Friday, February 6, 2015

Sir David Hamilton: Midwife, Confidante, Mediator

Sir David Hamilton was born in Lanark, Scotland in 1663. The youngest of ten, he was born to James Hamilton, laird of Boggs and Dalzell and his third wife, Isobell. In 1686, he graduated from the University of Paris with a doctor in medicine after his dissertation, “De passione hysteria,” and joined a Licentiate of the College of Physicians two years later. Hamilton married his first wife, Mary, on 18 July 1689. Unfortunately, she died less than two years after their marriage on 21 December 1691 and left him childless. His second marriage, which provided him with two boys, Thomas and David, was not necessarily a happy one. Elizabeth, Hamilton’s second wife, was the daughter of Sir Thomas Lane, the Lord Mayor of London. They married on 26 September 1694 but split up in 1713 after Hamilton’s repeated accusations of Elizabeth being unfaithful.
            Although Hamilton’s love life was bit tumultuous, he managed to create a successful professional life. By 1703, he was physician in ordinary to Queen Anne and on 25 June 1703, he was elected to the Royal College of Physicians. That same year, he became Sir David Hamilton. This occasion was marked in the diary of Narcissus Luttrell on 17 April 1703, which stated, "The Queen has knighted Dr. Hamilton, an eminent man midwife of this city." Hamilton was admitted into the Royal Society on 5 May 1708, which is the UK’s leading academy of science, medicine, and engineering that began in the mid- seventeenth century. Even before his appointment to the court of Princess Caroline in 1714, Hamilton had cultivated quite a reputation in the Royal Court Society and was “the leading practitioner of mid- wifery in the metropolis” according to the Roll of the Royal College of Physicians.
            Although Hamilton was technically considered a Whig, politics were not his life focus. A Dissenting Christian, he wrote several religious works, such as “The Private Christian’s Witness to the Truth of Christianity” in which he stated that through prayer he could see the course of his future. His diary that began in 1709 and ended after the death of Queen Anne in 1714 was the most notable written work of his career. The diary consists of his life as he served Queen Anne as her physician and unofficial confidante from around 1703 until her death in 1714.
            According to his diary, during the year 1712 and again in 1713 Hamilton appears to have discussed his marital troubles with the Queen, who advised him to keep it a private matter. Nevertheless, Hamilton did not seem to take the advice according to Dame Sarah Cowper, who noted in her own diary that Hamilton took “Bodily pains to prove himself A Cuckold.” Hamilton’s relationship with the Queen must have been a relatively intimate one if he felt he could share with her such sensitive issues.
When a rift formed between the Queen and her good friend Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, due to political differences, Hamilton took on the role of negotiator. In April of 1710, the Queen asked him to speak to the Duchess and have her “make her submissions”. From there on, he acted as a go between by reporting to Queen Anne what the Duchess said and what she wrote to him and then turned and relayed the Queen’s response to the Duchess. Throughout the whole ordeal, Hamilton remained concerned for the Queen and worried that such politics were having an adverse effect on her health.
            In 1714, Hamilton became the physician to the Princess of Wales. When Princess Caroline was pregnant in 1716, he was not allowed to attend her; perhaps due to the fact the Royal Court was not entirely convinced he was an accomplished physician. The Princess became pregnant again a year later but Hamilton was told to attend to the Duchess of Argyle instead, who was also in labor.
His practice as physician and male mid- wife made Hamilton a rather wealthy man by earning a fortune around 80,000 pounds, which was speculatively lost in the 1720 South Sea Bubble (this happened after the South Sea joint-stock company, which had taken on 10,000,000 pounds of the government’s debt in exchange for a monopoly of trade in the South American and Pacific islands, boomed and collapsed). Although the evidence for this is scant, Hamilton did pass away intestate, which might suggest he no longer had any money for his sons to inherit. During his time in the Royal Court, he lived on Bow Lane.
Sir David Hamilton passed away on 28 August 1721, while still in service of Princess Caroline and was buried in St. Katherine Coleman with his first wife.


Baigent, Elizabeth. “Hamilton, Sir David (1663–1721).” Elizabeth Baigent In Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online ed., edited by Lawrence Goldman. Oxford: OUP, . (accessed February 3, 2015).

Munk, William, G. H. Brown. The Roll of the Royal College of Physicians of London: 1701- 1800. London: The College, 1878.

Noorthouck, John. “Addenda: The Mayors and Sheriffs of London,” in A New History of London Including Westminster and Southwark (London: R Baldwin, 1773), 889-893, accessed January 29, 2015,

Roberts, Philip. The Diary of Sir David Hamilton: 1709-1714. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975.

Sheppard, Francis. London: A History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.

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