HAMILTON, Lord Archibald (1770-1827), of Chapel Street, Mdx.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press



1802 - 4 Sept. 1827

Family and Education

b. 6 Mar. 1770, 2nd s. of Lord Archibald Hamilton† (from 1799 9th duke of Hamilton [S] and 6th duke of Brandon [GB], who d. 1819) and Lady Harriet Stewart, da. of Alexander, 6th earl of Galloway [S]. educ. Harrow 1776; ?Eton 1785; Christ Church, Oxf. 1788; L. Inn 1790, called 1799. unm. 1 illegit s. d. 4 Sept. 1827.1

Offices Held

Col. Lanark militia 1800-2; rect. Glasgow Univ. 1811-12.


Hamilton, whose elder brother Alexander succeeded their father as 10th duke of Hamilton in December 1819, was one of the handful of Scottish Foxite Members who had defied the Tory hegemony created by Henry Dundas†. He did not, however, belong to the set of Edinburgh Whigs dominated by Henry Cockburn and Francis Jeffrey*, though he maintained communications with them. He had been raised and educated in England, and London was his habitual milieu.2 The ‘miracle’ of his unexpected success in securing by 149-144 the appointment of a select committee, which he chaired, to investigate the anachronistic municipal government of the Scottish royal burghs, 6 May 1819, had crowned his two-year campaign as the parliamentary spokesman for their reform; and at the Glasgow Fox birthday dinner, 24 Jan. 1820, one of the toasts was to ‘Lord Archibald Hamilton and the speedy reform of the Scottish burghs’.3 At the general election in March he was returned for Lanarkshire, unopposed after the withdrawal of a rival, for the sixth consecutive time. Portraying himself as the representative not merely of the freeholders but of the unfranchised inhabitants, he said he would ‘endeavour to reconcile the interests and the feelings of the higher and of the other classes of society, by supporting the claims of the former to a just authority, and of the latter to their constitutional rights’.4

In the House he continued to vote with his Whig friends on most major issues, though he was not a thick and thin attender in this period and was not conspicuous in the campaign for economy and retrenchment. On the address, 28 Apr. 1820, he urged on the Liverpool ministry ‘the necessity of attending to the distress’ of western Scotland, where ‘many persons ... were in such an absolute state of destitution that they looked on their existence as a burden which they could scarcely support’. He suggested subsidized emigration to save unemployed handloom weavers from catastrophe and restore tranquillity to the Glasgow area. On 4 May he had the royal burghs select committee reappointed: 12 of its 21 members survived from 1819, but the newcomers were predominantly ministerialists. He presented petitions for reform, 13, 30 June, and brought up the report, which recommended change, 14 July.5 His motion of 15 May condemning the appointment of Sir Patrick Murray† as an additional Scottish baron of exchequer, in defiance of the judicial commissioners’ recommendation of abolition, was only beaten by 189-177; but ‘some mismanagement afterwards’ between him, Brougham and the opposition leader Tierney rather ruined the effect of this ‘success’.6 Ministers announced that a new vacancy would not be filled, 24 June, but on 14 July Hamilton was obliged to correct the impression given in a Morning Chronicle report that he had accused them of appointing Murray in order to remove him as an ‘inconvenient’ candidate for Perthshire.7 He secured a return of the current freeholders’ rolls of the 33 Scottish counties with a view to basing a reform motion on them, 25 May, when he indicated that he would allow existing freeholders to continue voting but would advocate extension of the franchise to men ‘possessed of considerable property’. His sister Lady Anne Hamilton was a lady-in-waiting to Queen Caroline and rode in her carriage on her entry to London with Alderman Matthew Wood* on 6 June.8 That day in the House Hamilton said that ministers had ‘long prosecuted her with ignominy and insult’ and ‘now brought forward what was tantamount to a charge ... against her’. He opposed and was a minority teller against Wilberforce’s compromise resolution, 22 June, when his amendment for insertion of her name in the liturgy was crushed by 391-124. He got peevish with the leader of the House Lord Castlereagh for refusing to disclose how government intended to provide for Caroline, 3 July. The chancellor of the exchequer Vansittart suggested that they were willing to offer a temporary allowance of 6d. per bushel on malt made from bigg, 5 July, but Hamilton rejected this as inadequate and went ahead with his motion condemning the recent equalization of the Scottish with the English duties, which was defeated by 53-43. He opposed the aliens bill, 7 July, and on the 25th denied that his criticism of ministers’ conduct towards Caroline was done ‘with a view of inflaming anyone either in or out of doors’. On 17 Aug. Thomas Creevey* reported how, in the Lords’ examination of Caroline, ‘Lady Anne Hamilton waits behind the queen, and ... for effect and delicacy’s sake, she leans on her brother Archy’s arm, though she is full six feet high, and bears a striking resemblance to one of Lord Derby’s great red deer’. Lady Granville commented that Hamilton, who was very deaf, ‘sat by his sister ... and insisted upon her repeating to him all that was going on, which put this amiable virgin in a somewhat awkward predicament’.9 Two days later she reported a ludicrous episode at dinner when Lord Erskine

began by abusing the bareness of the soil in Scotland, and said that some Ayrshire sheep coming to London were terrified at the sight of the trees when they arrived in England. Lord Archibald, who instead of sheep heard men, exclaimed, ‘They were impostors, depend upon it, they were impostors’, and [was] irritated by the shouts of laughter, and never listening to Lord Erskine bawling out, ‘Sheep, Lord Archibald, sheep’.10

In the Commons, 21 Aug. 1820, Hamilton gave ‘reluctant’ support to Osborne’s unsuccessful amendment for the prorogation of Parliament, in opposition to Tierney.

According to the advanced Whig Henry Grey Bennet*, at a party meeting at Burlington House, 22 Jan. 1821, it was arranged that Lord Tavistock would give notice of a motion of censure on ministers’ conduct towards the queen for the 26th, and Hamilton of one for an address to the king calling for restoration of her name to the liturgy for the 29th. Before the House met the following day, a reluctant Tavistock was persuaded by Lord Sefton* to let Hamilton’s motion take precedence; and, after eight new Members had been sworn in, Hamilton gave notice accordingly for the 26th. On 24 Jan. Tavistock gave notice of his censure motion for 5 Feb. (Grey Bennet reckoned that the party meeting had ‘passed off unanimously’, but some ministerialists got the impression that the subsequent disagreement between the ‘obstinate’ Hamilton and Tavistock had occurred there.)11 A speech by Alderman William Heygate later on the 24th, to the effect that while he deplored the omission of the queen’s name from the liturgy he was not prepared to vote for an address for its restoration, induced Hamilton to let it be known that he would now move a resolution that the omission was ‘ill advised and expedient’, in the hope of ‘catching the votes of those friends of the ministry’ who felt like Heygate. Lord Harrowby, a member of the cabinet, thought that this was ‘a very foolish motion, for it has in it nothing practical, and as a censure it is too weak’.12 So it proved. Lushington, the secretary to the treasury, recorded, 26 Jan.:

The speech of Lord Archibald was bald and bad. He laboured ineffectually and made no impression upon the House. He evaded the legal part of the question and attempted to justify the nothingness of his own motion by referring to the more extensive one of Lord Tavistock; at the same time most inconsistently prating about the numerous petitions for the restoration ... whilst his own motion leaves her completely in the lurch.13

The young Whig George Howard*, a spectator in the gallery, thought Hamilton was ‘as dull, heavy and injudicious as was possible to be’; and Grey Bennet heard that he ‘made ... by no means a good speech’.14 The motion’s defeat by 310-209 greatly disappointed the Whigs and knocked the heart out of their parliamentary campaign on the queen’s case.15 Hamilton’s motion for production of the order in council to the general assembly of the Church of Scotland concerning the queen (which Castlereagh had denounced as ‘a disgrace to the order book’ of the Commons) was rejected by 102-35, 15 Feb. Two days later he was a dinner guest of the queen at Brandenburgh House.16 On 16 Feb. he secured the reappointment of the royal burghs select committee, which was composed of all but two of the men named to it the previous year. He presented and had referred to it petitions from Inverness, 16 Mar., and Edinburgh, 2 Apr., but by now he had little influence over it, informing his fellow Scottish Whig Thomas Francis Kennedy*, 6 Mar., that it ‘goes on worse and worse’ and that the Edinburgh reformers’ ‘compromise’ of their case had proved ‘most injurious to the cause’.17 He later claimed in the House (20 Feb. 1822) that the attendance had dwindled to ‘four or five placemen’, Joseph Hume and himself; his allies Ronald Craufurd Ferguson and John Peter Grant certainly abandoned the inquiry in disgust.18 The dominant ministerialists refused to take parole evidence, and when Hamilton returned from ten days’ leave of absence on ‘urgent private business’ (voting in the Stirlingshire by-election) on 1 June 1821, he found that in his absence a ‘meagre and imperfect’ report had been drafted by the lord advocate, Rae, and Lord Binning, a member of the India board, who had easily overcome Hume’s resistance. He dissented from it when he formally presented it, 14 June 1821. He divided for Catholic relief, 28 Feb. 1821, 1 Mar., 21 Apr. and (as a pair) 10 May 1825. He spoke and was a teller for repeal of the additional malt duty, 21 Mar., 3 Apr., when he praised Lord Fife* for sacrificing his household place on the issue, though he declined to vote for Creevey’s motion condemning Fife’s dismissal, 6 Apr. On 22 Mar. he thanked Hume for his ‘unwearied exertions in promoting retrenchment and economy’, and he seconded his amendment for ordnance reductions, 6 Apr. He supported and was a minority teller for Baring’s motion for inquiry into the 1819 Bank Act, stressing the need to ‘return to a sound currency’, 9 Apr. He did not attend the City reform dinner, of which he was named as a steward, 4 Apr.;19 nor did he vote for Russell’s parliamentary reform motion, 9 May. Next day, in a thin House, which prompted him to be brief, he moved for consideration next session of the state of the Scottish county representation and the need to ‘effect some extension of the number of voters and to establish some connection between the right of voting and the landed property’; he was a teller for the minority of 41 (to 53). On 18 May he accused Rae of writing to the authorities of Scottish counties to get up petitions against Kennedy’s Scottish juries bill.20 He presented and endorsed a petition from a Lanarkshire county meeting in favour of Owen’s New Lanark scheme, 4 June;21 and he supported inquiry into the experiment, 26 June. He opposed the appointment of Thomas Frankland Lewis* to the Irish revenue commission, 15 June. He called the duke of Clarence’s grant ‘improper’ and ‘the claim for arrears unpardonable’, 25 June, and on 2 July 1821 tried unsuccessfully to have recorded in the Journals the observation that it should not be taken as a precedent for the other royal dukes.

From a London ‘yet thin of MPs’, 31 Jan. 1822, Hamilton informed Kennedy:

I see no prospect, from talking with those who are here, of much concert, nor of any chance of procuring a new head to our discordant body; but then the warmth of the country gentlemen, even of many of the Tories, will form a new feature in the opening of the session, and will probably force on important divisions early ... I shall no doubt move something about the burgh concern, and shall again also attack our county representation.22

He supported the amendment to the address calling for economies, 5 Feb., alleging that ‘the supporters of ministers cast wholly out of their view the inability of the people to pay the oppressive taxes which weighed them down’. On 18 Feb. he sought leave to introduce a bill to abolish the inferior commissary courts of Scotland, as recommended by the judicial commissioners. Even though Rae asked him to defer to the pending government bill, he persisted, but his motion was negatived. On 22 Feb., admitting that he had taken up the cause of burgh reform unaware of ‘the time or the labour it would require’, he proposed referring the reports of the three select committees to a committee of the whole House. He condemned the measure being planned by Rae to regulate the burghs’ accounting methods and prevent non-residence by magistrates as ‘quite inadequate’ to reform the ‘incurably noxious system’ which prevailed. He disclaimed ‘any inclination to ... wild and extensive changes’ and said he wished to ‘produce some community of interest and feeling ... between those who govern and those who are governed’: in ‘large and populous burghs’ he would restore the guildry and let them elect the dean of guild and a portion of the council; open the corporation to all men of property and allow them to elect their own deacons, who would choose some of the council; empower the councillors thus chosen to elect the remainder annually and have magistrates go out of office every one to three years. Rae opposed the motion, which was defeated by 81-46. Hamilton duly resisted the ministerial bill, 22 Feb., and presented hostile petitions, 17, 22 Apr., 3, 13, 20, 30 May.23 When the measure was divided into two, 17 June, he denounced that dealing with accounts (which became law on 29 July) as inadequate. Chairing a Brooks’s Club dinner to mark the secession of the duke of Buckingham and Charles Williams Wynn*, who had joined the ministry, 6 Mar., he proposed the first toast, to ‘the purification of the club’.24 He called for the application of ‘adequate relief’ to worsening agricultural distress, 17 Apr., and presented a Lanarkshire petition to that effect, 7 May.25 He voted silently for Russell’s reform motion, 25 Apr., and reception of the Greenhoe reform petition, 3 June. He spoke for abolition of one of the joint-postmasterships, 2 May, and against the aliens bill, 5 June. He supported and was a minority teller for Western’s motion for inquiry into the currency, 12 June, though he disavowed any wish to alter the standard or repeal the 1819 Act. His attempt to prevent the second reading of the tithes leasing bill was defeated by 64-22, 8 July; and next day he dropped a motion for a bill to repeal the Scottish cottage tax when Vansittart promised to deal with it. He condemned the government’s conduct towards Greece in her struggle with Turkey as ‘partial and oppressive’, 15 July 1822, when he protested against the surreptitious passage of the Irish insurrection bill.

In December 1822 Cockburn, appalled at Kennedy’s talk of leaving Parliament, observed that on such issues as the Scottish juries bill Hamilton (like Hume and Ferguson) was ‘ignorant and ... slight’.26 He secured returns of the number and residences of royal burghs councillors, 19 Feb. 1823, and next day said that agricultural distress in Scotland was very severe.27 He voted for Russell’s motion for inquiry into the English borough franchise, 20 Feb., and his general reform scheme, 24 Apr. He opposed the national debt reduction bill as a probable bar to further tax reductions, 14 Mar.28 He spoke and voted for information on the Dublin theatre riot, 24 Mar. His motion for a copy of the privy council warrant reinstating the suspended council of Inverness was rejected by 49-31, 26 Mar. The following day he expressed concern at the ministerial attitude to the French invasion of Spain and deplored their support of ‘the projects of the Holy Alliance for so many years past’. He objected to the grant for Irish churches and glebe houses, 11 Apr. On the 30th he was a teller for the minority of 20 in the snap division on Spain, having been shut in, according to Brougham, as a result of his deafness.29 Opposing the Irish insurrection bill, 12 May, he argued that ‘the House should now be disposed to investigate the cause of these disorders and avoid, if possible, the beaten track of severity’. His motion of 2 June for future consideration of reform of the Scottish county representation prompted an exodus of Members who had been anticipating a debate on the game bill. He detailed the small total nominal electorate of about 2,400, explained how parchment superiority voters outnumbered genuine freeholders in most counties and complained that sheriffs, who were crown appointees, had too much power, citing the hostile conduct towards himself of the sheriff of Lanarkshire in 1818. The defeat of the motion by only 152-117 was ‘the best ever known on a reform question’ and was received with ‘loud cheers from the opposition benches’.30 When Binning defended the sheriff of Lanarkshire, 18 June, Hamilton stuck to his guns and also accused the sheriff of Stirlingshire of party bias.31 He was a teller for the minority for information on the Borthwick episode, 3 June, and was again in Western’s small minority on the currency, 12 June. Next day he welcomed the government’s decision to raise the barilla duties as marking the end of their ‘vacillating policy’. He divided the House twice against the Scottish commissaries bill, 18 June, protested next day at Rae’s practice of smuggling through this and other Scottish legislation ‘without discussion’ and again forced a division against it, 30 June, even though he approved its object.32 On 18 July he had one of the Lords’ amendments concerning fees negatived.33 He paired for the Scottish juries bill, 20 June. He presented anti-slavery petitions, 24 June and 10 July 1823.34

Hamilton was in Lord Nugent’s minority of 30 who voted to condemn Britain’s policy on Spain, 17 Feb. 1824. He divided silently for reform of Edinburgh’s electoral system, 26 Feb., having earlier written to George Sinclair*, a candidate for Caithness, to applaud his public declaration for reform and ‘expose of ministerial profligacy and insolence’.35 He objected to details of the silk trade bill, 18, 22 Mar. On 30 Mar., in what George Agar Ellis* thought a ‘dreadful, dull, long’ speech, he proposed referring the 12 reports of the Scottish judicial commissioners to a committee of the whole House, aiming to force Rae to explain ‘what could be said in defence of the total neglect of the reforms recommended’.36 He was defeated by 124-76. He presented a large Glasgow inhabitants’ petition for the abolition of West Indian slavery and indemnification for the planters, 6 Apr., and presented and endorsed one from Lanark for the free export of Scottish spirits to England, 4 May. He condemned Kennedy’s Scottish poor bill out of hand, 14, 24, 25 May, and forced him to withdraw it.37 He got leave to introduce a bill to facilitate the recovery of small debts in Scotland, 10 June, and had it printed, 14 June 1824. He brought it in again, 7 Mar. 1825, steered it through the Commons and saw it become law on 22 June 1825 (6 Geo. IV, c. 48).38 His health was beginning to collapse, and his only known votes in the 1825 session, besides those for Catholic relief, were against the Irish unlawful societies bill, 15, 21, 25 Feb. On petitions for repeal of the Combination Acts, 3 May, he cited some examples from Lanarkshire, Renfrewshire and Stirlingshire of union violence and intimidation against workmen who had been willing to take lower wages. He spoke and was a majority teller against the Leith Docks bill, 20 May. He called for a reduction of the duty on soap and candles, 7 June 1825. In late September he was at Worthing, ‘unable to report any amendment of my complaint’, but claiming that ‘my health is quite good’. He reckoned to have ‘thought little’ about politics ‘for some time past’: ‘so unsatisfactory do I think the termination of Whig labours and Whig party, that I shall take all those matters goute a goute, and no more draughts of them’.39

Hamilton failed to get a straight answer from the chancellor Robinson as to whether the proposed restriction of small bank notes was to apply to Scotland, 6, 20 Feb. 1826. He supported Hume’s unsuccessful attempt to empower magistrates to force banks to pay in specie, 27 Feb. Next day he sent an open letter to the praeses of the Lanarkshire county meeting called to petition against interference with the Scottish banking system (4 Mar.), in which he promised to defer to the general ‘repugnance’ to the plan evinced in Scotland.40 He supported the third reading of the promissory notes bill, 7 Mar., not as a perfect solution, but because it would ‘tend in some degree to amend the defects of the present system of country banking’. He presented the Lanarkshire petition, 14 Mar., and was named to the select committee on the issue as it affected Scotland and Ireland, 16 Mar. On the 22nd he cautioned the House against sanctioning the formation of new joint-stock companies ‘after the dishonest practices which had been committed by many of the companies who obtained charters last year’. He spoke and voted for reform of Edinburgh’s electoral system, 13 Apr., but was absent from the division on Russell’s reform motion, 27 Apr. He thought Littleton’s scheme to regulate private bill committees would create ‘a tribunal to arraign the conduct of Members’, 19 Apr. He presented petitions from Glasgow tailors for repeal of the corn laws, 21 Apr., and from Glasgow and Campsie for the abolition of slavery, 19 May 1826.41

When he offered again for Lanarkshire at the general election in June 1826, he wrote:

Many of my political opinions, which met with strenuous opposition for several years, have recently been carried into effect, particularly a reduction of taxes, so long and so injuriously withheld, and a return to metallic currency, so long and so fatally suspended.

He was too unwell to attend his unopposed election on the 20th, when his brother the duke stood in for him at the celebration dinner.42 At the Lanarkshire county meeting on distressed local handloom weavers, 23 Sept., he dismissed cheaper corn and emigration as solutions and called for ‘a diminution of public expenditure and an invariable currency’.43 His last reported speech in the House was a passionate plea for ministers to intervene to rescue the unemployed weavers of Glasgow and Lanarkshire from their ‘state of destitution, hopelessness and helplessness’, 5 Dec. 1826. He paired for Catholic relief, 6 Mar., and was granted a token fortnight’s sick leave, 3 May 1827. On 30 July he told Lord Holland, who was on the lookout for a villa for him, that ‘my views have now extended to the banks of the Thames, where I could take air in a boat without fatigue’. Though tortured by ‘this hot weather’, he claimed to be ‘going on well’;44 but he died at his residence in the Upper Mall, Hammersmith, in early September 1827. By his will of 13 Dec. 1826 Hamilton, who had had an illegitimate son with his cousin Lady Augusta Murray (daughter of the 4th earl of Dunmore and later married to the duke of Sussex) and enjoyed the sexual favours of the promiscuous countess of Oxford of ‘Harleian Miscellany’ notoriety, left £20,000 to his brother and £3,000 to Lady Anne. He bequeathed sums ranging from £2,000 to £5,000 to various Murrays, Augustus and Emma D’Este (the children of Sussex and Lady Augusta) and two of Lady Oxford’s children. His personalty was sworn under £70,000.45

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. Not 28 Aug. as stated in HP Commons, 1790-1820, iv. 132.
  • 2. Cockburn Jnl. i. 275.
  • 3. Cockburn Mems. 308; CJ, lxxiv. 409; Glasgow Herald, 28 Jan. 1820.
  • 4. Glasgow Herald, 31 Mar. 1820.
  • 5. The Times, 14 June, 1 July 1820; CJ, lxxv. 146, 452.
  • 6. Add. 30123, f. 157.
  • 7. The Times, 14, 15 July 1820.
  • 8. Hobhouse Diary, 24.
  • 9. Creevey Pprs. i. 309; Countess Granville Letters, i. 156.
  • 10. Countess Granville Letters, i. 158.
  • 11. HLRO, Hist. Coll. 379, Grey Bennet diary, 1, 2; The Times, 24, 25 Jan. 1821; Colchester Diary, iii. 201; Arbuthnot Jnl. i. 65-66; Hobhouse Diary, 48; Add. 38742, f. 171.
  • 12. Hobhouse Diary, 48; Harrowby mss, Harrowby to Sandon, 26 Jan. 1821; Add. 43212, f. 180.
  • 13. Geo. IV Letters, ii. 895.
  • 14. Castle Howard mss, Howard to Lady Morpeth, 28 [Jan. 1821]; Grey Bennet diary, 5.
  • 15. Arbuthnot Jnl. i. 65; Hobhouse Diary, 48; Add. 38742, f. 171.
  • 16. Grey Bennet diary, 23.
  • 17. The Times, 17 Feb. 17 Mar., 4 Apr. 1821; Cockburn Letters, 18-19.
  • 18. CJ, lxxvi. 160, 194.
  • 19. The Times, 4, 5 Apr. 1821.
  • 20. Ibid. 19 May 1821.
  • 21. Ibid. 5 June 1821.
  • 22. Cockburn Letters, 40-41.
  • 23. The Times, 18, 23 Apr., 4, 14, 21, 31 May 1822.
  • 24. HLRO, Moulton Barrett diary, 6 Mar. [1824].
  • 25. The Times, 18 Apr., 8 May 1822.
  • 26. Cockburn Letters, 72.
  • 27. The Times, 20, 21 Feb. 1823.
  • 28. Ibid. 15 Mar. 1823.
  • 29. Add. 40687, f. 1.
  • 30. Northants. RO, Agar Ellis diary, 2 June 1823; Cockburn Mems. 379.
  • 31. The Times, 19 June 1823; Add. 40356, f. 337.
  • 32. The Times, 20 June 1823
  • 33. Ibid. 1 July 1823.
  • 34. Ibid. 25 June, 11 July 1823.
  • 35. NAS GD136/519/7.
  • 36. Agar Ellis diary, 30 Mar. [1824].
  • 37. The Times, 7 Apr., 15, 25 May 1824.
  • 38. Ibid. 15 June 1824, 8, 19 Mar., 23 June 1825; CJ, lxxx. 168, 586.
  • 39. Add. 51570, Hamilton to Holland, 20 Sept. [1825].
  • 40. Glasgow Herald, 6 Mar. 1826.
  • 41. The Times, 22 Apr., 20 May 1826.
  • 42. Glasgow Herald, 9, 23, 26 June 1826.
  • 43. Ibid. 25 Sept. 1826.
  • 44. Add. 51570.
  • 45. PROB 11/1730/540; IR26/1130/739.