Hamilton, James (c.1560–1644), 1st Viscount Claneboye , academic, and Scottish settler, was eldest son of Hans Hamilton, vicar of Dunlop, Ayrshire, and his wife Janet, daughter of James Denham of West Shield. He probably studied at St Andrews, where a man bearing his name graduated BA (1584) and MA (1585). In 1587 he arrived in Dublin with his friend James Fullerton, with whom he set up a Latin school. One of Hamilton's first pupils was James Ussher (qv), later archbishop of Armagh, who, along with many others, praised his teaching abilities. Hamilton and Fullerton were amongst the first fellows of TCD in 1593, and the former was granted an MA there in 1595. Hamilton played a key role in keeping the college afloat in its early years, going on fund-raising missions as far as Tuam and York. In 1598 he was made bursar of the college.
By October 1598 at the latest, Hamilton and Fullerton were acting as agents in Ireland for James VI of Scotland. In August 1600 James appointed Hamilton his agent in London, where his main task was to help secure James's succession to the English throne following the death of the aged Queen Elizabeth I. During this period he became involved in various intrigues and appears to have been working as much for Robert Cecil, Elizabeth's chief minister, as for James. In early 1601 he was recalled to Edinburgh in order to explain his conduct, but he continued to act for James in London. Great opportunities presented themselves in Ireland for Hamilton following James's accession in 1603 as king of England.
In 1603 Hugh Montgomery of Ayrshire rescued from captivity Conn O'Neill (qv), who had been imprisoned for rebellion, and promised to secure a pardon for him in return for half his land in Co. Down. Accounts differ about how Hamilton became involved in this matter, but the likeliest explanation is simply that Montgomery lacked the influence at court to procure a pardon, and offered Hamilton an equal share in a tripartite division of O'Neill's land for obtaining a pardon for O'Neill. On 16 April 1605 all of O'Neill's land was granted to Hamilton, and after a survey of the estate he in turn granted O'Neill and Montgomery their shares in November. By 1605 Hamilton had also purchased two royal letters from Thomas Ireland and John Wakeman, which both granted the holder lands in Ireland worth £100 a year.
When he arrived in Dublin in June 1605 with these grants, the lord deputy, Sir Arthur Chichester (qv), was at first unwilling to permit them, claiming he could not allow a Scot to hold so much land in a strategically crucial region. Hamilton read Chichester's true intentions and prudently came to terms with him. It was agreed that Hamilton would use Ireland's and Wakeman's letters to gain property well in excess of the value specified. By such means he acquired large tracts of property in Antrim and Down, and many smaller holdings scattered throughout the country. He concentrated his holdings in Down, sold most of the rest and simply handed over the vast Antrim estates to Chichester. For a time he also held ownership rights to the Lough Foyle and River Bann fisheries, which he sought to exploit, but was forced to surrender these rights in 1610 to further the Co. Londonderry plantation scheme. He continued to use Wakeman's letter to pass property well into the 1620s.
In the years after 1605 a thriving British colony emerged in north Co. Down, largely owing to the efforts of Hamilton and Montgomery, as Scottish tenants and labourers began to arrive in large numbers. By 1630 there were 1,401 adult British males on his estate. This success allowed him to add to his holdings: he leased the entire barony of Dufferin in 1610, and in 1611 purchased 2,000 acres of plantation land in Co. Cavan. For his efforts in developing Co. Down, he was knighted in November 1609 and had been made a privy councillor by March 1620. In 1613 he was returned as MP for Co. Down in a fiercely disputed contest, which the Irish accused him of rigging.
The spectacular gains Hamilton had made in the first decade of the seventeenth century were threatened by a long-running feud with Montgomery in the years after 1612. This involved the remains of Con O'Neill's estate, which Montgomery had largely acquired by then. Hamilton claimed that since the original grant of 1605 had been in his name alone, O'Neill could alienate land only with his permission. Hamilton's contacts at court ensured that by the end of 1616 Montgomery had been forced to hand over to Hamilton some of the land he had acquired from O'Neill. Montgomery riposted in 1617 by revealing to the English attorney general the fraudulent use that Hamilton had made of Ireland's and Wakeman's letters. He also accused Hamilton of conspiring with the disgraced former bishop of Down and Connor, John Todd (qv), to defraud the church of land. In 1618 Hamilton was ordered to produce all his patents for detailed examination, and in 1622 he was prosecuted by the crown for abuse of privileges granted. He was forced to sell his Cavan estates in 1621 and was described as being on the point of ruin. His creation as Viscount Claneboye on 4 May 1622 indicates that he had weathered the storm by then. About this time, he appears to have mollified the government by agreeing to surrender his rights to the customs of Clandeboye to the crown and pay double in rents to the king. However, despite numerous attempts to mediate an agreement, his land disputes with Montgomery continued up to his death.
Claneboye encouraged the arrival of Scottish ministers in east Ulster and used the clerical livings in his gift to provide posts for radicals such as Robert Blair (qv) and John Livingstone (qv). However, during the 1630s the crown began persecuting these radicals, and he distanced himself from his clerical clients. In 1639–41 he distinguished himself in prosecuting those in Ulster who refused to swear the anti-covenanting ‘black oath’.
After the outbreak of the rebellion in October 1641, Claneboye was commissioned by the Irish government to raise a regiment. With Montgomery's successor, Viscount Ards, he was able to preserve most of Down from the rebels. However, the continuation of the Hamilton–Montgomery feud impaired the effectiveness of the protestant forces in Down. In 1642 he campaigned with the Scottish expeditionary force in Ulster commanded by Robert Monro (qv). The same year he complained of the burdensome levies of the Scots on his estates. In the drastically altered circumstances of that period he mended his fences with the covenanters, writing a letter promising his support to the first presbytery to sit in Ireland, at Carrickfergus in June 1642. He died 24 January 1644 and was buried in the church at Bangor.
Hamilton's first wife was Alice Penwick, whom he had married by March 1602. He married secondly Ursula, daughter of Lord Brabazon (qv), whom he divorced c.1615. Soon after, he married Jane, daughter of John Phillips, 1st Baron Pembroke, with whom he had his only son and successor, James, later 1st earl of Clanbrassil.