Elizabeth Hamilton, Countess of Orkney
Elizabeth Hamilton, Countess of Orkney (1657 – 19 April 1733), was the acknowledged mistress of William III & II, King of England and Scotland, from 1680 until 1695. She was a lady-in-waiting to his wife and co-monarch, Queen Mary II.
She was born to Colonel Sir Edward Villiers of Richmond, Surrey and Frances Howard, herself the youngest daughter of Theophilus Howard, 2nd Earl of Suffolk and Elizabeth Hume. As governess to the princesses Mary and Anne, Lady Villiers secured for her children both place and influence in the future Queen Mary II's household: Elizabeth's sisters Anne and Katherine were among the maids of honour who accompanied Lady Mary to the Hague, to serve as Princess of Orange; meanwhile, her brother Edward, later created 1st Earl of Jersey, was Master of the Horse. She was also the founder of Midleton College in 1696, a private boarding school in Co Cork, Ireland.
Three years after the wedding of William and Mary, Elizabeth became his acknowledged mistress. In 1685, Mary's father James II exploited rumors of William's infidelity in an attempt to cause a split between his daughter and her unfaithful prince. After his ascension to the English throne, William settled on her a large share of the confiscated Irish estates of the late James II. Parliament revoked this grant in 1699.
Mary II's death on 28 December 1694, meant that within a year or so, William had ended his relationship with Elizabeth Villiers, motivated, it is said, by his wife's expressed wishes prior to her death.
In 1694, two men had fought a duel possibly over the affections of Elizabeth Villiers. John Law, then still a penniless young man, killed Edward "Beau" Wilson on 9 April 1694. Wilson had challenged Law, although Law may have provoked Wilson on the instigation of Villiers, due to a conflict she had with Wilson regarding money and attempted blackmail. Law was tried and initially found guilty of murder and sentenced to death. His sentence was commuted to a fine, upon the ground that the offence only amounted to manslaughter. Wilson's brother appealed and had Law imprisoned, but he managed to escape to the continent.
On 25 November 1695 Elizabeth was married to her cousin, Lord George Hamilton, fifth son of the 3rd Duke of Hamilton. He was gratified early in the next year with the titles Earl of Orkney, Viscount of Kirkwall, and Baron Dechmont. Elizabeth, newly Countess of Orkney, served her husband's interests with great skill and the marriage proved a happy one. She died in London on 19 April 1733.
Elizabeth Villiers was a first cousin of Barbara Villiers, a mistress of Charles II, as their fathers were brothers. Her paternal aunt was Elizabeth Villiers, Countess of Morton, the godmother and governess of Princess Henrietta. Her brother was Edward Villiers, 1st Earl of Jersey, whose great-grandson married Frances Twysden, yet another royal mistress.
By George Hamilton, 1st Earl of Orkney, son of Anne Hamilton, 3rd Duchess of Hamilton, and William Douglas-Hamilton, Duke of Hamilton, Elizabeth Villiers had three daughters, the eldest of whom inherited her husband's estate and title:
- Lady Anne, suo jure Countess of Orkney, married her cousin William O'Brien, 4th Earl of Inchiquin (1700 – 18 July 1777) on 29 March 1720
- Lady Frances, married Thomas Lumley-Saunderson, 3rd Earl of Scarbrough
- Lady Henrietta, married John Boyle, 5th Earl of Cork
- Rachel Weil, ‘Villiers [Hamilton], Elizabeth, countess of Orkney (c.1657–1733), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004) - available online to those with a subscription.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Elizabeth Hamilton Orkney, Countess of". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press
- Murphy, A.E. (1997) John Law: Economic Theorist and Policy-maker, Oxford U.P. ISBN 0-19-828649-X, 9780198286493, p. 22ff.
- Herman, Eleanor (2005). Sex with Kings: 500 Years of Adultery, Power, Rivalry, and Revenge. The Business of Life: William Morrow Paperbacks. p. 219. ISBN 0-06-058544-7.
- Lady Henrietta Douglas, thepeerage.com