William Hamilton, Earl of Lanark, 2nd Duke of Hamilton, 1616-51

Scottish Royalist and a leading proponent of the Engagement, he died of wounds sustained fighting for Charles II at the battle of Worcester.

Portrait of the 2nd Duke of HamiltonThe younger brother of James, third Marquis and later first Duke of Hamilton, William was born in December 1616 at Hamilton in Lanarkshire. James Hamilton was ten years older than William and took responsibility for his education and career after the death of their father in 1625.

William attended the University of Glasgow and spent several years travelling abroad before joining his brother at the court of King Charles I in London. Lacking a secure fortune of his own, he married the heiress Elizabeth Maxwell in 1638. He was created Earl of Lanark in March 1639. Having found favour with Queen Henrietta Maria, Lanark was appointed secretary of state for Scotland and became a member of the King's privy council in 1640.

Lanark accompanied King Charles on his last visit to Scotland in 1641. Closely associated with his brother Hamilton's attempt to forge an alliance between the King and the Marquis of Argyll, Lanark was forced to flee from Edinburgh in October 1641 upon the discovery of a muddled plot against them perpetrated by hot-headed Royalists, known as "The Incident".

From late 1642, Hamilton and Lanark worked to prevent Scotland's intervention in the English Civil War on the side of Parliament. The brothers left Scotland when the Solemn League and Covenant was agreed in August 1643. King Charles ordered their arrest for failing to prevent the alliance. Hamilton was imprisoned, but Lanark escaped and made his way back to Edinburgh. After repenting his past actions and taking the Covenant in April 1644, he was welcomed back into the Scottish government as secretary of state. He became an energetic member of the Covenanter administration and raised troops against the Marquis of Montrose in August 1645.

Reconciled with King Charles after his defeat in the First Civil War, Lanark was among those who urged the King to accept the Newcastle Propositions as the basis for a peace settlement. He also persuaded his brother the Duke of Hamilton to resume political activity after his release from imprisonment. Lanark played a leading role in negotiating the Engagement between King Charles and the Scots, which was signed in December 1647.

The Engagement split the Covenanter movement because the King was not compelled to take the Covenant himself or to impose it on his subjects, with the result that it was rejected by the Kirk. After a considerable delay, the Duke of Hamilton led the Engager army into England in July 1648, only to be decisively defeated by Oliver Cromwell at the battle of Preston the following month.

After his brother's defeat, Lanark attempted to keep the Engager régime in power in Scotland. He led the resistance to the Marquis of Argyll and the Whiggamores and succeeded in capturing Stirling in September 1648. However, when Cromwell's army marched into Scotland, Lanark was obliged to agree terms of surrender at the Treaty of Stirling on 27 September 1648.

The Scottish Parliament passed the Act of Classes in January 1649 which excluded all former Engagers from public office. Lanark fled to the Netherlands where he attended the court-in-exile of Charles II. He became the second Duke of Hamilton and third Earl of Cambridge after the execution of his brother at London in March 1649.

Hamilton encouraged Charles II's alliance with the Covenanters against the English Commonwealth that was sealed with the Treaty of Breda in May 1650. Although Hamilton accompanied Charles to Scotland, the Marquis of Argyll insisted that, as a former Engager proscribed by the Act of Classes, he should be banished to the island of Arran off the west coast of Scotland. He remained there until Argyll's influence over Charles was weakened following the defeat of the Covenanters at the battle of Dunbar in September 1650. After making a public repentance, Hamilton rejoined Charles at the end of January 1651. He raised a regiment of horse from his Scottish estates and accompanied Charles and the Scots-Royalist army that invaded England in August 1651.

At the battle of Worcester on 3 September, Hamilton courageously led an attack on the Roundhead position at Perry Wood. Although initially successful, the attack was beaten back and Hamilton was wounded by a musket ball that shattered his leg. He died of his wounds on 12 September, aged 34, and was buried in Worcester Cathedral.


John J. Scally, William, second duke of Hamilton, Oxford DNB, 2004

David Stevenson, The Scottish Revolution 1637-44 1973)

David Stevenson, Revolution & Counter-Revolution in Scotland 1644-51 (Newton Abbott 1977)