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Hamilton, George (1666-1737) (DNB00)


HAMILTON, Lord GEORGE, Earl of Orkney (1666–1737), general, was fifth son of William, earl of Selkirk (eldest son of William, marquis of Douglas), who became Duke of Hamilton in 1660, and his wife Anne, duchess of Hamilton [see under Douglas, William, third Duke of Hamilton]. He was born at Hamilton Palace, Lanark, and baptised there 9 Feb. 1666. He was trained as a soldier under the care of his paternal uncle, the Earl of Dumbarton, being captain of the 1st or royal regiment of foot under that earl's command in 1684. He served under the standard of William of Orange, and became lieutenant-colonel in 1689 of a newly raised foot regiment, and brevet-colonel 1 March 1689–90. He distinguished himself at the battle of the Boyne on 1 July 1690, and afterwards at Aughrim on 12 July 1691. In January 1692 he was made colonel of the Royal Fusiliers, and took part in the battle of Steinkirk on 3 Aug. 1692, after which he became colonel of the first battalion of his old regiment—the Royal Foot. He distinguished himself at Landen on 19 July 1693, and was also at the sieges of Athlone (1691), Limerick (1691), and Namur (1695). At Namur, while in command of the Royal Foot, he was severely wounded, and was promoted brigadier-general (10 July 1695). On 25 Nov. 1695 he married his cousin, Elizabeth Villiers, daughter of Sir Edward Villiers, knight-marshal, the well-known mistress of William III. On 30 May 1695 William III granted to her almost all the private estates of James II in Ireland. Swift described her as ‘the wisest woman he ever knew.’ The marriage turned out very happily, despite the inauspicious position held by the lady previously. On 10 Jan. 1696 Hamilton was created Earl of Orkney in the peerage of Scotland, with remainder to surviving issue male or female. He retained to the last the full confidence of William III.

Orkney was promoted major-general on 9 March 1702, and served at the siege of Stevensvaert. He became lieutenant-general on 1 Jan. 1704, and on 7 Feb. of the same year was made a knight of the order of the Thistle. At Blenheim (1704) he commanded a brigade of infantry under Marlborough, taking prisoner thirteen hundred officers and twelve thousand men who had been posted in the village of Blenheim. In June 1705 he commanded the advance guard of twelve thousand men sent from the Moselle to the Netherlands to prevent the junction of two large bodies of French troops, and was in time to save the citadel of Liège, then invested by Villeroy. After the battle of Ramillies (23 May 1706) Orkney pursued the French at the head of a large body of cavalry as far as Louvain. He commanded a force at the passage over the Dyle, and was at the siege of Menin in July 1706. On 12 Feb. 1707 Orkney was elected one of the sixteen representative peers for Scotland to sit in the first parliament of Great Britain. He served again under Marlborough in the indecisive campaign of 1707, and distinguished himself by harassing the French in their retreat upon Lille. On 11 July he took a prominent part in the victory of Oudenarde, and after the battle advocated, in opposition to Marlborough, an immediate advance on Paris (cf. Hist. MSS. Comm. 8th Rep. pt. i.; Defoe to Godolphin, 3 Aug. 1708). In November 1708 Orkney commanded the van of the army at the passing of the Scheldt, and in June of the year following he assisted at the siege of Tournay, and captured the forts of St. Amand and St. Martin's Sconce. On 31 Aug. 1709 he was unable to secure the passage of the Heine, an operation successfully carried out a few days later by the prince of Hesse-Cassel, but he took part in the battle of Malplaquet on 11 Sept. 1709, and at the head of fifteen battalions, supported by cavalry on each flank, opened the attack, which was successful, although his loss of men was terribly heavy. On his return to England Orkney appeared frequently in parliament, and voted for the impeachment of Sacheverell. In 1710 he was sworn of the privy council, and the same year was made general of the foot in Flanders, being present at the sieges of Douay and Bouchain. Appointed two years later colonel of the royal regiment of foot guards, called the Fusiliers, he served in Flanders under the Duke of Ormonde until the campaign closed. For his services he was appointed colonel of the second battalion of the 1st Foot, becoming thus colonel-commandant of both battalions of his regiment. In 1714 Orkney was made one of the lords of the bedchamber to George I (28 Oct.), and governor of Virginia (17 Dec.). He was likewise appointed afterwards constable, governor, and captain of Edinburgh Castle, lord-lieutenant of the county of Clydesdale, and field-marshal of ‘all his majesty's forces’ 12 Jan. 1736. Orkney was repeatedly chosen one of the Scotch representative peers in parliament, and had considerable influence at the court, as well as in the House of Lords. He died at his residence in Albemarle Street, London, on 29 Jan. 1737, and was buried privately at Taplow. His wife died 19 April 1733. By her he had three daughters, and his eldest daughter, Anne, wife of William O'Brien, earl of Inchiquin, succeeded her father as Countess of Orkney. From this lady the present Earl of Orkney is descended.

Orkney was no military strategist, and was not very successful when first in command. He was, however, an admirable subordinate.

[The Heads of Illustrious Persons of Great Britain, with their Lives and Characters, by Thomas Birch, A.M., F.R.S., new edit., 1813; Collins's Peerage; Burnet's Hist. of his own Time; The Marlborough Despatches; Millner's Journals of Battles and Sieges under Marlborough; Sir A. Alison's Military Life of Marlborough; Coxe's Life of Marlborough; Lediard's Life of Marlborough; Anderson's Scottish Nation; R. Cannon's Records of 1st and 7th Regiments of Foot; Luttrell's Brief Relation; Macaulay's Hist.; Story's Wars in Ireland, 1689–92; War Office Records. This article owes much to notes kindly supplied by Charles Dalton, esq.]

G. B. S.