amiltons were the most important of the Lowland clans. At one time they were serious rivals to the Stuarts. Though they did not lead the same lifestyle as the Highland clans, their hereditary chiefship, network of cadet houses with dependents, and their distinctive tartan make it clear they were truly a Scottish Clan.
Since early in the 14th century, the Hamilton family has played a prominent part in Scottish history. It was a Hamilton who fought alongside Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn: a Hamilton who was heir to the Scottish throne in the 16th century and who arranged the marriage between Mary Queen of Scots and the Dauphin of France; and it was a Hamilton that Hess tried to contact by parachuting into Scotland during World War II.
The current Hamilton 'chief', Angus Douglas Hamilton, 15th Duke of Hamilton, is still the Premier Duke of Scotland, the Hereditary Keeper of the Palace of Holyroodhouseand a member of the Royal Company of Archers.
The first record of the family in Scotland was Sir Walter Fitz-Gilbert of Hambeldon, a Norman that possessed properties in Renfrewshire. This first record is his name as a witness on a charter, granting the monastery of Paisley the privilege of herring fishing in the Clyde. He was Governor of Bothwell Castlefor the English during the early part of the Scottish War of Independence, but later joined Robert the Bruce and fought at his side at Bannockburn. For this support he was awarded forfeited Comyn lands by Bruce, including the properties of Cadzow in the Lothians that were renamed Hamilton. It was here that he was to build Cadzow Castle and where eventually was to be built the magnificent Hamilton Palace - the grandest and most notable non-royal residence in all of Scotland. It was Walter's son David, by some accounts, that first spelled his name in the modern form. Other accounts credit his grandsons as the first to adopt the modern spelling.
Sir Walter's son, Sir David, was captured by the English at the Battle of Neville's Cross (also called the Battle of Durham), in company with his namesake, David II, son of Bruce. Like the King, Hamilton was not released until a heavy ransom had been paid. An even closer association with the royal house began in about 1474 when James, 1st Lord Hamilton, married Princess Mary, daughter of James II, King of Scots. Their son, James, the 2nd Lord Hamilton, who inherited the title in 1479, was a nobleman of great accomplishment. He took part in a naval expedition against the Swedes in 1502 and at a tournament held in 1508 he was the champion archer on foot or horse in all of Scotland.
In 1503, the 2nd Lord Hamilton was created Earl of Arran, the Gaelic-speaking island in the Forth of Clyde, on which the family then made their home at Brodick Castle. Their son, the 2nd Earl, also called James, was the heir to the Scottish throne after King James IV and was named Regent, acting for Mary, Queen of Scots,during her minority. After completing arrangements for the marriage of Mary to the Dauphin, he was rewarded by the French King, Henry II, with the grant of the French dukedom of Chatelherault. This gave the Duke great political power, as he was only the second person in Scotland, outside of a King's son, to have a dukedom conferred on him.
In 1561, after the Dauphin's death (by then Francis II), the 2nd Earl rebelled against the Queen's marriage to Darnley, but was pardoned on condition of being exiled for five years. Upon his return, he changed sides again and remained close to Mary. After her escape from Loch Leven she stayed at Cadzow Castle for some time in hiding along with, so it is said, the crown jewels.
The 2nd Earl of Arran had two brothers, bastard sons of the 1st Earl. One, John Hamilton (c1511-1571) became Archbishop of St. Andrews. He tried to reform the church, and issued a catechism in English. He baptized Queen Mary's son, the future King James VI, in 1566 and remained loyal to the Queen after her downfall. But when her brother, the Regent Moray was assassinated by a Hamilton, the party of Lennox hanged the Archbishop in his pontifical robes from a common gibbet.
The royal connection continued to augment the family's fortune with other noticeable merit. The 3rd Earl of Arran became the 1st Marquess of Hamilton and the 3rd Marquess became the 1st Duke of Hamilton. James, the 3rd Marquess, was not cut out for politics. However, he was very close to Charles I, who appointed him to several positions. Even though his stupidity and arrogance caused him to fail, Charles still appointed him as the 1st Duke of Hamilton in 1643. This dukedom is the oldest in Scotland and the third oldest in the Union. His inept manner, finally aroused the King's suspicions and James was imprisoned. Upon his release, James found that the King had been captured by Cromwell and immediately raised a Scottish army to rescue Charles I. The Duke surrendered the army to Cromwell at Prestonin 1648 and in 1649, one month after his King, he was beheaded at Whitehall. The 2nd Duke was the exact opposite of James. He was courageous, honest and highly intelligent. A brilliant career was cut short when he was killed at the Battle of Worcester at the age of 34.
The line continued with great and not so great Dukes. The 4th Duke was made the Duke of Brandon by Queen Anne in 1711, an additional title that all Dukes have carried to this day. It was the 5th Duke that built the famed hunting lodge called Chatelherault, on the grounds of Hamilton Palace. It was the 10th Duke, Alexander, that turned Hamilton Palace into the most spectacular residence, filling it with priceless art and furniture. Hamilton Palace was torn down in the 1920's and the furnishings moved to the family residence of Lennoxlove. He was Ambassador to Czarist Russia and his great hero was Napoleon Bonaparte. His greatest triumph was the marriage of his son William, the 11th Duke, to Princess Marie of Baden, daughter of a cousin of Napoleon III.He also had the grandioseHamilton Mausoleum built and reinterred the Hamilton ancestors there.
As primarily a lowland family, the Hamiltons do not have associated family names, or 'septs' as they are called by some, as a number of the Highland Clans do, Therefore, only persons named Hamilton, or descendents thereof, are considered to be a part of the Hamilton clan family. However, there are a number of common spelling derivations of the name Hamilton that are accepted.