The House of Hamilton is a Scottish family who historically held broad territories throughout central and southern Scotland, particularly Ayrshire, Lanarkshire and the Lothians. The Hamiltons were a lowland family, and were never organised as a clan in the Highland, Gaelic sense. However, modern usage tends to ascribe clan status to all Scottish families.

The family is descended from Walter fitz Gilbert of Cadzow, an Anglo-Norman comrade of Robert the Bruce, and rose in power to be the leading noble family in Scotland, second only to the royal House of Stewart, to whom they were closely related. Members of the family have held a number of titles in the peerages of both Scotland and Great Britain, the principal title being Duke of Hamilton, the Duke himself being the senior representative of the family.



Origins of the House

“Chief among the legends still clinging to this important family is that which gives a descent from the House of Beaumont, a branch of which is stated to have held the manor of Hamilton, Leicestershire; and it is argued that the three cinquefoils of the Hamilton shield bear some resemblance to the single cinquefoils of the Beaumonts. In face of this it has been recently shown that the single cinquefoil was also borne by the Umfravilles of Northumberland, who appear to have owned a place called Hamilton in that county. It May be pointed out that Simon de Montfort, the great earl of Leicester, in whose veins flowed the blood of the Beaumonts, obtained about 1245 the wardship of Gilbert de Umfraville, second earl of Angus, and it is conceivable that this name Gilbert may somehow be responsible for the legend of the Beaumont descent seeing ‘that the first, authentic ancestor of the Hamilton-, is one Walter FitzGilbert. He first appears in 1294-1295 as one of the witnesses to a charter by James, the high steward of Scotland, to the monks of Paisley; and in 1296 his name appears in the Homage Roll as Walter FitzGilbert of “Hameldone.” Who this Gilbert of “Hameldone” may have been is uncertain.”

This new feudal family, house, like a number of other immigrants to Scotland, started to imitate somewhat the traditional local tribal structure. The chief’s extended family, and some allies and dependents, became a “clan” which organized itself to defend and protect its people and property against strangers and outsiders. It is likely that most or all landed property was regarded as possession of the extended family, not any individual.

It is highly probable that the “clan”, in common with a number of other Scots names, was not limited to agnatic descendants of someone (”founder” or “ancestor”), but encompassed an extended family, including those cognatic lineages who subscribe to “clan” leadership. It is also possible that some families (allies, dependents) were “adopted” into the “clan”, without a genealogical relationship with it originally. Such of course became usually within a couple of generations relatives, as marriages (and children issuing from such having blood of both) took care of that.

The Hamiltons’ new lands lay at the interface between the Britons of Strathclyde, (a recently defunct Brythonic Kingdom), the Kingdom of Scotland (predominantly Gaelic) , as well as the Germanic lands of Northumbria.

In the early period, the chieftaincy of the FitzGilberts probably alternated between septs. However, seemingly in late 15th century, one primogeniture line appears to have consolidated its position of chiefs of the Hamilton to the extent that James Hamilton, 1st Lord Hamilton married a daughter of King James II, Princess Mary Stewart. From that lineage, the heads of the House of Hamilton descend.

These now patrician Hamiltons appear to descend in male line from a Jutish-Anglo-Saxon stock. Their common ancestor (group B in source material) started an agnatic line encompassing most of today noble families Hamilton.

Then there are a clear bunch of “plebeian” Hamiltons (groups A and some others) who clearly are not male-line descendants of the ancestor of the patrician Hamiltons, nor anyone in male line with that within the last millennium or two,but whose origin is from quite same areas. They are obviously descendants of Jutish-Aglo-Saxon allies, friends, dependents and cognatic relatives of the leader dynasty.

As an evidence of “the other half” of the origin of the clan Hamilton coming from Gaelic stock, there are also a number of (mostly plebeian) families descending in male line from several ancestors who obviously were Celtic in first millennium CA (groups E to J and M to O). That branch of Clan Hamilton to which the today Swedish barons and counts Hamilton belong, is one of such.

The DNA studies reported by Hamilton National Genealogical Society, Inc. (HNGS) support the understanding that medieval Scottish clan was not a construct of people with agnatic line between each others, but a societal phenomenon of forming an extended family, and a protection caucus, between families who only partially were originally related to each others through anything else than defence alliance.

See also: Y-DNA results of variety of families bearing Hamilton surname



Wars of Scottish Independence

During the Wars of Scottish Independence the Hamiltons initially supported the English and Fitz Gilbert Hamilton was governor of Bothwell Castle on behalf of the English. However he later came across to Robert the Bruce’s side and was rewarded with a portion of land which had been confiscated from the Clan Comyn/Cumming. Among his new property was the Barony and lands of Cadzow which in time would become the town of Hamilton.

In 1346 the Hamiltons fought for King David II of Scotland at the Battle of Neville’s Cross. Sir David Hamilton was captured and not released until a large ransom was paid.



15th Century

In the 15th century the Hamiltons gained more royal support when in 1474 James the 1st Lord Hamilton married Princess Mary, the daughter of King James II of Scotland. Their son was made the Earl of Arran and stood next in line for the throne.



16th Century & Anglo-Scottish Wars

During the 16th century the Hamiltons made their home on the Island of Arran in 1503 and for most of that century a Hamilton was close to inheriting the Crown. The 2nd Earl of Arran was heir to the throne both of King James IV of Scotland and Mary Queen of Scots. As Mary’s regent he enjoyed her wealth and was bribed into allegiance with both England and France.

In 1545 the Earl led his men into battle at the Battle of Ancrum Moor where they helped to defeat the English during the Anglo-Scottish Wars.He died

Arran’s eldest son James, was a commander in the Scots Royal Guards of François II of France. A possible suitor of the widowed Mary, he eventually lost his mind at the age of 26 and was confined for the remaining 47 years of his life.

Arran’s third son John was made Marquess of Hamilton in 1599 and was keeper of Edinburgh and Stirling Castles. His son James succeeded in 1604 to his father’s titles, and in 1609 to his uncle’s.

Previously, in 1587 Arrans brother Claud had been made first Lord Paisley. Paisley had fought at the Battle of Langside, but descended in later years into insanity. His son James had been created Baron Abercorn in 1603, and in 1606 Earl of Abercorn, Lord Paisley, Hamilton, Mountcashell and Kilpatrick for his assistance to King James VI at the Union of the Crowns. Abercorn predeceased his father, and his son James, Master of Abercorn succeeded to his fathers titles in 1618. He had already been made Baron Hamilton of Strabane in the Peerage of Ireland in 1617. Claud, Lord Paisley died in or around 1621 and his grandson inherited his Lordship of Parliament. The Irish title came with significant property in Co. Tyrone, Ulster, and this branch of the family is now represented by James Hamilton, 5th Duke of Abercorn. The Abercorns although a junior branch of the family are the heirs male to the chieftancy.



Civil War

The Hamiltons under the third Marquess of Arran supported King Charles I during the Civil War. The Marquess was made Duke of Hamilton in 1643. He was beheaded with his King in London in 1649. William Hamilton the second Duke was killed at the Battle of Worcester in 1651.



Seat of the Chief

Hamilton Palace , Hamilton, South Lanarkshire had been the Family’s Seat from 1695, built by Duchess Anne, and her husband William Douglas, 3rd Duke of Hamilton. It had the distinction of being the largest non-royal residence in Europe, reaching its greatest extent under the 10th and the 11th Dukes in the mid nineteenth century.

However, excessive subsidence of the palace, (by the families own mines!) caused its condemnation and demolition in 1921. The 13th Duke then moved to Dungavel House, near Strathaven.

It was here that deputy-führer Rudolf Hess was aiming for during his doomed peace mission, to see the Douglas, 14th Duke of Hamilton in 1941.

In 1947, Dungavel was sold to the coal board, and then on to the government, who turned it into an open prison. Currently, it is the site of a controversial holding centre for asylum-seekers.

The family moved to Lennoxlove House in East Lothian, where today it remains the residence of the Angus Alan Douglas-Hamilton, the 15th Duke.



Other Properties

      Brodick Castle, Brodick, Isle of Arran

      Cadzow Castle, Hamilton, Lanarkshire

      Chelsea Place, London

      Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh

      Kinneil Castle, Bo’ness, West Lothian

      Lochranza Castle, Lochranza, Isle of Arran

Redhouse Tower, Longniddry, East Lothian

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