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George Hamilton, Earl of Orkney 
1666 - 1737

Commander of 1st/Royals (Orkney's)  from 1692 to 1737

 

 

A British Soldier who was the fifth son of William, Duke of Hamilton. George had his first taste of army life when he was trained for a military career by his uncle, Lord Dumbarton, in the 1st Foot. In 1689 he became a Lieutenant Colonel and only a few months later a brevet Colonel. By 1692 he had his own regiment. His early battle honours included serving at the battles of the Boyne and of Aughrim, as well as Atholne and Limerick, then moving on to being the head of the Royal Fusiliers at Steinkirk (Where the Steinkirk cravat style reputedly came from). He took part in the battle of Landen or Neerwinden as Colonel of his old regiment, the 1st Foot, and was also present at the siege of Namur. It was while at Namur that Orkney received a severe wound which he survived, and in recognition of his services was made a Brigadier.

 

In 1695 he married Elizabeth Villiers, the former mistress of King William III. She distrusted Marlborough and her bitter rivalry with the Duchess of Marlborough is thought to have contributed his disgrace from William. It is said that she was married off and removed from court when Queen Mary, after dying from smallpox,  requested it in her will. In 1696 George Hamilton was made the Earl of Orkney in the Scottish Peerage.

When Orkney became a Major-General he took the field with Marlborough in Flanders, and on January 1st 1703-1704 he became Lieutenant-General. At the Battle of Blenheim he distinguished himself with his regiment, who under his command carried the village. In June 1705 he led a flying column which marched quickly from the Moselle to the rescue of Liege. His military career kept growing. At Ramillies he headed the pursuit of the defeated French losing many Orkney's foot soldiers in the process, and wrote this letter home:

Camp at Beauvechain, twenty fourth of May, seven o'clock: You will be extremely glad to hear we have fought a great battle yesterday and beat the French, and I am in good health, but am hardly able to hold up my head, I am so weary and faint, for it is forty eight hours I have not eaten nor drunk, but once or twice a glass of wine and a bit of bread.
We are now met with the left of the army, for all night we knew nothing of the one another, and Mr Lumley and I had resolved to march straight to the Dyle to their lines. But here we are endeavouring to make camp and form in some order, for we look like a beaten army.

At Oudenarde he played a distinguished part during the battle. In 1707 the Act of Union between the English and the Scottish came to pass (read the actual Act here), helped and speeded up by Orkney's brother, the Duke of Hamilton. This abolished the old regimental Scottish flag and introduced the new British Union Flag. Politics too affected the Marlburian army abroad, and its felt that the flags weren't changed till they wore out. It is almost certain that the Scottish soldiers of Orkney's would have been very bitter about this and felt that their own government had 'sold out' to the English. A year later things calmed down and in 1708 Orkney, now with his new 'British' regiment, helped to capture the forts of St. Amand and St. Martin at Tournay.

Things did not always go his way. At the desperately fought battle of Malplaquet, Orkney's battalions led the assault on the French entrenchments, only to suffer very severe losses. Some say he never really recovered from the massacre. He remained with the army in Flanders till the end of the war as a 'General of the Foote', and when peace came he was made Colonel-Commandant of the 1st Foot as a reward for his services.

In 1710 Lord Orkney  is awarded an excellent appointment by Queen Anne: Royal Governor of the Colony of Virginia. For him, though, this is a sinecure: for all the years he holds this position (1710-1737), he never will see the New World (even though Orkneys Springs in Virginia is named after him). In his place he appoints a loyal deputy who resided in Virginia for him and carry out the Crown's business with his approval and interests in mind. A 'palace' for the Royal Governor was built for him in Williamsburg (which arsonists burnt down in 1781). This position, Lieutenant Governor, splits the salary and any other profiteering on a fifty-fifty basis. The Earl of Orkney appoints a fellow Scotsman, Alexander Spotswood, who would hold the post for twelve years. In all Orkney continuously appoints place-holders till his death, never once setting foot anywhere near America. The rebuilt house can be seen today in Colonial Williamsburg although oddly the owners of the house don't mention his name on the website.
 

Lord Orkney occupied various civil and military posts of importance for the rest of his life (in Britain), culminating with the appointment of 'Field Marshall of all His Majesty's Forces' in 1736. He died a year later in London, three years after his wife. This appointment is the first instance of Field Marshal's rank (as now understood) in the British Service.


2002 - 2007 Lord Orkney's Regiment and M. Cotton

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