Journal of the Northern Renaissance

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The Apocalyptic Muse of Francis Hamilton of Silvertonhill

Jamie Reid-Baxter

Whether thy chance or choise makes thee to looke,
(Right reverend Reader) on this Poeme penn’d,
Accept my first essay, this litle booke,
Despise it not, nor spare it to amend.
So shall thou thanks receive, and gaine a friend,
And for thy paines have praise, the just reward
Of such as vertue favour, and befriend
The just and good intent. Nor misregard
One litle talent (being rightly vsed
To vertues praise), which shall not bring disgrace
To the possessour. Talents ten, abused,
Makes the abuser loose them and his place.
One litle Talent with right vse I crave,
Rather then Talents ten hid vp to have.

[1] Thus Francis Hamilton (c.1585-1645) spoke ‘To the Christian Reader’ at the outset of his 1626 Edinburgh publication, King James His Encomium, A Poeme, in memorie and commendation of the High and mightie Monarch IAMES, King of great Britaine, France, and Ireland &c. our late Soveraigne, who deceased at Theobalds, vpon Sunday the 27. of March.1625 (STC, 2nd edn. 12726). We have no idea how many readers, right reverend or otherwise, ever looked on Hamilton’s ‘litle booke’, but in the last three centuries, they have not been numerous: no history of Scottish literature mentions the existence of King James His Encomium. But these thirty-one pages of strikingly energetic spiritual verse, which include Renaissance Scotland’s only ‘corona’ of sonnets, are well worth the looking on; and they become downright fascinating when taken in conjunction with the life, personality and manuscript writings of their author, which include petitions about witchcraft made to the Scottish parliament in 1641. [1]  Francis Hamilton’s life and writings have much to offer students of seventeenth century Scottish spirituality, royalism, upperclass profligacy and persecution of witches.

[2] Only two copies of King James His Encomium seem to survive. That held by the National Library of Scotland is incomplete, but it usefully fills a lacuna in the copy owned by the Huntington Library, the result of some owner’s having snipped the publisher Wreittoun’s device out of the title page. In all other respects, the Huntington copy is more than complete, for it contains a further 600 lines of manuscript verse (and other material), dated August and September 1630, written on a total of sixteen front and back flyleaves.[2] That the italic hand is Hamilton’s can be seen by comparing it with his petitions of 1641. This essay begins by surveying the contents of King James His Encomium. There follows a detailed biography of its author, including his 1641 petitions to Parliament, in order to provide the background to his manuscript verse.

[3]  Accurate printed references to Francis Hamilton are few: pages 6 and 7 of Glasgow City Council’s Provan Hall Heritage Trail describe the history of the 15th century mansion of Provan Hall and its extensive lands, whereof the youthful Hamilton became feuar as early as 1599, and all of which he had lost by 1625. The Scottish Historical Review carried a short biographical note which mentions the existence of both Hamilton’s published poetry and his petitions of 1641 (Gray-Buchanan 1909). Further precious details of his parentage, wife and progeny are given by George Hamilton (1933: 812-13), but though Francis’s witchcraft petitions are noted, his poetry is completely ignored. The relationship of that poetry to the work of his Scottish contemporaries is adumbrated in the final part of this essay.

The Printed Poems
[4] Despite the formal variety of its contents and typefaces, King James His Encomium is designed as a single entity, an uplifting sermon on the text printed on the title page: ‘I heard a voice from heaven, saying, Blessed are they which die in the Lord’ (Rev. 14:13). These words are obviously appropriate to a commemoration of a monarch as devout as the late King James; furthermore, the English Book of Common Prayer appoints this verse to be read at burials. However, Hamilton’s ‘sermon’ is being preached for the benefit of the living, his readers, all of whom face the task of living lives that will enable them, too, to ‘die in the Lord’, and thus come to see the New Jerusalem promised and described in Revelation 21, which Hamilton will paraphrase in one of his poems.

[5] The Book of Revelation makes repeated appearances in Hamilton’s book, but though he wholeheartedly endorses the standard protestant view that the Roman Church is the Whore of Babylon, he sets no timetable for the End of the World, such as was put forward in John Napier’s European bestseller A Plaine Discoverie of the Whole Revelation, first printed in 1594, nor does he indulge in the millenarian speculations and identifications of specific historical figures that abound in the Englishman Thomas Brightman’s Apocalypsis Apocalypseon (Frankfurt, 1609).[3] Brightman had received but a faint welcome, if any, from Patrick Forbes of Corse in his Commentarie on the Revelation (London, 1613 and Middelburg, 1614), and Brightman’s book would be denounced in print by King James VI/I (1619: 41). Brightman was also denounced by William Cowper, Bishop of Galloway in his Pathmos: A Commentary on the Revelation (1619) (Williamson 1979: 21 and passim). Cowper’s spiritualised approach to the sacred text parallels Hamilton’s reading of it. King James himself, as Hamilton reminds us in the ‘Encomium’, had been one of those ‘who Mysteries vnfolded/ Which Iohn in Pathmos Ile in trance beholded’ (ll. 243-44). The king’s Fruitfull Meditatioun contening ane plane and facil expositioun… of the 20 Chapter of the Revelatioun (Edinburgh, 1588) had been reprinted in 1603, and again in the king’s Works of 1616, which also contained James’s Paraphrase upon the Revelation.

[6] Hamilton’s book is carefully constructed. The ‘Encomium’ itself is printed on numbered pages 1 to 16, and surrounded by pre- and post-liminary verses on unnumbered pages. The five metrically varied prefatory poems are:

1. sonnet ‘To the Christian Reader’ (ababbcbcdedeff)
2. ‘Seven Crownes’, a sequence of seven sonnets (ababcdcdefefgg)
3. ‘The Epistle Dedicatorie’ (couplets)
4. sonnet ‘To the right magnanimous and worthie Lord, IAMES, Marquesse of Hamiltoun, &c.’ (ababcdcdefefgg)
5. sonnet ‘To the right magnanimous and worthie Lord, Sir George Hay of Kilfawnes Knight, Lord Chancelour of Scotland’ (ababbcbcdedeff)

Seven Crownes
[7] The opening sonnet having told the Christian reader that ‘vertues praise’ is the subject of the book, Hamilton proceeds to place ‘vertue’ in its cosmic Christian context by beginning with something of a showpiece. ‘Seven Crownes’ is a corona of seven sonnets – a significant Biblical number, not least in the book of Revelation: the dedication of Bishop Cowper’s Pathmos, for example, speaks of ‘three severall rankes of Seuens, stretching themselves in most comely order through this Iewell, and wherein the Lord hath secretly inclosed treasures of manifold wisedome’. Revelation looms large in Hamilton’s sonnet sequence, concerned as it is with spiritual warfare and the Last Judgment; in sonnet 3 we find the ‘persecuting Dragon, who was cast | From out of Heaven (as Iohn by revelation | Made knowne to Christians many yeeres since past)’.

[8]  In a corona sequence, the last line of sonnet 1 is repeated as the first line of sonnet 2, and so on, until the first line of sonnet 1 reappears as the final line of the sequence. The sonnets are thus plaited together like the leaves of a laurel crown for the head of the beloved. Or indeed, like a crown of thorns — the only well-known British corona is John Donne’s celebrated La Corona, a meditation on the life of Christ.[4] Donne opted for the ‘petrarchan’ rhyme scheme abba abba cddc ee, which is also regularly found in the work of his Scottish contemporary and admirer William Drummond. Scottish sonnets — whatever their subject matter — overwhelmingly followed the interlacing ababbcbccdcdee rhyme-scheme, right into the 1640s, but this is used by Hamilton only in three of his twenty extant sonnets.[5] For ‘Seven Crownes’ he employed the ababcdcdefefgg ‘Shakespearean’ scheme, also much favoured by Drummond.

[9] Sonnet coronas are rare at the best of times, but Hamilton’s may be unique: the seven sonnets are linked by their closing couplets and not merely their last lines, as here between sonnets one and two:

… One God wee must adore, in persons three
Distinguish’d, who divided cannot bee.

One God wee must adore, in persons three
Distinguish’d, who can never bee divid’d…

or here between sonnets three and four:

… And in the end for ever did confute him
And by his death triumphantly refute him.

Christ in the end for ever did confute him
By his owne death; and did in triumph rise…

The fact that Donne’s La Corona is redolent of the Catholic rosary would not necessarily have repelled the vehemently protestant Hamilton. Scottish protestants happily read the poetry of the English Jesuit martyr St Robert Southwell: St Peters Complainte was published (omitting the author’s name) by Waldegrave at Edinburgh c.1599 (STC, 2nd ed. 22960), edited by the stark Aberdonian presbyterian John Johnstone, friend and colleague of Andrew Melville at St Andrews.  Johnstone even inserted a fine introspective sonnet of his own into the volume, in response to St Robert’s great poem (Reid Baxter 2008: 81). However, there is nothing remotely introspective about Hamilton’s homiletic tone in the severely Bible-based ‘Seven Crownes’ and the Encomium’s other poems.

Dedication and sonnets to the Marquess and the Chancellor
[10] It is only after his book has been placed sub specie aeternitatis with ‘Seven Crownes’ that Hamilton addresses himself

to all true Christians, to my Countrey of Great Britaine, my native Soyle of Scotland, and to that famous, and worthie Towne of EDINBVRGH, and especially to the two magnanimous, and worthie Lords, IAMES Marquesse of Hamiltown &c and GEORGE Lord Chancelour of SCOTLAND.

The ensuing lively verse dedication makes it plain that Hamilton’s main concern in his book is going to be the praise of ‘true vertue’, so perfectly embodied in the late king and in the new monarch, Charles. The poet takes obvious pleasure in playing with language — ‘generous genius’, ‘True tacticke practicke teacheth vs’; ‘[James] left of his owne royall race | A royall, loyall Prince to fill his place’. Linguistic playfulness opens the epistle:

Magnanimous Lords, with duetifull respects
This Pilgrims Poeme,
FRANCK to you directs,
Wishing your Lordships daigne to patronize it;
What FRANCK affoords, let favour infranchize it.            

The poem is concerned with the dead king’s virtues, but before signing off as ‘Your L. loving Friend to bee commanded in all Christian dueties’, Hamilton slips in a plea (or admonition) directed at his ‘magnanimous Lords’:

The vertues of the living, men should praise,
That more and more we may true vertue raise
True vertues praise I heartlie doe intend,
Till that my breath and mortall life shall end,
And so much more to praise it shall be bent,
As I doe finde it true and eminent.                            
(37-38, 41-44)

The implication for these two living noblemen is that Hamilton will be happy ‘to be commanded’ to celebrate them, but only if they live lives of ‘true vertue’ and their commands are compatible with his ‘Christian dueties’. The grandees then receive a sonnet each, again signed ‘your loving friend’. The young Marquis was of course Hamilton’s ‘clan chief’, but Sir George Hay of Kinnoull may have been a personal friend; in the Huntington copy, after the sonnet, Hamilton has inserted Amoris vincula fortissima = si mutua in Christo in a calligraphic italic hand. Both sonnets are concerned with the need for monarchs (and all men) to be spiritually alert, for reasons underlined by the powerful close of the sonnet to George Hay:

Magnanimous Lord, even you, and I, and all
Must strive for Heaven, and whilst wee breath, must fight
Gainst Sinne and Satan, leat wee catch a fall
From Heaven to Hell, and so may lose our right.
Christs colours now are flying in the field,
And woe to such as shall to Satan yeeld.                          (9-14)

The ‘Encomium’
[11] Hamilton’s lengthy tribute to the late James VI & I comprises 244 eminently readable pentameter couplets, occupying the volume’s only numbered pages, 1-16. For 354 lines, James is sonorously celebrated and memorialised as:

Parent of Peace, of potent Poets Prince,
Religous, Royall, and Renown’d defence
Of faithfull Christians ‘gainst the Romish Whoore.      (39-41)

The verse is fluent and attractive for the most part, although perhaps less than poetic in the numerological excursus on the fact that the dying king received the sacrament on ‘The twentie sixt of March, being Saturday, | Yet the Iewes Sabbath, who did Christ betray’ before actually passing away on the Christian Sabbath, the day of the Lord’s resurrection:

The three time nine, or nine times third of March,
The twenty seventh, King Iames his soule did marche
Amongst those Angels, and those Saints of God,
Which haue with our Redeemer their abode.
The thousand yeare, six hundred twenty fiue
Since our sole Saviour tooke on mortall life.          (203-10)

This is followed by an impressive anaphora (‘We waile not IAMES…’), in which Hamilton lists the various royal writings, as others did before him.[6] In the fine pages devoted to the king’s ascent to heaven, Hamilton, like many another, praises James’s poetry, but in his final 76 couplets, Hamilton turns to the new king, and utters a long prayer mostly concerned with Charles’ spiritual qualities and wellbeing, on which the success of the new reign will depend. Intriguingly, there may be just a hint that Hamilton held a less than wholeheartedly episcopalian position, when he prays for Charles that ‘he cause amend what is amisse | In all his Kingdomes, so that thou doe blesse | Both him, and them’ (447-48), since he has nowhere mentioned the present (episcopal) polity of the Kirk, which the late King James regarded as one of his greatest achievements. And Hamilton is prepared to be undiplomatic. A mere time-server concerned to flatter Charles I, recently wed to his Roman Catholic queen Henrietta Maria, would never have ended this ‘Encomium’ with a blazing tirade against the Roman Church, the Jesuits and the Pope, ‘Deluding men with worse than rotten bread, | Instead of such as Soules and bodies feed’ (481-82).

The postliminary poems

[12] After the ‘Encomium’, the unnumbered pages 17-24 contain four poems:

1. ‘A Poetical Ecphrase and Paraphrase on the 13 verse Of the 14 chapter of S. Iohns Revelation’ (twelve couplets);
2. ‘The triumph of every true Christian defunct’ (8 lines alternating trimeters and pentameters)
3. ‘Song to the Comfort of every true Christian’ (twelve complex song-stanzas)
4. ‘Exhortation to all true Christians For the praising of our Saviour’ (72 tetrameter couplets)

Items 1 and 2 are much the worst verse in the volume. Revelation 14:13 is versified thus:

Saying to me from Heaven a voice heard I,
Write, Blest are they, which in the Lord doe die
From hence foorth; yea, the Sprit sayes, for they rest
Them from their labours, and their workes (whilst blest)
Do followe them.

What do follow them here are standard Calvinist reflections on man’s utter reprobacy, the utter uselessness of ‘works’, and the absolute need for good works nonetheless. ‘The triumph of every true Christian defunct’ is an unimpressive short devotional piece, beginning with a quotation of I Corinthians 15.55-56 (‘O death where is thy sting…’) and glossed with some uninspired commonplaces. The ‘Song of Comfort’, however, is an ambitious and admonitory contrafactum sacrum. Not until the sixth stanza does Hamilton makes direct reference to his model, the enormously popular anonymous song ‘What if a day, or a month, or a year?’, often attributed to Thomas Campion.[7] A two-stanza version had seen print in Scotland as early as 1603 (as a page-filler at the end of Charteris’ edition of the comedy Philotus). The song’s text was notoriously unstable, but versions are found in no fewer than ten Scottish musical manuscripts; ‘a simple chordal setting in the style of Campion’ appears in the Thomas Wode Partbooks (Elliott 1963). This song also appears in a further three Scottish manuscripts in purely instrumental form.

[13] In an important article of 1962, David Greer observed that ‘Unlike many ballad tunes, “What if a day” is no mere Gebrauchsmusik: it is not simply a convenient and well-known channel for the transmission of the words, but a melody closely corresponding to the form and inflections of its text’ (312). Hamilton’s twelve stanzas constitute far the longest text written to the tune, though his words frequently require considerable flexibility on the part of the singer to fit the melody to them. The printed layout in Hamilton’s book, using long lines, gives no idea of the musical shape of the verse (cf. the printed layout of the two psalm paraphrases ‘to the tone of Solsequium’ at the close of James Melville’s Comfortable Exhortatioun anent Death (1597: 110-112). You can hear the following stanza (which well illustrates Hamilton’s adroit weaving-in of Scripture) sung here (performed by Michael Swithinbank):

If thou to day heare his voice who doth say,                                   [cf. Ps. 95:1]
Better now thou weepe for sinne, nor to laugh for pleasure;      [cf. Luke 6:21]
Banish therefore away all shifts of delay,
Turne, repent thee with teares, to be kept in his treasure:
Mindst thou to haue,
knock, seeke, and craue,
for the time is sliding.
Knock, he wil open, seek, thou shalt finde,               [cf. Matt. 7:7, Luke 11:9]
Aske whiles thy Lord’s biding;
He will grant,
Thou nought want,
Who so deare hath bought thee;
He’ll redresse
Thy distresse,
Who so much hath sought thee.

In his sixth stanza, Hamilton skilfully recycles phrases from the original song, as his contemporary Elizabeth Melville, for example, had done in her contrafactum ‘Away vaine warld’ (Reid Baxter 2010: 92-93; discussed in Reid Baxter 2005). But unlike her, Hamilton is not uniformly successful in fitting his text to the melody, and he seems more or less to abandon the attempt in the last four stanzas, where he is trying to paraphrase several key verses from Revelation 21. In this poem, Hamilton yet again puts the death-bound brevity of earthly life into its eternal context; the Archangel sounds the Last Trump in the first stanza, and the song’s final stanza concerns the New Jerusalem, and ends with ‘him that overcommeth’ eating of ‘the tree of life … in the midst of the paradice of God’, as in Revelation 2:7. In the intervening stanzas, Hamilton reiterates his message: ‘Wouldst thou ring with thy King in heav’n at his appearance, | Heere thou must fight, as a Christian knight, by faith & perseverance’ (58-59).

[14] Having by this stage established very clearly what he means by ‘a true Christian’, Hamilton ends his book with a rumbustious and energetic ‘Exhortation to all true Christians for the praising of our Saviour’ in dancing octosyllabic couplets, punctuated by repeated injunctions to ‘come’ and praise God, and concluding with the Book of Revelation yet again: the latter part looks forward to the Last Judgement and the destruction of the Roman Whore of Babylon. (Hamilton’s title sounds very much like a deliberate echo of the way King James had begun his closing admonition to his Lepanto, 1019-20 : ‘Exhorting all you Christians true/ Your courage up to bend’.)  The careful structuring of Hamilton’s book can be seen in the fact that the sequence of those being enjoined to ‘come’ almost exactly follows the order found in the title of Hamilton’s Epistle Dedicatorie: ‘all true Christians… Great Britaine … Scotland, and … EDINBVRGH’. However, the ‘Exhortation’ begins with a royal peal of chiming bells:

King CHARLES our King, come now and sing
Exult for ioy before thy King,
The King of Kings, thy God and Lord.                           (1-3)

Charles is strongly reminded of his dependence on God:

When God King David had advaunced,
Before Gods Arke good David daunced
With all his might, for he reiosed                                           [cf. 2 Sam. 6:14]
In God, in whom he still reposed.                         (15-18)

And then the poet cries  ‘Great Britaine, with the Ocean sea | Inviron’d, come now’ (19-20), before addressing society as a whole:

Come learned and come Laickes all,
Come Nobles, Gentles, great and small,
Come rich, come poore, come every creature,
Conformed in true Christian feature,
Now let vs sing in songs the praise
Of God, who Charles our King doth raise            (23-28).

Next, Scotland is told to ‘come… and exult for joy’ (35), and Hamilton himself makes an appearance, ‘Come Edinburgh, renown’d for worth | The towne wherein I had my birth’ (39-40).

[15]  At line 45, Hamilton urges ‘all Christians true’ to ‘come’, and for forty eloquent lines they are encouraged to embrace suffering for the sake of Christ, if need be, even unto martyrdom. Since Christian martyrs are the subject of Revelation 6:9-11, Hamilton’s poem not unnaturally culminates with what will be his book’s final apocalyptic passage, beginning at line 87 with ‘the Arch-Angell shall with sound | Of Trumpet, raise the dead from ground’ and continuing through to the poem’s end. The imperative ‘Come’ is heard again in lines 103 and 107, creating a great, joyous rush of energy, and it is repeated for the last time in Hamilton’s final attack on the Roman Church:

…. O Christians true
Come shout for ioy, and stil renue
A battery to proud Babels wall,
Till that presumptuous Harlot fall.
Would God mine eyes might see her dash’d
And dung to dust, who long hath fash’d
The Bride of Christ.                                                  (123-29)

Hamilton wisely refrains from crowning all these imperatives with the most famous injunction to ‘come’ in Christian civilisation, namely ‘Even so, come Lord Jesus’, found in Revelation 22:20, the penultimate verse of the entire Bible: he can hardly place the Creator on the same level as the created beings on whom he has been calling to ‘come’. However, after a powerful climax quoting the martyr-saints of Revelation 6:10, ‘How long, how long dost thou delay | For to avenge vs of our wrongs?’ (138-39), Hamilton ends his homily and closes his book with a sudden hush that amounts to a splendid modesty topos (and a rejection of attempts to forecast the date of the Last Judgment):

But thou, Lord, know’st what best belongs
Vnto thy glorie; which fulfill,
According to thy holy will.                                       (140-42)

The life of Francis Hamilton of Silvertonhill
[16] Revelation and the Second Coming reappear in the verse from 1630 that fills the sixteen handwritten pages of the Huntington Library copy of King James his Encomium. Very different indeed from the celebratory printed poems, this material, like the 1641 petitions to Parliament, can only really be understood in the context of Hamilton’s biography.

[17] Francis was the eldest son of Sir Robert of Goslington and Silvertonhill, a descendant of Alexander of Silvertonhill (ante 1455), brother of the first Lord Hamilton, and at the end of his liminary sonnet to the Marquess of Hamilton, Francis signs himself ‘your L. loving friend and kinsman’.[8] Francis’s grandfather, Sir Andrew of Goslington (b.1532) fought for Queen Mary at Langside in 1567, but his subsequently forfeited estates were restored to him as early as 1572. On his death in 1592, Sir Andrew was succeeded by his eldest son Robert Hamilton ‘of Newtoun’, who would greatly increase the family’s patrimony when Elizabeth Baillie, his wife since 1580, became sole heir to her father in 1593: William Baillie of Provand had been Lord President of the Court of Session from 1566 to his death, and was a rich Glasgow landowner.[9] His grandson Francis was born c.1585 in Edinburgh, a town for which he clearly had a great deal of affection, making it one of the dedicatees of King James His Encomium and saluting it in the book’s closing poem. Nonetheless, it was at Glasgow University that the poet matriculated in 1601, when one of his classmates was the future minister and notoriously bad versifier Zachary Boyd (Innes 1854: iii, 64). Like many young lairds and noblemen who attended university, Francis does not appear to have taken his M.A., but his writings show that he had a lively and informed interest in religious matters.

[18] Francis was a wealthy student: on 31 October 1599, his mother Elizabeth Baillie granted the extensive lands of Provand to him in fee, reserving the life-rent to her husband, and also reserving the right to raise 8000 merks for the dowries of their five daughters, Margaret, Mary, Elizabeth, Agnes and Jean (RMS 6, 1593-1608, no. 973). The charter further reserved the proprietorship of the lands of Balgray to Edward, the eldest of Francis’s five younger brothers.[10] In 1607, there was a contract of marriage drawn up between Francis and the widowed Dame Isabel Boyd, Lady Blair (c.1577-after 1641), a daughter of the sixth Lord Boyd of Kilmarnock.[11] This marriage never took place, for reasons as yet unknown, and in October 1609, Francis was contracted to marry Agnes Hamilton, a daughter of Sir Alexander Hamilton of Innerwick and his third wife Christian Hamilton (NAS, RD1/159, ff.420v-423v). Agnes Hamilton was no mean bride; her maternal uncle was the future dedicatee of Bishop Cowper’s Pathmos, namely the stellarly successful lawyer and statesman Thomas Hamilton of Priestfield (1563-1637), who rose from the position of Lord Advocate (1596) to that of Secretary of State (1612), and went on to be created Lord Binning (1613), Earl of Melrose (1619) and finally Earl of Haddington (1627).[12]

[19] Francis’s mother Elizabeth Baillie died on 4 November 1609, a month after the marriage contract with Agnes had been signed. Agnes was dead before 1622 (Hamilton 1933: 497), having borne Francis three daughters, named for their mother and their two grandmothers. Elizabeth died young, but Agnes and Christian survived until at least 1652 (RMS 10, 1652-59, no.606). Unfortunately, there is at present no further information about Francis during the decade after 1609. In July 1621, and again in March 1624, he secured licences to spend several years abroad.[13] He does not seem to have used these licences, since in January 1622 we find him raising an unsuccessful court action against his father, and in June 1624, raising another against his sisters in order to escape the fulfilment of the provisions secured to them on the lands of Provand (Morison 1801-08 xii, 9451 and v, 4098).[14] Unsurprisingly, by this time Francis was out of favour with his father, who had on 16 June 1624 contracted ‘to seize and infeft’ Francis’s brother Edward ‘in the £5 lands of Goslington and the lands of Silvertonhill &c’ (NAS, XV General Register of Sasines, 171). Francis’s finances were in a bad way: on 3 July 1624 some of the Provand lands were ‘apprized’ for moneys owed to John Crawfurd of neighbouring Mylnetoun (RMS 8, 1620-1633, no.670). In June 1625, more of the Provan lands would be lost to James Baillie of Carfin and Thomas Baillie in Dunsysetoune. Ten years later, Edward Hamilton would succeed in recovering the various lands of Provan, and Francis would be pointedly excluded from the arrangements laid down for the future ownership thereof (RMS 9, 1633-1651, no.350).[15]

[20] Although Hamilton places the date ‘Feb.7.1626.’ at the end of ‘King James His Encomium’ on page 16, the volume betrays almost nothing of his difficult circumstances. Presumably, however, when in lines 3-6, the dedicatees are offered the book with ‘My loyall love (though I bee much destressed)’, Hamilton is making a veiled plea for assistance from the Marquess of Hamilton and the Chancellor; if we were unaware of the biographical background, ‘much destressed’ might not strike us. The same applies to ‘Blyth may he be, though his friends have opprest him, | Finds by true faith true spirituall ioyes’, the first lines of ‘A Song to the comfort of every true Christian’. Much more striking, indeed distinctly odd, is this passage of the ‘Encomium’, in which Hamilton seems both to merge himself with the late king and evince real persecution mania:

I passe* not what some perverse people say,        [*misprint for ‘panse’?]
Nor mumbling Momus* shall my pen affray,        [*The god of mockery]
Nor who so lust to jeast, to mock or scorne me,
Or seeke by fraud or falshood to forlorne me
By poyson, or by powder-plotted treason,
Or fairded fair pretences bent ‘gainst reason.
I tell them all that Christ my Lord and Master
Can well avenge his litle ones disastre,
And that it better were for them to bee
Bound to a Mill-stone, and cast in the sea,
Then to injure or doe malicious wrong
Vnto the least which doe to Christ belong. (67-78)     [cf. Matt. 18:6]

Just how the pious Francis managed to squander his very considerable wealth by mid-1625 is as yet un-elucidated, but his finances evidently remained parlous for the rest of his life: in 1637 Edward Hamilton issued a charter in favour of Francis’s daughters Christian and Agnes, presumably because their father was unable to provide for them (RMS 10, 1652-59, no.606). Their grandfather, Sir Robert, died in 1642, and left a bequest for an ‘oy’ called Christiana, who may be Francis’s daughter. Sir Robert’s testament makes no mention of Francis (NAS, CC9/7/28, 691-96, dated 20 December 1641). The poet died in Edinburgh in 1645, and his testament, registered 7 February 1646, makes distressing reading. He ‘deceissit wpone the x day x 1645 yeares’, in poverty and entirely alone. No member of his family is mentioned in the testament (NAS, CC8/8/61, 549-51). His executor dative was a baker burgess of Edinburgh, John Baillie, ‘creditor to him’ for an unpaid loan of December 1644, who inherited all of Francis’s pathetic worldly goods. The ‘summa of the inventar’ includes ‘ane old dornick boordcloath’, ‘twa old cushions’, ‘ane pair of old sheits’, ‘three old trunks and ane cabinet’, ‘ane stand of old black cloaths’, ‘twa pairs of old silk stockins with garters and rosis’. There is some other clothing, some pewter, ‘ane old rapper sword’, a bow and quiver, ‘ane shutting [shooting] peice with snap work’. Amongst these sad remnants of an upper-class life, two items stand out: ‘VI score books est[imate] all to £60’ and ‘ane cabinet with the defunctis writts estimat to £10’. That the ‘writts’ would have included poetry is indicated by Francis’s marginal comment on the MS sonnets in the Huntington Library copy of King James his Encomium, namely that he will ‘revise them & get them in order with other such like’ (my italics). As for the hundred and twenty books, there can be little doubt that they dealt with religious subjects.

Dame Isabel Boyd and the witchcraft petitions
[21] Sir Robert Douglas’s Baronage (1798: 425) described Francis as ‘a very enthusiastic, wrong-headed man: he fancied himself bewitched by Dame Isabel Boyd, Lady Blair, which apears by several extravagant petitions to Parliament from him in 1641’.[16] By ‘enthusiastic’, Douglas meant ‘fanatical’ or perhaps even unbalanced. Francis was indeed religious to the point of mania, but he was by no means the only religiously inclined member of the Silvertonhill family. His father Sir Robert wrote in his testament that he resigned ‘his saull to god almightie assuring and perswading himself to inherit eternall lyff in & throw the richtuous merits & suffering of his onlie Lord & Saviour Jesus Christ’. The family forged several West of Scotland clerical connections by marriage: Sir Robert’s brother Andrew married Isabel Greig, the daughter of one minister and widow of another.[17] Two of Francis’s five sisters married clergymen: Agnes, the third of the girls, became the second wife of an important figure, the staunchly Presbyterian Mr Robert Scott (d.1629), minister of Glasgow, on 28 August 1619. Much admired by his young disciple John Livingston (the future Covenanter),[18] Scott was brother-in-law to another Presbyterian, the poet Michael Wallace, minister of Kilmarnock, and was the addressee of neo-Latin verse by both Wallace and the more famous Robert Boyd of Trochrigg, a cousin of Dame Isabel Boyd. By contrast, Francis Hamilton’s fourth sister, Jean, would on 21 April 1621 marry Mr Thomas Law (d.1649), a son of the courtly prelate Archbishop James Law (d.1632) of Glasgow. From 1626, Thomas Law was minister of Inchinnan, until he was deposed ‘for malignancy and other scandals’ in 1648; his will names Francis’s brother Robert Hamilton of Silvertonhill as one of the overseers (Scott 1915-: iii 456, 144).

[22]  There was, then, no shortage of trained theologians available to Francis in his immediate family circle with whom he could consult if he wished, including about witchcraft. In 1641 ‘Francis Hamilton of Silverton-hill petitioned Parliament against the incantations and witchcraft practised against him by Dame Isabel Boyd in the years 1607 and 1608, then relict of the late John Blair of that Ilk, and now relict of the late Sir Donald Campbell of Auchinbreck’ (Paul 1904-14: v, 167). The relevant manuscript material is in the National Archives of Scotland.[19] The man whom Francis misnamed ‘Sir Donald’ was Sir Dugal Campbell of Auchinbreck. For all the number of words Francis expends, his extremely high-flown, ceremonious and bombastic petitions nowhere specify what charms and enchantments Isabel Boyd is supposed to have practised, or why she did so. Francis simply says that he wants to be heard publicly, face to face with Dame Isabel, and then he will reveal ‘such hainous Crimes, & abominable Transgressiones, as import not only wilfull premeditate & publique perjurie, But also Charming, Incantation, Divination, Witchcraft or consultation with Familiar Spirits, witch, wizard or necromancer’. It is unlikely that we shall ever know exactly why Francis was convinced that Isabel Boyd had cast spells on him or had perjured herself. As we have seen, the source of his conviction must be connected with the failed 1607 marriage contract. Dame Isabel’s first husband, John Blair of that Ilk, whom she had married in 1589 ‘in pura ejus virginitate’, had died in 1604. Isabel Boyd and John Blair, younger, had four daughters but no son; the Blair line thus passed to the late John’s brother, Brice. By 1613 she was married to Dugal Campbell, though she continued to enjoy her jointure from the Blair lands (Paterson 1863-66: iii, 162-65). Dugal was knighted in 1617, and the couple had at least one daughter (Paul 1904-14: vi, 295). Isabel was rather more of a grandee than Francis (or his wife Agnes), being a daughter of Thomas, sixth Lord Boyd (c.1547-1611), and hence a half-sister of Thomas’s natural son, the saintly Calvinist Andrew Boyd (d.1636), minister of Eaglesham and then, from 1613, Bishop of Argyll. Francis’ university classmate Zachary Boyd was a ‘cousin’ of Dame Isabel (Reid Baxter 2008b: 397-98).

[23]  That Francis laid the retrospective blame for all his subsequent misfortunes on his link with Dame Isabel in 1607 and 1608 is made quite clear by the 1641 petitions. Written in August, September and November, and addressed to the General Assembly and to the King and Parliament, these are the latest samples of Hamilton’s work that we now possess, and they indicate that they are hardly the first such papers he has written on the subject: ‘I haveing meaned & compleaned these 34 yeares and 16 yeares thereof Last or thairby publiquely in judgment, of such treacherous Crimes, hainous & abominable Transgressiones … Done & practized by Dame Isabell Boyd in the yeare 1607 to 1608’. The ‘34 yeares’ are clearly the whole period between 1607 and 1641. As we shall see, the manuscript material in the Huntington copy of King James his Encomium shows that Francis had appealed to the 1630 Convention of Estates, which sat from 27 July to 7 August. Given that a Convention of Estates had also met from 27 October to 2 November 1625, Hamilton’s ‘16 yeares’ of public complaint must refer to petitions made to that body.

[24]  Hamilton blamed Dame Isabel’s ‘hainous Crimes & abominable transgressions’ for his own ‘hard Estate ensueing theirupon, by Pleas pro & contra, Dangers, Debts; & Debts cumming upon Debts, troubles, Calamities, & Necessities, whereby I haue been constrained, and yet whither I will or nill, necessitated, & in a manner compelled to doe, which otherwise I ought not, and wold not. Beside the loss & hazard of both Libertie & mortall life, And what I had, or haue in this world of temporall things’. Hamilton’s manuscript writings contain various statements about the danger that witchcraft posed to Scotland, and though he and his existence were unknown to Dr Louise Yeoman, Francis perfectly matches her ‘personality profile’ of a certain type of witch-hunter:

quarrelsome, indebted men of some status who did not wish to take responsibility for their own misfortunes. They perhaps felt the need to prove themselves to higher authority in order to compensate for and to cancel out their own personality flaws. These men felt that their enemies must also be public enemies. When they came into conflicts [sic] with their female peers, such men might be quicker than others to label them witches. […] A long-running conflict with a woman, on whom her foe was in no position to take revenge, might rankle for for years before finally, under the right circumstances, generating witchcraft accusations […] Witch-hunting, too, could set up a drama with the zealous witch-hunter at the centre of of the universe saving his community from the forces of ultimate evil. (2002: 120)

By October 1625, when Francis started publicly accusing Dame Isabel, his wife was dead and his financial mismanagement had reduced him to something akin to ruin. Yeoman notes that witchcraft accusations against high-status women generally failed, and that it is ‘a measure of the powerful forces driving the witch-hunters that they made their accusations in the teeth of the odds against success’. Perhaps, she suggests, they ‘genuinely did believe, for culturally-determined reasons, that their female foes were assuredly witches’ (Yeoman 2002: 121). Hamilton believed it for decades. But the establishment, faced with an upper-class accuser and an even more upper-class accused, endlessly postponed taking any action.

[25]  In 1630, Hamilton had copied a string of Old Testament condemnations of witches, consulters therewith, and perjurers onto the final front flyleaf of the Huntington Library copy of King James his Encomium. In 1641, the ‘Supplementa Miscellanea’ to his petition of 17 & 21 August comprised a very different selection of Scripture verses, celebrating, in sequence, the omnipotence of God, the Last Judgment and the destruction of the Beast, the Elect Nation, the King, the faithful who trust in God and who turn all things to good, and God’s love for Sion. When quoting Psalm 94, Hamilton was clearly thinking of himself and his prolonged sufferings as he waited for justice to be done:

Who will rise up for me against the evildoers? Or who will stand up for me against the workers of iniquity? Unless the Lord had been my help, my soul had almost dwelt in silence.

The penultimate quotation (from 1 Peter) concerns brotherly love, the transience of human glory and the eternal word of God. The final quotation is the famous ‘Unto us a child is born’ of Isaiah 9, and concerns the absolute righteousness of the kingdom of God, who will ‘establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever’.

[26]  Francis Hamilton never did see the justice he believed was his by right. On the last-written of the petitions (17 November 1641), a pencil note refers the reader to the Acts of the Parliament of Scotland, volume v, page 602, which merely records: ‘The Laird of Silvertonhill his Petition remitted to the judge ordinar’. Francis’s last attempt to bring about a public confrontation between himself and the lady he blamed for all his misfortunes had got no further than his earlier attempts, ‘referred from judges to judges’.

The MS material on the flyleaves of Huntington Library copy
[27]  Francis’s authorship of this material, dated August and September 1630, is not in doubt. He has crammed the front flyleaves with poetry in rhyming couplets and marginal notes, comments and corrections; the back flyleaves contain poetry in a variety of verse forms. The tone is markedly more personal than the celebratory printed poetry of 1626, which had contained only the merest hint at his private difficulties, and not a single word about witchcraft. The manuscript poetry and comments, however, are the words of a beleaguered soul absolutely convinced both that he himself is deeply wronged and much persecuted, and that the Scottish kingdom is in deadly danger from satanic attack.

[28]  The badly torn first leaf is headed ‘A Christian Lamentation’, the only title to be found among the estimated 120 rhyming couplets that fill(ed) most of the opening flyleaves. There are spaces left between blocs of couplets, and Hamilton seems to have intended a string of linked but separate pieces: he uses the plural when he comments at the end of the couplets: ‘These are but as Prologues & prayers put as in Parenthese … 20 sheet of paper wold skarsely containe what I haue to say’. Two pages earlier, he had noted ‘It wold take a whole Booke if I should proceed to declare my mind concerning these things which I wold write or speake’, and most unfortunately, the opening ‘Christian Lamentation’ has lost at least 82 of its lines, in part or in whole. It is clear that the poem concerned an unsuccessful appeal to the authorities:

[…] Paull must to Appele Proceed,
[…] I haue in time of need
[?Addressed me] to our Royall soveraigne king
[?And I have made appe]le, in all this thing
[?Unto my c]ountreys states of Parliament
[?To read my] bill of ?meanance and Complaint.
[?It’s not] beene read in Publick as it ought
[?Nor I he]ard in my Cause, though I besought
[?And la]tely did intreet in this my Cause
[?That it b]e heard, According to Gods lawes.
[…] of this Generall Convention                                     (45-55)

On the undamaged second leaf, the words ‘1630 7 August’ are placed alongside the apparent end (an indented couplet) of the ‘Lamentation’. The next block of couplets, dated ‘9 August’, indicates that the appeal to king and Convention concerned witchcraft:

If that I present means or moyen had
Then might I doe, as Jabesh Gilead,                                      [cf. 1 Sam. 11:1-4]
In haste send woord vnto our soveraigne king,
And shew him all the manner of this thing.
And how I in this Generall Convention,
Haue not beene heard, euen with the like Attention,
As Jabesh Gilead, when besieged sore,                                 [cf. 1 Sam. 11:8-11]
Since thrise seuen yeares I am besieged more:
With wrong on wrong, plot upon plot assalted,
Till I constrained, haue in the Battall halted:

‘Thrice seven years’ prior to 1630 takes us right back to the aftermath of the ill-fated 1607 marriage contract with Dame Isabel Boyd. Hamilton asks the authorities to

Search, try, and judge, According to the woord.
Of Jehouah, our omnipotent Lord.
Concerning such prophane Abhomination
That God may haue his glory* in this nation          *thrugh our obe
By due obedience giuen to his command                 dience to his will
That not a witch be suffered in this land                  & written word

In the next block of couplets, Hamilton turns directly to Christ:

And till our king and Parliament shall judge[20]
To whom I haue thrugh my Appelle Refuge
Nixt under Godman, Jesus Christ, My Lord,
Redeemer, Saviour, which doth help afford […]
And mee his seruant make in end prevaile
Gainst all his foes, and Mine, which mee Assaile,
That haueing in and thrugh him overcoome,               [cf. Rev. 3:21; Rev. 17:14]
I in his joy for aye may Reigne with Him.                            [cf. 2 Titus 2:12]

A flood of visionary praise immediately ensues, beginning:

*John 24.16
John 15.26
& 16.7&c
O Heighth, O Deepth, of Loue: o breadth O lenth:
Of Grace, of Glory, Joy, Comfort and strenth.
Invincible, and superexcellent,
Goodnesse, and Grandour, Perfect, Permanent
What shall I render vnto thee, My louer,[21]
My soules delight, my judge and just Approuer,
Thrugh love of God, thy grace, and faith me giuen
Wrought thrugh thine holy sprit* sent mee from Heauen
According to thy Promise which thow madest
Whilst yet on earth thow Lord mongst men abadest.
 [cf. Eph. 3:17-19]

Many more couplets follow, in which complaint of persecution mingles with ecstatic, mystical praise. On the final front flyleaf, Hamilton writes ‘I think it not convenient now to enter vpon the maine point. For this book could not fully contain it. But briefly to touch it’ – whereupon he produces a whole series of Biblical quotations, beginning with the notorious Exodus 22:18 ‘Thow shalt not suffer a witch to liue’, followed by grim injunctions about swearing and blasphemy from Leviticus, and about false witnesses and witches from Deuteronomy.

[29]  At the end of the book, the first of the flyleaves contains the comment:

This Country hath beene oppresed with witches, wizards, charmers, enchanters, & sorcerers, idolaters, and prophane periured Atheists (they pretending trew religion) more then twenty yeares. The lord oure God and keeper of Israell redresse & help us. For these haue riden as in Charets of yrone like midianits.

Hamilton also observes that ‘the Deuils their Covenants are loadin full of euils’. On the last page are found the date 14 August 1630, and a marginal note dated 8 September. The various manuscript verses on these latter flyleaves have the general running title ‘Miscellanea’. First come 45 very inelegant couplets, most of which paraphrase the Biblical wording of Judges 4 and 5, i.e. the story of Sisera, Deborah and Jael, with a final section meditating on other Old Testament examples of the Israelites being willing ‘to fight the Battels of their Loueing Lord’ and slaughter vast numbers of enemies. In lines 75-80 Hamilton bursts out:

*burneing lampes of wise
religious faithfull and
fervent zeale and
upright liues and doctrine
Haue Christians trew, not now the writen woord,
Of Jehouah, the sharpe transcendent swoord,
Two edged: And haue wee not burneing* lampes,
To chase the Midianits, from out their campes:
Witches and wizards; and all such prophane
Idolaters; as yet mongst us remaine.

And then he brings in Samson, massacring ‘heape on heape’ of Philistines, Joshua stopping the sun ‘Vntil Gods Foes, and Israels were subdued’, and Samuel hewing Agar ‘all in pieces’. Whereupon he ends abruptly with the young David, who put a stone into the forehead of Goliath and ‘Then with his owne swoord, cut his head off to’.

[30]  Next comes ‘A Christian Confession And prayer in time of Danger, and of Distresse to the toone of the 54 psalme,’ laid out in eight-line octosyllabic stanzas. These 144 well-wrought lines are strongly reminiscent of the opening section of Elizabeth Melville’s Ane Godlie Dreame and even more reminiscent of her unpublished longer meditative poems, which bear titles like ‘Ane Exhortatioun for patience with ane prayer for comfort’. Hamilton’s poem opens:

I am compassed round about,
On every side my foes persew;
Sathan thrugh sinn, within, without,
His strong Assalts doth still renew;
My sinnes they are before mine eyes,                                    [cf. Ps. 51:3]
As mountaines huge; wold presse mee doune.
But Christ thrugh Faith doth mee release,
And in his joy, my soule will Crowne.                          (5-8)

The beleaguered, depressed mood does not greatly change for much of the poem:

Support mee Lord in time of neede
Let not my sinnes nor foes prevaile,
help Lord mee gainst such crafty Feede                                [feud]
wherby my foes wold make mee quaile.                        (33-36)

When Hamilton’s muse does eventually become more energised, Revelation (inevitably) comes in, with the Whore of Babylon and the Antichrist:

Ding downe the Proud presumptuous Beast
Which doth molest and vex thy saints:
The Bloody Whoore, the Antichrist,
And still defend thy militants.
Since thow art quickly, Lord, to come,
Recall the jewes, our Elder Brether,
And gather in the totall summe
Of thine, to sing thy Praise together.                    (89-96)

The words of Psalm 54 certainly relate to the general contents of Hamilton’s poem, but by 1630, the only tune indicated for this psalm in printed Scottish psalm-books was that of Psalm 27, first put forward in this role by Hart in his psalter of 1614.[22] Since Psalm 27’s contents could also be related to Hamilton’s poem, he might just as easily have specified ‘the toone of the 27 psalme’. However, throughout his childhood and early manhood, the melody to which he would have sung Psalm 54 was the 1556 Anglo-Genevan tune for William Whittingham’s version of the Ten Commandments, ‘Attend my people and give ear’.[23] To hear the following stanza (again illustrating the poet’s adroit citing of Scripture) sung to this splendid French tune by Michael Swithinbank, click here.

The Helmet of Saluation                                                          [cf. Eph. 6:17]
Confirme Good God vpon our heads,
That wee from Hells damnation sic
may saued be, thrugh thy good deeds.
The Briestplate of trew Righteousnesse                               [cf. Eph. 6:14]
make firme on us to haue abode,
gird up our loines with truthfulnesse,
with shoes of peace make us be shod  (109-116)                 [cf. Eph. 6:15]

The manuscript pages conclude with an untitled sequence of ten numbered sonnets, dated 19 August 1630. The subject is the need for absolute reliance on Christ, and emulation of His suffering as the only way to share in His triumph and enter eternal life. As the first sonnet shows, the underlying driving-force is the now impoverished Hamilton’s own condition, following the failure of his appeal to the Convention of Estates:

Gold must not be our God, nor Arme of Man,               [cf. Matt. 6:24, Luke 16:13]
For Aegipts Hoste is as a broken reede.                                                   [cf. Isa. 36:6]
God-man Euen Jesus Christ, which will and Can
Support his Saints, euen our Bridgrome & head.[24]   [cf. 1 Cor.11:3; Eph.1:22,
Hee, Allwise Hee, must be our God, indeed:                             5:23; Col. 1:18, 2:10]
His written will and woord, our Rule and square,
In which, through his free Grace, wee must proceed,
Thrugh power of his Sprit (Aye mare & mare
woorking in us trew Faith; with zealous care)
To walke uprightly: And our sinnes repent;[25]
That where Christ is, wee also may be there,
Haueing thrugh Grace, thrugh Faith, and Loue prevent
Those Fearfull terrours, which shall them befall,                           [cf. 1 Cor. 15:28]
Who haue not Christ, to be their All, in All.

We might expect a sequence to use the same rhyme scheme throughout, but this one does not. If we allow coast/boast to rhyme with lust/Antichrist, and fruit/refute with sweet/great, then sonnets 2 and 3 share sonnet 1’s Scottish interlacing form. The other seven display a variety of patterns, including rhyming the same repeated word. Yet the sonnets are tightly linked, for like the ‘Seven Crownes’, they are not self-contained units; for example, sonnet 4’s closing ‘wee […] are made conforme, | To Christ our head, overcoomeing everie storme’ flows straight into sonnet 5’s opening ‘That haueing with our head, some sympathy…’. For all its real roughness of finish, this eminently theological sequence is of considerable emotive power. Like all the manuscript poems of 1630, its heartfelt urgency is unquestionable. Sadly, as in his 1626 attempt to make the end of Revelation fit the tune of ‘What if a day’, Hamilton overreaches himself at the climax, trying to fit into fourteen lines the seven blessings (duly numbered) that God promises to the enduring faithful in ‘the seven churches which are in Asia’[26]:

Revel. 2.3 Chapters saying to Him that overcometh.

To him that overcometh, I will giue,
1. To eat of Lifes tree, midst the Paradize
2. of God; and that of second death, Hee haue                     [cf. Rev. 2 7]
3. none hurt; And of hid mann’ to eat likewise,                   [cf. Rev. 2:11]
I will him giue, a white stone with new name,                     [cf. Rev. 2:17]
4. And Power ouer nationes, I will giue him;                       [cf. Rev. 2:26]
5. And cloth Him with white Robbe (From sinn, & shame)
nor blot his name out of lifes booke (nor prive Him)
But Him confesse before my Father God.
And euen before his Angels. 6. And but doubt,                     [cf. Rev. 3:5]
6. A Pillar in the Temple of my God
Make him (saith Christ) that Hee no more goe out.
Gods name, his Cities name, and his new name,
7. Iy’l write on Him, and inthronize the same.                      [cf. Rev. 3:12]

Hamilton’s conviction that Dame Isabel Boyd was a limb of Satan betokens delusory tendencies, but he did not delude himself as to the shortcomings of his 1630 MS poems; on the last flyleaf, alongside the final sonnets, he wrote ‘Time permitteth not to write it in such forme & order as I would till a better occasion that I revise them’.

Conclusion: Hamilton’s poetic context
[31]  Hamilton’s voice is quite unlike those of Ayton, Sir William Alexander or Drummond of Hawthornden, or even of the exclusively religious versifiers James Cockburn and William Wishartt. But like the sonnets in his sequences, Francis Hamilton does not stand alone. The second sonnet of ‘Seven Crownes’ will serve to show that he belongs to a distinct school of Scottish Calvinist devotional verse:

One God wee must adore, in persons three
Distinguish’d, who can never bee divid’d;
And only he through Christ ador’d must bee,
Who Heaven and Earth, and all therein, doth guide.
Litle availes his gifts, where wants his grace;
His saving grace in Christ our Soules delyte,
And thats our ioy, that wee shall see his face;
When hee shall all his foes with Scepter smyte,
They shall all prove as potters shards,[27] when hee                [cf. Ps. 2:9]
Shall with his Word, the sword of iustice, kill;
And with his powers rodde shall crushed bee                            [cf. Rev. 19:15]
And fry’d in fierie flames for ever still:
Who would enjoy Christs face must fight the field
‘Gainst sinne and Satan, and must never yeeld.

While lines one and two may well echo Alexander Montgomerie’s celebrated sonnet-opening ‘Supreme Essence, beginner, unbegun, | Ay Trinal One, and undivided three’, they are notably closer to the opening of a related but less familiar published sonnet by James Melville, found at the close of ‘A Morning Vision’, the second part of Melville’s A Spirituall Propine of a Pastour to his People (Edinburgh, 1598). Melville’s version of this sonnet — like Montgomery’s a reworking of a French sonnet of Marin Le Saulx — opens: ‘Supreame essence, beginner, unbegon, | Distinguished ane, and undevided three’.[28] The actual phrase ‘Supreme essence’ will appear in Hamilton’s King James his Encomium, 417-18, when God is asked to protect King Charles: ‘Make the good motions of thy Spirite him guide, | Supreme Essence, who cannot bee divide’.

[32]  That the foes of Christ are ‘fry’d in fierie flames’ of line twelve is irresistibly reminiscent of Elizabeth Melville’s Ane Godlie Dreame, 307-9: ‘Puir damnit saullis […] | In flaming fyre, war frying wonder fast’, while the closing couplet’s ‘fight the feild’ can be paralleled no fewer than three times in Ane Godlie Dreame, 439-48, as well as appearing in various guises throughout Elizabeth Melville’s manuscript poetry.[29] The phrase ‘Our Soules delyte’ in Hamilton’s fifth line will appear twice in the manuscript poems of 1630: ‘my soules delight, my judge and just Approuer’ and ‘my soules delight and great desire’. Given that ‘The saules delight’ is the title of a magisterial postliminary sonnet to James Melville’s Spirituall Propine, by his friend ‘MWS’, this may well be further confirmation of Hamilton’s familiarity with that book (Reid Baxter 2008: 85).

[33]  James Melville’s friend David Black, in his Exposition vpon the thirtie two Psalme, describing the true maner of humbling and raysing vp of Gods children (Edinburgh, 1600), voiced views that chime perfectly with what Hamilton evidently thought was the purpose of poetry. Black comments that the author of Psalm 32, King David, teaches us

if we haue any vein of versificating, or any other good vse of our veine, how to vse it, that by this example, our writings may sauour of godlinesse to stirre vp the mindes of others, aswell as our selues therunto, not to leaue vnchest ditties behind vs (as it were bawdes in the world) as many haue done. (2)

There is much more of the same. Black himself left no poetry, but similar sentiments had been voiced by another Presbyterian pastor who did publish poetry, Alexander Hume (c.1557-1609). His Hymnes, or Sacred Songs (Edinburgh, 1599), dedicated to Elizabeth Melville, are prefaced by an exhortation ‘To the Scottish Youth’, where Hume writes:

Such as ather haue the art or vaine poetike, of force they must shew themselues cunning followers of the dissolute ethnike poets, both in phrase and substance, or else they shall be had in no reputation. Als for pittie! Is this the right vse of a Christians talent to […] foster the filthie vice and corruption that naturallie is seased in the harts of all men? (sig.A 3v)

Hume’s dedicatee, Elizabeth Melville, in a sonnet about her own writing, ends with the prayer ‘grant thy gifts may still growe more and more | That I a triple talent may restore’, and Hamilton’s sonnet ‘To the Christian Reader’ states that ‘Talents ten, abused, | Makes the abuser loose them and his place. | One litle Talent with right vse I crave’ (Reid Baxter 2010: 25).

[34]  Another well-wrought ‘plain style’ devotional poem which Hamilton may have known is the Perthshire minister George Muschet’s The Complaint of a Christian Soule (Edinburgh, 1610). Muschet is reminiscent of Hamilton when he writes of earthly life, for example:

But who can sing in such a monstrous graue,
Or praise thy name in this infernall place?
Who can be glade who doth not grace receaue
To see the sweetnes of thy heauenlie face?   (sig.Cv)

But Muschet’s ‘complaint’ is the lament of the Calvinist conscience, humiliated and almost paralysed by its agonising awareness of reprobacy and alienation from God. This has frequent parallels in Elizabeth Melville, but it contrasts interestingly with Hamilton’s focus on spiritual warfare, and with the markedly subjective complaints of persecution expressed in the latter’s manuscript poems.

[35]  Hamilton himself may have influenced some of his contemporaries. There is always the possibility that Hamilton’s 1626 publication may have inspired the plethoric and unpoetic vernacular Muse of Zachary Boyd, who had returned from long years at Saumur in France in 1621; Zachary’s abundant versifications of Scripture are at least as bad as Hamilton’s efforts in that field.[30] We cannot be certain just when David Dickson (1583-1662), minister of Irvine in Ayrshire and friend of Elizabeth Melville, composed his lengthy True Christian Love, to be sung with the common tunes of the Psalms. Dickson’s fluent concatenation of versified quotations from Holy Writ often results in a texture redolent of Hamilton’s work; the first surviving edition is from as late as 1634.

[36]  But the religious verse of David Dickson’s near neighbour, the Ayrshire aristocrat Sir William Mure of Rowallan (1594-1657), may be something of a direct response to King James His Encomium (cf. Tough 1898).[31] Mure was related to the Hamiltons of Silvertonhill by marriage – the link is James Mure of Caldwell, married to the poet’s sister Margaret Mure of Rowallan (d.1644), for Caldwell’s daughter Marion became the second wife of Francis’s brother Edward some time before 1622; she was still alive in 1655 (Hamilton 1933: 816).[32] Sir William’s early poetry, which he did not publish,[33] is full of pagan allusions and its subject matter is largely erotic, including an impressive Dido and Aeneas of 2454 lines in three books. But in 1628, he published A Spirituall Hymne … also … a Poeme entituled Doomes-Day, a not insubstantial book of 1338 lines of religious verse. It was swiftly followed in 1629 by The True Crucifixe for True Catholickes, a much larger volume of 3376 lines, relentlessly denouncing the Church of Rome, that bête noire of Francis Hamilton in King James his Encomium.

[37]  At the end of A Spirituall Hymne, Mure printed three sonnets headed ‘Fancies Farewell’, denouncing his earlier secular poetry, lamenting his ‘Houres mis-employed’ and saying to his soul:

Thy younger yeares, youthes sweet Aprile mispent,
Strive to redeeme with works of greater worth.          (Tough 1898: I, 196)

Mure’s numerous sonnets include a powerful sequence, The Joy of Teares (1637), but unlike Hamilton, he makes almost exclusive use of the Scottish interlacing form, while his 104 psalm paraphrases are considerably better than Hamilton’s surviving attempts at versifying Scripture.[34] Nonetheless, it can at least be speculated that in 1626, Mure may have been struck by the denunciation of pagan verse that opens Hamilton’s ‘Seven Crownes’:

The Heathen Poets who did faine moe Gods
(Blinded with bastard zeale) than I can telle:
Sung praise in Poems, in their Layes and Ods,
To such as they alledg’d made them prevaile.

The dictates of corona form mean that this opening denunciation also closes ‘Seven Crownes’, as the culmination of the final sonnet, which looks forward to the consummation of all things on the Great Day of God’s Judgment, the subject of Mure’s Doomesday:

Let elect Saints in trembling, love, and feare
In faith and true repentance watch and pray,
Praise God in zeale, in wisedome persevere
Vntill the end — attending on that Day:
That Day wherein God shall make even our ods,
And Heathen Poets damne, with fained Gods.

The modern Western secular mind-set tends to find such homiletic, Bible-based devotional poetry uninteresting. If one does not believe in God, let alone the divine inspiration of the Bible, it is difficult to relate to or respond to, particularly when it is devoid of features of ‘literary’ interest (such as sacred Petrarchism or formal experimentation) and is the work of individuals who led outwardly uneventful, blameless lives that cannot be used to identify suggestive tensions and contradictions in their writing. Hamilton’s ‘Seven Crownes’ sequence is an astonishing undertaking in its Scottish context.[35] And Hamilton’s life was hardly blameless or uneventful, and contradictions abound — not least his appallingly unchristian attitude to women, as evinced by his attempt to defraud his sisters by overturning his mother’s careful provision for their dowries, his failure to provide for his own daughters, and his obsessive efforts to bring Dame Isabel Boyd to court – and the gallows — for witchcraft. This strange, forgotten Lanarkshire aristocrat merits the attention of literary scholars as well as historians and social anthropologists.

I express my thanks to Dr Sarah Ross for valuable comments in the course of preparing this essay.

University of Glasgow


[1]  These are now at the National Archives of Scotland (henceforth NAS): NAS PA7/2/131 and NAS PA7/2/131a.[back to text]

[2]  A microfilm of it, perforce including the two innermost flyleaves, was used for Early English Books Online (EEBO), alerting me to the existence of the manuscript material, whereof the National Library of Scotland possesses a complete photostat.[back to text]

[3]  James Melville’s enthusiasm for Brightman was unbounded (1842: 785). The first English translation appeared in 1611. On other (negative) early Scottish reactions to Brightman, see D.A. Drinnon, ‘The Apocalyptic Tradition in Scotland, 1588-1688’, St. Andrews PhD thesis, 2013:, Chapter 1, especially pp.47-60. Drinnon does not mention Melville’s enthusiasm. My thanks to Michael Riordan for alerting me to this thesis. [back to text]

[4]  In the 1560s, the polyvalent George Gascoigne had introduced the corona-form to English literature in a set of seven sententious sonnets based on proverbial material; there are later secular attempts at English coronas by Samuel Daniel and Lady Mary Wroth.[back to text]

[5]  This rhyme-scheme is still sometimes called ‘Spenserian’, though the consensus is now that it originated in Scotland; see McClune 2009.[back to text]

[6]  Hamilton will have known the similar list found in Michael Wallace of Kilmarnock’s Carmen Panegyricum of 1617, printed in Adamson 1618: 267-69. An online edition and translation of this text will shortly appear in The Philological Museum.[back to text]

[7]  David Greer (1962: 316) notes that two stanzas (in fact those found in the 1603 Philotus) are found copied into a Scottish Metrical Psalter, British Library MS Add. 33,933, f. 81v-82. Fifty years on, in February 2011, Professor Greer confirmed (personal communication) that he really did not believe there is any evidence that Campion wrote the song.[back to text]

[8]  The baronetcy of Hamilton of Silvertonhill still exists, though the actual estate of Silvertonhill in Lanarkshire vanished long ago. The name survives locally in the town of Hamilton, where it describes a residential area around Silvertonhill Avenue.[back to text]

[9]  William Baillie’s wife was Elizabeth Durham, of the family of the Durhams of Duntarvie, royal servants; James Durham of Duntarvie is one of the two principal witnesses to Elizabeth Baillie’s charter of 31 October 1599. See Registrum magni sigilli Regum Scotorum: The Register of the Great Seal of Scotland (1984: vi, no.973), henceforth RMS. Her brothers, mentioned in this charter, had predeceased their father. Francis’s marriage contract of 1609 (see below) shows a continuing Durham of Duntarvie interest.[back to text]

[10]  The others being Robert, William, James, and John (Hamilton 1933: 813-14). For Robert and James, see RMS vol.9, no.350; James was admitted burgess of Glasgow in 1628, and died in October 1649. For Mr William, see RMS vol.8, no.1532, of 20 February 1630, where we find ‘Wil.Hammiltoun filium legit. D.Roberti H. de Goislingtoun militis prebendarium de Nathirfield’ in September 1625. Like John, he appears to have died before 1635.[back to text]

[11]  Recorded in Archibald Heygate, Protocol Book 1604-1609 (Glasgow City Archives, Mitchell Library, ref. B10/1/10).[back to text]

[12]  RD1/21/288 is an obligation by Francis’s grandfather, Sir Andrew Hamilton of Goslington, and others, including Thomas Hamilton of Priestfield, to Henrie Nesbit, burgess of Edinburgh, 19 March 1583 (N.S.).[back to text]

[13]  Records of the Privy Council of Scotland, xii, 529 and xiii, 485.[back to text]

[14]  My thanks to Mr Gordon Coutts and Dr Winifred Coutts for their help in understanding these legal documents.[back to text]

[15]  There is an entail to Edward’s direct heirs, whom failing to his brother Robert and his, whom failing to his brother James and his.[back to text]

[16]  Having turned Francis’s grandfather Sir Andrew into two separate men, this work depicts Francis as an only child who ‘never was married’ and in whom ‘this branch of the family expired’. This creative fantasy was drawn on by Burke’s General and Heraldic Dictionary of the Peerage and Baronetage 1832 (vol.1, 567). As a result, it has been used by many genealogists and has created a web of misprision, despite the correct account given by George Hamilton in 1933 and the fact that as early as 1909, Gray-Buchanan had observed bluntly that Douglas ‘makes [Francis] the last of an imaginary elder line of the Silvertonhill family’ (1909:438-39). W.H.C. Hamilton demonstrated that the ‘younger line’ via Alexander Hamilton, Tutor of Silvertonhill (d.1547) was entirely spurious, and commented that ‘the Baronage of Scotland is shown by the Records to be erroneous in many particulars’ (1905: 189-90).[back to text]

[17]  Respectively, James Greig (d. before April 1586) of Colmonell, pre-Reformation Archdean of Glasgow, and William Wallace (1577-1617) of Eastwood. See Scott 1915-: iii, 133.[back to text]

[18]  See Livingstone’s Life (Tweedie 1845-47: i, 138), in William King Tweedie, Select Biographies, 2 vols (Edinburgh: Wodrow Society, 1845-47),i, and Memorable Characteristics (Tweedie 1845-47: i, 315).[back to text]

[19]  The extant material (‘Supplementary Parliamentary Papers’) is in NAS, PA7/2/131, inadequately catalogued as ‘131. 1641: Petition by the laird of Silvertonhill; 131a. 1641: Paper relating to trial of Dame Isabell Boyd for witchcraft’. The texts will appear in my Francis Hamilton, Complete Writings (in preparation).[back to text]

[20]  There is a bracket against lines 130-31, and a system of lines down the left margin all the way to the quatrain written at the very end, under a double horizontal line; it appears to be a replacement for these four lines.[back to text]

[21]  Hamilton probably means this word as an equivalent of ‘bridegroom’ or the ‘beloved’ of the Song of Songs; Wisd. 11:26 does describe God as ‘thou lover of souls’.[back to text]

[22]  I am grateful to Dr Timothy Duguid for discussion of this point.[back to text]

[23]  A four part setting of this text and tune can be heard on the CD which forms part of Reid Baxter et al. 2011.[back to text]

[24]  Christ is the bridegroom of the Song of Songs, and of the parable in Matt. 25; he also refers to himself as the bridegroom in Matt. 9:15, Mark 2:19-20, Luke 5:34-35; he is the bridegroom of the Church in Rev. 21:2.[back to text]

[25]  William Kethe, metrical Ps.101:2: ‘and walke uprightly in mine house, as one of thine Elect’; Ps. 84:11.[back to text]

[26]  Listed by name in ‘King James His Encomium’, 192-93. Hamilton ignores the Brightman/Forbes reading of them as representing seven stages in the history of the Church (Firth 1979: 166, 176).[back to text]

[27]  Combining the Geneva Bible’s ‘sceptre of iron’ and Sternhold’s ‘as the potters shards’.[back to text]

[28]  See the discussion in Lyall 2005:302-06. Inexplicably, Melville’s ‘Morning Vision’ was not microfilmed and is therefore missing from the EEBO copy of Ane Spirituall Propine.[back to text]

[29]  For example, in the last line of the dizain (Reid Baxter 2010: 12). See also the sextain of Hamilton’s sonnet to George Hay, cited earlier.[back to text]

[30]  See, for example, the varied specimens prefaced to The Last Battle of the Soul in Death (Boyd 1831).[back to text]

[31]  Mure, a convinced Presbyterian, was probably also himself directly influenced by the writings of James Melville and Lady Culross.[back to text]

[32]  She may actually have been James’s sister. The sources do not agree.[back to text]

[33]  Except ‘The Kings Maiestie came to Hamilton on Monday the xxxviii July’ of 1617, which appeared in The Muses Welcome (1618).[back to text]

[34]  STC (2nd ed.) 1819; Mure did not publish his psalms (Tough 1898:ii, 57-232).[back to text]

[35]  As a corona, the only Scottish parallel is Elizabeth Melville’s ‘Call to come to Christ’ in fifteen quatrains, where a key word or phrase from the last line of each quatrain is repeated in the succeeding first line of the next. This dazzling contrafactum of Marlowe’s Passionate Shepherd to his Love circulated in manuscript (Reid Baxter 2010:7-9, 100-03, 119).[back to text]



NAS, CC8/8/61

NAS, CC9/7/28

NAS, XV General Register of Sasines

NAS PA7/2/131

NAS PA7/2/131a

NAS, RD1/159

NAS, RD1/21/288

Glasgow City Archives, Mitchell Library, ref. B10/1/10

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[RMS] 1984. Registrum magni sigilli Regum Scotorum: The Register of the Great Seal of Scotland (Edinburgh: Scottish Record Society)

Adamson, John (ed.). 1618. The Muses Welcome (Edinburgh)

Bawcutt, Priscilla. 2012. ‘John Donne: The Scottish Connection’, in David J. Parkinson (ed.), James VI and I, Literature and Scotland. Tides of Change, 1567-1625 (Leuven: Peeters), 323-38

Black, David. 1600. Exposition vpon the thirtie two Psalme, describing the true maner of humbling and raysing vp of Gods children (Edinburgh)

Boyd, Zachary. 1831. The Last Battle of the Soul in Death, ed. Gabriel Neil (Glasgow)

Douglas, Robert. 1798. The Baronage of Scotland (Edinburgh: Bell and Bradfute et al.)

Elliott, Kenneth. 1963. ‘What if a Day’, Music and Letters 44 (2): 206

Firth, Katharine R. 1979. The Apocalyptic Tradition in Reformation Britain, 1530-1645 (Oxford: Oxford University Press)

[Glasgow City Council], no date. Provan Hall Heritage Trail. <>, accessed 17 January 2012

Gray-Buchanan, A.W. 1909. ‘Queries and Replies’, Scottish Historical Review 6 (24): 438-39

Greer, David. 1962. ‘“What if a day” – an examination of the words and music’, Music and Letters, 43 (4):304-19

Hamilton, George. 1933. History of the House of Hamilton (Edinburgh: n.p.)

Hamilton, W.H.C. 1905. ‘Baron of Argentine’, SHR 2 (6): 189-90

Hume, Alexander. 1599. Hymnes, or Sacred Songs (Edinburgh)

Innes, Cosmo Nelson (ed.). 1854. Munimenta alme universitatis Glasguensis. Records of the University of Glasgow from its foundation till 1727 (Glasgow: Glasgow University)

James VI/I. 1619. A Meditation upon the Lords prayer. (London)

Lyall, Roderick J. 2005. Alexander Montgomerie: poetry, politics, and cultural change in Jacobean Scotland (Tempe: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies)

McClune, Katherine. 2009. ‘The “Spenserian Sonnet” in Sixteenth-Century Scotland’, Notes and Queries, 56 (4): 533-536

Melville, James. 1597. Comfortable Exhortatioun anent Death (Edinburgh)

_____. 1598. A Spirituall Propine of a Pastour to his People (Edinburgh)_____. 1842. The Autobiography and Diary, ed. Robert Pitcairn (Edinburgh: Wodrow Society)

Morison, William Maxwell. 1801-08. The Decisions of the court of Sessions (Edinburgh: Bell and Bradfute)

Muschet, George. 1610. The Complaint of a Christian Soule (Edinburgh)

Paterson, James. 1863-66. History of the Counties of Ayr and Wigton,3 vols (Edinburgh: J. Stillie)

Paul, James Balfour. 1904-14. The Scots Peerage, 9 vols (Edinburgh: David Douglas)

Reid Baxter, J. 2005. ‘The Songs of Lady Culross’, in G.J. Munro, et al (eds.), Notis Musycall (Glasgow: Musica Scotica), 143-63

_____. 2008. ‘Liminary Verse: the Paratextual Poetry of Renaissance Scotland’, The Journal of the Edinburgh Bibliographical Society,3: 70-94

_____. 2008b. ‘Mr Andro Boyd (1565-1636): a Neo-Stoic Bishop of Argyll and his writings’, in Julian Goodare and A.A. MacDonald (eds.), Sixteenth Century Scotland: Essays in honour of Michael Lynch (Brill: Leiden), 395-425

______. 2010. Poems of Elizabeth Melville, Lady Culross (Edinburgh: Solsequium)

Reid Baxter, Jamie, Lynch, Michael, Dennison, Elizabeth Patricia. 2011. Jhone Angus, monk of Dunfermline, and Scottish Reformation Music (Dunfermline: Dunfermline Heritage Community Projects)

Scott, Hew. 1915-. Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae,11 vols, (Edinburgh: n.p.)

Tough, William (ed.). 1898. The Works of Sir William Mure of Rowallan (Edinburgh: Scottish Text Society)

Tweedie, William King. 1845-47. Select Biographies, 2 vols (Edinburgh: Wodrow Society)

Williamson, Arthur H. 1979. Scottish National Consciousness in the Age of James VI  (Edinburgh: John Donald)

Yeoman, Louise. 2002. ‘Hunting the Rich Witch in Scotland: high-status witchcraft suspects and their persecutors, 1590-1650’, inJulian Goodare (ed.), The Scottish Witch-Hunt in Context (Manchester: Manchester University Press), 106-21

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