Ham House Gardens

Ham House, Richmond Surrey, North Front

Well known as a treasure house of the 17th century, Ham was extended, furnished and decorated by the Duke & Duchess of Lauderdale between 1672 and 1682. The house today is largely as they left it, with most of the furniture in the rooms as listed in the inventory of 1683. Some of the decoration was personally supervised by King Charles Ist, a close friend of William Murray, Earl of Dysart who undertook the earlier decoration.



                                                                            The Duchess bought a fair amount of the furniture in Paris, and is believed to have visited Vaux-le-Vicomte, the magnificent house near Paris to seek her inspiration for Ham. She was in good company, for Louis XIV having imprisoned Vaux's owner, Nicolas Fouquet, marquis de Belle-Île, vicomte de Melun et Vaux, the Superintendent of Finances on charges of peculation (stealing money from his employer), took over his architect, interior designer and chief gardener to design and decorate Versailles.












Was the Duke a slave trader ?

    The National Trust assert he was, and has placed the placard (left) in the Duke's Dressing Room at Ham. 

    The Chief has written to the "Chair" of the National Trust to point out that there is no evidence that the Duke ever traded slaves or that his membership of the Royal English Merchant Adventurers Company produced any revenue whatever. Three years after its founding in 1663 it was heavily in debt, and it surrendered its charter in 1672.  The Duke did not invest in the successor company, which confirms our view that it was not a profitable investment. It was authorised to trade slaves, in addition to gold, ivory and other commodities. 

The Duke never owned Ham - it was the property of his wife, Elizabeth Murray, Countess of Dysart. He married her in 1672, the year that the Merchant Adventurers  surrendered the charter after accumulating massive debts.

     We have asked the National Trust to produce evidence that the Duke traded slaves or received any profits from that trade,  but  none has been produced.  

The Trust's "research" is, to say the least, unreliable. Their head of research is not a historian, but a professor of English literature. They state that "Maitland was a signatory on the Royal Charter founding the Royal Company of Merchant Adventurers."   This is simply incorrect. A charter is signed or authorised by the donor - Charles II in this case. Lauderdale is listed as a beneficiary. See the charter extract  below.

If the Trust cannot get simple, easily ascertainable facts right, what credence can be given to its conclusions?


       We  assume that the NT has no evidence to back its assertions. If it had, it woud have produced it.


  This is guilt by association.   Our letter below - 


30th October 2020

            We can all agree that the institution of slavery has no justification whatsoever. However, the 17th century was different. We do not execute people today, but at that time people were executed for what today would be minor offences, and were routinely eviscerated for political crimes. 

I can set your mind at rest regarding possible Ham House connections with slavery in the 17th century.  There is no taint of the profits of slavery being spent on Ham House during the Duke of Lauderdale’s lifetime.

Lauderdale was a member of Royal English Company of Merchant Adventurers established in 1663 to trade in many commodities, including slaves, but it was ruined by its losses, was heavily in debt by 1667 and surrendered its charter in 1672, so it is unlikely that he received any revenue from it. Indeed, he probably lost the funds he had invested. This interpretation is reinforced by his decision not to invest in the successor company.

Unlike his English colleagues, Lauderdale did not invest in America or the West Indies. He owned no plantations.  There is no mention in WA Mackenzie’s magisterial and detailed 508 page biography of any personal trading interests whatever, or even of the Company itself which is a strong indication that Lauderdale was not involved in trading operations on his own account.

Lauderdale was a member of the various government councils concerning plantations and the colonies in his capacity as the Lord High Commissioner to the Parliament of Scotland and later as Lord President of the Council of Scotland and took an active interest in trade and commerce in so far as it affected the interests of Scotland and its people. His principal concern was trade between Scotland and the Netherlands.

He was appointed to the  Council of Foreign Plantations in 1671, the  Council of Trade and Foreign Plantations in 1672  and on the Committee of the Privy Council for Trade and Plantations from 1675.  So were 20 others in 1675, including the Bishop of London.   None of these appointments made Lauderdale a slave trader or slave owner. 

None of the correspondence in the Lauderdale Papers at the British Museum shows that he had any connection with the slave trade, except in his capacity as Scotland’s representative in the English Council of Foreign Plantations and successor institutions. As a matter of principle, he took little part in English affairs, though he supported the Earl of Danby in the 1670s.  There is no evidence that Lauderdale received any significant income from the Merchant Adventurers. There is no evidence that the Duke owned or traded slaves.   There is no evidence to contradict these assertions, but if you do find any, I shall be interested to see it.

            Accordingly, I ask you to amend the next version of your report on Links with Historic Slavery as follows:

            In 1663, Lauderdale was a beneficiary of the Royal charter founding the Royal English Merchant Adventurers Company Trading to Africa (later the Royal African Company in which Lauderdale had no part), which had a brief monopoly on the trading of ivory, gold and slaves along the west coast of Africa. Lauderdale held official positions representing Scottish interests in trade and early colonialism, including Commissioner of the Council of Trade (from 1668), Commissioner of the Council of Plantations (from 1671) and when founded in 1675, one of the Lords of Trade and Plantations.  There is, however, no  evidence that he either owned or traded slaves, or that he received any significant income from transactions in the slave trade.


Please arrange for the placard in the Dressing Room at Ham House to be amended accordingly, or removed.

You probably hold in your investment portfolio shares in pharmaceutical companies. They make anesthetics, which are also in large doses used to euthanize dogs.   If we follow the logic of the placard, you are thus a dog killer.

Your grandchildren may wear clothes made in sweatshops, and own electronic goods containing components made in factories in Asia where workers are routinely abused. The logic of the placard suggests that they are complicit in the abuse.

Trade unions have asserted that the National Trust has in the past failed to pay the living wage to many of its employees.   The NT may be paying full wages now, but it is alleged that it did not do so in the past. The logic of the placard places the responsibility for this alleged failure firmly on you. 

The NT must have clean hands when accusing others of improper behaviour, even in the far distant past.

            In these circumstances, I hope you will amend the next version of your report on Links with Historic Slavery as requested and immediately arrange to amend or remove the placard in the Dressing Room at Ham House.


We have not received the courtesy of a reply, even though the English newspapers have drawn their attention to my letter.


  Further research

          Further research has revealed that the Royal Adventurers, sometimes called The Company of Royal Adventurers of England Trading into Africa, went into liquidation in 1671, with shareholders losing 90% of their investment.

        Royal Adventurers began life very soon after the Restoration with a focus on exploration for gold on the West African coast; in 1663 it was given a new charter and recruited more stockholders (including Lauderdale) with further subscription rounds. The 1663 charter added slave trading to the company's objects. Zook and Davies (see below)  don't tell of much commercial success in the 1660s - rather frustration with the wars with the Dutch and continuing need for 'more money' but there were some trans-atlantic voyages. While the company granted some licences towards the end of the decade, it did not itself trade after about 1668. At the start of the next decade there were serious discussions with creditors and Davies tells that a scheme was decided, late in 1671, whereby a new company (Royal African Company) would buy all the assets and operations of Royal Adventurers and thus fund Royal Adventures to pay its creditors 8s in the £ (ie 40%) and its stockholders 2s in the £ (ie 10%).  

          The second, Royal African Company, opened a subscription book on 10 November 1671 and, in the month to 11 December 1671, two hundred persons underwrote stock to the value of £111,600. This company was granted a Royal charter in September 1672, traded most actively in the 1670s and 1680s but less so in the 1690s and then limped through to the middle of the next century.



- The Company of Royal Adventurers Trading into Africa by GF Zook (1919)
- The Royal African Company by KG Davies (1957).


Ham Street, Ham, Richmond, South West London

Telephone: 020 8940 1950

The house is open from 1 April every day from Saturday to Wednesday
Closed Thursday & Friday

House Open: 1.00 pm to 4.00 pm
Tea Room Open: 10.00 am to 5.00 pm
Gardens Open: 10.00 am to 5.00 pm

Visit the National Trust website for more details: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/ham-house-and-garden


Lauderdale House

Located on Highgate Hill it was the Duke's London home before he moved to Ham House. Now an art centre. Nell Gwynn was a tenant after the Duke moved to Ham.

Lauderdale Aisle

Maitlands have been associated with Haddington from around 1300, and have been buried in the Lauderdale Aisle at St Mary's Haddington.