James Hamilton, 2nd Earl of Abercorn

James Hamilton, 2nd Earl of Abercorn (c.1604 – c. 1670) was a Scottish peer. He, his wife, his mother, and most of his family were recusants (Catholics). Implementing his father's will he gave his Irish title of Baron Hamilton of Strabane to his younger brother Claud. His younger brothers had inherited his father's Irish lands, while he received the Scottish ones, which he squandered away, being deep in debt in his later days.

  • The Right Honourable
  • The Earl Abercorn
Earl of Abercorn
Tenure1618 – c.1670
PredecessorJames Hamilton
SuccessorGeorge Hamilton
3, including James and George
FatherJames Hamilton
MotherMarion Boyd

Birth and origins

James was born about 1604,[lower-alpha 1] probably in Paisley, Scotland. He was one of the eight[1] or nine[2] siblings and the eldest of the five sons of James Hamilton and his wife Marion Boyd.[3] His father would be created 1st Earl of Abercorn by James VI and I in 1606. His paternal grandfather was Claud Hamilton, 1st Lord of Paisley. His mother was the eldest daughter of Thomas Boyd, 6th Lord Boyd of Kilmarnock in Scotland.[4]

Family tree
James Hamilton with wife, parents, and other selected relatives.
2nd Earl

c. 1516 –
3rd Earl

c. 1532 –
1st Marquess

c. 1535 –
1st Ld


d. 1616
1st Earl


d. 1632

d. 1614
& Roscrea

d. bef. 1657
2nd Earl
d. c. 1670
C. 2nd

c. 1590 –
2nd Baron
of Strabane

d. 1638
1st Bt.

d. 1681
1st Bt.

c. 1607 –

c. 1635 –
bef. 1670
d. bef.
3rd Earl

c. 1636 –
bef. 1683
3rd Baron
H. of

4th Baron
H. of

1636/7 –
c. 1630 –
4th Earl

5th Earl

d. 1701
6th Earl

c. 1661 –
XXXEarls of
This family tree is partly derived from the Abercorn pedigree pictured in Cokayne.[5] Also see the lists of siblings and children in the text.

He heads the list of brothers below as the eldest:

  1. James (c. 1604 – 1670), the subject of this article;
  2. Claud (died 1638), who established himself in Ireland;
  3. William (died 1681), who became Baronet Hamilton of Westport and represented Henrietta Maria, Charles I's widow, at the pope;[6][7][8]
  4. George (c. 1607 – 1679), who became Baronet Hamilton of Donalong;[9][10][11][lower-alpha 2] and
  5. Alexander (died before 1669), who became the founder of the German branch of the Hamiltons.

His sisters were:[lower-alpha 3]

  1. Anne (1592–1620), who married Hugh, 5th Lord Sempill in 1611;[12]
  2. Margaret; and
  3. Lucy, who died unmarried.

His father had been a Protestant, but his mother, Marion Boyd, was a recusant, who brought him, like all his siblings, up as a Catholic. On 10 April 1606 his father was created Earl of Abercorn and Lord Paisley, Hamilton, Mountcastell and Kilpatrick.[13]

Baron Hamilton of Strabane

On 8 May 1617, when he was only about 12 years old, he was created Baron Hamilton of Strabane, in the peerage of Ireland, with remainder to the heirs male of the body of his father.[14] This title refers to the town in County Tyrone, Ulster, Ireland, where his father had built a castle. The purpose was to make him an Irish peer.

Father's and grandfather's succession

He succeeded his father as the 2nd Earl of Abercorn in 1618,[15] and his grandfather, Claud Hamilton, 1st Lord Paisley, in 1621.[16] Since his father had entailed his Irish lands on his younger brothers, he resigned the lordship of Hamilton of Strabane on 11 November 1633. Charles I, King of England and Scotland then regranted it to his brother Claud.[17] From his grandfather he inherited the Scottish estates of the family, notably Abercorn and Paisley, including Kilpatrick on the northern bank of the Clyde.

Grand tour

Sometime in the early 1620 Abercorn went to the continent on his Grand Tour, which was not yet called so in his time. He visited Catholic countries, France and Italy, which encouraged him in his Catholicism. He returned to Paisley in April 1627.[18]

Marriage and children

In 1627 he married Katherine, Dowager Duchess of Lennox.[lower-alpha 4][lower-alpha 5] He was 22, she was about 34, more than ten years older. She had been married to Lord Esmé Stewart and had had 11 children from him. Her first husband had died in 1624, being the 3rd Duke of Lennox. On November 1632 she obtained a royal license permitting her to retain her precedence as a dowager duchess.[22]

With Abercorn she had three sons but the first two predeceased their father:

  1. James (c. 1635 – before 1670), who as the heir apparent held the courtesy title of Lord Paisley but predeceased his father without producing a male heir;[23]
  2. William (died before 1670), who became a colonel but predeceased his father unmarried in the German wars;[24]
  3. George (c. 1636 – before 1683), who became the 3rd Earl of Abercorn.[25]

Persecution by the Kirk

Abercorn's problems with the Church of Scotland (the Kirk) began with the process engaged by the Paisley Presbytery against his mother and some of her servants. In June 1626 she fled to James Law, the Archbishop of Glasgow for protection. The Bishop obtained a letter from the King, written by William Alexander, 1st Earl of Stirling that directed the church not to trouble here as long as she kept quiet.[26] However, in April 1627 Abercorn returned from his travels on the continent and provoked the church by declaring himself openly a Catholic.[19] On 20 January 1628 his mother, the Dowager Countess, was excommunicated by the Paisley Synod of the Church of Scotland.[27] He escaped only by being absent at the royal court in London.[28] His wife similarly was excommunicated on 3 February.[20]

On 26 August 1632 his mother died in Edinburgh.[29] On 21 August 1637 his wife died at Paisley and was buried "without ceremony" on 17 September.[30] Like his mother she was a recusant. Having been a Catholic, she was buried without ceremony. Her title as Baroness Clifton passed to James her eldest son (from her first marriage). At that time Abercorn was already deep in debt, owing more than 400,000 merks to his creditors.[31]

In 1649 Abercorn himself was excommunicated by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland and ordered to leave Scotland.[32]

Heir male of Hamilton

On 11 September 1651, the male line of the dukes of Hamilton failed when William Hamilton, the 2nd Duke died from woulds received at the Battle of Worcester fighting for Charles II of England against Cromwell. As the Duke had no sons, he was succeeded by his niece Anne Hamilton according to the succession rule of his title. It was found however that James Hamilton, 2nd Earl of Abercorn was the male heir, which was thought of no consequence at the time.[33] This status of the Abercorns being heir male later led to a dispute between the houses of Abercorn and Hamilton over the title of Duke of Châtellerault, when this title, which had belonged to James Hamilton, 2nd Earl of Arran, was revived by Napoleon III of France in 1864 in favour of the Duke of Hamilton.[34]

Sale of Paisley

On 22 June 1652 he sold Paisley to the Earl of Angus for £13,333 6s 8d.[35] Angus sold it a year later to Lord Cochrane, who would later become the 1st Earl of DunDonald.


He died about 1670[36] and was succeeded by his son George as the 3rd Earl of Abercorn.


01604, about[lower-alpha 1]Born, probably at Paisley.
21606, 10 Apr.Father created Earl of Abercorn.[13]
61610, Apr.Father chosen as an undertaker in James's Plantation of Ulster.
131617, 8 MayCreated Baron Hamilton of Strabane.[14]
141618, 23 Mar.Father died in Monkton, Ayrshire, Scotland.[15]
171621Grandfather died.[16]
231627, Apr.Returned from his travels.
221627Marries Katherine Clifton.[21]
241628, 20 Jan.His mother, the Dowager Countess, was excommunicated in Paisley Abbey Church.[27]
241628, 3 Feb.His wife, the Countess, was excommunicated in Paisley Abbey Church.[20]
281632, 26 Aug.His mother died in Edinburgh.[29]
291633, 11 Nov.Resigned his Irish Peerage in favour of his younger brother Claud.[17]
331637, 21 Aug.Wife dies at Paisley.[30]
451649Excommunicated and ordered to leave Scotland.[32]
471651, 11 Sep.Became heir male of the Hamiltons.
481652, 22 Jun.Sold Paisley.[35]
661670, aboutDied.[36]

Notes and references

  1. His birth date is derived from Cokayne's statement that "he [James Hamilton], though only about 13 years of age, was, on 8 May 1617 ...",[14] which allows us to calculate his approximate year of birth as 1604.
  2. The baronetcy is in the baronetage of Ireland according to Millar (1890)[9] and to Burke, 31st (1869)[10] but in the baronetage of Scotland according to Burke, 99th (1949)[11] edition of Burke's Peerage.
  3. There were four sisters according to Millar (1890)[2]
  4. The date is constrained by his return from his travels in April 1627[19] and his wife's excommunication on 3 February 1628.[20]
  5. Cakayne (1910) places the marriage "about 1632.[21]
  1. Burke 1869, p. 2, right column, lines 57The list starts with James, 2nd Earl, and ends with Lucy on page 3, left column, line 39. It is interrupted by the indented list of Sir George's children.
  2. Millar 1890, p. 177, left column, line 23"... by whom [Marion] he had five sons and four daughters."
  3. Millar 1890, p. 177, left column, line 22"Abercorn married Marion, eldest daughter of Thomas, fifth Lord Boyd, ..."
  4. Burke 1869, p. 2, right column: "He [James Hamilton, 1st Earl] m. Marion eldest dau. of Thomas, 5th Lord Boyd, and dying vita patris, 16 March 1617, left issue ..."
  5. Cokayne 1910, p. 4: "Tabular pedigree of the Earls of Abercorn"
  6. Millar 1890, p. 177, line 32: "Sir William, the third son, represented Henrietta Maria, when queen dowager, at the papal court."
  7. Burke 1869, p. 2, right column, line 80: "William (Sir), m. Jane dau. of Alexander Colquhoun, Laird of Luss, and widow of Alan, Lord Cathcart, but left no issue."
  8. Paul 1904, p. 47: "Sir William died at South Shields, 25 June 1681"
  9. Millar 1890, p. 177, left column, line 48: "On the Restoration he returned to England, was created a baronet of Ireland in 1660, and received other grants from Charles II in recompense for his services."
  10. Burke 1869, p. 2, right column, bottom: "George (Sir) of Donalong, co. Tyrone, and Nenagh, co. Tipperary, created a baronet of Ireland, in 1660, for his services to the royal cause."
  11. Burke 1949, p. 3, right column, line 1: "George (Sir) of Donalong, co. Tyrone, and Nenagh, co. Tipperary, created a baronet of Scotland, about 1660;"
  12. Paul 1910, p. 555: "He [Hugh Sempill] married in 1611 (...) first Anne Hamilton, eldest daughter of James, 1st Earl of Abercorn."
  13. Cokayne 1910, p. 2, line 11: "On 10 July 1606, he was cr. EARL OF ABERCORN, LORD PAISLEY, HAMILTON, MOUNTCASTELL, and KILPATRICK [S.] to him and his heirs male whatsoever."
  14. Cokayne 1910, p. 3, line 7: "In the lifetime of his father and grandfather, he, though only about 13 years of age, was, on 8 May 1617 (...) cr. LORD HAMILTON, BARON OF STRABANE, co. Tyrone (I.), with rem. to the heirs male of the body of his father."
  15. Cokayne 1910, p. 3, line 1: "He [James Hamilton, the 1st Earl] d. v.p. at Monkton 23 Mar. and was bur. 29 Ap. 16 18 in the Abbey Church, Paisley, aged 43."
  16. Holmes 2004, p. 778, right column: "Lord Claud lived in retirement for over twenty years, dying in 1621, and was buried in Paisley Abbey"
  17. Cokayne 1910, p. 3, line 13: "On 11 Nov. 1633 he resigned his Irish Peerage in favour of his yr. br., Claud Hamilton, on whom the Irish estates were settled."
  18. Metcalfe 1909, p. 236: "... but in April 1627, her son the Earl had returned and had openly declared himself a Catholic ..."
  19. Metcalfe 1909, p. 236, line 16: "... but in April 1627, her son the Earl had returned and had openly declared himself a Catholic ..."
  20. Metcalfe 1909, p. 236, line 33: "On February 3 the Countess was excommunicated."
  21. Cokayne 1910, p. 3, line 20: "He m. about 1632, Catherine, Dowager Duchess of LENNOX da. and h. of Gervase (CLIFTON) LORD CLIFTON OF LEIGHTON BROMSWOLD, by Catherine dau. and h. of Sir Henry Darcy of Leighton afsd."
  22. Cokayne 1910, p. 3, line 23: "... who by Royal Lic., 28 Nov 1632, was entitled, nonwith standing her marriage, to retain her title, rank and precedency as DUCHESS OF LENNOX [S.]"
  23. Paul 1904, p. 49, line 21: "James ... who died before his father ... had only a daughter."
  24. Paul 1904, p. 49, line 30: "William ... died before his father, being killed in the wars in Germany, without issue."
  25. Paul 1904, p. 49, line 34: "GEORGE, third Earl of Abercorn, succeeded his father but died unmarried in Padua, ..."
  26. Stirling 1885, p. 70: "A Letter from Sir William Alexander to the Archbishop of Glasgow by his Majesteis Directions [16 August 1626]. Most reverend father in God, and my verie good Lord – Thogh the earle of Abercorne in the tyme of his travells abroad, being a young man, hath beene seduced to the Romish religion, yet his Majestie hath conceaved so good ane opinion of his disposition ytherwyse, that he thinks he may be reclaymed be fair meanes; and therfor is is his Majestie's pleasur, so long as he by his cariage giveth no publict scandell, that yow suffer none to trouble him ... "
  27. Cokayne 1910, p. 3, line 3: "His widow, a prominent Rom. Cath., who was excommunicated in the kirk of paisley on 20 Jan. 1628 ..."
  28. Metcalfe 1909, p. 236, line 28: "In November, 1627, they were reported to the synod and on January 20, 1628, sentence of excommunication was pronounced against the Dowager Countess, and would have been against the Earl but he 'had taken a journey to the Court for his necessary and lawful business.'"
  29. Cokayne 1910, p. 3, line 4: "[Marion Boyd] d. in the Canongate, Edinburgh, 26 Aug., and was bur. 13 Sep. 1632 with her husband."
  30. Cokayne 1910, p. 3, line 25: "[she] d. in Scotland and was bur. 'without ceremony' 17 Sep 1637, aged about 45."
  31. Cokayne 1910, p. 3, line 26a: "He [the 2nd Earl] was then [about 1640] living, but 'more than 400,000 merks in debt'."
  32. Metcalfe 1909, p. 250, line 7: "At length, in 1649, the General Assembly, which, as we have seen, had long since taken the case out of the hands of the Presbytery, pronounced the sentence of excommunication and banishment against him."
  33. Paul 1904, p. 49, line 6: "On the death of William, 2nd Duke of Hamilton, of his wounds on the battle of Worcester, 11 September 1651, his Lordship became male representative of the family of Hamilton, but the estates and titles of that house evolved on Anne, Duchess of Hamilton."
  34. Picamilh 1874, p. 234: "Maintien et confirmation du titre de duc de Châtellerault en faveur du duc d'Hamilton (D. 20 avril 1864, s. XI, b. 1234, t. XXIV, p260)"
  35. Metcalfe 1909, p. 310, line 6: "On June 22, 1652, the Earl of Abercorn signed a disposition, by which, for the sum of £13,333 6s 8p. Scots, he sold to the Earl of Angus 'the Lordship and barony of Paisley, comprehending ..."
  36. Cokayne 1910, p. 3, line 26b: "He [the 2nd Earl] died about 1670."

Further reading

  • Brian Mac Cuarta, 'Scots Catholics in Ulster, 1603-41', in David Edwards & Simon Egan, The Scots in Early Stuart Ireland: Union and Separation in Two Kingdoms (Manchester, 2016), pp. 141–168.
Peerage of Scotland
Preceded by
James Hamilton
Earl of Abercorn
1618 – c. 1670
Succeeded by
George Hamilton
Preceded by
Claud Hamilton
Lord Paisley
1621 – c. 1670
Peerage of Ireland
New creation Baron Hamilton of Strabane
Succeeded by
Claud Hamilton
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