Elizabeth Hamilton, Countess of Orkney

Elizabeth Villiers (c. 1657- April 19, 1733), was the daughter of Colonel Sir Edward Villiers of Richmond and his wife, Frances Howard. Her maternal grandfather was Theophilus Howard, 2nd Earl of Suffolk. Her mother was governess to the princesses Mary and Anne, and secured place and influence for her children in Mary's household.

Elizabeth was the mistress of the King William III. Her brother Edward, afterwards created 1st Earl of Jersey, became master of the horse, while her sisters Anne and Katherine were among the maids of honor who accompanied Mary to the Hague on her marriage. Elizabeth Villiers became William's acknowledged mistress in 1680; in 1685 rumours of William's infidelity were exploited by James II in an attempt to cause a split between the prince and his wife Mary. After his accession to the English crown he settled on her a large share of the confiscated Irish estates of James II. This grant was revoked by parliament in 1699.

Shortly after Mary's death, William, motivated, it is said, by his wife's expressed wishes, broke with Elizabeth Villiers. On 25 November 1695 Villiers was married to her cousin, Lord George Hamilton, fifth son of the 3rd Duke of Hamilton. The husband was gratified early in the next year with the titles of Earl of Orkney, viscount of Kirkwall and Baron Dechmont. Elizabeth, now countess of Orkney, served her husband's interests with great skill, and the marriage proved a happy one. She died in London on April 19, 1733.

Lady Orkney retained a degree of social importance in the Hanoverian era, and was hostess to both George I and George II at her estate at Cliefden, Buckinghamshire.

Further reading

  • Rachel Weil, ‘Villiers [Hamilton], Elizabeth, countess of Orkney (c.1657-1733)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004)


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