Hamilton, Sir George (d. 1676), courtier and army officer, was the second son of Sir George Hamilton (d. 1679), 1st baronet, fourth son of James, 1st earl of Abercorn, and his wife Mary, the third daughter of Walter, Viscount Thurles, eldest son of Walter Butler, 11th earl of Ormond (qv). Among his eight siblings were Elizabeth (qv), Anthony (qv), and Richard Hamilton (qv). He was probably born at his father's house at Roscrea, Co. Tipperary, in the late 1630s. Little is known of his early life and upbringing. His father suffered for his loyalty to Charles I and because of his close political links with his brother-in-law James Butler (qv), 12th earl and first duke of Ormond. His father accompanied the young Charles II into exile in Paris and participated in many of the plots and intrigues of his court. The younger George became a court page at the request of his uncle James Butler; he held this post for the duration of Charles II's exile. After the restoration, George and his eldest brother, James (see below), plunged into the excesses of the restoration court. They ogled the maids of honour, seduced other men's wives, dressed in silk and lace, and accompanied the court to Newmarket, Tunbridge Wells, and Bath. They played fast and hard, gambled heavily, and drew their swords at the slightest provocation. George was also considered to be one of the greatest intriguers at court. Nevertheless he was a popular figure and enjoyed the king's favour. For example, he was given the customary pension of £120 in 1661 and also received a grant of land in Co. Meath. In February 1667 Charles II also granted him the sole licence to hold lotteries in his dominions. He served as an officer of the horse guards until 1667, when parliament forced the removal of catholics from the army.
Hamilton and his company were then, with the connivance of Charles II, transferred to the service of Louis XIV, king of France. This transfer caused great jealousy at court and infuriated the Spanish and imperial ambassadors who tried to stop Hamilton's departure. However, Charles II refused to prevent the transfer and in February 1668 George managed to sail from Dover to Ostend with a hundred men and horses. In his pass, dated 14 January 1668, he was for the first time styled Sir George Hamilton.
He entered the French service, enrolled in Louis's bodyguard, and became captain general of the regiment formed by his men, which he was permitted to name the Gendarmes Anglais. Charles secretly thanked Louis through his London ambassador Ruvigny for allowing Hamilton to enter his service and to name his regiment the Gendarmes Anglais. Very soon after his arrival in France Hamilton applied for, and obtained, permission to become a French subject. Louis XIV gave him a pension of 2,000 crowns in addition to his pay, and sent him 600 pistoles when he returned to England to obtain his pension from Charles II.
In 1671 Charles instructed the lords justices of Ireland to give Hamilton permission to raise a regiment in Ireland of 1,500 men, fifteen companies each of a hundred men. This regiment contained a number of prominent soldiers and politicians whose names would loom large in the history of Jacobite Ireland, including Patrick Sarsfield (qv), 1st earl of Lucan, Justin MacCarthy (qv), Viscount Mountcashel, as well as Hamilton's younger brothers Richard and Anthony and his cousin Gustavus (qv), later defender of Enniskillen. By September of that year the regiment was ready to embark and Joseph Williamson, the earl of Arlington's secretary, commended Hamilton's diligent and discreet conduct. In France, Louis considered Hamilton's regiment, especially its officers, to be very good. However, the king's praise was tempered by the count de Louvois, who criticised the state of the regiment. Infighting between its senior officers, including Thomas Dongan (qv), Hamilton's brother Anthony, and his cousin Gustavus justified some of Louvois's criticisms.
Hamilton and his regiment served under the small army which Louis had left in the Netherlands after the Dutch had opened the dykes to prevent their country's being overrun by the French during the Franco-Dutch war (1672–8). In the summer of 1673 he joined the great Maréchal Turenne, who had been fighting the troops of the grand elector of Brandenburg and his imperial allies. In June 1674 Turenne crossed the Rhine at Phillipsburg, scattered the imperialists at Sinzheim, and subsequently ravaged the Palatinate. The imperialists engaged Turenne between Holzheim and Enzheim after his forces had endured a 40 mile march. Fierce hand-to-hand fighting ensued. George received three wounds and had a horse shot under him. Turenne commended him for his bravery and stated that victory was within his grasp had Hamilton not been injured. On 27 July 1675 he was with Turenne at Salzbach when the latter was killed by a cannon ball. He had the presence of mind to throw a cloak over his dead commander and further signalled himself by covering the retreat of the French army. The military historian J. C. O'Callaghan (qv) claims that Hamilton had warned Turenne at Salzbach to take a different route through the field in the moments before his death.
In 1675 Hamilton returned to England to raise recruits for his regiment. Charles agreed in private to his request, though it contravened the peace treaty which he had signed with the Dutch. In the following year Maréchal Luxembourg succeeded Turenne in command of the army of Alsace, and George became a count and maréchal-du-camp in February 1676. In March, Luxembourg, expecting reinforcements from Flanders and fearing an attack by the duke of Lorraine, attacked Lorraine's rearguard at Saverne. This assault, commanded by Hamilton, was driven back after fierce combat. Hamilton fell in the moment of victory. A French commentator named Pettison, writing from the French camp where he had accompanied Louis's historiographer royal, described the universal regret with which the news of Hamilton's death was received. He remarked that he had never known a person on whose merit people were more agreed or who possessed such contrasting qualities: great gentleness, modesty, courage, audacity, and firmness. Charles II and James, duke of York (qv), were no less grieved by his death.
One of his brothers was to have taken over command of the regiment but, at the insistence of Charles II and the duke of York, it was sold to Dongan, who later became 1st earl of Limerick and first governor of New York. Louis XIV bestowed a pension of 2,000 crowns on George's widow, Frances Jennings (see Frances Talbot (qv)), and Charles II raised her to the rank of Baroness Rosse and countess of Bantry and Berehaven. She lived in Paris until 1679, harrassed by creditors, until she married Richard Talbot (qv), earl of Tyrconnell. She had six daughters by her first marriage, including Elizabeth, who married (1685) Richard Parsons, 1st Viscount Rosse; Frances, who married (1687) Henry, 8th Viscount Dillon; and Mary, who married (1688) Nicholas Barnewall (qv), 3rd Viscount Kingsland.
George's eldest brother, James Hamilton (d. 1676), courtier and army officer, also joined the wandering Stuart court in the 1650s and spent 1655 with Prince Rupert at Heidelberg. He received a grant of numerous lands in Ireland after the restoration in 1660 and served as MP for Strabane in Charles II's Irish parliament. The king showered him with appointments, posts, and titles: he became ranger of Hyde Park, groom of the bedchamber, colonel of a regiment of foot, provost-marshal general of Barbados, envoy extraordinary to the duke of Tuscany, and commissioner of the prizes. The king also procured for him the hand in marriage of Elizabeth Culpepper, daughter of Sir John Culpepper and a maid of honour, whom he married in 1661. Hamilton left the catholic church before his marriage, to the great disgust of his devout catholic mother, who had prayed fervently for the welfare of her son Jamie.
The intrigues of James and George form an important part of their brother Anthony's Mémoires de la vie du comte de Grammont (1713). Like most of the royal favourites, James was not without enemies at court, and he was disliked by many, including the diarist Samuel Pepys. Mr Alsopp, the king's brewer, classed him with Lauderdale, Buckingham, and a few others, who led away the king so that none of his important servants and friends could come close to him. Arlington and Ralph Montague, later ambassador to France, envied the influence he exerted over Charles's favourite sister, ‘Minette’, wife of Philippe, duke of Orléans, brother of Louis XIV. The marquis of Antrim (qv) disliked him as a supporter of the duke of Ormond, while Cominges, the French ambassador to London, reproached him as: ‘un jeun homm sans experience cabale contre la France’ (Clark, 14). He was present with ‘Minette’ on the conclusion of the secret Anglo–French treaty of Dover in 1670. Her sudden, mysterious death immediately afterwards gave rise to rumours that she had been poisoned. James returned to France and was present on King Charles's behalf at the post mortem.
James later served with his brother Thomas in the English navy on the outbreak of the Anglo-Dutch war in 1673 as colonel of a regiment of foot on board the Royal Charles. He lost a leg at the naval battle of Schomet in May 1676. He was so near to Prince Rupert that those who saw the incident thought the prince had been slain. He died, according to the testimony of the surgeon of another ship, for want of proper medical attention on 6 June 1676. His aunt, the duchess of Ormond (qv), comforted him in his final hours. He was buried at Westminster Abbey, where a monument was later erected by his cousin the 2nd duke of Ormond (qv). Charles II bestowed the customs of the city of Galway on his widow. James and Elizabeth had a son, James, the Williamite 6th earl of Abercorn (qv); in 1689 he brought arms and ammunition into Derry, which was being held by a force commanded by his uncle Richard.
According to Anthony Hamilton's account, his brother James was ‘the man who of all the court dressed best’. He was: ‘well made in his person and possessed those happy talents which leads to fortune and procure success at home; he was a most assiduous courtier, had the most lively wit, the most polished manner and the most punctual attention to his masters imaginable, no person danced better, nor was anyone a more general lover’ (Clark, 14).
There is a portrait of George Hamilton in the National Portrait Gallery, London. A portrait of James Hamilton was formerly at the marquis of Abercorn's house at Stanmore, near London (1916), but was later sold.