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Field Marshal The Right Honourable

The Earl of Orkney

The 1st Earl of Orkney
Born 9 February 1666 (1666-02-09)
Died 29 January 1737 (1737-01-30) (aged 70)
Place of birth Hamilton Palace, South Lanarkshire
Place of death London, England
Buried at Taplow Court, Buckinghamshire
  •  Kingdom of Scotland
  •  Kingdom of Great Britain
Rank Field Marshal
Awards Knight of the Order of the Thistle

Field Marshal George Hamilton, 1st Earl of Orkney KT (9 February 1666 – 29 January 1737) was a British soldier and Scottish nobleman and the first British Army officer to be promoted to the rank of Field Marshal. The son of the Duke and Duchess of Hamilton, he fought for William of Orange in Ireland and the Low Countries. He was raised to the peerage in 1695, and continued to serve with distinction in the War of the Spanish Succession. After these campaigns he retired from active service, taking on governorships and sitting as a representative peer in the House of Lords.

Early life

Lord George Hamilton was born at Hamilton Palace,[1] the fifth son of Anne Hamilton, 3rd Duchess of Hamilton and William Douglas, Earl of Selkirk. He was first trained by his uncles, Lord Dumbarton, Lord James Douglas, and Lord Angus, in military service in the 1st Regiment of Foot (then known as His Majesty's Royal Regiment of Foot).[1]

Military career

Ireland and the Low Countries

In 1689, after entering military service, he became a lieutenant colonel,[1] and a few months later a brevetted colonel. He and his regiment served at the battles of the Boyne[1] and Aughrim[1] in the Irish War. He then moved to command of the Royal Fusiliers and fought at the Battle of Steenkeerke.[1] He moved back to the 1st Foot, participated in various battles of the Irish rebellion, and eventually fought at the battle of Landen and the 1695 Siege of Namur,[1] both of which were fought during the War of the League of Augsburg. At Namur, however, Hamilton received a serious wound, and was eventually promoted to the rank of brigadier.

In 1695, Hamilton married Elizabeth Villiers[1] sister to Edward Villiers, 1st Earl of Jersey, and the following year, he was raised to the Scottish peerage as Earl of Orkney, Viscount Kirkwall and Baron Dechmont.

War of the Spanish Succession

He became a major general and fought in the War of the Spanish Succession under John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough.[2] A few years later in 1704, Orkney was promoted to lieutenant general.[2] At the Battle of Blenheim, Orkney led the final assault on the village of Blenheim,[2] receiving the surrender of its French defenders. Later, in June 1705, he marched his column from the Moselle to relieve the besieged city of Liège.[2] At the Battle of Ramillies,[2] he led the pursuit of the defeated French, and he played a major role at the Battle of Oudenarde.[2]

In 1708, he captured two major fortifications at Tournai.[2] At the desperate Battle of Malplaquet, Lord Orkney's battalions led the charge toward the French entrenchments, suffering serious losses.[2] He remained with his army near Flanders, until the end of the war. During that time, he received a promotion to general. After the peace treaties, he received the honorary title of Colonel Commandant of his old unit, the 1st Foot.

Later life

For the next few decades, he held civilian and military positions of importance. He was installed as Governor of Edinburgh Castle, made a Lord of the Bedchamber to George I, and was Governor of Virginia in 1714, but appears never to have visited the colony.[2] He served as a Scottish Representative Peer in six parliaments from 1707 to 1736, and was the Lord Lieutenant of Lanarkshire.[3] In 1735 he commissioned the building of a temple at his Buckinghamshire home, Cliveden House, by the architect Giacomo Leoni. He was promoted to the rank of Field Marshal in 1736.[2] This was the first promotion to the rank of Field Marshal in the British Army.[2] Hamilton died a year later in his accommodation on Albemarle Street, London.[2]

In 1733 Britain's greatest sculptor, and one of the leading sculptors in Europe, Michael Rysbrack, originally from Antwerp, carved a magnificent marble portrait bust of Lord Orkney in the guise of a Roman centurion. One of Rysbrack's greatest works, the bust is on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Its special character owes something to a bond between the sculptor and Lord Orkney, one that had its origins nearly 30 years earlier and was no doubt enhanced in their conversation when Lord Orkney sat to the sculptor for the modelling of the bust. Rysbrack would have been aware of Lord Orkney’s heroism during the various campaigns in the Low Countries during the War of the Spanish Succession, not least the battle of Ramillies on 23 May 1706 after which Orkney led the pursuit of the defeated French forces. Following the battle and pursuit, city after city – including Brussels, Bruges and Antwerp - capitulated to Marlborough's forces. In Antwerp, Rysbrack’s home city, to which Orkney was dispatched by Marlborough with re-enforcements for Major-General Cadogan, the Spanish Governor was in no mood to offer even a token resistance, and constrained the French part of the garrison to join him in surrendering the city on the 6th June. The arrival in Antwerp of Marlborough’s victorious forces, led by Orkney (Marlborough himself arriving on 12 June) is an event that Rysbrack, then a boy aged 12, would surely have witnessed. These events must have given sculptor and Lord Orkney a great deal of opportunity for shared reminiscences during the sittings for the bust.[4]


By Elizabeth Villiers, daughter of Sir Edward Villiers and Lady Frances Howard, Lord Orkney had three daughters, the eldest of which inherited his estate and title:[5]

  • Lady Anne,suo jure Countess of Orkney, married William O'Brien, 4th Earl of Inchiquin
  • Lady Frances, married Thomas Lumley-Saunderson, 3rd Earl of Scarbrough
  • Lady Henrietta, married John Boyle, 5th Earl of Cork


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 Heathcote, p. 165
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 Heathcote, p. 166
  3. Balfour-Paul, Vol vi, p 579
  4. D. Wilson, ‘The British Augustan oligarchy in portraiture: Michael Rysbrack and his bust of the Earl of Orkney’, The British Art Journal, Volume XI, No. 2 [2011], pp.43-61.
  5. Lady Henrietta Douglas,


  • Heathcote, T. A., The British Field Marshals 1736 - 1997, Leo Cooper, 1999, ISBN 0-85052-696-5
  • Balfour Paul, Sir James The Scots Peerage IX Vols. Edinburgh, 1907

Public Domain This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911) Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.) Cambridge University Press 

  • D. Wilson, ‘The British Augustan oligarchy in portraiture: Michael Rysbrack and his bust of the Earl of Orkney’, The British Art Journal, Volume XI, No. 2 [2011], pp. 43–61.
Peerage of Scotland
Preceded by
New Creation
Earl of Orkney
Succeeded by
Anne O'Brien
Honorary titles
Preceded by
Lord Lieutenant of Lanarkshire
Succeeded by
Military offices
Preceded by
Robert Douglas of Glenbervie
Colonel of the 1st Regiment of Foot Succeeded by
James St Clair

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