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

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



1802 - 28 Aug. 1827

Family and Education

b. 6 Mar. 1770, 2nd s. of Archibald Hamilton, 9th Duke of Hamilton [S] and 6th Duke of Brandon [GB], and bro. of Alexander Hamilton, Mq. of Douglas and Clydesdale*. educ. Eton 1785; Christ Church, Oxf. 1788; L. Inn 1790, called 1799. unm. 1s.

Offices Held

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


Lord Archibald Hamilton was one of the Christ Church set who attached himself to Fox’s nephew Lord Holland and became ‘a violent politician of the Holland House school’. Like his elder brother, the Marquess of Douglas, he believed himself personally ‘irresistible’, but he had the handicap of being ‘very deaf’.1 He was a newly called barrister on his first circuit, which bored him, when his prospects were altered by his father’s succession to the dukedom of Hamilton and the lieutenancy of Lanarkshire. To Lord Holland, whose friendship he described to him as ‘the greatest, or nearly the greatest comfort of my life’, he confided his doubts about at once accepting a colonelcy in the county militia, when he had previously refused a captaincy in the volunteer fencibles, lest his duty be ‘to frighten Englishmen and to murder Irishmen’. ‘Family interests and family reasons’ decided him in favour, as he expected to stand for Lanarkshire at the next election. He would have been prepared to purchase any available borough seat before then, but none offered. With all the prejudices of a Whig grandee against Pitt’s ‘mercantile’ government and against the inertia of the country in sustaining an unwanted war, he was no less contemptuous of the succeeding administration of Addington, who used ‘influence and jobbing ... to make up in effect what they want of national support’. He disingenuously described his politics to Lord Holland in 1805 as

just as much part of my nature as my daily appetites of hunger or thirst though they are not called into such frequent activity. Indeed they are the growth entirely of my own mind, unattended by any influence that I am aware of, good or bad, except the ordinary aids of reading and reflection ... I believe my opinions on political subjects would have been what they now are, had neither of you [Fox and Lord Holland] ever existed.2

Having declared himself for Lanarkshire in January 1801, Hamilton was soon confident of success, despite the exertions of Lord Melville against the Hamilton interest, and visited Paris before and after the election of 1802, in which he was unopposed and one of five Scottish Members listed ‘opposition at heart’.3 He was still in Paris late in January 1803 but ready to return for Parliament, and on 28 Mar. made his first contribution to debate, a criticism of the militia officers bill which was a failure, as he spoke too low to be heard: ‘I never had possession of myself the whole time I was on my legs’, so he informed Lord Holland, 16 Apr. After he had spoken on the adjournment, 6 May, Holland was informed,

His eagerness upon the question was very great but not sufficient to overcome his nervousness ... the little he did say, was remarkably good. ... He seemed to have intended to say more, but a nervousness seized him, and he came to a full stop.

Fox introduced him to Brooks’s Club on 25 May, a day after he had joined the opposition minority. On 5 and 14 July he tried again in debate, opposing the property tax as far as Scotland was concerned, on the specious ground that, as a form of land tax, it violated the ninth article of the Act of Union. He also took umbrage at the bill for the better security of magistrates, to which his growing friend, Lord Henry Petty, had drawn his attention, and ‘got up and said he did not know for what purpose he had a seat in that House if it was not to oppose such bills’.4 His obstinacy was, according to Lord Boringdon who thought him ‘a man of sound understanding and most rigid honour’, characteristic:

... the occasionally seeing an occurrence in perfectly erroneous point of view, and an almost insurmountable difficulty of subsequently rectifying such first erroneous impression are the two failings, which those who have lived intimately in his society think with the greatest fairness to be attributed to his character.5

In December 1803 Hamilton, chafing under ‘the weakest [ministry] that ever ruled’, found ‘the House itself more dull than a party of old maids’ and believed the country would ‘dissolve in its own weakness’ before any invasion. He was one of the young Whigs urging Fox, who found Hamilton ‘quite cordial’ with him ‘though I seldom see him but in the House of Commons’, to bring on the Irish question.6 He indicated this in debate: on 2 Dec. he remarked apropos of the suspension of habeas corpus in Ireland that ‘he thought a different system indispensable’. On 6 Dec. he opposed the Irish Bank restriction bill and next day the Irish martial law bill. On the former occasion he had threatened a motion to restrict paper currency issue in Ireland, but after justifying it, he waived it, 13 Feb. 1804. A week later, again on the subject of Irish Bank restriction, he pointed out that the current rate of exchange was so unfavourable to Ireland, that it was not just to pay Irish salaries in England at par, and on 2 Mar. he secured an investigation of the subject, as well as supporting an inquiry into the Irish exchange and currency. He was named to the select committee. On 23 Mar. he extended the former investigation to the salaries of Irish half-pay officers, who were also victims of the unfavourable rate of exchange. Meanwhile favouring a junction of opposition parties against Addington,7 he voted with them for the censure on the Irish government, 7 Mar., and the war in Ceylon, 14 Mar., and appeared in one minority list as voting for Pitt’s naval motion of 15 Mar. He voted against the volunteer consolidation bill, 19 Mar., the Irish militia offer bill, 10 Apr., the Irish militia augmentation bill next day (when he spoke as well) and the Irish volunteer consolidation bill, 16 Apr. 1804. His motion against the payment of Irish salaries at par, intended to frustrate the supposed profiteering on the unequal rate of exchange, was defeated on 12 Apr. by 82 votes to 44. He voted in the minorities on Fox’s and Pitt’s defence motions of 23 and 25 Apr. which brought down the government. On 8 May he was teller for the Aylesbury election reform bill, which he strongly supported at its third reading.

Hamilton remained in opposition under Pitt’s second ministry, the formation of which inspired him to write an ‘unanswered’ pamphlet, Thoughts on the formation of the late and present administration, which in its criticism of unregulated royal discretion in the choice of ministers as contrary to the spirit of the constitution was approved by Fox as ‘excellent, unless I am deceived by partiality to the exact orthodoxy of it as a Whig creed’.8 He voted against the additional force bill in June 1804, speaking against the Scottish version of it, and subsequently supported its repeal. He was an outspoken critic of the lord advocate, 22 June, of the Indian budget, 10 July, and of the corn trade bill, 23-24 July, seeking in vain to have it postponed and securing amendments in its application to Scotland, 25 July. On 5 Mar. following he went on to defend petitions from Clydesdale for the repeal of the bill and on 10 May secured a committee to consider it. His amending bill was passed on 1 July. He continued to raise Irish questions, moving finance resolutions on 5 Feb. 1805, voting against the suspension of habeas corpus, 8, 15 Feb., commenting on the Irish budget, 13 Mar., and criticizing by resolution the Treasury handling of Irish loans and exchange, 21 Mar. He favoured the naval inquiry and spoke last in the debate, so that at least one voice from Scotland should be heard against Melville, in favour of the censure, 8 Apr. Whitbread included him in his proposed select committee to investigate the charges against Melville and on 12 June Hamilton voted for his prosecution by the attorney general. He was appointed to the select committee to draw up Melville’s impeachment, 26 June. By then he was a recognized debater, though he found speaking ‘a more difficult business than I imagined. If the House is empty and indifferent, my ardour cools.’ His leader, Fox, regarded his deafness as ‘a heavy evil’, but Hamilton was highly regarded and not least by Lord Lauderdale, the doyen Scottish Whig, who took up his interest in Irish financial problems.9

Nevertheless Hamilton’s experience when his friends were in power, 1806-7, was not a happy one. At the outset he refused Lord Grenville’s offer of a place at the Treasury board. It would appear that he was interested in Lord Frederick Campbell’s office of lord clerk register, after Campbell’s death, but that event was not as near as he imagined. He voted silently for the repeal of Pitt’s Additional Force Act, 30 Apr. 1806, but in debate found himself more often than not at odds with the government. His motion (taken over from John Hudleston*) for particulars of the East India Company’s censure on Lord Wellesley’s conduct in India, 21 Apr. 1806, was opposed by Fox and rejected. He embarrassed Lord Grenville by pressing for an inquiry into Wellesley’s conduct, 28 May, 3 June. He was also an avowed opponent of the pig-iron duty, 28 Apr., 2, 9 May, and a critic of and teller against the election expenses bill, 29 Apr., 9 June. At the general election, grieved by the loss of Fox, he complained bitterly of Lord Grenville’s negligence towards the Hamilton interest in Scotland, which, while it could not damage his own prospects in Lanarkshire, cost them the return for the burghs, which he had intended to fall back on if frustrated in the county. Subsequently he complained that Grenville had also ignored his one modest request for patronage for a friend. In January and February 1807 he was again at loggerheads with the government over the prosecution of Alexander Davison, the contractor, for irregularities in barracks supply, which he wished the House to undertake, but which his friend Lord Henry Petty insisted was a Treasury matter, a guarantee of delay. Yet he remained the highest ranking Scottish Whig in the House, was among the ‘staunch friends’ of the abolition of the slave trade, and appointed to the finance committee, 10 Feb. He voted for Brand’s motion following the change of ministry, 9 Apr. 1807.10

Hamilton was a steady member of the Whig opposition for the remainder of his life and in the Parliament of 1807 inclined in many respects to the Whig ‘Mountain’. On 9 and 22 Feb. 1808 he returned to the fray against Wellesley’s conduct in India, but his censure motion was defeated, as was, likewise, his motion for compensation to the nawab of Oudh on 31 Mar. He resumed his criticism on 17 May on Turton’s motion, and on 2 June, and was subsequently equally critical of the claims of the East India Company to public subsidy. On 24 Jan. 1809 he was not retained on the finance committee. He was a critic of the Duke of York’s conduct, 17 Mar. On 24 Mar. he tried to thwart the militia completion bill. On 17 Apr. he defended Folkestone’s motion for inquiry into abuses and was one of 12 Members invited to the London livery reform dinner on 22 Apr. On 25 Apr. he impeached Castlereagh of corruption for offering, in 1805, a cadetship in the East India Company in exchange for the promise of a seat in Parliament for Lord Clancarty. The motion was amended and defeated on two divisions, but Hamilton’s support of Madocks’s further motion on the subject, 11 May, indicated that parliamentary reform was his real object. On 26 May he put in a word for Burdett and was rebuffed by the Speaker. On 12 June he defended Curwen’s reform bill. He failed to secure the annulment of the resolutions exonerating Castlereagh, 18 May 1810.

Hamilton joined the Whig pre-sessional meeting in January 1810. He was an advocate of sinecure abolition, 12 Feb., 6 Mar. 1810, and opposed the pension proposed for Lord Wellington, 16 Feb. After open disagreement with his proceedings in March, he took Burdett’s side in April and May over the latter’s alleged breach of privilege, insisting that the privileges of the House were intended primarily to protect the rights of the people.11 He accordingly defended the Middlesex and London petitions in Burdett’s favour. On 21 May he voted for parliamentary reform, but he could not be rallied to an extra-parliamentary meeting of the Friends of Constitutional Reform in the following spring. He opposed the adjournment of a Regency, November 1810, and was in the opposition majority on that subject, 1 Jan. 1811, but took a week’s sick leave on 18 Jan. He spoke chiefly on Indian questions that session—a motion of his for the freedom of the press in India, 21 Mar., was defeated by 53 votes to 18. He was a member of the committee on distress in the cotton trade, 5 June. On 9 July he announced his opposition to the gold coin bill ‘at every stage’ and he was as good as his word in the next session, in which he was also prominent in the denunciation of sinecures and government extravagance. Perceval thwarted his nomination to the finance and civil list committees, 9 Jan., 11 Feb. He presented Glasgow petitions against the orders in council and was in the majority for a more efficient ministry, 21 May 1812.

Returned unopposed in 1812 on his platform of independent principles and attention to local interests, Hamilton remained active in the House. He frequently acted as an opposition teller. He spoke for Burdett’s Regency motion, 23 Feb. 1813, and, as before, supported Catholic relief throughout in 1813, though silently and not again until 1817. On 1 Apr. 1813 he arraigned the Duke of Cumberland, unsuccessfully, for improper interference in the election at Weymouth, and in June he was a critic of the corruption permitted by the Duke of Leeds at Helston, though he failed to frustrate the issue of a new writ, 14 July. He felt unable to support Creevey, his coadjutor on Indian affairs, in his complaint of breach of privilege, 25 June. He attempted unsuccessfully to defer alteration of the Corn Laws, 15 June 1813, presented Scottish petitions against it, 5 and 25 Apr. 1814, and opposed it on principle,5 May, 16 May and 6 June, seeing an increase in bread prices as inevitable; he did so again on 27 Feb., 3 and 5 Mar. 1815, presenting another Glasgow petition against it on 10 Mar. He objected to the continuation of the restriction on Bank payments in cash, 30 June 1814, calling for a committee on the subject, 10 Feb. 1815; but his motion for one was lost, 2 Mar., by 134 votes to 38. He was also a critic of the expulsion from the House of Lord Cochrane, whose ‘total innocence’ he maintained 5, 19 July 1814; of the new aliens legislation, 14 July 1814, 24 Apr. 1814, and of the alienation of Genoa, 27 Apr. On 30 June he promised to oppose the Duke of Cumberland’s marriage grant ‘at every stage’, having voted for economy motions throughout the session. He also voted with Whitbread against a hasty resumption of hostilities with Buonaparte, 7 Apr., 25 May. In the session of 1816 after a late start due to absence abroad, he was again a regular voter for retrenchment and attempted to block the Bank restriction bill, 3 Mar., and the aliens bill, 10 May.12

On 3 Feb. 1817 Hamilton took up the subject of Scottish burgh reform, which had been in abeyance for 25 years: he defended it in principle on 10 Mar. The suspension of habeas corpus, which he opposed, and the trials of Scottish radicals, for which he unsuccessfully indicted the lord advocate in the House on 10 Feb. 1818, held up his campaign, but he resumed it on 13 Feb., when his motion was negatived without a division. On 10 Apr. he welcomed the royal burghs accounts bill brought in by the lord advocate, but it proved inadequate, as the self-election of magistrates hindered accountability. Accordingly on 8 Feb., 15 and 23 Mar. and 6 May 1819 he presented burgh petitions for reform, and on 26 Apr. 1819 justified it. His motion on the subject, with particular reference to Aberdeen, was lost by 110 votes to 105 on 1 Apr., but on 6 May he carried a select committee to investigate the subject by 149 votes to 144; it was reappointed on 21 Dec. 1819, and resumed in the next Parliament, though its objects were frustrated in 1822.

Hamilton had secured his re-election in 1818, despite the ‘machinations’ of his opponents, which he had exposed in the House on 10 Apr. He was, in that Parliament, a frequent speaker on Scottish subjects, apart from burgh reform, notably as an advocate of the economical reform of the Scottish judiciary. Apart from leave of absence for three weeks on his father’s death, he voted fairly steadily with opposition on all other subjects, but he felt obliged, in view of his brother the duke’s alarm, to support the seditious meetings prevention bill, 2 Dec. 1819: he voted for its limited duration on 6 Dec. and voted for it with much reluctance, so he claimed, at the third reading, but was reported to be proposing to raise troops in Scotland to deal with sedition.13 He was in the minorities against the seizure of arms bill, 14, 16 Dec., and against the newspaper duties bill, 20, 22 Dec. On 16 Dec. he had seconded the motion for a select committee on Robert Owen’s experimental community at New Lanark, which he was averse to theoretically but could not deprecate as an attempt to counter popular distress.

Hamilton had other handicaps to contend with apart from his deafness. He never married, having been spoilt for that, according to Lady Holland, by an early liaison with his cousin Lady Augusta Murray, by whom he had a son, followed by a liaison reglée with Lady Oxford, who described him as one of her three consolations in the world. In 1810 the Duke of Queensberry deprived him of £10,000, a promised legacy, presumably because of his opposition politics, whereupon Hamilton’s sister Lady Anne, ‘prime satellite’ to the Princess of Wales, bestowed her own legacy for the same amount on him. On his father’s death in 1819 he was, however, left poorer than he had been while he lived. He died 28 Aug. 1827.14

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Leveson Gower, i. 299; ii. 75; Warrenne Blake, Irish Beauty, 31, 39; Add. 47564, f. 189; 47575, f. 24.
  • 2. Add. 51570, Hamilton to Holland, 13 Oct. [?18 Dec.] [?1797], [11 July], [14 Oct.], 20 Oct., n.d. (bis) [1799], 3 July, 11 Nov., 20 Dec. [1800], [24 June 1801], 13 Feb. [1805].
  • 3. Ibid. same to same, 14 Mar. [1802], 26 Jan. [1803]; NLS mss 9370, f. 197.
  • 4. Add. 51570; 51736, Caroline Fox to Holland, 11, 31 May, 25 July 1803.
  • 5. Add. 48244, f. 115.
  • 6. Add. 47564, f. 189; 47565, f. 105; 47575, f. 91; 51570, Hamilton to Lady Holland [16 Dec. 1803].
  • 7. Add. 51570, Hamilton to Holland, 31 Jan., 9 Apr. 1804.
  • 8. Add. 47575, f. 123.
  • 9. Add. 47575, f. 116; 51570, Hamilton to Holland, 20 Dec. [1804], 13 Feb. 1805.
  • 10. HMC Fortescue, viii. 16, 43; Add. 51570, Hamilton to Holland, 19 Sept.; Fortescue mss, Hamilton to Erskine, 20 Sept., 17 Oct., Erskine to Grenville, 19 Oct. 1806, Hamilton to same, 21 Feb. [1807]; Blair Adam mss, Maxwell to Adam, 28 Oct., Armadale to same, 30 Oct. [1806]; Grey mss, Adam to Howick, 7 Feb. 1807.
  • 11. Creevey Pprs. ed. Maxwell, i. 122, 128.
  • 12. Add. 51584, Tierney to Holland, 30 Nov. 1815; Brougham mss 39194.
  • 13. Brougham mss 10161; Buckingham, Regency, ii. 344.
  • 14. Add. 51549, Lady Holland to Grey [29 Dec. 1810]; HMC Fortescue, x. 181; Glenbervie Diaries, ii. 90, 126; Creevey Pprs. ii. 64; Gent. Mag. (1827), ii. 462.