IN this latest column in my series on the ancient towns of Scotland I will be writing about Hamilton in South Lanarkshire, which has a unique claim to fame among all the towns in the series as it is the only one named after an individual in his own lifetime.

I have been contacted by a reader who asked me why am I not writing about our eight cities – perhaps I will do so – and my answer is that our country is a “townie” nation, with National Records of Scotland’s population figures showing that more people live in towns and villages than in our eight cities combined.

To be included, towns must have been founded before the Reformation, and they must have played some part in our nation’s history. The columns all deal with towns up to the year 1900 as I will be revisiting them in a future series on 20th century Scotland. If you think your town should be included, please email me at

I have been asked to look at Motherwell but unfortunately it’s just not ancient enough and played no great part in Scotland’s history until it became a centre of steel production.

Like all the other towns I’ve chosen, Hamilton has a history that has been thoroughly researched by proper historians, allowing a history writer such as myself to base my column on their factual observations.

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The most important fact to know about ancient Hamilton is that it only became Hamilton in the 15th century and for hundreds of years before that it was known as Cadzow, perhaps pronounced Cadyou, possibly derived from Cadihou, the Celtic word for “beautiful castle”.

Cadzow’s strategic importance in the heart of central Scotland between the rivers Clyde and Avon was appreciated by the Roman invaders of the first and second centuries and by local tribes even before them.

Remains of Bronze Age burials found at Ferniegair, just south of Hamilton, show native Celtic people were settled in the area in prehistoric times. Later Roman remains have also been found and we know that the legionnaires camped at nearby Bothwellhaugh, but, as with Lanark and Rutherglen, we simply do not know the extent or the location of any Roman settlement in the Hamilton area.

Also lost in the centuries before historical records began is how Cadzow came to be founded as a royal base, but it seems likely that the Brythonic kings of Strathclyde made their summer home there. South Lanarkshire Council states on its website: “Hamilton was originally known as Cadzow, derived from the Celtic word Cadihou, the name of the sixth-century summer hunting lodge of Rederech, ruler of the ancient Kingdom of Strathclyde. It was here in 568AD that St Kentigern (St Mungo), the patron saint of Glasgow, converted the king of the Britons and his queen, Langoreth, to Christianity.”

King David I of Scotland

I’m not as certain as the council but Rederech’s main headquarters was known to be Dumbarton Rock, so it’s entirely plausible that he sailed up the Clyde or rode overland to Cadzow which, with the rest of Strathclyde was absorbed into Alba, or Scotland, in the early 11th century.

Scotland’s greatest king, David I, who reigned from 1124-53, made his intervention in Cadzow’s history by building a castle, all trace of which has been lost. He also confirmed Cadzow as a burgh and often based himself there, probably to take advantage of the deer hunting for which the area was famous.

The first definite reference to Cadzow dates from 1150 when a royal charter shows that David gave the burgh’s church to the bishopric of Glasgow.

King David issued royal charters from Cadzow Castle as early as 1139. To have a castle – albeit a small motte-and-bailey style building – and a church at that time shows that Cadzow was a developing township, and by the reign of Alexander III, from 1249-86, a century later it was important enough for the king to hold his court there.

Its castle was still mainly used as a royal hunting lodge. Unfortunately we do not know exactly where the township of Cadzow was but it was definitely near the castle. The problem is that the castle was itself lost over time.

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Not lost, however, was the extraordinary Netherton Cross, the oldest surviving relic of the original mediaeval town of Cadzow. Tradition has it that the stone with its Pictish designs was near to the site of the original castle.

Historic Hamilton: The Archaeological Implications Of Development, published in 1996, takes up the story: “The Netherton Cross which now stands in front of the entrance to Hamilton new parish church, was brought to this place for safekeeping in the early 20th century, but its original site was some 60m north of the motte.

“Both the original site and the style of decoration of the stone cross are of interest. Some have argued that the cross was carved in the eighth century, but its decoration suggests that it is more likely to be 10th century at the earliest, and, more probably, the 11th or 12th.

“Its location strongly suggests that there was some form of settlement nearby. When allied to the evidence of the motte, it probably confirms the site of the settlement of Cadzow.

“Its decoration suggests that it was of religious significance, rather than a secular market cross and there is a tradition that an early church stood nearby, perhaps on land now submerged beneath Strathclyde Loch.” The Cross is well worth viewing, not least because it confirms how ancient Hamilton was.

During the Wars of Independence, events took place which resulted in Cadzow being at one time in the hands of the English and then becoming definitely Scottish. A nobleman called Walter fitz Gilbert, often described as the ancestor of the modern Dukes of Hamilton, came to the area possibly from Hameldone in Northumberland, and served Edward I of England after his conquest of the Scots in the last years of the 13th century.

He was made Constable of Bothwell Castle, one of the most imposing fortifications in Scotland, by Edward II, and was still on the English side when the Battle of Bannockburn took place in 1314.

An English royal charter survives which states: “The king commands Walter fitz Gilbert, constable of his castle of Bothwell, to see that it is safely and securely kept, and delivered to no other person whatsoever, without the king’s letters patent under the Great Seal of England directed to himself.”

Bannockburn changed everything. Several English lords and knights fled to Bothwell for refuge, but Fitz Gilbert promptly surrendered the castle to Robert the Bruce and the king gave him Cadzow as a reward.

It is recorded that Cadzow had been forfeited to the Crown by the Comyn family, whose leader, John the Red Comyn, had been murdered by the Bruce at Dumfries in 1306. Later, Fitz Gilbert would be knighted and become a leading figure in the army of the Bruce and his son King David II.

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Fitz Gilbert’s son, Sir David, inherited Cadzow as the second laird, and is described in royal and religious documents as being of Cadzow and Hameldone. It is known he was captured by the English at the battle of Neville’s Cross in 1346 but was probably released for a ransom not long afterwards.

BY 1368, the Fitz Gilbert family was still in charge of Cadzow – a charter of King David II confirms them as owners of Cadzow.

The following century saw the owning family, now calling themselves Hamilton, make Cadzow their central town and, as their fortunes waxed and waned, so too did the fortunes of the town.

The family developed close links with the powerful Douglas family and became increasingly connected to the royal House of Stewart. When the sixth Laird of Cadzow inherited the burgh and barony, he was made the first Lord Hamilton and in 1445 the teenage King James II sealed a royal charter transforming the burgh of Cadzow into Hamilton.

The Laird’s Manor House was recognised as the administrative centre for the burgh of Hamilton.

The town and the Hamilton family were now inextricably linked, and the first Lord Hamilton proved adept at the usual occupations of Scottish nobles at that time – plotting and politicking, and climbing the social ladder through making a good marriage.

Very much part of the powerful Douglas faction, Hamilton accompanied the eighth Earl of Douglas to Rome and there he got permission to convert the local parish church into a collegiate institution with appropriate clergy. There was also a school in the town by 1452, the ancestor of the current Hamilton Grammar School.

The feud between King James II and the Douglases erupted into violence when in February, 1452, James II murdered the eighth earl at Stirling Castle. Hamilton joined the ninth earl, brother of the murdered man, in revenge raids on royal lands including around Stirling, but after a three-year truce, the king attacked Douglas territory while the burgh of Hamilton suffered grievously at the hands of the royal army.

Later in 1455, Lord Hamilton switched sides just in time as King James moved decisively against the “Black Douglas” line who lost their lands and power. Hamilton was rewarded by being made Sheriff of Lanark while his barony of Hamilton was increased in size.

He joined forces with George Douglas, the fourth Earl of Angus and head of the “Red Douglas” line of the family, and also married very well – his second wife was Mary, daughter of James II and widow of Thomas Boyd, the Earl of Arran. They would have three children, his daughter Elizabeth marrying Matthew Stewart, the second Earl of Lennox, by whom she had six children before the earl was killed at the Battle of Flodden Field in 1513.

When the first Lord Hamilton died in 1479, he was succeeded by his elder son James, and the second Lord Hamilton amassed more lands and power – his cousin King James IV made him Sheriff of Lanark – so that his town grew even more important.

In 1502 he commanded the Scottish navy and negotiated the marriage of James IV to Margaret Tudor, sister of Henry VIII of England. A delighted King James rewarded Hamilton with the title of Earl of Arran, and it was his son James, the second Earl of Arran, who became the heir presumptive.

The Hamilton family was now at its most powerful, and showed it by building a castle beside the town sometime between 1530 and 1550. It was most likely built by Sir James Hamilton of Finnart, the illegitimate son of the first Earl of Arran, who was later made legitimate and became one of the most powerful men in the land.

A remarkable man by any standards, Finnart travelled to the Continent and is said to have studied under Leonardo Da Vinci. He also studied the architecture of castles and grand houses, and is credited with the transformation of Stirling Castle for King James V.

He is also believed to have planned Cadzow Castle, as it became known. Its remains can be seen to this day in Chatelherault Country Park, across the river from the castle.

Next week I’ll conclude this history of Hamilton with the story of Chatelherault and Hamilton Palace, and I will also show how the town expanded massively with the coming of the Industrial Revolution.