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The Ellen Payne Odom Genealogy Library Family Tree
The Family Tree - October/November 2003
Robert de Conyngham, Lord of Cherveux


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. 1470
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 prison.

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 glowing terms.


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 remember.

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 beloved kinsman.


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 Ages.

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 www.chateau-de-cherveux.com.

SOURCES:

  • 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 London 1976.

  • 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:


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