It is believed that this family descends from a Norman, Walter Fitz Gilbert of Hambledon, who appears in a charter to the Monastery of Paisley around 1294. In Old English Hamel Dun means bare hill and as a place name is found in Hampshire, Surrey and Dorset. His lands appear to have been in Renfrewshire, but for his belated support of Robert the Bruce he was granted lands in the Lothians and Lanarkshire including the lands of Cadzow, later to become Hamilton town.
Walter’s son, David, fought for David II in 1346 at the Battle of Neville’s Cross, where he was captured and held prisoner until a substantial ransom was paid. James, first Lord Hamilton, married Princess Mary, daughter of James III, in 1474. The issue of this marriage were clearly in line of succession to the throne, and Princess Mary’s son was created Earl of Arran. The family extended the simple Castle of Brodick on the island of Arran, and in the nineteenth century the chiefs developed it into a splendid stately home. The second Earl of Arran was the heir to the throne of both James IV and Mary, Queen of Scots. He was made Regent of Scotland while the queen was a child and to secure his claim to the throne he proposed to marry his son to her. In the end the match did not take place, and Mary married the heir to the French throne. However, Arran had figured prominently in the marriage negotiations with France and, as a reward, he was created Duke of Chatelherault in the French peerage in 1548. When Mary’s marriage to the Dauphin of France ended with his death, the Hamilton hopes of a royal match were again rekindled. He was sent into exile for five years in 1561 when he openly opposed Mary’s marriage to Lord Darnley, but on his return he tried to save the ill-fated queen, who stayed at Cadzow after her escape from Lochleven.
The fourth Earl of Arran and third Duke of Chatelherault became Chancellor of Scotland and keeper of both the strategic Castles of Edinburgh and Stirling. In 1599 he was advanced to the rank of Marquess. His brother, Claud, was created Lord Paisley in 1587, and later Lord Abercorn. This branch of the family also prospered, Abercorn being translated into an earldom and ultimately a dukedom in 1868. The Dukes of Abercorn now have their seat in Ulster in the splendid house of Baronscourt.
The third Marquess was a staunch supporter of Charles I, who rewarded him in 1643 with a Scottish dukedom, making Hamilton the premier peer of Scotland. Hamilton led an army into England after the Scots had handed Charles over to Parliament, but strategic errors and the superiority of the English army resulted in his defeat at Preston in 1648. He was beheaded at Whitehall in 1649 shortly before the king. His brother, the second Duke, was a brave but less than competent soldier who was killed at the Battle of Worcester
The title passed to Anne, the daughter of the first Duke. A woman of great intellect and determination, she inherited the title and estates heavily burdened by debts, a situation made worse by a legal dispute with her kinsman, the Earl of Abercorn, who challenged her right to succeed. She had married William Douglas, Earl of Selkirk, and set out to re-establish the family seat, laying the found- ations for the building of a great palace. Her son, the fourth Duke, must have inherited some of the fire and energy of his mother, as he met his death in a duel in London in 1712. The affair was something of a scandal, as the parties’ seconds also joined in, and after Hamilton killed his opponent, Lord Mohun, one McCartney promptly killed the duke. The fifth and sixth Dukes extended the palace and built the splendid hunting lodge named Chatelherault, now part of a public park.
Alexander, the tenth Duke, completed the enlargement of Hamilton Palace and adorned it with spectacular works of art collected from all over the world. He was nicknamed ‘Il Magnifico’ and lived in truly regal style. He crowned his royal ambitions by marrying his son, William, to Princess Marie of Baden, a cousin of Napoleon III. The fourteenth Duke inherited his family’s sense of adventure and in 1933 piloted the first aeroplane to fly over Everest. The fifteenth Duke is an engineer, a former RAF test pilot and an author. Hamilton Palace was demolished because of mining subsidence and the seat is now Lennoxlove, near Haddington.