Open main menu

Hamilton, James (fl.1566-1580) (DNB00)

HAMILTON, JAMES (fl. 1566–1580), of Bothwellhaugh, assassin, was descended from a younger branch of the noble family of Hamilton. His grandfather was the fifth son of John Hamilton of Orbieston, the nephew of Sir James, first lord Hamilton [q. v.], and grandson of Sir James Hamilton of Cadzow, (Douglas, Baronage of Scotland, p. 563). His father was David, ‘gude man of Bothwellhaugh,’ a designation implying that he held his estate as a vassal from a superior. George Buchanan states that his mother was the sister of Hamilton, archbishop of St. Andrews, but her name was Catherine Schaw (Pitcairn, Criminal Trials, i. 23). There were at least three sons, James, David, and John. James seems to have been the eldest, although David, on the death of the father, added the title of Bothwellhaugh to that of Monkton-mains which he formerly held, probably because the property fell to him on account of his brother's forfeiture. David and James were married to two sisters, Isabel and Alison Sinclair, coheiresses of Woodhouselee. Ignorance of the fact that James as well as David was interested in Woodhouselee has led to the supposition that David was the murderer of the regent (see Records of the Burgh of Prestwick, Maitland Club, 1834, pp. 139–42). James Hamilton first appears, 26 April 1566, as one of the cautioners for the Earl of Arran (Reg. P. C. Scotl. i. 453). He was taken prisoner at Langside on 13 May 1568 (Hist. of James the Sext, p. 26), was tried, and sentenced to death, but was pardoned at the intercession of Knox (Calderwood, ii. 417). According to the author of the ‘Historie of James the Sext,’ Hamilton's lands remained forfeited, and his wife, expecting to be allowed to remain in her house of Woodislee, was nevertheless violently expelled, and ‘quhat for greif of mynd and exceeding cold that schee had then contracted conceived sic madness of spreit as was almost incredible’ (p. 46). The lands of Woodhouselee came into the possession of Bellenden, lord justice clerk, the uncle of Hamilton's wife, and the probability is that they were formally conveyed to him to save them from forfeiture. Spotiswood states that because Bellenden would not part with them Hamilton made ‘his quarrel to the regent, who was most innocent and had restored him to life and liberty.’ According to one of the ‘Hamilton Papers,’ Bothwellhaugh killed Moray partly on account of his treatment of the queen, and partly in revenge of private injuries (Maitland Club Miscellany, iv. 123). It was given out that the whole motive was private revenge, and according to later tradition Hamilton's wife perished from the exposure to which she had been subjected at the instance of the regent. Thus Woodhouselee was supposed to have been haunted, as described in Sir Walter Scott's ballad of ‘Cadzow Castle,’ by the ‘sheeted phantom’ of the wife of Bothwellhaugh. The lady, in fact, not only survived her husband, but was alive thirty years after the battle of Langside (Acta Parl. Scot. iv. 354). Mr. Maitland traces the story of the ghost supposed to haunt Woodhouselee to the tragic death of Lady Anne Bothwell, the heroine of the ‘Lady Anne Bothwell's Lament,’ which took place at Glencorse, near Woodhouselee. He supposes that the two traditions have gradually become blended (Scottish Ballads, ii. 331–2).

Though Bothwellhaugh was probably actuated by private revenge, he was aided by the chiefs of the house of Hamilton, and the deed was fully approved by the queen's friends. The regent Moray was induced to leave Edinburgh to discuss the surrender of the fortress with Lord Fleming of Dumbarton, but on reaching Glasgow he discovered that he had been misled, and shortly afterwards returned to Stirling on his way to Edinburgh. Bothwellhaugh lay in wait for him on more than one occasion during his progress. He either preceded or dogged him to Linlithgow, where the regent slept on 22 Jan. 1569–70. He took up his position in a house belonging to the Archbishop of St. Andrews, four doors eastward from the regent's lodging. John Hamilton (1532–1604) [q. v.], abbot of Arbroath (afterwards Marquis of Hamilton), had supplied him with his own carbine and with a swift horse. He hid behind a window curtain, and at the distance of a few feet took leisurely aim at the regent as, on the morning of the 23rd, he began his journey along the narrow street. The carbine was loaded with four pellets, one of which inflicted a fatal wound; the weapon is still preserved at Hamilton Palace. The long line of high houses concealed Bothwellhaugh, who escaped by the garden at the back, mounted his horse, and galloped westwards towards Hamilton Castle. According to Robert Birrel he was speedily followed, but ‘after yat spure and vand had failed him he drew furth hes dagger and strooke hes hors behind, quhilk caused the horse to leape a verey brode stanke, by quhilk meines he escaipit and got away from all ye rest of the horses’ (Diary, p. 18). The assassination did not produce the intended political effect. The chiefs of the Hamilton family publicly disavowed the murder, and ‘sent to the rest of the Hamiltons pretending to dissuade them from all fellowship with the murderer’ (Calderwood, ii. 512), who probably by this time was safe from all prosecution in France. On 8 June 1570 he was deputed by the friends of Mary as ambassador to the king of France to obtain aid in carrying on the war in Scotland (Cal. State Papers, For. Ser. 1569–71, entry 988). Mary expressed to the Archbishop of Glasgow her fervent satisfaction that she had been avenged, and, while stating that the deed had been done without her order, candidly confessed that she was only the more indebted to Bothwellhaugh on that account. She also expressed the intention of bestowing on him a pension as soon as her jointure as queen-dowager of France was available (Labanoff, Lettres de Marie Stuart, iii. 354). On 2 Jan. 1572 Bothwellhaugh wrote to Lord Claud Hamilton [q. v.] from Brussels stating that on 26 Dec. he had been compelled to leave Paris from ‘lack of expense,’ and assuring him that he had not received a shilling from any one since the death of the Archbishop of St. Andrews (Cal. State Papers, For. Ser. 1572–4, entry 4). Mary in her letter to the Archbishop of Glasgow had expressed the wish that another ‘méchante créature’ were ‘hors du monde,’ and stated that she would be well pleased if one of her own subjects were the instrument in effecting this. The person thus devoted to death is supposed to have been Admiral Coligny. Whether this be so or not, an attempt was made, according to De Thou, to engage Bothwellhaugh in Coligny's murder, but, adds De Thou, he spurned the proposal ‘with contempt and indignation, asserting that he had avenged his own just quarrel, but he would neither for pence nor prayer avenge that of another man.’ Bothwellhaugh, however, was the principal agent of the Spanish authorities in their incessant plots against the life of the Prince of Orange. He and his brother, John Hamilton, provost of Bothwell, were excepted from the abstinence agreed upon on 10 July 1572 (Reg. P. C. Scotl. ii. 158), and were not mentioned among the Hamiltons included in the pacification at Perth. They and other persons who were abroad ‘stirring up and practising rebellion’ were, on 12 Feb. 1573–4, denounced as traitors (ib. p. 335). As the John Hamilton who acted in concert with James Hamilton of Bothwellhaugh in the several plots against the Prince of Orange is always referred to as his brother, the presumption is that he was John Hamilton provost of Bothwell, and not John Hamilton (fl. 1568–1609) [q. v.] the anti-protestant writer, a theory suggested by Mr. Froude (Hist. of Engl. cab. ed. ix. 196) and accepted by Hill Burton (Hist. of Scotland, v. 37). On 26 Dec. 1572 Bothwellhaugh left Paris for Brussels, where he wrote a letter to Lord Claud Hamilton begging assistance (Cal. State Papers, For. Ser. 1572–4, entry 4). In August of the following year the two Hamiltons were observed in Paris on their way through France into Flanders (ib. entry 1132). They were then in the service of the king of Spain, to whom they had been recommended on 3 April by Don Diego de Zuñiga on the testimony of the Archbishop of Glasgow (Teulet, Relations politiques, v. 110–11). From Brussels Bothwellhaugh on 29 Sept. wrote to Don Frances de Alava that he had found a fitting tool for the murder of the prince in a gentleman of his own nation (ib. p. 112). The plot failed, but Bothwellhaugh did not lose sight of the project. On 16 May 1575 Aguilon, secretary of the Spanish embassy at Paris, wrote to Zayas, secretary of state, that James Hamilton and another Scot had a practice in hand against the Prince of Orange, and requested the secretary to encourage the undertaking (ib. p. 127). The plot miscarried, probably by Hamilton being thrown into prison, but on 19 Dec. he made his escape by the aid of Colonel Balfour and other Scots, whom Don John was suspected to have bribed (Cal. State Papers, For. Ser. 1575–7, entry 1097). On the 29th he was seen to arrive at Marche-en-Famène (Horsley to Walsingham, ib. entry 1094). Shortly afterwards Colonel Balfour was employed by him to make another attempt on the life of the prince, which also ended in failure (ib. entry 1175). Paulet, writing to the queen in May 1577, reports that the two Hamiltons had come from Don John to the Duke of Guise at La Charité, and were now said to have gone into Spain (ib. entry 1448). On the revival of the acts of forfeiture against the Hamiltons, Bothwellhaugh was on 21 Oct. 1579 summoned to appear before the king and his justice for ‘treason anent the Earl of Moray’ (Acta Parl. Scot. iii. 125). An officer was sent to serve the writ on him at his dwelling-place at Bothwellhaugh, but he was found to be not at home, and his wife declined to receive it (ib. p. 133). Failing to answer the summons he was disinherited (ib. p. 137). In April 1580 he was seen with Ker of Fernieherst riding from France into Spain (Walsingham to Bowes, 3 May 1580, in Bowes, Correspondence, Surtees Soc. p. 49). Bothwellhaugh's mother, Catherine Schaw, was charged for her connection with the regent's murder, but was not tried. A servant, David, was condemned and executed; another, Arthur, wrongly described by some historians as a brother, was tried and acquitted. In all probability James Hamilton died abroad, but it is popularly believed that he was buried at Monkton. By the statute of 1585, c. 21, Bothwellhaugh's heir was restored, but by c. 22 the lands of Woodhouselee were excepted in favour of Sir Louis Bellenden, lord justice clerk, son and heir of Sir John Bellenden. On 12 Jan. 1591–2 the privy council passed an act restoring David Hamilton and Isabel and Alison Sinclair to the lands of Woodhouselee (Reg. P. C. Scotl. iv. 711), in accordance with the act of parliament passed in favour of the Hamiltons in 1585. Lord-justice Bellenden still, however, continued to hold the lands, and for threatening his servants during their work David Hamilton was on 9 Feb. 1601 summoned before the council (ib. vi. 211). They were finally restored by act of parliament in 1609 (Acta Parl. Scot. iv. 450). John Hamilton, provost of Bothwell, returned to Scotland after the death of Morton. David Hamilton, sometimes confounded with his brothers, with whose plots he had no connection, died on 13 March 1613.

[Reg. P. C. Scotl. vols. ii–v.; Acta Parl. Scot. vols. iii. iv.; Pitcairn's Criminal Trials; Hist. of James the Sext (Bannatyne Club); Histories of the Church of Scotland by Calderwood and Spotiswood; Letters of Mary Stuart, ed. Labanoff; Teulet's Relations politiques, 1862 ed., and Papiers d'État (Bannatyne Club); Records of the Burgh of Prestwick (Maitland Club); Anderson's Genealogical Hist. of the Hamiltons; Notes and Queries, 3rd ser. xi. 452, 502, xii. 10, 69, 4th ser. xii. 406, 5th ser. xii. 386, 512.]

T. F. H.