Hamilton, Elizabeth (‘La Belle Hamilton’) (c.1640–1708), countess of Grammont, courtier , was born at Roscrea, Co. Tipperary, the eldest daughter of Sir George Hamilton (d. 1679), 1st baronet, fourth son of James, 1st earl of Abercorn; her mother was Mary, third daughter of Walter, Viscount Thurles, eldest son of Walter, 11th earl of Ormond (qv). Her uncle was James Butler (qv), 12th earl and later 1st duke of Ormond. She probably spent some of her early life in Ireland while her father faithfully served Charles I until the collapse of the royalist cause. She must have moved to France in the early 1650s as she received her education in Paris. Although she was still very young, she became an attraction at the court of Henrietta Maria, the queen mother, in Paris in the late 1650s.
At the restoration of Charles II in 1660 her family, which was catholic, returned from France and Elizabeth resided with her three sisters and six brothers in a large comfortable house close to Whitehall; her great beauty quickly drew her into the ambit of the restoration court. She was considered by many to be one of the greatest beauties at court, unrivalled for her attractiveness and intelligence. The duke of York, later James II (qv), could not conceal his admiration for her, and Cosimo de’ Medici, afterwards grand duke of Tuscany, in a letter to Sir Bernard Gascoigne on his return from England in August 1669, stated that she and her sister-in-law Frances Jennings (wife of George Hamilton (qv) and later of Richard Talbot, earl of Tyrconnell (qv)) were ‘undoubtedly the most beautiful women of this court’ (Sergeant, 207–8).
After spurning the affections of a whole series of the most eligible suitors at court, including Charles Lennox, duke of Richmond, Henry Jermyn, nephew of the earl of St Albans, Henry Howard, brother of the earl of Arundel and later duke of Norfolk, and Richard Talbot, she attracted the attention of Philibert, comte de Grammont, a distinguished French courtier, raconteur, and rake, whom her brother Anthony Hamilton (qv) made the subject of his Mémoires de la vie du comte de Grammont (1713). Cominges, the French ambassador to England, informed Louis XIV of Grammont's affections for a beautiful young demoiselle of the house of Hamilton, who was niece to the duke of Ormond but had little in material wealth. Although Anthony tells the story of his sister's courtship in the Mémoires, he conveniently suppresses the tale of Grammont's sudden departure from London without his intended bride. Anthony and his elder brother George were forced to intercept Grammont at Dover and bring him back to his betrothed in London. The two were soon married and Charles II presented them with a jewel purchased from the earl of St Albans for £1,260. In November 1664, two months after the birth of their first child, they left for France, where they resided for the rest of their lives. Charles II recommended them to his favourite sister, ‘Minette’, wife of Philippe, duke of Orléans, Louis XIV's brother. They remained close to ‘Madame’, and during the conclusion of the secret treaty of Dover between Charles II and Louis XIV in 1670 the Grammonts accompanied the duchess of Orléans to Dover.
‘La Belle Hamilton’ or ‘La Belle Anglaise’, as she was known, became the subject of great interest at the French court. The English who visited France continually sought out the Grammont residence. Louis XIV appointed Elizabeth a dame du palais and she used her influence to great effect on behalf of her three brothers, who served in the armies of marshals Turenne and Luxembourg. She pressed Madame to speak to Charles II on behalf of her brother James Hamilton (qv), and when he died she urged the earl of Arlington to make provision for his widow and her children. She also wrote to her uncle Ormond on behalf of her brother Richard Hamilton (qv), and she quarrelled with the powerful minister of war Louvois for not advancing her brothers quickly enough in the French service. Louis XIV took the trouble to send her the earliest news of the Jacobite war; she worried greatly over the fate of her three brothers, and later used her influence with the king to get Richard released from the Tower of London in exchange for Lord Mountjoy (qv) who had been incarcerated in the Bastille.
Elizabeth's fierce pride and haughtiness, even towards the queen of France and ladies of the court, stemmed from her close relationship with Louis XIV, who continued to heap favours, including a pension, upon her and her husband. She emerged as a possible rival to Madame de Montespan, the king's mistress in the late 1670s and was continually in the king's presence after 1685. Madame de Maintenon, who later replaced de Montespan in Louis's affections, did her best to undermine the king's friendship for Elizabeth but to no avail.
In 1684 she placed herself under the spiritual guidance of Bishop Fénelon, later confessor to the dauphin's son, the duke of Bourgogne. He later helped her to cope with her concern for her brothers fighting in Ireland and their subsequent disgrace at the French and Stuart courts as a result of their failings during the war. He upbraided her for her pride, arrogance, exceeding intolerance, and lack of gentleness and charity, and helped her to acknowledge her failings. However, he greatly appreciated her loyalty during his own subsequent disgrace, which did not diminish her affections for him. Her loyalty to Fénelon and the nuns at Port Royal caused a temporary breach between Elizabeth and Louis XIV, but they were quickly reconciled, to the great displeasure of Madame de Maintenon. On the death of his physician, Félix, in 1703 Louis bestowed his house within the grounds of Versailles on the Grammonts and it became a popular port of call for the princess of Bourgogne and the exiled Stuart royal family. Indeed, Elizabeth provided an important link between the French and English courts in the early eighteenth century, enjoying a very close relationship with Mary of Modena, wife of James II, who, during her final illness, visited her regularly and showed her the greatest kindness.
The comte de Grammont died in December 1706. She nursed him faithfully, prayed with him constantly, and did her utmost to encourage him to return to his religion. Despite his many infelicities, Elizabeth mourned him sincerely and his loss led to her failing health and depressive spirits; she wished to retire from court but Louis would not hear of it. She died of an apoplexy in Paris on 3 June 1708 after two months of great suffering. She was survived by two daughters, Claude-Charlotte, who married Henry Howard, earl of Strafford, and Marie-Elisabeth, who became abbess of St Marie de Poussay in Lorraine.
There are many surviving portraits, miniatures, and prints of Elizabeth. Sir Peter Lely painted her on several occasions and considered her portraits to be among his best works. There are portraits at Windsor Castle, Hampton Court Palace, and the National Portrait Gallery in London. Three prints after Sir Peter Lely, issued by Godfrey, Gardiner & Scriven, are in the Joly collection in the NLI.