James Hamilton, the 1st Duke of Hamilton, died on the 9th of March, 1649.
James Hamilton seems to have been a collector of titles, who attempted to become an important politician and statesman during the difficult reign of Charles I. Hamilton also became, not uncommonly for his time, a military leader, but he was a rather incompetent royalist soldier, when all is said and done. Ultimately, he shared the fate of his King, for whom he lost his heid.
Hamilton succeeded to his father’s titles on the latter’s death in 1625 and proceeded to amass a great deal of titles for himself. During his life he became, at various times:
1st Duke of Hamilton; stMarquess of Clydesdale; 5thEarl of Arran; 2ndEarl of Cambridge; 2ndLord Aberbrothwick; 2ndBaron of Innerdale; rdMarquess of Hamilton; and 6th Lord of Hamilton. Not a bad wee collection of titles and incomes, don’t you think. In addition to all that, as the descendant and representative of James Hamilton, 1st Earl of Arran, he was in reasonably well positioned in line as an heir to the throne, after the descendants of James VI & I.
James Hamilton was born on the 19th of June, 1606, and went on to gain his senior education from Exeter College at Oxford University, where he matriculated on the 14th of December, 1621. That was the year after he married the seven years old May Fielding, daughter of Lord Fielding, later the 1st Earl of Denbigh. Poor May, she had no say, on whom she wed, upon that day! Later on, Hamilton became a favourite of his king, Charles I, who made him Master of the Horse and Gentleman of the Bedchamber. That same year of 1628, Hamilton was appointed a Privy Councillor in Scotland.
Hamilton's first claim to fame (infamy, if you prefer) came during the Thirty Years’ War. From 1631 to 1634, Hamilton, as General, commanded a force of six or seven thousand men sent to assist the King of Sweden, Gustavus Adolphus, recover the Palatinate in Germany. General Hamilton's first task was to guard the fortresses on the Oder, which he managed without too much fuss while Gustavus went off to fight Tilly at Breitenfeld. Hamilton wasn't trusted with any real fighting and afterwards, he was sent to occupy Magdeburg, out of the way of trouble. Ultimately, Hamilton's expedition ended in disaster as his army was destroyed by disease and starvation, and he returned to England in September, 1634. Nope, he didn't shape up as a very good soldier, but you could say he was unlucky.
Back in England, Hamilton renewed his acquaintance with Charles I's and became the King's principal adviser on Scottish affairs, which made him, in theory, one of Scotland's most powerful politicians. In May 1638, after the Covenanters’ revolt against the English prayer book, Hamilton was appointed Commissioner to the Kirk of Scotland, and told to appease the discontents. Not being as polite as you might expect for a noble, Commissioner Hamilton's method of appeasement was to describe his fellow Scots, the Covenanters, as being "possessed by the devil". An interesting viewpoint! Just imagine two religious ideals, each believing in its own infallibility and the other’s imperfection – no modern parallels there, then! In any event, Hamilton failed to reconcile his countrymen to the new prayer book and ended up leading a force against them in the First Bishop's War.
During his unfortunate career, Hamilton had often been suspected of double dealing against the King's cause, and as an heir to the Scottish throne, of intentionally playing into the hands of the Covenanters. The charge of seeking to gain the crown for himself always clung to him and his hopeless management of the King's affairs in Scotland gave credence to the accusation. However, as the Encyclopedia Britannica defined his character as “thoroughly weak and egotistical” – “neither loyal nor patriotic” – and “devoid of intellectual or moral strength,” you really shouldn’t credit the vacillating Hamilton with any ability for successful intrigue. In the prevailing crises, Hamilton’s lack of principle, firmness and resolution brought irretrievable ruin upon the royal cause of King Charles I.
Nevertheless, a mere eight months after being created 1st Duke of Hamilton, he was imprisoned, on the King's authority, from December, 1643, to April, 1646, when he was freed by parliamentary troops, as a result of an obscure plot known as 'the Incident'. It seems that there had been a plot, which was devised to 'uncover' a plot against the King and that Hamilton, his brother, William, and the Duke of Argyll, were implicated. The instigator of the plot theory was, apparently, James Graham, the 5th Earl of Montrose, who wasn't exactly a friend of Argyll. The incompetent Hamilton may well have been falsely accused of actual treachery, but Argyll's innocence of any plotting isn't so easy to assume. Funnily enough, at separate times during this extended period of wars, Argyll and Montrose were each prisoners in Edinburgh Castle – a bizarre tête-à-tête or exchange of roles.
In 1648, after the seizure of the King the previous year, the Duke of Hamilton secured Scottish Parliament ratification of the agreement known as 'the Engagement' between Charles I and the Scots, and then led a large Scottish army into England in support of his monarch. Typically, Hamilton showed complete incompetence in command and was easily kept in check by Lambert's forces, although Hamilton's 24,000 Scots considerably outnumbered the enemy’s 9,000 men. Ultimately, Hamilton was defeated by Cromwell’s Parliamentarians during the so-called Battle of Preston between the 17th and 19th of August, 1648.
After Preston, Hamilton fought and was captured in the surrender at Uttoxeter on the 25th of August. The Duke was tried by the same court that condemned Charles, his King. Found guilty of treason for invading England, where he was Earl of Cambridge, the Duke was condemned to death, which sentence was passed on the 6th of March, 1649. James Hamilton was beheaded in London on the 9th of March, 1649. The Duke of Hamilton was buried in Hamilton, Scotland.
The photograph is by Sam Perkins (check him out on Facebook at Sam Perkins Photography) and was taken near Oban.