HAMILTON, George (aft.1658-aft.1728), of Reidhouse, Haddington.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715, ed. D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley, 2002
Available from Boydell and Brewer



10 Apr. 1712 - 1713

Family and Education

b. aft. 1658, 3rd but 2nd surv. s. of Thomas Hamilton of Reidhouse by his 1st w. Lady Magdalen, da. of John Stuart, 2nd Earl of Traquair [S].  m. 1 da.1

Offices Held

Ens. bef. 1683 John Kirkpatrick’s ft. (Scots Brigade, Dutch army), capt. 1683; 1688 John Wauchope’s ft. (English army), lt.-col. 1692; col. Irish ft. 1690; Scots. ft. 1693, transferred to Dutch army 1697–9, 1701–14; brig.-gen. (Dutch) 1704, lt.-gen. bef. 1714; maj.-gen. (English) 1707, lt.-gen. 1709.2


Described in 1716 as ‘a soldier of fortune’, who ‘has not otherways bread’, Hamilton was the younger son of a minor Haddingtonshire family. The Hamiltons of Reidhouse, or Red House, were distantly related to the earls of Haddington. No member of the family had sat in the Scottish parliament, but the Member’s father, Thomas Hamilton (d. 1688), served as justice of the peace and commissioner of excise. Hamilton followed his elder brother into the Dutch service, eventually succeeding to a captaincy vacated by him in 1683. His first known political action was to support James II in his dispute with William of Orange over control of the Scots Brigade. The Dutch, having refused to return these regiments, merely permitted any officers to obey the royal summons. Hamilton was one of only 60 officers (out of 240) to do so, transferring to Colonel Wauchope’s regiment, which had been specifically created to provide such commissions. In view of Hamilton’s later Jacobitism, this might appear to be an early sign of sympathy for the Stuart cause, but this was not the case. At the Revolution Hamilton transferred his allegiance to the Williamite regime without a qualm, and within a short period had acquired a colonelcy. In the process he contracted considerable debts, notably during the raising of a regiment in Ireland prior to acquiring another on the Scottish establishment. Serving in Flanders from 1694, Hamilton’s regiment was transferred to the Dutch army after the Peace of Ryswick, following the reduction of the English military establishment. Created a brigadier-general in the Dutch service in 1704, Hamilton also made steady progress on the British staff. At Malplaquet he ranked as a British lieutenant-general, commanding four battalions of infantry as a Dutch major-general. Severely wounded during the battle, he was subsequently promoted by the States General to lieutenant-general.3

In its early stages Hamilton’s political career was entirely subservient to professional ambition, and he exploited to full advantage his connexion with leading Scottish Court peers such as Argyll and Mar. In return for persuading his son-in-law, James Bethune of Balfour, to change his vote on the Union, Hamilton secured promotion to the British staff in January 1707. The laird of Balfour’s interest at Kilrenny, his former seat in the Scottish parliament, also provided Hamilton with his entrée into Westminster politics. As a consequence of the bitter conflict in Fifeshire politics between Sir Alexander Areskine, 2nd Bt.*, and Sir John Anstruther, 1st Bt.*, the general was selected by the former as the Tory candidate for Anstruther Easter Burghs. Areskine knew little of Hamilton’s political views, being prepared to endorse him on assurances from Mar that he would be ‘right’. Richard Dongworth, chaplain to the Duchess of Buccleuch, classed Hamilton as an episcopal Tory.4

At Westminster, Hamilton eventually gained his seat on petition. The resolution reported from the committee of elections on 13 Mar. 1712 favoured Anstruther, but was recommitted by virtue of Tory hostility towards a known supporter of the Squadrone. The tellers in Hamilton’s favour, significantly, were Argathelian Tories (Sir Alexander Cumming and Charles Oliphant). On 10 Apr. the desired verdict was reported from the committee, and its decision was endorsed by Tory votes. Undoubtedly loyal to the Oxford ministry, Hamilton was an inactive Member. In July, he presented loyal addresses on the peace from Craill and Kilrenny. He was also a Tory member of Lord Ossulston’s Anglo-Scottish dining group. During the 1713 session, in common with other Scottish Members, Hamilton opposed the malt tax and supported, in its initial stages, the campaign for a dissolution of the Union. Following Mar’s lead, however, he reverted to the Court after the failure in the Lords of a preliminary motion on this issue. He voted on 4 and 18 June for the French commerce bill. Once more defeated by Anstruther at the poll in 1713, Hamilton failed this time to gain the seat on petition, in part because Areskine mishandled his case when it came before the bar of the House on 29 Apr. 1714.5

Hamilton became Mar’s leading military adviser during the Jacobite rebellion of 1715. His conversion to the cause remains, however, as shrouded in ambiguity as that of ‘Bobbing John’ himself. The reduction of Hamilton’s regiment in 1714 provided one material grievance, but this was an action by the Dutch government rather than the Hanoverian regime. He was involved from the outset of the rebellion, accompanying Mar on his clandestine departure from London in August. After arriving in Fife, they conducted various meetings (including one with the laird of Balfour, who subsequently joined the rebellion) then travelled to Mar’s Aberdeenshire estate for the celebrated tinchal. Under the cover of this hunting match, the case for rebellion was presented to leading nobles and clan chieftains. One of Mar’s principal arguments was that the presence of such a high-ranking officer as Hamilton augured well for future defections from the military. Hamilton’s name also featured in early printed declarations in favour of the Pretender. As a military commander Hamilton was a failure. Criticized by John Sinclair* for his unwillingness to prepare adequate fortifications at Perth, Hamilton subsequently blundered dramatically at the battle of Sheriffmuir. It was subsequently rumoured that the Jacobite command had been infiltrated by an agent of Argyll’s who gave misinformation to Hamilton at the crucial moment. Otherwise unsubstantiated, this scenario was immortalized in song:

          And Hamilton pled the men were not bred,
          For he had no fancy to fa[ll] man.
          And we ran, and they ran,
          And they ran, and we ran . . .
          Then Laurie the traitor, who betray’d his master
          His King, and his country, and a[ll] man
          Pretending that Mar might fight on the right
          To the right of the army awa[y] man.
          And we ran, and they ran
          And they ran, and we ran . . .

His military reputation destroyed, Hamilton was sent away to France. Notionally dispatched on a mission to arrange supplies for the recently arrived Pretender, he had actually been removed as an embarrassment. Mar confided to Bolingbroke (Henry St. John II*) that he had suggested the mission

as I thought it not only for his Majesty’s service, but also to save poor George’s reputation, who had so frankly ventured in coming with me . . . You will contrive how to dispose of him in time coming for he can never be of use here in any time again, though he may elsewhere.

Hamilton, who was still alive in 1728, died in exile. His grand-nephew and namesake, with whom he is sometimes confused, was executed for his role in the Forty-Five.6

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: David Wilkinson


  • 1. G. Hamilton, Hist. House of Hamilton, 750–2; W. Wood, East Neuk of Fife, 263.
  • 2. Scot. Hist. Soc. ser. 1, xxxii. pp. xxxv, 505, 511–12.
  • 3. HMC Stuart, i. 485–6; Hamilton, 750–2; Scot. Hist. Soc. 477–8; Add. 61289, f. 15.
  • 4. Add. 61289, ff. 17–24; Marlborough Dispatches ed. Murray, iii. 281–2; Wood, 46–47, 263; P. W. J. Riley, Union, 334; Hist. Scot. Parl. 51–52; SRO, Mar and Kellie mss GD124/15/1011/1, Areskine to Mar, 17 Sept. 1710; SHR, lx. 65.
  • 5. Scots Courant, 23–25 July, 30 July–1 Aug. 1712; SHR, lxxi. 125; Aberdeen Univ. Lib. Duff House (Montcoffer) mss 3175/2380, ‘Resolution of the Commons to Call a Meeting of the Lords’, [23] May 1713; Parlty. Hist. i. 69; Scots Courant, 23–25 July, 30 July–1 Aug. 1712; Lockhart Letters ed. Szechi, 334; Add. 17677 HHH, ff. 205–6.
  • 6. J. Baynes, Jacobite Risings, 27, 29, 32, 35–36, 142, 149–50, 165–6; A. and H. Tayler, 1715: The Story of the Rising, 22, 30, 98, 107, 123, 151; Master of Sinclair, Mems. Rebellion in Scotland (Abbotsford Club), 196–9, 228–30; J. Hogg, Jacobite Relics, ii. 3–4, 247–8; HMC Stuart, i. 485–6, 502–3; Lockhart Letters, 334; Scot. Hist Soc. ser. 1, viii. 250, 338, 379; Hamilton, 750–2.