James Hamilton – Minister’s Son, Academic and Agent
Rev. Hans Hamilton (1536–1608) was the first Protestant minister in Dunlop, Ayrshire. Dunlop is in the East Ayrshire council district and if you visit the historic Main Street today you can still see his church, his mausoleum and also the significantly-named Clandeboye School buildings, all of which date from the early 1600s. He and his wife Janet had six sons – James, Archibald, Gawin, John, William and Patrick – and one daughter, Jean.
Their eldest son, James Hamilton (1559–1644), was educated at St Andrews University when Andrew Melville was Principal there. St Andrews was also where the first martyr of the Scottish Reformation, Patrick Hamilton, had been burned at the stake on February 29th 1528, aged only 24. (Patrick Hamilton was nephew of the Earl of Arran and also the Duke of Albany; he was related to King James V of Scotland, although we are not aware of Patrick having any connection with either Rev Hans or James Hamilton.)
Having built a reputation as “one of the greatest scholars and hopeful wits in his time”, James became a teacher in Glasgow. Around 1587 he left Scotland by ship and due to storms unexpectedly arrived in Dublin. He decided to stay there and established a school – “The Free School” – in Ship Street. Hamilton was its master and he employed fellow Scot and fellow pupil of Meville, James Fullerton, as usher. One of their pupils was the eight year old James Ussher, who went on to become the Archbishop of Armagh, and who famously calculated that the first day of Biblical creation was Sunday 23 October 4004 BC. Ussher would later take the part of the Ulster-Scots in their nonconformist and Presbyterian stance. Fullerton and Ussher are buried alongside each other in St Paul’s Chapel of Westminster Abbey in London.
In 1591, Queen Elizabeth I established Trinity College in Dublin, and the first Provost noted that Hamilton had “... a noble spirit ... and learned head ...” and persuaded the two Scots to become Fellows of the College. Ussher, then aged 13, followed them to Trinity. Hamilton was made Bursar there in 1598.
Both men were agents for King James VI of Scotland, providing him with information about Elizabeth I’s activities in Ireland, and perhaps even tampering with the mail to keep the King, and themselves, informed. They were so successful that they gave up their academic positions to take up appointments at the royal court.
Hamilton was appointed Scottish agent to the English court of Elizabeth I, was involved in the negotiations for James VI’s succession to the English throne and eventually brought official news of Elizabeth’s death to Scotland. Fullerton was knighted when King James VI of Scotland became King James I of England – at the Union of the Crowns – in 1603.
So James Hamilton had great influence with the new King James I – influence which he would soon use to gain lands in Ulster.
Of his character, The Hamilton Manuscripts say “… he was very learned, wise, laborious, noble (especially to strangers and scholars), so there is great ground to judge he was truly pious, as he was certainly well principled … his younger education seasoned him well; He was observedly a great studier of the Scripture and an enemy to profaneness … he was very charitable to distress'd people that came in great numbers from the upper countrys. He was of a robust, healthfull body, and managed to the best advantage; died without sickness unexpectedly ere he finished his will …”
James Hamilton and his wife worshipped regularly at Bangor Abbey, under the renowned Rev Robert Blair. Hamilton had brought Blair from Scotland in 1622, and he seems to have been sympathetic towards the “non-conformist” stance of Blair, the majority of the Presbyterian clergy in Ulster and their Ulster-Scots congregations. Hamilton famously offered to Blair that he would not kneel for communion as long as he could do so inside his own pew, out of public view.
Hamilton was married three times, first to Penelope Cooke, then to Ursula (daughter of Edward 1st Lord Brabazon) and finally to Jane Philips (daughter of Sir John Phillips of Picton Castle in Pembrokeshire). Jane was the mother of Hamilton’s only son, also called James.
Of his wives, The Hamilton Manuscripts say “… His two first ladies proved but little comfortable to him, and his putting away of his second lady was not with general satisfaction to his friends and contemporaries …”
His great rival, Hugh Montgomery, died in 1636 and Hamilton may have seen this as an opportunity – he built the Tower House and Custom House in Bangor in 1637, just a few miles along the coast from Montgomery’s port at Donaghadee.
In 1641, with tensions rising in Ulster between the “native” Irish and the Scottish and English settlers which culminated in the 1641 Rebellion of October of that year, James Hamilton returned to Scotland to build both Clandeboye School and a mausoleum to his parents in the grounds of Dunlop Church, Ayrshire.