The Hamilton Dukes

The Hamiltons were a family descended from an Anglo-Norman by the name of Walter Fitz Gilbert who came from Hambledon in Northumberland and fought on the side of Robert the Bruce at the battle of Bannockburn in 1314. For this service he was later rewarded by the grant of the barony of Cadzow in Lanarkshire in 1315. Thereafter the Hamiltons, as they became known, steadily progressed through the ranks of the peerage with a James Hamilton of Cadzow being made Lord Hamilton in 1445 and marrying Mary Stewart, daughter of king James II. Their descendants were subsequntly awarded the titles of Earl of Arran in 1503 and Marquess of Hamilton in 1599.

James Hamilton, the eldest surviving son of the 2nd Marquess of Hamilton succeeded his father in 1625 and was to be one of the leaders of the Royalist party during Charles I's conflict with Parliament. According to Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon "he had the greatest power over the affections of the king, of any man of that time", but James Hamilton was however fundamentally incompetent and is therefore often regarded as one of the main architects of the king's eventual downfall.

He was neverthless much in the king's favour and was rewarded for his support when he was created Lord Aven and Innerdale, Earl of Arran and Cambridge, Marquess of Clydesdale and Duke of Hamilton on the 12th April 1643. However James' enjoyment of his new status was shortlived as he was imprisoned a few weeks later. He remained in prison until his release in 1646 but later attempted to rally support for the king and in 1648 led the Scottish invasion of England, fought at the battle of Preston and then meekly surrendered at Utoxeter. The Duke's actions were regarded as treasonous by the Parliamentary government and he was thus executed on the 9th March 1649.

Since the 1st Duke's only son had died in 1640, when he had originally been awarded the title of duke in 1643 he ensured that the grant included a special remainder nominating his brother as heir should he fail to produce any male issue. Thus it was William Hamilton, previously known under the title of Earl of Lanark since 1639, who became the 2nd Duke of Hamilton on his elder brothers execution in 1649.

The 2nd Duke was a good deal more capable than his brother but unfortunately died on the 12th of September 1651 from the effects of wounds received at the battle of Worcester nine days previously. As his only son had predeceased him, in accordance with the terms of the patent of 1643 the title passed back to Anne Hamilton eldest daughter of the 1st Duke, in anticipation of which the 2nd Duke dutifully left his niece the bulk of his estates and wealth.

This was not to the liking of the surviving male heirs of the Hamilton line represented by the Earl of Abercorn who attempted to claim both the titles and estates of the deceased duke. The attempt failed, as the terms of both the 1st Duke's title and the 2nd Duke's will were perfectly legal but the Abercorns did win a concession from the duchess that the Abercorn line should inherit in the event of any failure of heirs in the Hamilton line.

It is worth noting that although Anne inherited the title of Duke of Hamilton and its its subsidiary dignities, she did not inherit the title of Marquess of Hamilton and the various other dignities which had been held by her father and uncle as these could only pass to a male heir.

The Douglas-Hamilton Dukes

In 1656 Anne went off and married William Douglas the Earl of Selkirk who therefore became known as the Duke of Hamilton and was subsequently created Duke of Hamilton for life in 1660. William adopted the surname of Douglas-Hamilton on assuming the title of Duke and is generally known as the 3rd Duke of Hamilton by the right of his wife.

At the time of the marriage the Hamilton estates had been declared forfeit by Oliver Cromwell, (and the Duke himself fined £1,000 under the Act of Grace) and although the restoration of the monarchy brought about a restoration of the Hamilton estates, the 3rd Duke found that he was not well favoured at court. He was dismissed from his position on the privy council in 1676 and subsequently refused an audience with Charles II. Hence although James II made efforts to placate him, he was one of the first to make contact with William of Orange and was responsible for summoning the Scottish convention parliament which offered the Scottish crown to William and Mary in March 1689.

The 3rd Duke died at Holyroodhouse Palace on the 18th of April 1694 and although Anne Hamilton, Duchess of Hamilton survived until 1716, she formally resigned the dukedom to their son James Douglas in 1698. Which was just as well from James' point of view as he predeceased his mother in 1712 (as we shall see) and otherwise would have missed out alltogether.

The 4th Duke of Hamilton was the leader of the Scottish 'nationalist party' and an opponent of the union with England, although his opposition was never particularly effective, and was largely brought off when he was created Duke of Brandon in 1711, the first occasion on which a Scottish peer was promoted in the new Peerage of Great Britain. The House of Lords ruled that this did not entitle him to a seat in the new post-union British Parliament (although the Duke continued to sit in the new House of Lords as a Scottish representative peer). Actually the House of Lords was not so much objecting to the idea of additionally ennobling Scottish peers as they were objecting to the 4th Duke of Hamilton.

Variously described as "a disaster" and "a bone-headed wastrel", few people have had much good to say about the 4th Duke. In 1712 he had a fundamental difference of opinion with Charles Mohun, 4th Baron Mohun; they had both married nieces of the childless Earl of Maccelsfield and were arguing over the disposition of the late Earl's estate. This resulted in a famous and bloody duel fought at Hyde Park on the 15th November 1712 which left both participants dead and caused a major scandal.

He was succeeded by his son, James who became 5th Duke and flirted with Jacobitism without ever commiting himself one way or another. He was followed by his son, yet another James the 6th Duke, whose main interests in life appear to have been getting drunk and chasing women. He was thus soon chasing the celebrated society beauty, Elizabeth Gunning, who being virtually penniless wisely refused to surrender herself to the Duke without the benefit of matrimony. So eager was the 6th Duke in this regard that he dragged a parson out of bed at half past midnight to perform the marriage ceremony (a bed-curtain ring was called into service) and by two o'clock in the morning the new Duchess of Hamilton was in his bed.

After such exertions it is perhaps not suprising that the 6th Duke died in 1758 at the comparatively young age of thirty-four. He did however manage to produce two sons before he expired. The first of these was James George, the 7th Duke who lived long enough to inherit in 1761 another batch of titles from Archibald Douglas, Duke of Douglas before dying in 1769 at the age of fourteen. (Although the Hamiltons did not, much to their annoyance, inherit the late Duke's wealth, which passed to his sister's surviving son.) The second was Douglas Douglas-Hamilton, who succeeded his elder brother in 1761 and was like his father a noted drunk and libertine. Convicted of adultery with the Countess of Edlington in 1788, he fathered at least one illegitimate daughter but no legitimate heirs and on his death in 1799 at the age of 44 the titles passed to his uncle Archibald.

Archibald the 9th Duke was a comparatively colourless character compared to his predecessors, but his son Alexander, 10th Duke eventually made up for that particular failing. Alexander was a great collector and connoisseur of art and books who apparently believed himself to be the heir to the Scottish crown and thus had an inflated sense of his own dignity. He hired his own hermit to ornament his ducal seat at Hamilton House and built an elaborate mausoleum to house both the former and future Dukes of Hamilton. He even acquired his very own Egyptian sarcophogus to house his own mortal remains. (It turned out to be not quite big enough to accommodate the 10th Duke's body and it proved necessary to hack off his legs in order to get him in.)

Alexander was succeeded in 1852 by his son William Alexander Anthony, the 11th Duke, who married a Princess Marie of Baden, who was the daughter of a cousin of Napoleon III. As a relation of the French emperor the 12th Duke, William Alexander Louis was able to reclaim the French title of Duke of Châtelherault in 1864 which had originally been held by his ancestor the 2nd Earl of Arran, but died without male issue on the 16th May 1895 and was succeeded in 1895 by a distant cousin Alfred Douglas, who was a descendant of the 4th Duke. The 13th Duke was a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy and married a Nina Mary Benita Poore, who bore him a total of four daughters and four sons, the eldest of whom Douglas Douglas-Hamilton succeeded as 14th Duke on the 16th March 1940.

The 14th Duke developed a keen interest in aviation during his youth and was the first man ever to fly over Mount Everest. He is most famous for his role during the events of May 1941 when a certain Rudolf Hess popped in for a chat. Herr Hess was apparently labouring under the misapprehension that the Duke represented a powerful faction of German sympathisers within British society. No doubt he realised his mistake when the Duke handed him over to the authorities and he found himself in the Tower of London.

The 14th Duke died in 1973 and was succeeded by his son, Angus Alan Douglas Douglas-Hamilton who is the 15th and current Duke of Hamilton. The 15th Duke inherited his father's interest in flying, serving in the Royal Air Force and working as a test pilot before he succeeded to the dukedom and abandoned his career to concentrate on the management of the Hamilton estates. He no longer lives at Hamilton Palace which was demolished in the 1930s, although the Hamilton Palace Mausoleum built by the 10th still stands and is located in what is now called Chatelerhaut Country Park in Strathclyde. (Although the ducal remains have been removed and reinterred elsewhere.)

As well as being the 15th Duke of Hamilton, Angus Alan is also the 12th Duke of Brandon as well as holding the titles of Marquess of Douglas, Marquess of Clydesdale, Earl of Angus, Earl of Lanark, Earl of Arran and Cambridge, Lord Abernethy and Jedburgh Forest, Lord Aven and Innerdale, Lord Machansyre and Polmont and Baron of Dutton. (Which are all Scottish titles with the exception of those of Brandon and Dutton which are British.) He is also possibly the holder of the title of Duke of Châtellerault in France (or at least one version of it) but is most certainly the premier peer of Scotland, hereditary Keeper of Holyroodhouse Palace and hereditary Bearer of the Crown of Scotland in Parliament.

Since the Dukes of Hamilton have also been Dukes of Brandon since 1711 they have from that time styled themselves as the 'Duke of Hamilton and Brandon' and should generally be formally addressed as such should the opportunity ever arise. The current heir to the title is Alexander Douglas Douglas-Hamilton, known by his courtesy title the 'Marquess of Douglas and Clydesdale'.

It is important to note that the Duke of Hamilton is really a Douglas and that the title of Duke of Hamilton is separate from the titles of Lord, Viscount and Marquess of Hamilton which are subsidiary titles of the Duke of Abercorn who is indeed a Hamilton and head of the House of Hamilton. Indeed the Lord Lyon has refused to formally recognise the Dukes of Hamilton as head of the House of Douglas until such time as they assume the single name of Douglas.




The 4th Duke was also created the Duke of Brandon in 1711.


  • The 1911 Encyclopedia Brittanica entry for HAMILTON, MARQUESSES AND DUKES OF
  • The Hamilton family at the Hamilton Palace website
  • A genealogical survey of the peerage of Britain at
  • Stirnet Genealogy at
  • The Peerages of England, Scotland, Ireland, Great Britain and the United Kingdom at
  • Brian Masters The Dukes: The Origins, Ennoblement and History of 26 Families (Blond and Briggs, 1975)

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