HAMILTON, Alexander, Mq. of Douglas and Clydesdale (1767-1852).

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1802 - 1806

Family and Education

b. 3 Oct. 1767, 1st s. of Archibald Hamilton, 9th Duke of Hamilton [S] and 6th Duke of Brandon [GB], by Lady Harriet Stewart, da. of Alexander, 6th Earl of Galloway [S], bro. of Lord Archibald Hamilton*. educ. Harrow 1776; Christ Church, Oxf. 1786. m. 26 Apr. 1810, Susan Euphemia, da. and coh. of William Beckford* of Fonthill, Wilts., 1s. 1da. summ. to Lords in his fa.’s barony as Lord Dutton 4 Nov. 1806, suc. fa. as 10th Duke of Hamilton [S] and 7th Duke of Brandon [GB] 16 Feb. 1819; KG 5 Feb. 1836.

Offices Held

PC 18 June 1806, ambassador extraordinary to Russia 1806-7; ld. high steward at coronations of William IV and Victoria.

Ld. Lt. Lanark 1802-d.

Col. R. Lanark militia 1802.


Douglas spent several years in Italy after leaving Oxford. In 1800, his father having succeeded to the dukedom of Hamilton and the vast family estates in Scotland, Lancashire and Suffolk, he returned to England, cutting a striking figure with his exotic appearance and ‘foreign manners’. His younger brother Lord Archibald, a zealous Foxite Whig eager to get into Parliament, thought him ‘delightful’, with ‘the best temper and best heart possible’, and, as to politics, ‘somewhat cold, but very rational and independent’, though he had no notion that he had ‘any mind to meddle just now’. He soon went abroad again, ostensibly for the sake of his health: a friend of Farington came across him living with an Italian woman at an inn in Padua. He returned in the summer of 1801, when his brother assured Fox’s nephew that as ‘we like each other far too much not to adopt each other’s likings’, he would expect to receive ‘a large portion of his goodwill’.1

At the general election of 1802 Douglas stood for Lancaster, which lay about four miles from the family property at Ashton Hall and which his father had represented 30 years previously. Despite their political differences the Pittite Lord Lowther, anxious to keep out the discredited John Fenton Cawthorne*, gave Douglas his interest. He coalesced with the sitting Member John Dent and was elected with him after an expensive contest. Like his brother, who was returned for Lanarkshire at this election, he visited Paris on the conclusion of the peace settlement. He left the House before the division on the adjournment, 6 May 1803,2 but voted with the Foxite minority on the resumption of hostilities, 24 May. He voted against the Addington ministry on the war in Ceylon, 14 Mar., and Pitt’s motion for an inquiry into naval strength, 15 Mar. 1804, but not in the later divisions which brought it down. He opposed Pitt’s additional force bill in June 1804, voted steadily against government in 1805 and spoke against the militia enlistment bill, 21 and 26 Mar., when he was called to order for using abusive language, and 1 Apr. 1805. Lady Bessborough heard that he ‘spoke well but violently’ and could ‘fancy I see him with his black stocks and low bows, begging pardon of the House’. Soon afterwards Lady Stafford reported to Lord Granville Leveson Gower a conversation with Douglas, his kinsman, whose observation that a bed was ‘the only essential furniture in any house’ had encouraged her to quiz him on his matrimonial plans:

But he is so odd! so different from every other man! that I could not find out whether or no he means to marry. His great coat, long queue, and fingers covered with gold rings are as you left them, and he is in every particular as foreign as when he first came from abroad.

According to Farington, Douglas offered to marry William Beckford’s younger daughter ‘if Beckford would have given her £20,000, a sum required by the Marquis to settle some affair’. Beckford refused, but negotiations through the mediation of Douglas’s sister dragged on until 1810, when they were successfully concluded.3

Douglas opposed Pitt’s funeral honours, 27 Jan. 1806, contending that ‘success’ was the prerequisite of ‘public reward’, but acquiesced in payment of his debts as an act of ‘public generosity’, 3 Feb. He supported his Whig friends in office, joined Brooks’s on 6 Mar. and voted for the repeal of the Additional Force Act, 30 Apr.; but like his brother, he backed James Paull in his vendetta against Lord Wellesley’s conduct in India, 28 Apr., 8 May and 25 May, observing that ‘there was a latent gangrene somewhere, which ought to be probed’. On 12 Feb. Lord Eglintoun had told an unknown correspondent that Douglas, with other Scottish peers, was ‘quite indignant’ that Lord Moira had been given responsibility for the management of Scotland, to which he had pretensions himself, even though his family had ‘totally given up Scotland’. He was involved in discussions of this problem with ministers, in which it was agreed that a change from the regime established by Melville was necessary. He had a hand in a subsequent report which evidently recommended a wholesale purge of Melvillites. In June he complained bitterly to Lord Grenville that these views had been ignored and that Melville’s acquittal had put new life into his adherents, who were flaunting their success unmolested in Edinburgh, to the extent of dragooning the writers to the Signet into voting congratulations:

I must now ... beg leave generally to be informed (for Scotland does, and has a right to expect every support from the family of Hamilton) whether the line of conduct which was then allowed to be most fair and proper towards her is to be acted upon, or not? Is she totally to trust to the superior vigilance of the present government for removing every injustice? Or may she not rather expect, for her present tranquillity, and as an earnest of some attention to her future welfare, that the instruments of her present sufferings are no longer in situations to aggrieve her?

He could hardly have been satisfied with Grenville’s reply, which stressed the ‘spirit of moderation’ as ‘the first principle of good government’.4

Fox, meanwhile, had appointed Douglas ambassador to Russia and he was also to be called up to the Lords. He received his credentials on 28 May 1806, but a succession of problems arose to delay his summons and his departure. The first concerned his seat for Lancaster. At the beginning of July he informed Lowther of the impending vacancy and seemed bent on recommending a friend to succeed him. Lowther was agreeable and Douglas told Lord Lauderdale, the intermediary between himself and Grenville, that ‘all I wish is that it should not be thought that I am less anxious than I ought to be to set off for Russia’; but Lauderdale commented to the premier that ‘it is very impossible to prophesy what will be the result of any transaction with the Marquis of Douglas’. So it proved, for three weeks later Grenville told Lowther that Douglas now had no wish to involve himself or his father in any contest at Lancaster and would prefer to support a Lowther nominee. Lowther welcomed this intelligence as

a very explicit and seasonable explanation of a very obscure and undecided statement that I received two days ago from ... [Douglas]. I certainly was not much at a loss to guess at his meaning, but in a matter of this kind ... I should rather have wished for a more distinct and intelligible communication.

Initially Lowther hoped that Douglas ‘may be induced to waive the acceptance of the honours which await him till some proper person may be found to succeed him’, but by mid August, when he was no nearer to finding one, he had resigned himself to losing the seat to Cawthorne and had no wish that Douglas should delay any longer on his account. A renewed attempt to persuade Douglas to produce a friend was unsuccessful, and Lowther became increasingly exasperated at the Hamiltons’ reluctance to co-operate and complained of difficulties created by Douglas’s neglect of his interest among the resident freemen. Part of the problem, said Lowther, was that the Duke of Hamilton had ‘never ceased to express his disapprobation of his son’s acceptance of a foreign mission, as well as of his desire to be called to the Upper House’. Then, too, the terms of appointment which Douglas demanded threatened to cause further delay. Lord Howick, Fox’s successor, wrote to Grenville, 4 Oct. 1806:

I ... proposed that he should set out the week after next ... He expresses himself ready to go, but the points which he is endeavouring to carry will probably have considerable influence on his determination. He asks not only for Mr Mills, as secretary of legation, but for an increase of the allowance ... so as to leave him a clear salary of £10,000 ... I have sent him away with a stiff refusal on both, though he pleads a positive promise with respect to them from poor Fox. The last he does not seem to insist on, but left me saying that it would be necessary to have some further conversation respecting the appointment of Mr Mills.

Grenville agreed that both demands were ‘perfectly inadmissible’.5

The dissolution saved Douglas the trouble of vacating his seat, which went to Cawthorne. He arrived at St. Petersburg in late January 1807, but proved so incompetent that it was believed the ‘Talents’ would have recalled him had they survived the crisis of March. It was left to Canning, Foreign secretary in the Portland ministry, to remove him, though he did it as gently as possible, in deference to Douglas’s rank. Robert Ward told Lowther, 7 Apr. 1807:

I am told the ill conduct of Lord Douglas has been too gross for imagination. He is instantly to be recalled after endangering in a few days the only great alliance we have in the world, and which it took all Mr Pitt’s ability to accomplish.

Yet his replacement, Leveson Gower, acknowledged that his ‘civility’ on the changeover was ‘above all praise’. Douglas did not return to England until October 1808, having in the interim pursued ‘an old battered beauty’, the immensely wealthy widow Countess Potocka, into Poland, in vain hopes of concluding a lucrative marriage.6

As a peer, Douglas remained a Whig but took little active part in politics. Inordinate family pride came to rule his life: he convinced himself that he was the true heir to the Scottish throne and at Hamilton Palace constructed a lavish mausoleum in which his embalmed body was laid after his death, 18 Aug. 1852.7

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Authors: M. H. Port / David R. Fisher


  • 1. The Times, 16 June 1800; Warrenne Blake, Irish Beauty, 39; Add. 51570, Hamilton to Holland, 3 July, 11 Nov., 20 Dec. [1800], [24 June 1801]; Farington, i. 339.
  • 2. Add. 51736, Caroline Fox to Holland, 11 May 1803.
  • 3. Leveson Gower, ii. 46, 75; Farington, iii. 95.
  • 4. Eglintoun mss; Fortescue mss, Douglas to Grenville, 25 June, reply 27 June 1806.
  • 5. Fortescue mss, Douglas to Lauderdale [1 July], Lauderdale to Grenville, 2 July, Lowther to same, 26, 31 July, 16 Aug., 3, 12 Sept., Grenville to Howick, 4 Oct. 1806; HMC Lonsdale, 197-9, 201-2; HMC Fortescue, viii. 373.
  • 6. Farington, iv. 126; Geo. III Corresp. iv. 3440, 3743; Lonsdale mss; Leveson Gower, ii. 242, 246, 278; Malmesbury Diaries, iv. 392-3.
  • 7. Gent. Mag. (1852), ii. 424.