Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Hamilton, James (d.1540)

HAMILTON, Sir JAMES (d. 1540), of Finnart, royal architect, was a natural son of James Hamilton, second lord Hamilton and first earl of Arran [q. v.], and was therefore half-brother of James Hamilton, second earl of Arran [q. v.], governor of Scotland, and of John Hamilton, archbishop of St. Andrews [q. v.] He is admitted to have been a man of exceptional ability, but was wild and impetuous, regardless of principles, and yet a bigot in religion. Though the stain on his birth precluded him from all hope of succession to his father's title, he was deemed a fitting companion for the youthful king, James V, over whom he latterly wielded considerable power. Hamilton's early years were spent abroad, and he seems to have developed his great natural taste for architecture at the court of Francis I, where he resided for some time. On his return he found Scotland distracted betwixt the rival factions of the Douglases and the Hamiltons, and he at once threw himself enthusiastically into the contest, taking part with his father. His name figures prominently as ‘the Bastard of Arran’ in the fierce struggles between these leaders, and many of the most reprehensible acts committed by the Hamilton faction are laid to his charge. In the conflict called ‘Cleanse the Causeway’ in the streets of Edinburgh on 30 April 1520 betwixt the Earl of Arran and Archibald Douglas, sixth earl of Angus [q. v.], Hamilton took a leading part, and it is asserted that all attempts at a pacific termination of the fray were frustrated by his action. The Hamiltons were defeated, and Sir James and his father escaped with difficulty, being forced, it is said, to fly from the scene of the combat mounted double on a collier's pack-horse. After the battle of Linlithgow, 4 Sept. 1526, between John Stewart, earl of Lennox, and James Hamilton, first earl of Arran [q. v.], Hamilton was guilty of the murder of Lennox, after that nobleman had delivered up his sword and declared himself a prisoner. Hamilton's apologists have in vain denied the charge. A groom of the dead earl followed Hamilton to Edinburgh and murderously assaulted him, although he failed to kill him. There is still in the possession of the Duke of Montrose an agreement made by Sir James Hamilton with the murdered man's son, Matthew, earl of Lennox, whereby James becomes bound to fee six chaplains to ‘do suffrage for the soul of the deceased John, earl of Lennox, for seven years, three of them to sing continually in the College Kirk of Hamilton, and the other three to sing continually in the Blackfriars of Glasgow’ (Hist. MSS. Comm. 3rd Rep. p. 393). After the death of Hamilton the grant thus made was renewed by the king from Hamilton's forfeited estates (Reg. Mag. Sig. xxvii. 115).

Despite his turbulence Hamilton still retained his place in the king's favour. He had obtained the lands of Finnart in Renfrewshire from his father in 1507, with express consent of the king, then Prince James (Reg. Mag. Sig. xiv. 483), superior of that territory, and after the accession of James V acquired additional estates. From a charter recorded in the ‘Register of the Great Seal,’ under date 20 Jan. 1512–13, it appears that the Earl of Arran, having no legitimate heirs at that time, nominated his natural son, Sir James Hamilton of Finnart, as his heir of tailzie, with approval of the king, James IV, though this proceeding was contrary to legal practice in Scotland. The wealth which Hamilton had thus amassed rendered him one of the most powerful of the Scottish barons, and he had the address to retain the affection of one of the most fickle of monarchs through all his turbulent career. His ability as an architect was largely utilised by the king, and he is acknowledged to have been the designer of Craignethan Castle and the reconstructor of the royal palaces of Linlithgow and of Falkland. The renovation of the latter palace was completed by him in 1539, and as a reward for his services he obtained letters of legitimation from the king under the great seal on 4 Nov. in that year (ib. xxvi. 438).

Hamilton took, in 1528, an active part in the martyrdom of Patrick Hamilton [q. v.], a relative of his own. In 1540 James Hamilton of Kincavel, brother of Patrick, revealed to the king an alleged plot in which Sir James Hamilton had been involved for the murder of the king so far back as 1528. Upon this information Sir James was arrested and brought to trial on a charge of high treason. As the king had consented to his arrest, no time was lost in convicting the prisoner, and he was executed immediately thereafter, on 16 Aug. 1540. His extensive estates were confiscated, and many pages of the ‘Register of the Great Seal’ are occupied with the record of the distribution of these estates among the new favourites of the king.

It is asserted by some of the older historians that the king was seized with remorse for his share in the death of his favourite, and that during the two brief years which he survived his couch was haunted by the spectre of his old companion.

Hamilton was married previous to 1528 (ib. xxiii. 80) to Margaret Levingstoun of Easter Wemyss, who survived him, and who obtained after her husband's death a grant of the life-rent of the barony of Tillicoultry, which had been forfeited through the treason of Sir James Colville of Easter Wemyss. The Hamiltons of Gilkerscleugh, Evandale, and Crawfordjohn descended from Sir James Hamilton of Finnart.

[Tytler's Hist. of Scotland; Pitcairn's Criminal Trials; Registrum Magni Sigilli; Acta Parl. Scot. vol. ii.; Lesley's Hist. of Scotland; Holinshed's Chronicle, ii. 191, Arbroath ed. 1805.]

A. H. M.