Douglas, William, third Duke of Hamilton 1635-1694, eldest son of William, first marquis of Douglas [qv.], by his second wife, Lady Mary Gordon, was born 24 Dec. 1635. By patent dated 4 Aug. 1646 he was created Earl of Selkirk, Lord Daer and Shortcleuch, with remainder to his heirs male. By Cromwell's act of grace in 1654 he was fined 1,000l. He married, 29 April 1656, Anne, duchess of Hamilton, daughter of the first duke, who on the death of her uncle William, the second duke, succeeded him in the title in virtue of the patent of 1643. At the Restoration, on the petition of his wife, he was created Duke of Hamilton for life and sworn of the privy council. For the first few years after his marriage he devoted himself to the recovery of his wife's family from the heavy debts which they had incurred on the forfeiture of their estates by Cromwell, and it was not until he had retrieved his financial position that he entered on public life. His first appearance in parliament was in 1661, when he argued against the rescissory act, the object of which was to annul all the measures of all parliaments that had sat since 1633. He strongly supported Lauderdale in advising delay in the restoration of episcopacy, and later he took up a strong presbyterian attitude, being one of two members who supported the cause of that party when ministers who would not ask for re-presentation to their livings were ejected. In 1667, when a convention of estates was summoned for the purpose of voting money for the king's troops, Hamilton was appointed president by special letter from Charles II. Hitherto Hamilton and Lauderdale had been on the best of terms, but now, whether through the latter's jealousy or, as Burnet (Hist. of his own Time, i. 245, ed. 1724) asserts, on account of the Countess of Dysart's dislike for Hamilton, they became estranged for some years. In 1671 Burnet had completed his memoirs of the first two dukes of Hamilton from papers supplied him by the present duke and duchess, and Lauderdale hearing of it summoned him to stay with him, and made him a prime favourite, his object being, as Burnet declares (ib. i. 298), to engage him to put in a great deal relating to himself in the book. Burnet took advantage of his position to induce Lauderdale to make friendly overtures to Hamilton, with the result that an agreement was patched up. Its strength was put to the test in the following year, when strong pressure was put on Hamilton by the Scotch nobility to oppose Lauderdale's land tax of a whole year's assessment. The duke had promised Lauderdale not to oppose taxes in general, but did not consider that he was bound to support him in the present instance. At Lauderdale's request the Marquis of Atholl came to a conference with Hamilton, and promised him in return for his support of the tax the chief direction of all Scottish affairs. Hamilton at first stoutly refused, but in the end accepted the terms and withdrew his opposition. No steps were taken to carry out the arrangement that had been made, and when, in the parliament of November 1673, Lauderdale asked for supplies to carry on the Dutch war, Hamilton moved that the state of the nation should be first considered and its grievances redressed. His threats of royal displeasure proving ineffectual, Lauderdale adjourned parliament for a week, and caused certain monopolies to be repealed. The opposition, however, were not satisfied, and persisted in their resolve to address the king on the subject of national grievances. Lauderdale thereupon prorogued parliament for two months, and Hamilton and Lord Tweeddale were summoned to London by the king. They were received by Charles with the greatest affability, and dismissed with the assurance that all things should be left to the judgment of parliament. But on their arrival in Edinburgh parliament was immediately dissolved by a letter from the king. Plots for the assassination of Lauderdale and his principal supporters were set on foot, and only abandoned on the refusal of Hamilton to countenance any measures of the sort. He was now again invited to court with his friends, Charles having written a letter in which he promised to reconcile all differences. They refused to put their complaints in writing, fearing that any paper might be construed into treason. Their mission accordingly ended in nothing but an accession to Lauderdale's power, all the members of the deputation, with the exception of Hamilton, being ejected from the council. Hamilton incurred the same punishment two years later (1676) for opposing the sentence on Baillie of Jerviswoode in the matter of the arrest of Kirkton by Carstares. He was thus compelled to remain inactive for a time; but when, in the spring of 1678, Lauderdale's army of highlanders was let loose on the western counties, the duke, learning that a writ of law-burrows was to be issued against him, journeyed to London, together with fourteen other nobles and fifty country gentlemen, to lodge complaints against Lauderdale with the king. Because they had left Scotland in defiance of a proclamation, Charles refused to receive them. He at first sent the Duke of Monmouth to give assurances in his name, and afterwards they were heard by the cabinet council; but again refusing to put their grievances on paper without indemnity they were again sent empty away. A third journey to London in the next year met with no better result.
In the parliament which met in 1682, of which the Duke of York was commissioner, Hamilton was strongly urged by a large party to protest against the appointment as illegal, but he declined the office, as a majority could not be guaranteed. When the act for securing the succession of the Duke of York came on he was one of the first to speak in favour of it. His zeal was rewarded by the gift of the Garter, which had been Lauderdale's. On the accession of James II he was reinstated in the privy council, and became a commissioner of the treasury. In March 1686 he was appointed an extraordinary lord of session, and in October of the next year he was sworn of the English privy council. But though he was willing to take what favours might be offered him from James II, he was equally ready to join with the king's enemies. As early as 1674 he had incurred suspicion by some intercepted correspondence from the Prince of Orange, and he was among the first to declare himself on the side of William III. Immediately on the arrival of the prince Hamilton called a meeting of the principal Scots then in London, and under his direction an address was framed requesting William to take the crown and to summon a convention of estates. The convention met at Edinburgh 14 March 1689, and with Hamilton as president declared the throne vacant, and proclaimed William and Mary. On the convention being turned into a parliament Hamilton was appointed royal commissioner, and, if the anonymous biographer of his son may be credited, had a very extraordinary power vested in him by parliament of seizing and imprisoning all suspicious persons (Memoirs of the Life and Family of James, Duke of Hamilton, 1717, p. 95). In the next year's parliament he refused to be commissioner on the terms of agreeing to whatever Melville should propose, and retired into private life for a time. He was again commissioner in April 1693, and in December was reappointed an extraordinary lord of session. On 18 April 1694 he died at Holyrood, being then in his sixtieth year. He was buried at Hamilton, where there is a monument to his memory. His character is summed up by Burnet, who knew him intimately, as follows: He wanted all sort of polishing; he was rough and sullen, but candid and sincere. His temper was boisterous, neither fit to submit nor to govern. He was mutinous when out of power, and imperious in it. He wrote well, but spoke ill, for his judgment when calm was better than his imagination. He made himself a great master of the laws, of the history, and of the families of Scotland, and seemed always to have a regard to justice and the good of his country. But a narrow and selfish temper brought such an habitual meanness on him that he was not capable of designing or undertaking great things (History, i. 103). Moray remarked to Lauderdale on Hamilton's practice of excessive drinking (Lauderdale Papers (Camd. Soc.), ii. 81-2).
By his duchess, Anne, he was father of seven sons and three daughters. James, the eldest son [qv.], was created Duke of Hamilton in 1698 at his mother's request; three of the others were successively earls of Selkirk; a fourth was created Earl of Orkney. The Duchess of Hamilton survived her husband twenty-two years, dying in 1716 at the age of eighty. She is described by Burnet (ib. i. 276) as of great piety and great parts. She possessed much influence with the presbyterian party, who frequently sought her counsel, though she always declined to identify herself with them, professing that she had no settled opinion as to forms of government, and never entered into controversy. In her later years she exerted herself strenuously against the union of the kingdoms.
Burnet's Hist. of his own Time, as cited
also i. 118, 132, 154, 239, 338, 362, 369, 375, 400, 408, 469, 513, 805, ii. 21, 62, 120
Douglas and Wood's Peerage of Scotland, i. 707
Lauderdale Papers, ed. O. Airy (Camd. Soc.)
Fraser's Douglas Book, ii. 430
Luttrell's Diary, i. 223, 415, 514, iii. 62, ed. 1857
see also Laing's and Burton's Histories of Scotland.
Contributor: A. V. [Alsager Vian]