The English Civil War began in 1642 and divided the nation, leading to armed conflicts between the supporters of King and Parliament. King Charles I was arrested tried and publically executed along with many of his supporters and advisers including James Hamilton the 1st Duke of Hamilton. Those close to Charles, including his son and heir, Prince Charles, fled the country and into Europe. William Hamilton was amongst their number , and whilst in exile was awarded the Order of the Garter and gained the title of William, 2nd Duke of Hamilton. By 1651 Prince Charles had returned to Scotland in order to retake the throne in what would become the final battles of the English Civil War. William Hamilton found himself as Commander in Chief of the Royalist forces as Charles rode into Worcester, after David Leslie fell out of favour with the young prince, following defeat at Dunbar.
During the battle, Hamilton led a small Scottish detachment to the east of Fort Royal, now Fort Royal Park situated directly behind The Commandery. He led a charge with Charles up Red Hill to try to capture the Parliamentary guns while Cromwell was busy trying to cross the river at Powick. Initial progress was good, pushing New Model Army gunners away from their weapons, but the Royalist charge was held up by nearby dragoons and pikemen.
Cromwell identified the attack and rushed back from Powick to command an counter attack on Red Hill, breaking the Royalist charge. The tide turned and Hamilton was shot through the thigh. His lines had been broken and his men begin a retreat back into Worcester.
The retreat left Fort Royal’s flank unprotected and the Essex Militia began their assault on Fort Royal. They turned the Royalist guns onto the retreating men and a total rout of Royalist forces ensured victory for the New Model Army and Parliament. Charles II was, once again, forced to flee for his life and back into exile. The final battle of the English Civil War had been fought and decided on the streets of Worcester.
Hamilton was carried to the Commandery after the battle where his wounds became infected. Cromwell offered the services of his personal surgeon to remove Hamilton’s gangrenous leg. Hamilton refused this and died a painful death from septicaemia, on the 12th of September after penning a heartfelt goodbye to his family back in Scotland.
Hamilton wished to be buried in Lanarkshire Scotland on the family plot, but Cromwell refused this dignity. The heat of September 1651 led to Hamilton being given a hasty burial in the soil foundations of the Commandery, in a room that now bears his name. Sometime later he was exhumed, and now rests in Worcester Cathedral.
In 2014, the current Duke of Hamilton visited Worcester to pay his respects to William, both in the place where he is buried, and where his loyalty to his king led his untimely demise.
Researched by Alex Bear.