The Two Arrans

The first thing to note is that there are two quite separate and distinct peerage titles that are commonly referred to under the name of 'Earl of Arran'. One that existed in the Peerage of Scotland and was long associated with the Hamilton family and the second in the Peerage of Ireland, represented by two Butler creations and one to the Gore family which continues to this day. This is because there are two quite distinct geographical Arrans; firstly there is the Isle of Arran, the most southerly of the Scottish islands which is located at the mouth of the Firth of Clyde, and secondly the entirely different Arran Islands (or Aran Islands) which lie off the west coast of Ireland.

The Scottish Earls of Arran are dealt with below; for the Irish earls see Earl of Arran of the Arran Islands.


The Boyd family originally rose to prominence as a result of their support for Robert the Bruce and were rewarded with the grant of lands in Ayrshire that had formerly been held by the Balliol family; later James II elevated the family to the peerage when Robert Boyd, became the first Lord Boyd of Kilmarnock.

This Robert Boyd became one of the Regents of Scotland in 1460 during the minority of James III and in 1466 staged something of a coup, when he seized control of the person of the young king and obtained an Act of Parliament that appointed him sole Regent. Robert then arranged for his eldest son Thomas Boyd to marry James III's sister Mary Stewart, and then ensured that he was later created Earl of Arran on the 26th April 1467. Naturally Robert Boyd's seizure of power excited the envy of his peers who conspired against him and struck in 1469. Robert fled south to England whilst Thomas Boyd, who was abroad in Denmark at the time wisely decided to stay put. His marriage to Mary Stewart was annulled and on the 22nd November 1469 he was attainted for treason thereby forfeiting his titles and estates.

Thereafter the whereabouts of Thomas becomes unclear and he is believed to have died circa 1473. Thomas and Mary did have a son named James Boyd, regarded as the 2nd Lord Boyd who did succeed in being restored to the family estates in 1482 but was killed during the course of a feud with a Hugh Montgomery of Eglinton in 1484.


There was a James Hamilton of Cadzow who was created a hereditary lord of parliament in 1445 and thus became the 1st Lord Hamilton. His first wife having died in 1468, sometime around the year 1474 he married the widow of the aforementioned Thomas Boyd, Earl of Arran. Their son James Hamilton, 2nd Lord Hamilton, became a privy councillor to James IV, and was responsible for negotiating the treaty of marriage between James and Margaret Tudor. After distinguishing himself in a tournament, he was created Earl of Arran on the 11th August 1503.

He was later placed in command of the Scottish fleet which sailed against England in 1513. The expedition proved a failure and by the time that James had returned to Scotland, the battle of Flodden had been fought and lost with king James IV and many of the nobility killed in the process. Initially he supported the regency of the Duke of Albany, then turned against the duke and succeeded in being chosen as President of the Council of Regency himself in 1517. He thereafter vied with the Earl of Angus and others for the control of the government and remained a prominent figure in Scottish politics until his death in 1529.

The 1st Earl was succeeded by his eldest son James Hamilton, 2nd Earl of Arran. His position as a grandson of James II meant that after the death of James V in 1542 he was appointed as Regent of Scotland to the young princess Mary in that year.

Originally a supporter of the reformation, in July 1543 the 2nd Earl negotiated a treaty with England and agreed to the marriage of Mary to Edward, son and heir of Henry VIII. In September of that same year however, he changed his mind, abandoned his Protestant faith in exchange for Roman Catholicism and joined the pro-French party, later formally repudiating the English alliance in 1544. This change of heart led to war with England and after defeat at the battle of Pinkie on the 10th of September 1547 the Scots were compelled to seek aid from France.

James therefore reluctantly agreed to the marriage of the young princess Mary to the dauphin Francis (scuppering his original plan of marrying Mary to his own son) but did received some compensation when on the 5th of February 1549 Henry II of France awarded him the title of Duke of Châtelherault. He was thereafter known under this title.

By 1550 the English had grown tired of the war and opted for peace and in 1554 he abdicated the regency in favour of Mary of Guise, only to later join with the Protestant Lords of the Congregation in opposition to her government and removed her from power in 1560. James Hamilton afterwards quarelled with Mary, Queen of Scots after her return to Scotland, and was thus declared a traitor in 1564. He fled to England, but was pardoned on condition that he remained in exile for five years. He returned to Scotland in 1569 as a supporter of Mary's cause (by which time Mary had been forced to abdicate in favour of her son James) was again declared a traitor in 1571 only to finally be pardoned in 1573, when he acknowledged king James' authority.

The 3rd Earl of Arran

The 2nd Earl had a total of five sons, as follows;

  • James Hamilton, who succeeded as the 3rd Earl and died in 1609
  • Gavin Hamilton, who died young sometime before August 1547
  • John Hamilton, who became the Marquess of Hamilton and died in 1604
  • David Hamilton who died without issue in 1611
  • Claud Hamilton, who became the Lord Paisley and died in 1622

The eldest son James, known as the 'Earl of Arran' since 1549 when his father was created Duke of Châtelherault, was a committed Protestant and one of the supporters of James Stewart (afterwards Earl of Moray), signed the treaty of Berwick in 1560, becoming one of the Lords of the Congregation. Appointed as a member of the council on the arrival of Mary Queen of Scots in 1561, he was nevertheless opposed to her rule on the grounds of her religion.

However this ceased to matter as very soon thereafter James Hamilton became quite mad and was locked up in Edinburgh Castle until 1566, by which time he had lost the power of speech and then released into the care of his mother. Thus when the 2nd Earl died in 1575, although James nominally succeeded his father as Earl of Arran, it was his younger brothers John and Claud who effectively lead the the family.

These two younger Hamiltons were perhaps the most devoted supporters of Mary, Queen of Scots who pursued her cause to the bitter end, only finally abandoning her at the Pacification of Perth in 1573. However their political enemies remained active and in 1579 they were formally accused of the murders of Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, and the Regent James Stewart, 1st Earl of Moray in 1570; the two brothers escaped to England but their lands and titles were seized by their opponents.

The Stewart interpolation

James Stewart was the son of Andrew Stewart, 2nd Lord Ochiltre, who after a brief military career on the continent returned to Scotland in 1579 and rapidly became a favorite of the young king James VI. In 1580 was appointed guardian of the insane 3rd Earl (since John and Claud had fled into exile in England) and in the following year he earned the king's gratitude for the assistance he provided in removing James Douglas, 4th Earl of Morton from power and was created Earl of Arran, thus dispossesing the scatterbrained James Hamilton.

Stewart initally vied with the Earl of Lennox for the control of the government but both were deposed after the raid of Ruthven on the 22nd of August 1582, with Stewart finding himself briefly imprisoned. Undeterred, in the following year James Stewart raised an army of 12,000 men, overthrew the government and placed himself in charge of the country. He turned out to be both tyranical and widely unpopular and his enemies soon combined against him.

Driven from power James Stewart was formally attainted in 1585. He eventually met his end in 1595 when a James Douglas caught up with him at Symontown in Lanarkshire, killed him and apparently carried his head in triumph on point of a spear through the country. He had three sons, the eldest of which became Lord Ochiltree.

The Hamiltons revived

Amongst those who returned to Scotland with the fall of James Stewart were John and Claud Hamilton, who made their peace with the king and were restored to their former positions. They also ensured that their older brother James Hamilton was restored to the earldom in 1586. Of course James Hamilton was still as mad as he was before, but he was the Earl of Arran and remained so until his death in March 1609.

His brother John Hamilton, who was the effective head of the house of Hamilton at the time, was created Marquess of Hamilton on the 17th April 1599. He was also created Earl of Arran, which meant that for a short time there were in fact two Hamilton Earls of Arran. (This explains why some accounts rather confusingly, and incorrectly, refer to John Hamilton as the 4th Earl of Arran.) In any event John Hamilton died on the 12th April 1604 whilst his elder brother James survived him until March 1609. Thus John's son James Hamilton, whilst becoming the 2nd Marquess Hamilton in 1604 had to wait another five years until he became the 4th Earl of Arran on the death of his uncle and namesake.

The fate of Arran

James Hamilton, 3rd Marquess of Hamilton and 5th Earl of Arran was created the Duke of Hamilton on the 12th April 1643 at which time he was additionally granted the title of Earl of Arran and Cambridge. The 1st Duke had no sons, only daughters and thus arranged for the grant of 1643 to include a special remainder which allowed the title of Duke of Hamilton together with its subsidiary titles to pass, firstly to his brother William and then, failing any male issue by William, back to his eldest daughter Anne.

Therefore on the death of James Hamilton in 1649 all the Hamilton titles passed to William;

  • the dukedom and it subsidiary titles by virtue of the special remainder
  • other Hamilton titles because William was the next male heir in line

William died without male heirs at which the Hamilton dukedom passed back to his niece Anne Hamilton again in accordance with the special remainder. He appears to be regarded in many quarters as Earl of Arran but on his death the title is regarded as becoming extinct. This is despite the fact that there were living male heirs of the 1st Hamilton Earl of Arran in the form of the offspring of Claud Hamilton a younger son of the 1st Earl, who held the title of Lord Paisley and whose descendents later obtained the title of Earl of Abercorn.

In normal circumstances the title should therefore have passed to the Earls, now Dukes of Abercorn but this did not happen. It would therefore appear that James Hamilton, 1st Duke of Hamilton had surrendered the title of Earl of Arran in 1643 in return for the grant of the title of Earl of Arran and Cambridge (a perfectly acceptable and common practice in the Peerage of Scotland) and thus the title was unavailable for subsequent inheritance. Which of course casts doubt on whether William Hamlilton the 2nd Duke ever held that title himself.

In any event it is the title of Earl of Arran and Cambridge created in the Peerage of Scotland in 1643 which has since been passed down the line of the Dukes of Hamilton and hence the current and 15th Duke of Hamilton is listed by The Complete Peerage as the 15th Earl of Arran and Cambridge.

In the Peerage of Scotland



Creation of 1503



Creation of 1503 restored

Creation of 1599

Creations of 1503 and 1599 united

Creation of 1643

As Earl of Arran and Cambridge; held as a subsidiary title by the Duke of Hamilton.


  • The 1911 Encyclopedia Brittanica entry for ARRAN, EARLS OF
  • 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)
  • Hamilton of Cadzow

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