By Larry A. Augsbury, High Commissioner and
Chairman of Clan Cunningham Society of America, Inc.
On Wednesday, February 19, 2003, Clan Cunningham
received an email from Mr. François Redien from the Châteux de
Cherveux in western France. He is researching Clan Cunningham during
the XIV and XV centuries and requested our assistance. His interest
stems from the fact that Robert de Coningham and his son Joachim
built the imposing Cherveux Castle around 1470 following the Hundred
Years’ War between France and England during the Middle Ages. The
castle has been the property of François’ family since his father,
Mr. Lucien Redien, acquired it in 1931. The castle that Robert
Conigan built still stands today and Clan Cunningham’s newest
members, François and Marie-Thérèse Redien, make it their home in
the 21st century.
Northeast view of Château de Cherveux built by Robert de Conigham c.
with fallen second tower simulated
Editor’s note. As you will see throughout
this article, I have used the many spellings of Robert’s surname,
Cunningham, that is found throughout the wealth of research that Mr.
Redien has so generously sent to Clan Cunningham and upon which this
article is mostly based. Some text was in Latin, some in English and
much was in French.
I sometimes wondered when my degree in French
(minor) from the University of Colorado at Boulder and my semester
of studies in Chambéry, France would prove useful beyond travel and
lifelong friendships. Today I am very grateful for both!
Ironically, François Redien contacted us for
information, and thus far we have been its principal recipient.
However, Clan Cunningham is in the process of updating and
translating our "Origins, Heritage and Traditions" book into French,
the first copy of which will be presented to the Redien family at
Château de Cherveux by our High Commissioner this coming autumn.
The Scottish-French "Auld Alliance" existed for
centuries during the Middle Ages. Royal marriages were arranged
between the two kingdoms and many Scots fought for the French, and
visa-versa, against their common enemy England. The name Conygham is
prominent among these Scots, and Robert de Cunynghan is the first
name, which really stands out.
Robert was from a well-known noble Scottish
family who went to France between 1436 and 1440 to serve in the
Scots Guard for King Charles VII. The Scots Guard was a famous and
elite fighting force renown throughout Europe. It served the kings
of France for about 400 years, possibly longer. The history of this
military regiment and its link to the kings of France dates back to
perhaps 882 AD, when a group of Scottish "gentlemen" formed a guard
for Charles III of France; some historical references indicate this
tradition dating as far back as King Charlemagne. This military
exchange of troops was part of the "Auld Alliance" and continued
through the Jacobite rebellions.
In 1446, Robert de Conyngham was made captain of
a company of the guard and commanded 40 men-at-arms or lances
fournies (apparently a squad comprised of normally four soldiers
with their additional valets and pages) as well as 80 archers of the
ordnance. From 1446 onwards he served as captain of the Guard for
Charles VII, and, based with his men in upper Auvergne, he played a
brilliant role as commander of the Kings Guard in the recapture of
Normandy in 1450 and Bayonne in 1451.
One of Robert’s relatives, Archibald Cunygham, a
knight, was a man-at-arms in the King’s Bodyguard in 1449-1450.
However, in 1455, a plot was uncovered which
dated back to the siege of Caen in 1450, which implicated Robert de
Counigam who was suspected of treason by Charles VII and imprisoned.
An attempt was alleged to have been made by the English to seduce
five of the king’s guards to betray the French, at the instigation
of the duke of Somerset, who had promised them 4,000 écus and 50
pounds sterling if, with the help of four Englishmen, they would
take either: Jean, comte de Dunois, André de Villequier, Jaques
Coeur or Jean Bureau, treasurer of France. They were also to guide
1,500 English forces into the camp of Charles VII. Five hundred of
these forces were to be mounted and descend upon the king, seize
him, take him to Cherbourg and put him to flight. The remaining one
thousand men were to locate the powder kegs among the king’s
artillery putting them to the torch and then spike the bombards.
An inquest was held, confessions were obtained
and on 8 August 1455, Conyngham’s lieutenant, Robin Campbell, and
John Campbell were sentenced to death by beheading and quartering by
a decree of the Parliament of Paris. Robert Conyngham was sent to
In April of the following year, two letters were
sent to Charles VII from Scotland on Robert’s behalf. One was from
twelve of Robert’s relatives and friends, all of noble birth, which
included: Alexander Lord of Mungidri, Alexander de Cunygham Lord
of Kilmaurs (being a man of extraordinary parts, who was in
great favour with, and highly esteemed by King James II, who created
him a lord of parliament, by the title of lord Cunninghame of
Kilmaurs. And being in no less favor with King James III was
appointed one of the lords of his privy-council. He was a faithful
and loyal subject, and never deserted the king’s interest in all his
vicissitudes of fortune; for which, and in consideration of his many
good and faithful services, he was further dignified with the title
of Earl of Glencairn, to him and his heirs for ever, 28th
May 1488, and was also Chief of Clan Cunningham), Robert Lord of
Boide, Alan Lord of Kantkeret, Robert Lord of Lyle, William of
Cunynghan Lord of Glenguernok, Robert of Cunygham Lord of
Archembonny, Patrick of Beguhannan of Oedem, Ioannes Cambel of
Loudonnen, Ioannes Rosy of Haufrate, William of Morania of Polmais
and Ioannes of Kennedy of Blareguhanan.
The second letter was from King James II himself,
intervening from Scotland on behalf of Robert Conyngham.
On 27 June 1456, Robert was sentenced to appear
before Charles VII before the date of 15 August 1456 in order to
‘request his mercy and pardon.’ Despite the pleadings of his noble
relatives in Scotland and those of King James II, Robert Conyngham
was stripped of all the offices he held and was forbidden to come
within ten miles of the king’s presence for three years from the day
on which he begged the king’s pardon and mercy.
Nevertheless, the evidence indicates that
Robert’s guilt was doubtful and Jean Chartier, an official
chronicler, repeatedly referred to his deeds as Scottish captain in
To the most excellent and right Christian Charles,
By the grace of God King of France,
Our invincible brother and beloved Ally.
James, by the same grace of God King of Scotland
Most Serene Highness, brother and beloved ally,
we send you our good will, brotherly affection and greetings. We
have discovered from reports from certain of our liegemen and
kinfolk that our kinsman, ROBERT CUNYGHAM, has been arrested and
imprisoned following lying and malicious accusations made against
him by certain of his enemies. We do not know the reason for this;
but if he is rightly accused or guilty of some treachery or crime
against your most noble personage, we do not wish to make any appeal
on his behalf. Rather let justice take its course, without favour,
according to his faults or the nature of his crime so that leniency
afforded to one will not encourage another to commit a crime. For
our intention is not and must not be to say treachery is out of the
question but rather to investigate it.
However, we do not believe that Robert himself
could be guilty of any treachery given that his parents, forebears
and all those of his lineage have proved to date faithful to myself
and my forebears and have behaved throughout my kingdom in a manner
worthy of praise. Therefore, we beseech you illustrious Majesty to
deign to consider the extent of these accusations and to investigate
them in accordance with your invincible power in order to see if
anyone, motivated by hatred may have maliciously accused the said
Robert without the evidence to prove the crime attributed to him. We
ask that he be not judged in law by his enemies or anyone suspect in
his eyes but according to the customs, practices and laws of your
kingdom, and the terms of the alliances between the 2 kingdoms of
France and Scotland: he should be able to defend himself by way of a
duel or other legitimate means. We are totally convinced that your
most Gracious Highness will remember the ancient alliance between
the illustrious kingdoms of France and Scotland, a timely
constitution for both parties which has been strengthened and
confirmed in various ways. We ask you to remember too the tender
regard and sincere bonds of affection that have existed between our
2 countries from the earliest times.
And if the said Robert is not guilty, we entreat
him to believe in the earnestness of our prayers, our ever growing
good will, a faith in which he can have total confidence and our
gracious commitment to his wishes.
Wishing to be commended to your most excellent
majesty and loving brother: the venerable Father in Christ, THOMAS
BISHOP OF CANDIDIC, Guardian of our secret seal and our most beloved
counselor; our beloved clerk Master JEAN CENNENSIS, employed at our
collegiate church of Saint Andrew; our loving kinsman and squire
Archibald Cunygham, and all those who your Majesty may deign to
May the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords
preserve your Majesty, as we desire, in the greatest prosperity
leading to the happiest outcomes for your kingdom.
Written at Sermelin on the Fifteenth Day of the
month of April (1456). To the most excellent and right Christian
Prince, CHARLES, by the Grace of God, King of France our brother and
By 1461 when King Louis XI accessioned to power,
Robert was immediately back in favour (which was never again
withdrawn up to the time of his death probably in 1479) and
commanding a company of ordnance with 50 lances fournies
through 1464. Between 1465 and 1472 Conigam was captain of the guard
of one hundred men-at-arms, an armourer, and a trumpeter,
(bagpiper?) figured regularly among his archers of
the ordnance. A muster-roll which took place on
26 and 30 June 1469, listed one hundred men-at-arms and two hundred
archers of the ordnance under the command of Robert de Coningam.
From 1473 to 1478, Robert de Cognigam ceded his company to his son
Joachim who held his post as Captain of the King’s Bodyguard and
Captain of the Guard until at least 1478. A muster-roll, which
occurred on 2 November 1475, listed 96 men-at-arms and 190 archers
under Joachim Coningam, while Robert de Conigam was esquire,
councilor and royal chamberlain (high steward/factor/treasurer) to
the king during this time.
Robert de Coningan enjoyed a long, fruitful, if
stormy from 1455 to 1461, career that spanned about 30 years as
Captain of the Garde Ecossaise, or Scots Guard and Bodyguard for two
successive French Kings.
Robert de Conyngham, Captain of the Scots Guard
and Bodyguard for two French Kings, an esquire of the king’s stable,
councilor and royal chamberlain, while remaining an
esquire/man-at-arms all his career, was suitably well-positioned to
become Lord of Villeneuve and Cherveux, and build an imposing castle
at the heart of Cherveux, near Niort, which still exists today some
533 years later.
The original fortification on this site was a
simple feudal "motte" consisting of a mound of earth with a deep
ditch around it. At the height of the mound, a wall of timber was
built around a large strong tower, called a keep, which formed a
fortress. The walls and keep were later made of stone and the ditch
filled with water.
Cherveux developed into an important fortress in
the 12th century, in the hands of the powerful Lusignan
family, whose one branch ascended to the throne of Cyprus and
Jerusalem at the beginning of the 13th century following
the Third Crusade led by Richard the Lion Heart against Salidin.
In 1242, the fortress was captured by King Saint
Louis from Hugues XI de Lusignan who gave it to his brother Alphonse
Conte de Poitou, which afterwards returned to Hugues descendents.
The castle changed hands several times during the
14th century and fell into English hands during the
Hundred Years’ War. In 1369 the French again regained possession and
Cherveux castle passed through several more French families until
finally the Chenin family.
In May 1476 Louise Chenin married Robert de
Conyngham. The current construction of the Château de Cherveux is
the work of Robert de Coningham (who became Lord of Cherveux) aided
by his son Joachim.
After Robert’s death in 1479 the castle passed to
his eldest son Joachim who was first, Lord of la Roche and then in
his turn Lord de Cherveux. Joachim died in 1495 of his wounds
received at the siege of Novare. Joachim and Catherine de
Montbéron’s son, Jacques, in his turn was Lord of Cherveux and
Captain of Niort under King Louis XII and François I.
Robert’s second son, Jean, was Lord of Cangé and
la Motte-Fresneau, in Anjou. He died on October 2, 1495 in Verciel
in Piedmont of injuries sustained during Charles VIII’s first
Italian expedition. The marquis de Cangé is descended from him.
Many more Conynghams revolve around Robert,
Joachim and Jean. In fact, in 1489 the Scottish guard contained ten
Cunyghams, one tenth of its total. The case of the Conynghams in the
service of the French kings is a striking portrait of family
solidarity, or rather, if we may risk the term, clan loyalty.
The castle’s appearance such as it is today,
dates from Robert de Conyngham and the Conyngham family with whom it
remained for approximately a century during the turbulent Middle
It then passed through several families until the
Redien family acquired it in 1931. Guided tours and rooms for rent
are available to the public. For more information on these services,
see their web site at
Scottish soldiers in France in the second half
of the fifteenth century, by Philippe Contamine, Univ Aberdeen,
John Donald, Edinburgh 1990.
Charles VII, by M.G.A. Vale, Eyre Methuen
Les Écossais en France Les Français en Écosse,
by Francisque-Michel, Premier Volume, Londres Trübner & Cie, 1862.
Château de Cherveux, by Nicolas Faucherre
Source Web Sites: