A superfluity of Hamiltons

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A recent review of my ancestral royal lines has suggested that they are all, in one way or another, problematic – either the line breaks here, in America, or there, in the British Isles. One approach I’ve tried, in a desultory way, is to look at all the lines around the desired royal one, creating an ancestor table (or ahnentafel) to manage the information (and keep me honest!).

I am a descendant of Robert Livingston, the first Lord of Livingston Manor (1654–1728), whose rank as a patroon testifies to his success as a land speculator in the Colony of New York. In roughing out an ancestor table for Robert, I was struck anew by the way even well-to-do families with property to inherit seem so often to lack agreed-upon pedigrees supported by contemporary records.

Take the family of Robert’s mother, Janet Fleming (1613–1693), who married the Rev. John Livingston – a cadet of the Lords Livingston, since 1600 Earls of Linlithgow – in 1635. Janet was the daughter of Bartholomew Fleming, a merchant of Edinburgh, whose brothers were the Rev. James Fleming of St. Bathans (Yester) in Haddingtonshire,[1] and John Fleming, another merchant in Edinburgh. I cannot connect these three Fleming brothers – prominent enough in seventeenth-century Scotland – to any other Fleming family; the presence, at Janet and John’s wedding, of the Earl of Wigtown (head of the Fleming family) seems attributable to Lady Wigtown having been born a Livingston.

Bartholomew Fleming married Marion Hamilton, who seems on firmer ground thanks to an expansive History of the House of Hamilton.[2] The author provides few dates, however, offering marriages for Marion’s sisters Barbara,[3] Elizabeth,[4] and Beatrix[5] over a period of eighteen years. Marion’s parents were Robert Hamilton,[6] merchant burgess of Edinburgh (who died before 12 May 1608),[7] and Marion Simpson, sister of Joneta Simpson.[8]

The younger Robert Hamilton was the son of Robert Hamilton, merchant, who died after 28 April 1603; with this latest Robert the superfluity of Hamiltons reaches a crescendo. According to the Hamilton genealogy, Robert Hamilton (d. after 1603) married, first, Marion Hamilton, daughter of John Hamilton and sister of Samuel Hamilton of Bankell; and, second, Marion Hamilton, daughter of Robert Hamilton, mercer, who was dead before 1 December 1587.[9]

It is here that the disdain for dates is most acute…

We are left to deal with the Hamiltons of Stonehouse and Raploch (behind Robert [Sr.]) and the Hamiltons of Bankell (and perhaps Bardowie) (behind Marion, Robert [Sr.]’s first wife).[10]

It is with a sense of relief that I turn from sorting out Roberts and Marions to contemplate the father of Robert [Sr.]: Captain James Hamilton, first of Stonehouse, formerly of Raploch – and promptly encounter a centuries’ old mystery about his wives, one of whom merits at least as much narrative room as her spouse. It is here that the disdain for dates is most acute, since the records indicate that James’s first wife – Margaret Mowat, the heiress of Stonehouse – died before 23 August 1534,[11] or almost seventy years before Robert Hamilton [Sr.] died. So far, so good, but is Robert’s mother actually the rather more interesting Grissell Sempill, daughter of the 3rd Lord Sempill and mistress of her husband’s kinsman John Hamilton, Archbishop of St. Andrews (1512–1571)?

Grissell’s father was born ca. 1505, according to the peerages,[12] which makes him little older than the Archbishop. Grissell is said to have married James Hamilton by 10 March 1539/40 – and been divorced from him by 21 February 1545/46[13] – yet Robert Naismith’s history of Stonehouse gives James Hamilton and his first wife two daughters and James and his second wife, Grissell, six sons … born in about six years.[14] (Grissell had further issue with the Archbishop, although how many children, and when, is unclear.[15])

By Naismith’s account, James Hamilton of Stonehouse is an exemplary forebear, the chivalrous Captain of Edinburgh Castle who kept the invading English at bay in 1543:[16]

Brave Hamilton of Stonehouse,

Stern captain of the fort,

Against the English army,

Defended every port.


Right gallantly he held his ground,

Hemmed in on every side,

And poured destruction on the foe

In a red streaming tide.


Till the victor saw the vanquished

Retreat, in proud disdain,

Wreaking vengeance on the innocent,

And plundering the slain.

As for Grissell Sempill, Naismith quotes “a most remarkable notice” dated 26 November 1551: “Actis to be sit furth charging Grizzell Sempill, Lady Stanehouse, adulterar, to remuif herself furth of the town betwixt [____] and Munday next under the pains containit in the proclamation set furth again adulteraris.”[17]

At a guess, I would think that James [Jr.], John (who succeeded at Stonehouse), and Robert (evidently an adult in 1543) were the sons of James and Margaret (Mowat) Hamilton,[18] while Archibald, Alexander, Thomas, Grizzell, and (another) Janet Hamilton were the children of James and Grissell (Sempill) Hamilton.[19] The paucity of dates means that, no matter what, the narrative has to be provisional: the link between James of Stonehouse and Robert of Edinburgh, for one, rests on a fairly flimsy connection.

In any case, it makes a pretty puzzle!


[1] It is the Rev. James Fleming who is supposed to have married, for his first wife, Elspeth Fairlie, daughter of Alexander Fairlie and Martha Knox, daughter of the reformer John Knox.

[2] Lieutenant-Colonel George Hamilton, A History of the House of Hamilton (Edinburgh: Printed by J. Skinner & Co., Ltd., 1933).

[3] She married John Mein 30 July 1607. Hamilton, A History of the House of Hamilton, 832.

[4] She married the Rev. Richard Dickson before 12 May 1608, on which date her father was dead. Ibid.

[5] She married the Rev. Robert Blair 26 July 1625. Ibid.

[6] It seems likely that Robert Hamilton was the namesake for his great-grandson Robert Livingston of Livingston Manor.

[7] Hamilton, A History of the House of Hamilton, 831.

[8] Marion (Simpson) Hamilton was sometimes Mariota Simpson; Joneta Simpson was probably the namesake for her niece, Janet (Fleming) Livingston.

[9] Hamilton, A History of the House of Hamilton, 831.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid., 828–30.

[12] For instance, Charles Mosley, ed., Burke’s Peerage & Baronetage: Clan Chiefs, Scottish Feudal Barons, 107th ed., 3 vols. (Wilmington, Del.: Burke’s Peerage & Baronetage, LLC, 2003), 3: 3657.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Robert Naismith, Stonehouse: Historical & Traditional (Glasgow: Robert Forrest, 1885), 46–47. Robert Hamilton, who evidently becomes our Robert Hamilton [Sr.], had “a grant of the abbacy at Failfurde, in the diocese of Glasgow, dated [in] 1543” (47) – but is that not too close to the 1540 date of his parents’ marriage, if he is the (third) son of James and Grissell?

[15] Two of the Archbishop’s children, John and William Hamilton, were legitimated 9 October 1551. Naismith, Stonehouse: Historical & Traditional, 49.

[16] It is sad, then, to report that Hamilton and his eldest son, James, were slain by French troops at Cannongate in 1548. Ibid., 45.

[17] Ibid., 49.

[18] Their sisters were Margaret and Janet Hamilton. Ibid., 46.

[19] A manuscript pedigree notes that James Hamilton’s other daughters married Kilpatrick of Closeburn, Lockhart of Cleghorn, Cunningham of Robertland, Crawford of Ferne, and Hamilton of Silvertonhill. Ibid., 47. (This would be in addition to Margaret and Janet, who are assigned other husbands.)

About Scott C. Steward

Scott C. Steward was the founding editor at Vita Brevis; he served as NEHGS Editor-in-Chief 2013-2022. He is the author, co-author, or editor of genealogies of the Ayer, Le Roy, Lowell, Saltonstall, Thorndike, and Winthrop families. His articles have appeared in The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, NEXUS, New England Ancestors, American Ancestors, and The Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine, and he has written book reviews for the Register, The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, and the National Genealogical Society Quarterly.

10 thoughts on “A superfluity of Hamiltons

  1. Chris,

    From my long-ago reading of Antonia Fraser’s book on Mary Queen of Scots, I’d have said there’s also a superfluity of Flemings. How many of them are royal? And are they legitimate or not?


  2. Scott, Great post – I think I spent most of last Saturday looking at my own problematic royal kin….. you are so right, what puzzles!


  3. Scott – Nice work, my friend. As Jennifer, above, said, I had no parents for Marion. I do believe I’ll incorporate your work into my work. Thanks, as usual.

  4. Scottish disregard for the niceties of marriage when it comes to parenthood is legendary (I’ve found an instance of same in my own Scottish ancestry). And while I’d be unwilling to point a finger at any individual, including Grissell Sempill, without full knowledge of the details, I’m not averse to maintaining–and I expect that many others would join me in this– that Scottish genealogy itself, despite the marvels of parish registers, can be a real bitch!

  5. Thanks so much! I am researching Elizabeth Hamilton, wife of Rev. Richard Dickson, whom you’ve footnoted as #4, citing the History of the House of Hamilton. I am not seeing a corresponding entry in that book. Would you please advise. Thanks again!

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