The next two successors to the Dukedom of Hamilton lived (relatively) quiet lives, although both died young. James, 5th Duke, succeeded his father in 1712; he was one of the London Foundling Hospital’s first governors. Unfortunately, he was also secretly made a Knight of the Garter and a Knight of the Thistle by the Jacobite ‘Old Pretender’ in 1723. Although viewed with suspicion by the British government, James significantly improved the Hamilton properties and estates with the help of the leading Scottish architect William Adam. Their main achievement was the hunting lodge at Chatelherault, which has now been carefully restored and is open to the public. He died aged 40, from jaundice and palsy.
His son, also James, was by contrast known for his womanising. He met society beauty Elizabeth Gunning on Valentine’s Day 1752 and demanded to marry her that same night! When the local parson refused, James and Elizabeth were secretly married at Mayfair House. Elizabeth’s wedding band was a curtain ring stripped from a bed.
The 6th duke died after catching a cold when out hunting only six years later.
James-George, their eldest son, succeeded as heir apparent when he was two years old. It was a short-lived reign; he died in 1769, aged 14. Official reports note he died of a fever or tuberculosis but society publication Dodley’s Annual Register claimed, ‘his growing so exceedingly fast is said to have been the cause of death.’ Keen gossips speculated this was because of a medical condition.
Douglas was James-George’s younger brother. His mother, nervous after losing both her husband and elder son, was keen to ensure the next heir survived. Douglas was shipped to Europe for his constitution, undertaking a Grand Tour in 1772. He travelled with Dr John Moore and his son, later to become Moore of Corunna.
Returning four years later, Douglas was a handsome, incurable romantic and risked the wrath of his family by marrying Elizabeth Anne Burrell, the fourth daughter of a barrister. Theirs was a love match which sadly descended into misery. Douglas was a paramour, with many mistresses and two illegitimate children. Elizabeth, on the other hand, never bore an heir. They divorced by Act of Parliament in 1794.
It’s been suggested that the Scottish reel ‘Hamilton House’ was named for the 8th duke and his duchess. The changes of partner reflected their real-life infidelities.
When Douglas died in 1799, the dukedom passed to his uncle, Archibald. Ever the rogue though, Douglas left the contents of Hamilton Palace itself to his illegitimate daughter with actress Harriet Pye Bennett. Archibald was forced to buy them back, or risk having nowhere to sit!
Unfortunately, Archibald suffered badly from gout and depression and soon gave up responsibility for the Hamiltons’ Scottish estates. He appointed his elder son Alexander as his ‘Commissioner’ and retired to his old home near Lancaster.
As well as serving as a Member of Parliament, Archibald was also a prominent figure in the world of Thoroughbred horse racing. Unlike his four predecessors, he attained a great age.
James, 5th Duke of Hamilton. Born 1703, died 1743.
James, 6th Duke of Hamilton. Born 1724, died 1758.
James-George, 7th Duke of Hamilton. Born 1755, died 1769.