for Montrose (Clarendon, ix. 152-7). To this entreaty Hyde gave no heed, and later in the year Hamilton was removed to St. Michael's Mount (ib. ix. 158), where he was liberated by Fairfax's troops when the fortress surrendered on 23 April 1646. Soon after the king reached Newcastle Hamilton waited on him, and was urgent with him to abandon episcopacy in England so as to be secure of the support of a Scottish army in regaining his crown. Early in August he went to Scotland, where he used his influence to induce the covenanters to come to terms with Charles, and in the early part of September reappeared at Newcastle at the head of a deputation charged with a message to Charles, urging him to accept the propositions of the English parliament. As, however, these included the establishment of presbyterianism in England, the deputation proved a failure, and Hamilton returned to Scotland. On 16 Dec. the Scottish parliament under his influence voted to urge the English parliament to allow the king to go to London, but Argyll and the clergy were too strong for him, and conditions were added which it was impossible for Charles to accept. The Scottish army left England the following year, and Charles was transferred to the English parliament.

In 1647 the seizure of the king by Joyce, and his consequent transference to the custody of the army and the independents, brought about a revulsion of feeling in Scotland. On 2 March 1648 a new parliament met at Edinburgh, in which Hamilton, who favoured the intervention of a Scottish army in England, was secure of a majority of thirty or thirty-two votes over Argyll, who with the more severe of the clergy was opposed to this intervention (Montreuil to Mazarin, March 8-18, 14-24, Arch. des Aff. Étrangères, Angleterre, vol. Ivi.) All through the early part of the year there was a network of plots with the object of a combined rising in England of the royalists and presbyterians, and of the arrival of the Prince of Wales in Scotland to place himself in the army with which Hamilton was to cross the border. It was not till 8 July, after the English risings were occupying theEnglish army, that Hamilton entered England at the head of a force numbering about twenty thousand. Lambert, who was opposed to him with a much inferior force, kept him in check till Cromwell came up. In the second week in August Cromwell joined him, but even then the English army counted not much more than nine thousand, while the Scots had been raised by reinforcements to twenty-four thousand. Hamilton, however, had never conducted any operation of life with success, and he was not likely to succeed in war. He allowed his regiments to scatter over the country, while Cromwell, who kept his men well in hand, dashed successively at each fragment of the Scottish host. In three days (17-19 Aug.) the whole of Hamilton's army was completely beaten, in the so-called battle of Preston, and the duke himself surrendered on 25 Aug.

On 21 Dec. Hamilton saw the king at Windsor, as he passed through on the way to his trial. He did not long survive his master. An attempt at escape failing, he was brought to St. James's, and on 6 Feb. 1649 he was put upon his trial before the high court of justice. On 6 March he was condemned to death, and was executed on the 9th.

Mary Hamilton (1613-1638), duchess of Hamilton, wife of the above, was married when only seven years of age. Her husband was at first averse to keeping the contract, and for some years they were on bad terms. She was lady of the bed"chamber to Henrietta Maria, and enjoyed the confidence both of the king and the queen. Burnet describes her as a lady of great and singular worth,' and Waller wrote his ' Thyrsis Galatea' in her praise (Colville, Warwickshire Worthies, pp. 272-4). She died 10 May 1638, leaving three sons, who died young, and three daughters, Mary (died young), Anne, and Susanna. In 1651, on the death of her uncle, William, earl of Lanark and second duke of Hamilton [q. v.], who succeeded his brother by special remainder, the Scottish titles reverted to Anne as eldest surviving daughter of the first duke [see under Douglas, William, third Duke of Hamilton], while the earldom of Cambridge became extinct.

[The leading authority for the life of the duke is Burnet's Lives of the Hamiltons, which contains a large number of original documents. Though allowance must be made for the zeal of a biographer, the general accuracy of the book bears the test of a comparison with letters in the Hamilton Charter Chest, which have recently been published by the Camden Society, under the title of the Hamilton Papers.]

S. R. G.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.146
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

Page Col. Line  
179 i 6-5 f.e. Hamilton, James, 1st Duke of Hamilton: for eighteenth year read nineteenth year
ii 22 for 1636 read 1631