Open main menu

Hamilton, William (1616-1651) (DNB00)

HAMILTON, WILLIAM, second Duke of Hamilton (1616–1651), son of James, second marquis of Hamilton [q. v.], and younger brother of James, first duke of Hamilton [q. v.], was born on 14 Dec. 1616 (Burnet, Lives of the Hamiltons, ed. 1852, p. 529). He was educated at the university of Glasgow, and seems to have been for some time under the tuition of Robert Baillie (Baillie, Letters, ed. Laing, ii. 354). After travelling and spending some time in France, Hamilton returned home, and made his appearance at court about 1637. His brother, on whom he was wholly dependent, finding him 'rarely accomplished and fitted for the greatest affairs,' kept him at court, and arranged a marriage between him and a rich heiress, Lady Elizabeth Maxwell, eldest daughter to the Earl of Dirleton (1638, Burnet, p. 530). On 31 March 1639 Hamilton was created Earl of Lanark, Lord Machanshire and Polmont (Collins, Peerage, ed. Brydges, i. 534). About February 1640, on the death of the Earl of Stirling, Lanark was appointed to succeed him as secretary of state for Scotland (Burnet, pp. 205, 531 ; Historical Works of Sir James Balfour, ed. 1825, ii. 427). The office was important, but he exercised no influence on the policy which he was charged to carry out. He had no experience at all in Scottish affairs, and trusted entirely to his brother's information and advices (Burnet, p. 531). To Lanark, in virtue of his official position, the peace overtures of the covenanting leaders were addressed, and he took part also in the treaty of Ripon, but merely as an assistant to the commissioners (Rushworth, iii. 1210, 1258, 1276). He accompanied the king to Scotland in the summer of 1641, took the covenant 18 Aug. 1641, and contrived to keep his secretaryship in the rearrangement of offices which then took place (Balfour, iii. 44, 69, 151). His brother had now fallen under the king's suspicion, and Lanark, though assured by Charles that he believed him honest, imagined his own life as well as his brother's to be in danger, and accompanied the latter in his flight from Edinburgh on ] 2 Oct. 1641 (Lanark's own narrative of the Incident is printed in the Hardwick State Papers, ii. 299 ; the depositions respecting it are printed in Hist. MSS. Comm. 4th Rep. p. 164). In the explanations which followed the king announced publicly that he had no complaints to make of Lanark, 'he wes a verey good young man' (Balfour, iii. 99). At the beginning of the civil war Lanark attended the king to Nottingham and to Oxford. In December 1642 Charles despatched him to Scotland to second his brother's endeavours to prevent the Scots from intervening in the war on the side of the parliament (Burnet, p. 259). The failure of his brother's policy again involved him in trouble, and on returning to Oxford in December 1643 both were arrested, though the charges against the secretary were 'chiefly his concurrence with his brother' (ib. p. 346). The king declared to Lanark under his signet that he did not intend to remove him from his office, but the latter, believing himself about to be sent prisoner to Ludlow Castle, escaped in the disguise of a groom, and made his way to London (ib. p. 347 ; Baillie, ii. 138). Indignant at the treatment he had received, he made his peace through the Scottish commissioners in London, and returned to Scotland. At the convention of the estates in April 1644 he appeared, 'gave evidences of his deep sorrow for adhering to the king so long,' added 'malicious reflections upon his Sacred Majesty,' and 'so was received to the Covenant, and acted afterwards so vigorously in the cause, that ere long he was preferred to be a ruling elder' (Memoirs of Henry Guthrie, 1702, p. 131 ). On 18 July 1644 he presented a complaint against Sir James Galloway and Sir Robert Spottiswood for usurping his office of secretary, which office he occupied again after the execution of Spottiswood in 1646 (Balfour, iii. 225). Lanark took some part in the war against Montrose, and just before the battle of Kilsyth was employed in raising troops in the south-west of Scotland to oppose him ; after that battle he fled to Berwick (Guthrie, pp. 151-4). Burnet describes him during this period as 'forced to comply in many things with the public counsels, but he began very soon to draw a party that continued to cross the more violent and fierce motions of Argyle and his followers' (Burnet, p. 347). Lanark was one of the commissioners sent by the Scotch committee of estates in May 1646 to Newcastle to treat with the king, and succeeded in regaining the confidence of Charles (ib. p. 351). All his efforts were now directed to persuading the king to com- ply with the demands of the English parliament, and establish presbyterianism in England. In more than one letter he remonstrated with Charles with the greatest freedom, pointed out the insufficiency of the concessions which he offered, urged the necessity of immediate decision, and showed him the danger in which he stood (ib. pp. 386, 393). When all his arguments had failed, he opposed with equal vigour the decision of the Scots to surrender Charles to the English commissioners. 'As God shall have mercy upon my soul at the great day, I would choose rather to have my head struck off at the market cross of Edinburgh than give my consent to this vote' (ib. p. 396). In June 1647 Lanark was summoned by the king to London, and in company with the Earls of Loudon and Lauderdale arrived at Hampton Court in October (Clarendon State Papers, ii. 381 ). His first object now was to persuade the king to escape, and he suggested Berwick as a suitable place of refuge. After the king's flight to the Isle of Wight he pressed the parliament to permit the king to come to London for a personal treaty, and failing in this, publicly protested against the four bills tendered by parliament for the king's acceptance (ib. pp. 401-22). With the consent of his colleagues he undertook to engage Scotland to restore Charles to his throne, on condition that presbyterianism should be established in England, and signed a treaty to that effect at Carisbrooke on 26 Dec. 1647 (the full text of this treaty is for the first time printed in Gardiner, Constitutional Documents of the Puritan Revolution, 1889, p. 259). Returning to Scotland, Lanark found the terms he had agreed upon far from sufficient to satisfy the Scotch clergy. 'Though an engagement upon the terms we parted on be impossible,' wrote Lanark, 'we shall either procure Scotland's undertaking for your Majesty's person or perish, let the hazard or opposition be what it can' (Burnet, p. 430). As a member of the 'committee of danger' and one of the six representative peers in the committee of estates he played a leading part in concerting the invasion, and penned some of the chief declarations issued by the Scots (Guthrie, p. 216; Baillie, pp. 37, 46). Lanark did not take part in the invasion himself, but when it became necessary to raise three regiments of horse against the covenanters of the west, he was appointed to command them (Guthrie, pp. 235, 237). Obliged to leave Edinburgh by the disaster of Preston and the advance of the Westland whigs, he joined Sir George Monro and the remains of Hamilton's army at Haddington. Very reluctantly he consented to treat with Argyll's party, and to lay down his arms (26 Sept. 1648 ; Burnet, pp. 467-77).

There was now no security for Lanark in Scotland. Believing that he was about to be arrested as an incendiary, and delivered up to the English army, he resolved to fly to Holland, first indignantly protesting against the breach of the late treaty (ib. p. 481; Rushworth, viii. 3288; Balfour, iii. 386). By the execution of his brother on 9 March 1649 Lanark succeeded to the title of Duke of Hamilton, and to some extent to the political position which his brother had occupied. He was present at the Hague when the commissioners of the Scotch parliament arrived to negotiate with Charles II. He was anxious, he wrote to Ormonde, that the king should, if possible, recover Scotland by fair means rather than by force, but could not advise him to 'an absolute compliance with all the extremities of their demands' (Carte, Original Letters, i. 243). However, when applied to for an opinion on the proposals of the Scots, he excused himself on the ground of his ignorance of the debates which had taken place on them, and of the state of the king's affairs (Cal. Clarendon State Papers, ii. 12). While at the Hague he was, by the intervention of Lady Newburgh, reconciled with Hyde, who describes him as moderate in his views, and ready for reconciliation even with Montrose (Rebellion, xii. 20-3). When the king at Breda treated a second time with the Scots in April 1650, Hamilton played a far more influential part in the negotiations. In January 1650 Charles had conferred upon him the order of the Garter, and on 7 April following he took his seat for the first time in the privy council (Report on the Hamilton Papers, 1887, p. 131 ; Hamilton Papers, Camden Society, 1880, p. 254). Persuaded that the stringency of the conditions imposed on the king would be speedily relaxed if he were personally in Scotland, he urged him to accept the terms offered. In return for this the Scotch commissioners allowed Hamilton to accompany the king to Scotland, but when he landed he was unable to make his peace with Argyll, and was obliged to retire to the Isle of Arran (Burnet, p. 538 ; Walker, Historical Discourses, p. 159). Charles afterwards told Burnet that when he wished to resent this usage of Hamilton as a breach of the treaty, Hamilton earnestly entreated him rather to use all possible means to gain Argyll absolutely to his cause, and to neglect his friends till a better season (Burnet, p. 538). The letters which Charles wrote to Hamilton in exile show that he was still trusted by the king, and that he was probably in the secret of the abortive attempt of the latter to join the Scotch royalists (Hamilton Papers, p. 256). In January 1651 Hamilton was at last permitted to join his master, and after due confession of his errors was readmitted to the Scotch church (Burnet, p. 540; Mercurius Politicus, pp. 565, 590). Argyll was still too jealous to suffer his rival to receive any command, and Hamilton took part in the march into England merely as the colonel of three hundred men raised on his own estates. It was with no great hopes of success that he started on his last campaign. 'To .go with a handful of men into England,' he wrote to his niece, seemed to him 'the least ill course to adopt, and yet very desperate' (Burnet, p. 541). After the skirmish at Warrington Hamilton urged the king to march straight on London, and in the council of war before the battle of Worcester he proposed that he should throw himself into Wales, but neither counsel was followed. In the battle itself Hamilton displayed great personal courage, and while leading his regiment against a hedge line by Cromwell's infantry received a shot which broke the bone of his leg a little below the knee. Of this wound he died nine days later, 12 Sept. 1651 (ib. p. 543). He was interred in Worcester Cathedral, as the government refused to allow his body to be transported to Scotland.

Hamilton's character is described at length by Burnet, and briefly by Clarendon. The latter contrasts him favourably with his brother; he was wiser, though less cunning; he had also unquestionable courage, 'which the other did not abound in' (Rebellion, xiii. 77; cf. Warwick, Memoirs, p. 104). Burnet says he was franker, more passionate, &nd more enterprising than his brother. He had also greater literary gifts; 'the elder spoke more gracefully, but the other had the better pen' (Burnet, p. 582). In early life 'he had tasted of all the follies which bewitch the greatest part of men,' but afterwards he became deeply religious, as his 'meditations' before the battle of Worcester prove (ib. pp. 544, 555).

Hamilton left four daughters, but his only son died an infant. The estates and Scottish titles of the family therefore devolved upon his elder brother's daughter, Lady Anne Hamilton [see under Douglas, William, third Duke of Hamilton, 1635-1694] (Collins, Peerage, ed. Brydges, i. 540).

[Burnet's Lives of the Hamiltons, ed. 1852; Hist. MSS. Comm. 11th Rep. pt. vi., Manuscripts of the Duke of Hamilton, 1887; Hamilton Papers, Camd. Soc., 1880; Clarendon's Rebellion, ed. Macray; Historical Works of Sir James Balfour, ed. Haig.]

C. H. F.