Elizabeth Hamilton, Countess of Orkney

Elizabeth Hamilton, Countess of Orkney (1657 – 19 April 1733) (born Elizabeth Villiers) was an English courtier from the Villiers family and the reputed 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.

Elizabeth Hamilton
Countess of Orkney
Elizbeth Villiers.jpg
Elizabeth Villiers
Died19 April 1733 (aged 75–76)
Spouse(s)George Hamilton, 1st Earl of Orkney
IssueAnne O'Brien, 2nd Countess of Orkney
Frances Lumley-Saunderson, Countess of Scarbrough
Henrietta Boyle, Countess of Cork
FatherColonel Sir Edward Villiers
MotherFrances Howard


Elizabeth Villiers was born to Colonel Sir Edward Villiers of Richmond, Surrey, and Lady Frances Howard, herself the youngest daughter of Theophilus Howard, 2nd Earl of Suffolk, and Elizabeth Hume.

In 1660, Charles II's brother James (the future James II) married the commoner Anne Hyde, who was already pregnant at the time. Elizabeth's mother, Lady Villiers, was awarded the position of governess to James and Anne's children. Although Anne had four daughters and four sons, only Mary (the future Mary II) born in 1662 and Anne, born in 1665, survived to adulthood.

Lady Villiers used her position to secure 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 marry and serve as Princess of Orange; meanwhile, Elizabeth's brother Edward, later created 1st Earl of Jersey, was Master of the Horse.[1]

Elizabeth is reputed to have become William's mistress in 1680. In 1685, Mary's father James II exploited rumours of William's infidelity in an attempt to cause a split between his daughter and the prince. Mary II died on 28 December 1694, and within a year or so, William ended his relationship with Elizabeth Villiers, motivated, it is said, by his wife's expressed wishes before her death.[1]

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.[2] 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 Amsterdam.

In 1695, William settled a large part of the confiscated Irish estates of James II, which had become the property of Mary II, his late wife, on Elizabeth. Parliament revoked this grant in 1700.[1]

On 25 November 1695, Elizabeth was married to her cousin, Lord George Hamilton, the fifth son of the 3rd Duke of Hamilton. A few weeks later, on 3 January, he was honoured with the titles Earl of Orkney, Viscount of Kirkwall, and Baron Dechmont. Elizabeth, now the Countess of Orkney, served her husband's interests with great skill, and the marriage proved a happy one.[3][1]

Later in 1696 she founded Midleton College, a grammar school in County Cork, Ireland.

Lady Orkney retained a degree of social importance in the Hanoverian era, and was hostess to George I and George II at her estate at Cliveden, Buckinghamshire. She died in London on 19 April 1733.


Elizabeth 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:[4]


  1. ^ a b c d Chisholm 1911.
  2. ^ Murphy, A.E. (1997) John Law: Economic Theorist and Policy-maker, Oxford U.P. ISBN 0-19-828649-X, 9780198286493, p. 22ff.
  3. ^ Herman, Eleanor (2005). Sex with Kings: 500 Years of Adultery, Power, Rivalry, and Revenge. The Business of Life: William Morrow Paperbacks. pp. 219. ISBN 0-06-058544-7.
  4. ^ Lady Henrietta Douglas, thepeerage.com


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