William Hamilton (1669-1732)

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William Hamilton (1669-1732) was Principal of Edinburgh University from 1730 to 1732, serving also as Professor of Divinity from 1709.

Early Years

The second son of Gavin Hamilton of Airdrie and of Jane, daughter of Robert Montgomerie of Hessilhead, Hamilton graduated MA from the University of Edinburgh in 1686. He most probably pursued further studies in the Netherlands before being ordained as Minister of Cramond in 1694. In 1696 he married Mary Robertson (1676-1760), with whom he had thirteen children including the bookseller Gavin Hamilton (1704–1767), the physician Alexander Hamilton (1712–1756), and the churchman Robert Hamilton (1707–1787), who would go on to occupy the Edinburgh Divinity chair in 1754.

University Career

In 1709 William Hamilton succeeded George Meldrum (1634?-1709) as Professor of Divinity at Edinburgh University, whereupon he demitted his parish post. Over the next two decades he took a prominent role in Church affairs, was an active member of Church Courts and ecclesiastical committees, and served as Moderator of the General Assembly on no fewer than five occasions (1712, 1716, 1720, 1727, 1730). Following the death of William Wishart, he was elected as Principal of the University in 1730. In 1732 he was also called to be Minister of West St. Giles Parish. Hamilton died in Edinburgh on 12 November 1732.


Hamilton consistently sought to move the Church of Scotland towards a more liberal outlook. He warned students against inflexible dogmatism while urging tolerance towards those who held more rigid views. His teaching left a lasting impression on many students who would become prominent church figures in the next generation, including William Leechman and James Oswald. Hamilton was widely respected for his academic abilities and is seen as playing a pivotal role in helping the church overcome the divisions of the 17th century and advance towards the Enlightenment era.


  • The truth and excellency of the Christian religion: a sermon preached in the High Church of Edinburgh, Monday, January 3, 1732, upon occasion of the anniversary meeting of the Society in Scotland for Propogating Christian Knowledge; and published at their request. Edinburgh : Printed by R. Fleming for Gavin Hamilton, and sold at his shop ..., 1732


  • Laurence A. B. Whitley, 'Hamilton, William (1669-1732)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004) [[1], accessed 17 Sept 2010]