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The Earl of Arran
Personal details
Born c. 1532
Died March 1609
Resting place Isle of Arran
Parents James Hamilton, Duke of Châtellerault
Lady Margaret Douglas

James Hamilton, 3rd Earl of Arran (c. 1532–1609) was a Scottish nobleman and soldier who opposed the French-dominated regency during the Scottish Reformation. He was the eldest son of James Hamilton, 2nd Earl of Arran, sometime Regent of Scotland. He was of royal descent, and at times was third or fourth in succession to the Scottish crown; several royal marriages were proposed for him. He went to France with Mary, Queen of Scots, and commanded the Scots Guards. After returning to Scotland, he became a leader of the Protestant party against Mary and her French supporters, but went insane in 1562 and was confined in seclusion for the rest of his life.

Ancestry and family

James was born in 1532 or 1536.[1] His father, James Hamilton, 2nd Earl of Arran, was the grandson of Mary Stewart, eldest daughter of James II of Scotland. At this time the second Earl of Arran was, after King James V, the most senior, legitimate male descendant of King James II and, so the elder Arran was heir presumptive for much of King James V's reign and the future 3rd Earl of Arran was next in succession after him.

Through his mother Margaret Douglas he was descended from James IV through an illegitimate daughter, and Joan of Scotland, daughter of James I.

In 1542, James and his father were displaced by the birth of James V's daughter, Mary (the future Mary, Queen of Scots) - until James V died only six days later. The elder Arran became Regent for the baby Queen.

Regent Arran's marriage plans

The Regent proposed various royal marriages for his son, who was after all second in line for the crown.

In March 1543, James V's widow, Mary of Guise told the English ambassador Ralph Sadler that the Regent "mindeth to marry" her daughter Queen Mary to his son, something she was anxious to avoid.[2]

In December 1543, French envoys heard that the Regent wanted to marry James to Henry VIII of England's daughter Lady Elizabeth.[3] Nothing came of this, either.

Henry wanted to marry the baby Queen to his son Edward. The Regent was a Protestant, and initially supported this in public, despite widespread opposition in Scotland. Then in 1543 Arran became Catholic and joined the pro-French faction of Cardinal Beaton. Henry responded with the "Rough Wooing", nine years of war to make Scotland accept the English marriage.

In October 1544, James was taken to St Andrews Castle, where he was Cardinal Beaton's guest and a pledge for the alliance of the Regent and the Cardinal.[4]

The Regent still wanted to marry Mary to James. His half-brother, John, Abbot of Paisley, met with Lord Somerville and the Earl of Angus on 28 October 1545, to get their support. Somerville's son John wrote to Mary of Guise that they would not be persuaded.[5] Alexander Crichton of Brunstane and a diplomat in France, Johannes Sturm, also sent warnings of this marriage proposal to England. Sturm realised the marriage would hinder Anglo-French peace treaty negotiations.[6] James remained in the Cardinal's custody. In February 1546 he was sent a book of Latin exercises and a copy of Aesop's Fables.[7]

In 1546, a Protestant band seized St Andrews Castle and murdered the Cardinal. James was held prisoner. The Regent besieged St Andrews; the Protestants offered to give James to Henry VIII, in return for the help of an English fleet. Henry VIII was willing, but never actually sent the fleet.[8] On 14 August 1547, the Parliament of Scotland excluded James from the royal succession (he was then third) for the duration of his captivity.[9] Despite Henry's promises, the castle was finally taken with the help of French ships.[10]

The Regent now agreed to the marriage of Mary to the Dauphin Francis, son and heir of King Henry II of France.

In France

Queen Mary was sent to France in August 1548. James went with her or shortly earlier in July.[11] Though only a boy of 16, he was appointed captain of the royal Garde Écossaise (|Scots Guard).[12] For arranging the marriage of Mary and Francis, the Regent was made Duke of Châtellerault, and James succeeded him as Earl of Arran.

James became admired in France. In 1549, Emblemata (a collection of illustrated Latin proverbs and mottos compiled by Italian jurist Andrea Alciato) appeared in a French edition (Emblemes D'Alciat.),[13] which was dedicated to James.[14]

One of his personal devices was a heart pierced with an arrow pointing down.[15]

On 24 January 1553, the French royal armourer Bénédict Claye received an order for a suit of armour for James, to be delivered before 8 April 1553. The armour was decorated with engraved and gilded borders, and included a morion, a bourguignon, and accessories .[16]

Possible French brides

In April 1548, Henry II offered Françoise, daughter of the Duke of Montpensier as a bride for Arran.[17]

After Mary was betrothed to the Dauphin, a number of ladies of the court were suggested as brides for James. One was Mademoiselle de Bouillon, daughter of Henry II and his mistresss Diane de Poitiers, In May 1557.[18] Others were Claude de Rieux, Louise de Rieux (who married René, Marquis of Elbeuf), and Jeane de Savoie. But James did not marry.[19]

Queen Elizabeth

James' father gave up the Regency in 1556, and switched to a pro-English policy. It has been suggested that James was imprisoned in France as a Protestant in 1557–1558.[20]

In 1558, the ex-Regent proposed the marriage of James to Queen Elizabeth I of England to cement an Anglo-Scottish alliance. This proposal was supported by John Knox, the leading Protestant cleric in Scotland, and by John Jewel, Bishop of Salisbury.[21] Bishop Jewel remained in favour of the marriage as late as June 1560,[22] and Elizabeth's own opinion is not known.

In 1559, the ex-Regent and James openly declared themselves Protestants. James returned to Scotland escorted by English diplomat Thomas Randolph, and met another, Ralph Sadler, in Scotland. Both considered themselves his friends, but in their official correspondence, they noted signs of mental instability. Elizabeth formally declared her rejection of his suit on 8 December 1560 to the Scottish ambassadors William Maitland, the Earl of Morton and the Earl of Glencairn.[23] A later chronicler, David Hume of Godscroft, believed the marriage proposal 'so unprobable, and such a proposition as Morton knew would not be very acceptable to her',[24] but it was mooted by the Parliament of Scotland.[25]

"Monsieur de Beaufort"

When his father turned Protestant in June 1559, James was at his father's French estates in Châtellerault, perhaps at the Chateau de la Brelandiere, and became a fugitive from the French authorities.[26] He made his way to safety in Switzerland by July, reportedly spending 15 days hiding in a wood on the way.[27] His escape from France was masterminded by Elizabeth's counselor William Cecil and the English ambassador in Paris, Nicolas Throckmorton.

He went first to Geneva, then to Zurich where he was the guest of Peter Martyr, and then to Lausanne.[28] There he met Thomas Randolph (alias Barnaby), and they travelled incognito to England via Flanders. In London he stayed at Cecil's Westminster home.[29] He had an interview with the Queen herself in the garden at Hampton Court.[30]

At the end of June 1559, Throckmorton wrote to Cecil describing how James had been unkindly handled in France. After James had left some of his Scots Guards had brawled with some French soldiers. One of the French commissioners charged with his arrest tried to apologise to Mary, Queen of Scots, as he was her close relation. Throckmorton heard that Mary had denounced James as an "arrant traitor," and he hoped that this news would advance pro-English policy in Scotland. Throckmorton hoped the Scottish bearer of the letter, Sandy Whytelaw, would do this, and though Whytelaw was not a friend of James's father, he would raise support for the marriage of James and Elizabeth.[31]

Although Elizabeth was personally sympathetic to James's plight,[32] for English policy the rescue was a step towards the objective of ending the Auld Alliance, knowing that on Arran's return his father as 'second person' of the realm would become leader of the Lords of the Congregation.[33] William Cecil acknowledged Chatelherault's thanks for the rescue, writing on 24 August, "this one thing I covet, to have this isle well united in concord."

The name used by James while traveling through England was "Monsieur de Beaufort".[34]

James's journey to Scotland was noted in the letters of Bishop Jewel to Peter Martyr and Henry Bullinger. In their correspondence, Arran was known by the codename 'Crito', Randolph as 'Pamphilus' and Elizabeth as 'Glycerium'.[35] Despite this secrecy, the English commander at Berwick, Sir James Croft was aware of the plan by 14 June.[36]

Back in Scotland

James went first to the castle of Berwick-upon-Tweed and met the Scottish reformer, Henry Balnaves of Halhill.[37] After a midnight ride through the Cheviot Hills,[38] At one or two o'clock in the morning of Sunday 10 September 1559, he arrived in Teviotdale, and was re-united with his father at Hamilton Palace.[39] His younger brother, Lord David Hamilton, was not so fortunate. David, aged 15, was arrested on 17 July 1559.[40] He was first imprisoned in the Château de Vincennes and transferred in March 1560 to the Château d'Amboise wrapped in a blanket.[41]

Lady Catherine Grey

In September 1560, Sarlabous, the French Captain of Dunbar Castle, tried to spread a rumour that Elizabeth's council proposed an alternative marriage plan for Arran, with the English royal heiress Lady Catherine Grey, daughter of the Duchess of Suffolk.[42] Arran was found to be enjoying the company of an Edinburgh merchant's daughter, Alison Craig, described by Randolph as 'a good handsome wench' in December 1561, and the interference of the Earl of Bothwell, Lord John Stewart, Prior of Coldingham, and René, Marquis of Elbeuf led to an armed stand-off.[43]

Mary again

Following the death of Mary's husband Francis II of France in 1560, and the apparent failure of his English marriage plan, James' father again tried to marry his son to Mary, as first suggested in their infancy.[44] But Mary was having none of it.

Mary returned to Scotland in August 1561. George Buchanan, who was unsympathetic to Mary, suggested that in November 1561, she exploited young Arran's real affection for her by spreading a rumour that he planned to abduct her from Holyrood Palace to his residence, Kinneil House, to justify strengthening the royal bodyguard.[45] Though James' father disputed the rumour, and Thomas Randolph's findings confirm Buchanan's view, physical security was tightened at Holyrood.[46]

Valiant and Stout in the Cause

James joined the Lords of the Congregation and fought tirelessly against the French and Mary of Guise in the cause of the Scottish Reformation.[47] With his cousin, Robert, Master of Maxwell, on his father's orders, he attacked Crichton Castle the home of the Earl of Bothwell,[48] and Falkland Palace.[49] On 10 October 1559 James and his friends took money and silverware from Daldowie[50] and on 9 November 1559 raided the Palace of the Bishop of Dunblane, taking a gold necklace belonging to Janet, Lady Fleming, and removing the Bishop and his silver to Stirling Castle.[51] The sixty-year-old Bishop was then imprisoned at Castle Campbell till Christmas and forced to pay for his lodging.[52] In January 1559 Arran was leading the war in Fife, writing reports to Ralph Sadler and Sir James Croft from Dysart, Wemyss, Cupar and Aberdour. The French ambassador in England, Gilles de Noailles, reported that the Scottish rebels had told Queen Elizabeth that if they were victorious Arran would become King of Scotland by consent of Scottish lords with England as its superior kingdom. Scotland would pay England an annual fee and Elizabeth would add the arms of Scotland to her heraldry.[53]

A later English document of 1583 represents the possibility that the Scottish nobility were intent on making Arran King of Scotland, because of their dissatisfaction with Mary and her French links. The nobles were;

"fullie resolved to have deprived her of her government, and established the same in the eldest sonne of the Duke of Chatteleroy, the Erle of Arreyne, beinge then a gent of verie great hope and towardnes."[54]

Elizabeth sent a fleet to Scotland. At the end of January Arran conferred with the English Admiral William Wynter at Burntisland, saying he was about to return to his father's lands in the West, and by 4 February 1559, Fife was won over to the Congregation and pacified.[55] Later in February, Thomas Randolph posed as a Scot to gain the confidence of a French agent at Dumbarton Castle but Arran clumsily revealed his identity.[56] The centre of the conflict in Scotland moved to the Siege of Leith. An English army came to the rebels' support, arranged by the elder Arran in the Treaty of Berwick (1560). Before the English army arrived, the French raided Glasgow and attacked the Bishop's Palace, Arran shadowed their return to Leith with 800 horse.[57] He then joined the besiegers in the camp at Restalrig. On 4 March he met the Earl of Huntly, who seemed likely to join the Congregation, at Perth.[58] He retired from the camp at Leith by 10 April, 'evil at ease,' to rest at Holyrood.[59] Within a week, Arran was in control of Blackness Castle, and returned to Edinburgh for the peace negotiations after the death of Mary of Guise in June, which led to the Treaty of Edinburgh.[60] After the Protestant religion was established by the Reformation Parliament, he went with Lord James to Dalhousie Castle and burnt church books and vestments.[61]

Long twilight

The strain of all this activity caused a mental breakdown. At Easter 1562, his father confined him to his bedchamber at Kinneil House. Arran escaped using a rope made from his bedsheets, and made his way across the Forth to Halyards Palace and then to Falkland Palace. After accusing his enemy the Earl of Bothwell of conspiring to abduct Queen Mary, and speaking strangely of witches and devils, and "fearing that all men round about came to kill him," he was judged insane and confined for the rest of his life.[62] George Buchanan, who thought the abduction plot was real and Arran a hero, said Arran was imprisoned first at St Andrews Castle, then at Edinburgh Castle where Bothwell was also held.[63] Randolph wrote to Arran's old ally Throckmorton that the Earls had fallen into a 'cesspit of their own making.'[64] Arran was released in April 1566 and went to Hamilton, sick and without the power of speech.[65]

In 1575 he inherited his father's estate, but because of his insanity he was placed under the care of his brother John. John and their other brother Claude, Abbot of Paisley kept Arran prisoner at Craignethan Castle, and though it was reported in August 1575 that if he were well-used and at liberty there was hope of recovery, he was never again allowed any freedom.[66]

His mother Margaret Douglas, and aunts Elizabeth Douglas (the wife of Regent Morton) and Janet or Beatrix Douglas wife of Lord Maxwell, his sister Anne (mother of the Earl of Huntly), and youngest brother David were all also affected by mental ill-health. Thomas Randolph wrote that Arran 'has twice before been in the same case,' and his mother and aunts were 'certain times or the most part of the year distempered with an unquiet humour.'[67] (Randolph's description of Arran's symptoms sound akin to modern diagnoses of mania and bipolar disorder although his exact psychological condition will remain unknown.)

John and Claude were supporters of Mary Queen of Scots, and so in May 1579 the former Regent Morton seized Hamilton and Craignethan. (John and Claude fled to England.) Arran, his mother, and Lord David were taken to Linlithgow.[68] In 1581 his Earldom was taken by James Stewart (d. 1595), but later restored in 1585. Little is recorded of James in these later years: he died in 1609.[69]


Further reading


  1. Calendar State Papers Scotland, vol. 10 (1936), 31, says he was 57 in 1589: CSP Scotland, vol. 1, (1898), 362, says he was 23 in 1560
  2. Clifford, Arthur ed., Sadler State Papers, vol. 1 (1809), 86.
  3. Dickinson, Gladys, ed., Two Missions of de la Brosse, SHS (1942), 40–41.
  4. Hannay (1921), p.260: Accounts of the Treasurer of Scotland, vol. 8, p.319
  5. Cameron, Annie I., ed., Scottish Correspondence of Mary of Lorraine, SHS (1927), 147–148.
  6. Letters & Papers, Henry VIII, vol.20 part 2 (1907), nos. 622, 927
  7. Hannay (1921), p.260: Accounts of the Treasurer of Scotland, vol. 8, p.440
  8. State Papers Henry VIII, vol. 5, (1836), 560–561, 565, 572, 576
  9. Letters & Papers Henry VIII, vol. 21 part 1, (1908), no. 1456
  10. Bonner, Elizabeth. "The Recovery of St Andrews Castle in 1547", English Historical Review, June (1996), 578–598, Bonner is dismissive of Arran's significance at St Andrews, p 597.
  11. Merriman, Marcus, The Rough Wooings, Tuckwell (2000), 309 and note.
  12. Calendar State Papers Spanish, vol. ix (1912), 269.
  13. Alciati (1549), web presention by Glasgow University, "Prefatory matter for Emblemes (1549)". 
  14. Bath, Michael, "Alciato and the Earl of Arran”, Emblematica. An Interdisciplinary Journal for Emblem Studies, 13 (2003), pp. 39-52
  15. Calendar State Papers Scotland, vol. i, (1898), 286
  16. Grodecki, Cathérine, Documents du Minutier Central des Notaires de Paris: Histoire de l'Art au XVIe siècle, 1540-1600, vol. 2, Archives Nationales, (1986), 279 no.959
  17. Merriman, Marcus, The Rough Wooings, Tuckwell (2000), 301–302.
  18. Labanoff, A., Lettres de Marie Stuart, vol.1, Dolman, London (1852), 42–43.
  19. Durkan (1986), 159.
  20. Durkan (1986), 160.
  21. Calendar State Papers Scotland, vol. 1, (1898), 215, 216, June 1559, assent of Lords of the Congregation.
  22. Hastings-Robinson ed., The Zurich Letters 1558–1579, Cambridge (1842), 82–83
  23. Adams, Simon ed., Household Accounts of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, CUP, (1995), 146 note.
  24. Reid, David, Hume of Godscroft's History of the House of Angus, vol. 1, STS (2005), 135–136.
  25. Acts of the Parliaments of Scotland, vol. ii, (1814), 605–606, Commission for the marriage, August 1560: HMC 11th Report & Appendix, part vi, Hamilton Manuscripts, (1887), 43.
  26. CSP Scotland, vol,i (1898), 223, 334.
  27. Nicholas Throckmorton to Elizabeth, 27 July 1559, Forbes, Full View, vol. 1 (1740), 173.
  28. CSP Scotland, vol.i (1898), 234, Cecil to the Lords of the Congregation 28 July 1559.
  29. Calendar State Papers Foreign Elizabeth, vol.i, no. 1274, 1290, 1293.
  30. CSP Scotland, vol. 5, (1907), 375; Calendar State Papers Foreign Elizabeth, vol. 2 (1865), p.33n; Teulet, Papiers, vol. 1, p.357
  31. Stevenson, Joseph, ed., Calendar of State Papers Elizabeth, 1558-1559, vol.1, London (1863), p.340, no.888: Forbes, Patrick, ed., A Full View of the Public Transactions of the Reign of Elizabeth, vol.1 (1740), p.147.
  32. Forbes, Full View, vol. i (1740), 166
  33. CSP Scotland, vol. 1 (1898), 231 (22 July, Croft to Cecil), p.241, no. 521: Buchanan, George, trans. Aikman, James, History of Scotland, vol. ii, Glasgow, Blackie Fullarton (1827), 414–415 (Bk 16, cap. XL)
  34. Clifford, Arthur ed., Sadler State Papers, vol. 1, Constable, Edinburgh (1809), 422, 437, 447
  35. Hastings-Robinson ed., The Zurich Letters 1558–1579, vol. 1, Cambridge (1842), 56–57, 79; citing also Forbes, A Full View of the Public Transactions in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, vol. i, London (1740), 136, 147, 162, 166, 171, 183, 212; (letters to Bullinger do not survive)
  36. CSP Scotland, vol. 1 (1898), 215, Croft to Thomas Parry.
  37. Clifford, Arthur ed., Sadler State Papers, vol. i ,Constable, Edinburgh (1809), 405, 435–436, Sadler and Croft to Cecil, 8 September 1559.
  38. Clifford, Arthur ed., Sadler State Papers, vol. i, Constable, Edinburgh (1809), 519, Sadler and Croft to Cecil, 25 October 1559.
  39. CSP Scotland, vol. 1 (1898), 251
  40. Dynfnallt Owen, ed., HMC 58, Manuscripts Marquess of Bath, vol. 5 (London, HMSO, 1980), p. 144
  41. Calendar State Papers Foreign Elizabeth, 1559–1560, Longman (1865), 24 note; 437 text has 'muffled.'
  42. CSP Scotland, vol. 1, (1898), 483, September 1560.
  43. CSP Scotland, vol. i, 582–583
  44. CSP Scotland, vol. i (1898), 476, 31 August 1560.
  45. Buchanan, George, trans. Aikman, James, History of Scotland, vol. ii, Glasgow, Blackie Fullarton (1827), 450–451 (Bk. XVII ,cap XXIII)
  46. Calendar State Papers Scotland, vol. i, (1898), 574. Thomas Randolph to Cecil, 7 December 1561.
  47. Clifford, Arthur ed., Sadler State Papers, vol. 1, Edinburgh, Constable (1809), 447
  48. CSP Scotland, vol. i (1898), 262
  49. G. Dickinson, Miscellany of the Scottish History Society, ix, (1958), 'Report of De La Brosse and D'Oysel', 95 (in French)
  50. HMC 11th Report & Appendix part VI, Hamilton Manuscripts, (1887), 223, 'Daildowe'
  51. Alexander Laing, "An incident in the reformation". , Proceedings Society Antiquaries Scotland, vol. 11 (1874–76), 517–525,
  52. G. Dickinson, Miscellany of the Scottish History Society, ix, (1958), 'Report of De La Brosse and D'Oysel', 103.
  53. Calendar State Papers Foreign Elizabeth, vol. 2 (1865), p.251 n, Report of M. de Noailles, 4 Jan. 1560: Teulet, Papiers, vol. 1, 396.
  54. C. Read, ed., Bardon Papers, (1909), p. 13, Conyers Read notes that there is little contemporary evidence of this plan to make Arran King.
  55. CSP Scotland, vol. i (1898), 286, 287, 288, 300, 304, 308, 310.
  56. Calendar State Papers Foreign Elizabeth, (1559–60), 399–400.
  57. McCrie, Thomas, Life of John Knox, vol. 2, Edinburgh (1814), 410–412, Appendix no. 18 'A Historie of the Estate of Scotland 1559–1566'.
  58. Clifford, Arthur, ed., Sadler State Papers, vol. 1 (1809), 709.
  59. CSP Scotland, vol. i, (1898), 349, 355
  60. CSP Scotland, vol. i, (1898), 357, 364.
  61. Keith, History of Scotland, vol. iii, 7–8.
  62. CSP Scotland, vol. 1 (1898), 614–615.
  63. Buchanan, George, trans. Aikman, James, History of Scotland, vol. ii, Glasgow, Blackie Fullarton (1827), 453–456, (Bk, XVII, cap. XXIX–XXX)
  64. CSP Scotland, vol. 1 (1898), 616, 'inciderunt in foveam quam fecerunt.'
  65. CSP Scotland, vol. 2, (1900), 277, Randolph to Cecil 2 May 1566: Wood, Marguerite, 'The Imprisonment of the Earl of Arran', in Scottish Historical Review, vol. 24, no. 94, January (1927), 116–122.
  66. CSP Scotland, vol. 5, (1907), 179
  67. CSP Scotland, vol. 1 (1898), 615: CSP Scotland, vol. 10 (1936), 31.
  68. CSP Scotland, vol. 5 (1907), 338.
  69. Durkan, John, James, Third Earl of Arran, the Hidden Years, in Scottish Historical Review, Vol. LXV, 2, no. 180, October 1986.
Peerage of Scotland
Preceded by
James Hamilton
Earl of Arran
Succeeded by
James Hamilton

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