Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Hamilton, Robert (1650-1701)
HAMILTON, Sir ROBERT (1650–1701), second baronet of Preston, one of the leaders of the covenanters, was the younger son of Sir Thomas Hamilton of Preston, a zealous royalist, who fought as lieutenant-colonel at Dunbar in 1650, distinguished himself at Worcester, and in many ways was noted for his sacrifices and exertions in the cause of the Stuarts. After his death in 1672 a baronetcy was conferred in 1673 on his eldest son. Sir William, who, becoming dissatisfied with the arbitrary policy of James II, took part in the unfortunate expedition of the Earl of Argyll in 1685, and, having on its failure made his escape to Holland, accompanied the Prince of Orange to England in 1688, but died suddenly at Exeter, when the troops were on the march to London. Robert, the younger son, was educated at the university of Glasgow under the care of Bishop Burnet (whose sister was his step-mother), and who describes him as at that time a 'lively, hopeful young man' (Own Time, ed. 1838, p. 313). Before his twenty-sixth year he began to attend conventicles, and soon became one of the most enthusiastic and fanatical of the extreme covenanters. Along with Thomas Douglas and Hackston of Rathillet [q.v.] he, in 1679, drew up a declaration and testimony (afterwards known as the Rutherglen declaration), which they intended on 29 May, the king's birthday, to nail to the market-cross of Glasgow. The advance of the troops of Claverhouse to that city a day or two previously prevented their carrying out their purpose there, and Rutherglen, about two miles to the east of Glasgow, was chosen instead. They extinguished the bonfire in the king's honour and lit another, where they proceeded to burn all the acts of parliament and royal proclamations made since the Restoration. They then retired towards Evandale and Newmilns, preparatory to holding an armed convention on the following Sunday at Loudon Hill. Claverhouse, who had gone to Rutherglen, came suddenly in sight of the gathering. Sending away their women and children the covenanters drew up in battle array on the farm of Drumclog, a little to the east. Nominally Hamilton was in command, but it was entirely to the experienced officers, such as Hackston and Cleland, who led the separate detachments of the covenanters, that the defeat of Claverhouse was due. Hamilton, however, showed some energy after the fight. In a vindication of his conduct, 7 Dec. 1685, published in 'Faithful Contendings displayed,' for having put to death one of the prisoners after the battle with his own hand, he asserted that before the battle began he had given 'out the word that no quarter should be given,' and that since he had set his 'face to his work' he never 'had nor would take a favour from enemies either on the right or left hand, and desired to give as few.' His courage, however, was doubted. Burnet, in a passage omitted from the earlier editions of his 'Own Time,' calls him an 'ignominious coward,' and even Wodrow speaks of his behaviour at Bothwell Bridge as 'ill conduct, not to say cowardice.' During the attack on Glasgow he is said to have waited the issue in a place of safety. In any case he was utterly incompetent as a commander, and to this was probably attributable the feebleness displayed in the attack on Glasgow. The troops had barricaded the town, and the covenanters were easily repulsed. They halted at the position occupied on the previous night, but on Claverhouse advancing towards them retreated to Hamilton. As Claverhouse was too weak to attack them here, they formed a camp, and according to Hamilton numbered within a week five or six thousand men, 'all as one man and of one mind to own the Rugland testimony against all its opposers' (M'Crie, Life of Veitch, p. 456 ; Napier, ii. 222). Hamilton took all the credit for the victory at Drumclog, and assumed command 'without the ceremony of a choice' (Wodrow, iii. 89). Little trouble was taken to introduce discipline, and the time was spent in harangues and theological disputes. After the withdrawal of the government forces to Stirling they advanced to Glasgow, where they are stated to have robbed the archbishop's house, to have pulled down the ornaments of the cathedral, and to have defaced several of the monuments, but having done so they fell back on their old position. The arrival in the camp of John Welch [q. v.], with a reinforcement of men from Ayr, introduced a disturbing element. Welch was prepared to accept a compromise with the government by which both episcopacy and presbyterianism should be tolerated. He was therefore denounced by the Hamilton party as an Erastian, and the dispute raged till the appearance of the government forces under the Duke of Monmouth. Welch and others, though much in the minority, drew up a declaration, which they presented on 22 June in the hope that it would lead to at least a suspension of hostilities. The declaration is known as the Hamilton declaration, in reference to the town where it was drawn up. Sir Robert Hamilton, in name of the army, also signed a petition to Monmouth, and afterwards, when taunted with this, affirmed that he had been ensnared into the subscription by the belief that it was 'Mr. Cargill's work.' When the Hamilton declaration was presented, the armies were drawn up facing each other on opposite banks of the Clyde at Bothwell Bridge. Monmouth refused to consider terms until they had laid down their arms. Hamilton occupied himself with the erection of a gigantic gibbet, around which was placed a cartload of new ropes, but as soon as the action began his courage oozed away. He ordered Hackston of Rathillet [q. v.] to retire when the bridge was attacked, and himself 'rode off with the horse' and 'allowed the foot to shift for themselves,' thus 'leaving the world to debate whether he acted most like a traitor, coward, or fool' (ib. iii. 107). He fled to Holland, whereupon he was outlawed, and sentenced to be executed whenever apprehended. While in Holland he acted as commissioner' to the persecuted true presbyterian church in Scotland,' and in this capacity he visited some of the principal towns of Germany and Switzerland. In 1683 he prevailed on the presbytery of Groningen to ordain James Renwick, who had studied at the university there, as minister to the presbyterian church in Scotland.At the revolution in 1688 Hamilton returned to Scotland, and, his attainder having been reversed, succeeded in that year to the baronetcy on the death of his brother Sir William. He, however, declined to prefer any claim to his brother's estates, on the ground that it would involve the 'acknowledging an uncovenanted sovereign of these covenanted nations.' As he was unmarried his conscientious scruples only affected himself, and he privately took measures for securing the entailed settlement of the family inheritance on the issue of his brother's daughter Anne, by her husband Thomas, son of Sir James Oswald. On 20 Oct. 1686 a letter had been sent to Hamilton by the united societies stating that they had information ready to be proven 'that he had countenanced the Hamilton declaration which he and his party since had cried out so much against ; that he had signed a petition to Monmouth in name of the army ; that he had received large sums of money from good people in Holland for printing the testimonies of the sufferers, and yet greater for the support of the suffering party in Scotland, of which he had given no accounts' (ib. iv. 392). On his return to Scotland he continued, however, to retain his influence with the extreme covenanters, described as the 'afflicted remnant,' who regarded him as their l principal stay and comfort.' On 9 Nov. 1689 he protested against the 'compliance at Hamilton,' by which it was agreed by a section of the covenanters to form the Cameronian regiment, of which William Cleland [q. v.] was appointed colonel. Being suspected of having drawn up and published the Sanquhar declaration of 18 Aug. 1692, he was arrested at Earlstown on 10 Sept., and for some months he was detained a prisoner at Edinburgh and Haddington. He was several times brought before the privy council for examination, but, although declining to acknowledge their jurisdiction or the authority of William and Mary, received his liberty on 15 May 1693, and was permitted to remain unmolested till his death, 20 Oct. 1701.
[The Believer's Farewell to the World, or an Elegie on the Death of that much honoured &c. Gentleman Sir Robert Hamilton, 1701; Faithful Contendings displayed; Howie's Scots Worthies; Wodrow's Sufferings of the Church of Scotland; Burnet's Own Time; Napier's Life of Viscount Dundee; Burton's Hist, of Scotl.]