Lady Catherine Hamilton
The story of my ancestor: Lady Catherine Hamilton, Duchess of Atholl 1662 – 1707. Married to John Lord Murray, 1660 – 1724, first Duke of Atholl
Lady Catherine Hamilton was born in 1662, daughter of William, the third Duke of Hamilton. Catherine’s pious mother made great effort to imbue her young mind with the truth of God’s word and it was noted of her that she was a sincere, serious and contemplative young lady. Early in her teenage years she confessed Jesus Christ as Lord of her life. The intimate details of her faith are made known to us through her diaries of which much are annotations of her prayers to her Lord and Saviour. An entry in her diary in 1681 at age 19 shows us that the truth of God’s word was not just in her mind but rested deep within her heart. She writes, “O My soul! Remember…wherein the Lord thy God was pleased to give thee sweetest consolation in himself, and some assurance of his reconciled countenance…”
Lady Catherine was set apart from many of her station as she rejected the trappings of worldly pleasure preferring to make the issue of the soul and eternity her chief concern. At the age of 21 she was married to John Lord Murray whose father, the first Marquis of Atholl, was sympathetic toward the actions of the Monarch and led troops against Archibald, Earl of Argyll in evicting the Earl and taking his lands in 1681. Lady Catherine later wrote of the grief she felt for her father-in-law’s action but stressed that her husband had nothing to do with the “unjust forfeiture”. Though pressed to take part of the spoils of the Earl’s estate, her husband John Lord Murray, refused.
The intolerance of the age in which she lived distressed her heart but once the “Killing Time” (1680 -1688) came to a close she made it her task to ensure that the Presbyterian parishes of Scotland were supplied with devoted evangelical ministers. Whilst he himself was not directly responsible for appointing ministers, she made every effort to persuade her husband to influence the decisions. One such Parish to benefit from her Ladyship’s earnest prayer and counsel was the parish of Falkland.
Falkland Palace, Fife, (now in the hands of the National Trust) had fallen to the Atholl family in 1658 and we find Lady Catherine residing there from January 1689 till May 1691. Falkland was at that time an “irreligious and profane place” where “Satan had his seat in much peace”. It was therefore the mercy of God that He burdened Lady Catherine to pray that sound Gospel teaching would come to the parish as she was certain that the Gospel of Jesus Christ was “the power of God unto salvation”. With much prayer and persuasion her husband procured one godly minister, the Rev Mr John Forrest and Lady Catherine makes this entry in her diary: “O, Lord, help me always to remember thy goodness to me. Thou hast many times prevented me with thy mercies, and disappointed my fears; and now again, lately, I have another proof of it. Thou only knowest what a burden it was to me, the fear I was in that my husband should have obstructed a good minister being settled in this place; and now, glory to God that has given me to see him the main, nay, I may say the only instrument of bringing a godly minister…to this place.”
One of the greatest battles faced by Lady Catherine was her husband’s period of grave ill-health. We read in her diary of her submission to the will of God, her reliance upon Him and her earnest beseeching of God for his recovery. “…even if thou shouldst see fit to take away the desire of mine eyes, I may lay my hand on my mouth and be silent, since it is thy doing, who canst do nothing wrong…I desire, from the bottom of my soul, to bless and magnify thy name, who canst abundantly make up the loss of all earthly comforts. Be thou then in place of all unto me, blessed Jesus! and never let any idol be in my heart, where thou oughtest to be in the chief room. But thou hast not only allowed of a lawful love to my husband, but commanded me to have it. Therefore it is lawful and my duty, to pray for him. Spare him, O Lord! for Christ’s sake, and bless him with long life in this world…” Her prayers were indeed answered as Lord Murray not only recovered from this illness but outlived her by 17 years and served not only the state most nobly, but remained very loyal to the church of Scotland. He was a supporter of William of Orange and by June 1703 held the following titles: Duke of Atholl, Marquess of Tullibardine, Earl of Strathtay and Strathardle, Viscount of Balquhidder, Glenalmond and Glenlyon, and Lord Murray, Balvenie and Gask. A year later he was made a Knight of the Thistle, an order of chivalry.
The fruit of the Murray’s marriage was no less than 6 daughters and 7 sons not all of whom lived to adulthood. Lady Catherine recognized that the fruit of her womb were a gift from God and His “by creation”. She desired that they be accomplished in secular learning but above all that they be holy in character and promoters of true godliness. In her prayer to God dedicating them to her Lord in May 1698, she writes, “O accept of the gift, so far as they are mine to give; they are thine by creation, O let them be thine by adoption, regeneration, sanctification, and redemption. Fulfill to me O Lord, the 127th and 128th Psalms, that my children may be thy heritage and the fruit of my womb thy reward; that thus I may be blessed out of Zion. That thus I may be blessed of those that desire to fear thy name…And O forget not my husband, the father of these children, whom I have given up unto thee, and make him say Amen to the bargain; and be thou his God, and my God and the God of our seed, from henceforth from this day and forever. Amen.”
Lady Catherine’s Psalms:
Psalm 127 Except the LORD build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the LORD keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain. It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows: for so he giveth his beloved sleep. Lo, children are an heritage of the LORD: and the fruit of the womb is his reward. As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate.
Psalm 128 Blessed is every one that feareth the LORD; that walketh in his ways. For thou shalt eat thelabour of thine hands: happy shalt thou be, and it shall be well with thee. Thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine by the sides of thine house: thy children like olive plants round about thy table. Behold, that thus shall the man be blessed that feareth the LORD. The LORD shall bless thee out of Zion: and thou shalt see the good of Jerusalem all the days of thy life. Yea, thou shalt see thy children's children, and peace upon Israel.
Whilst she did not live to see any of her children’s children in the flesh, she has surely since met many of her children’s children’s children, and more, in her home now above. Whilst some of their sons sadly joined the Jacobites*, Lord Murray did indeed “say Amen to the bargain” until his dying day. *Ironically the Jacobites besieged Blair Atholl Castle in 1746
Toward the end of her life sectarianism increased and ministers of the Church of England declared that those outside of the CoE were in a state of damnation. Lady Catherine justly regarded this as extreme and unbiblical. She lamented rather the neglect of the preaching of the Gospel at this time and looked for a standard that was agreeable with the Word of God and not manmade doctrine. Hers was not an exclusive Presbyterianism but a faith in God and a motivation that “all may be saved”.
The last words uttered by Lady Catherine were in response to the minister who at her deathbed mentioned the Covenant being ordered in all things and sure, she said, “That is all my salvation and all my desire.”