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The Scottish Nation

GLENCAIRN, Earl of, a title (dormant since 1796), in the peerage of Scotland, conferred in 1488, on Alexander Cunningham, Lord Cunningham of Kilmaurs, descended from one Warnebald, who came from the north of England in the 12th century, to the district of Cunningham, as a vassal under Hugh de Morville, constable of Scotland, the proprietor of almost all the district. From him he obtained the manor of Cunningham, which comprehended most of the parish of Kilmaurs, and from it the family surname was assumed. Glencairn, which gave the title of earl to this principal stock of the Cunningham family, is a parish in the western part of Nithsdale, Dumfries-shire.

      Alexander, the first earl, was ennobled about 1450, by the title of Lord Kilmaurs, and May 28, 1488, he was created earl of Glencairn, by patent under the great seal, to himself and his heirs, from James III., in whose cause he fell at the battle of Sauchieburn, 11th June of the same year. By the Act Rescissory, passed in the first parliament of James IV., 17th October, 1488, all creations of new dignities granted by that monarch’s father since 2d February preceding (1487-8) were annulled, and, in consequence, Robert, Lord Kilmaurs, eldest son of the earl of Glencairn, was deprived of the title and dignity of earl. The 1st earl married Margaret, daughter of Adam Hepburn, lord of Hailes, and sister of 1st earl of Bothwell, and had 4 sons. William, of Craigends, the 2d son, was ancestor of the Cunninghams of Craigends, as well as those of Robertland, Carncuren, Bedlan, Auchenharvy, and Auchenyards.

      The eldest son, Robert, Lord Kilmaurs, 2d earl by right, though he did not bear the title, married Christian, eldest daughter of the first Lord Lindsay of the Byres, relict of John, master of Seton, and had a son, Cuthbert, who was restored to his grandfather’s title by the Act Revocatory passed in 1503. It is stated by an English herald that he was “belted” earl of Glencairn on 13th August, 1503, at the marriage of James IV. With the princess Margaret of England. He sat in the parliament 8th November 1505, as earl of Glencairn. In 1526, he was appointed one of the members of the secret council, and joining the earl of Lennox, in his attempt to rescue king James V. from the power of the Douglases, was engaged in the battle near Linlithgow 4th Dec. of that year, when Lennox was slain and himself wounded. He died before 1542. By his countess, Lady Marjory Douglas, eldest daughter of 5th earl of Angus, he had a son, William, 4th earl.

      While Lord Kilmaurs, this nobleman was one of the principal adherents of the English court in Scotland, and accepted of a pension from Henry the Eighth. He was one of the party which joined the force of the earls of Angus and Lennox, on 23d November 1524, when they took possession of Edinburgh, and endeavoured to withdraw the young king from the queen-mother. Appointed high-treasurer of Scotland 25th June 1526, he held that office only till 29th October following. In 1538 he accompanied David Bethune, bishop of Mirepoix, afterwards the celebrated cardinal, on a matrimonial embassy to France, when the treaty of marriage between Mary of Guise and James the Fifth was concluded. He was taken prisoner by the English at the rout of Solway in 1542, and committed to the custody of the duke of Norfolk, but released on payment of a ransom of a thousand pounds, and subscribing a bond, with some others of the Scots captive nobles, to support Henry’s project of a marriage between the young Prince Edward and the Scottish queen. The English monarch’s demands subsequently became so extravagant, that, in the course of the following year, the earl and Lord Cassillis informed the English ambassador that they would sooner die than agree to them. Henry, therefore, abandoned some of them, and on the first of July 1543 the earl, with Sir George Douglas, and the Scottish ambassadors, Learmounth, Hamilton, and Balnaves, met the English commissioners at Greenwich, when the treaties of peace and marriage were finally arranged. The same year, when the Sieur de la Brosse arrived in the firth of Clyde, from France, with military stores, and ten thousand crowns to be distributed among the partisans of Cardinal Bethune, the earl of Glencairn, with the earl of Lennox, who had deserted the cardinal’s party, and joined the English faction, hastened to receive the gold of which he was the bearer, and secured it in Dumbarton castle. Having a private feud with the earl of Argyle, Glencairn suggested to the regent Arran, at a time when his rival was occupied in the Highlands against the Lord of the Isles, that the Highland chiefs and hostages left in prison by James the Fifth should be liberated, that they might act against Argyle, which was accordingly done. He and his son, Lord Kilmaurs, were engaged in all the intrigues of the Anglo-Scottish party at this period, and while the father is described as one of the ablest and most powerful barons of Scotland, the son is mentioned with praise for his spirit and military experience. In the west of Scotland the earl’s power and influence were so great that when the English king in this year contemplated an invasion of Scotland, his lordship undertook to convey his army from Carlisle to Glasgow, “without stroke or challenge.” On the 17th of May, an agreement was concluded between Glencairn, Lennox, and Henry the Eighth, at Carlisle, by which that monarch consented to settle an ample pension on the earl and his son, Lord Kilmaurs, whilst to Lennox was promised the government of Scotland, and the hand of Lady Mary Douglas, the king’s niece; they acknowledging Henry as protector of the kingdom of Scotland, and engaging to use their utmost efforts to deliver the young queen into his hands, with the principal fortresses in the realm, undertaking at the same time to cause the word of God to be truly taught in their territories, the Bible being declared by them the only foundation of all truth and honour. On his return to Scotland he collected his vassals, to the number of five hundred spearmen, but was attacked on the muir of Glasgow, by the regent Arran, and defeated with great slaughter, his second son, with many others, being slain. The earl fled almost alone to Dumbarton, and in September of the same year he and his son, Lord Kilmaurs, abandoned the cause of Henry, which led Wriothesley, the English chancellor, to inveigh against “the old fox and his cub,” who had imposed on the simplicity of Lennox. In November of the same year the earl was with the army of Arran that laid siege to Coldingham, then held by the English, but which was dispersed by an English force. In the following March (1544) Glencairn and his son renewed their communications with the English government. An account of the double part acted by them will be found in the fifth volume of Tytler’s ‘History of Scotland,’ and a narrative of the negociations with them of John Edgar, for the support of the English interest in Scotland, is contained in Lodge’s ‘Illustrations of British History,’ vol. I. In the Scots parliament, 12th December 1544, the earl obtained a remission to himself and his adherents for all crimes of treason by them committed previous to that date. He is said by Tytler to have been a party to the design of cutting off Cardinal Bethune. He died in 1547. He was twice married: first, to Catherine, second daughter of William, third Lord Borthwick, without issue; and, secondly, to Margaret or Elizabeth, daughter and heiress of John Campbell, of West Loundoun, by whom he had Alexander, fifth earl; Andrew, ancestor of the Cunninghames of Corsehill, baronets; Hugh, progenitor of the Cunninghames of Carlung; Robert, ancestor of the Cunninghams of Montgrenan; William, bishop of Argyle, and a daughter, Lady Elizabeth, married to Sir John Cunningham of Caprington.

      Alexander, fifth earl, the most celebrated person who bore the title, styled “the good earl,” was among the first of the Scots nobility who concurred in the Reformation. In 1555, on the return of John Knox to Scotland, he restored openly to hear him preach. When the Reformer, at the request of the earl marshal, addressed to the queen regent, Mary of Guise, a letter in which he earnestly exhorted her to protect the reformed preachers, and to consent to a reformation in the church, Glencairn had the boldness to deliver it to her majesty, who, after glancing carelessly over it, handed it to James Bethune, archbishop of Glasgow, and contemptuously said, “Please you, my lord, to read a pasquil!” In 1556 he entertained Knox at his house of Finlayston, when the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, after the manner of the Reformed church, was administered to his whole family and some friends. In December 1557 he was one of the leaders of the reform party who subscribed the memorable bond or covenant which had been drawn up for the support and defence of the protestant religion, and who thenceforth assumed the name of the “Lords of the Congregation.” In 1559, in consequence of the rigorous proceedings of the queen regent, he and his relative, Sir Hugh Campbell of Loudon, sheriff of Ayr, requested an audience of her majesty, at which they reminded her of her promises of toleration. On the queen’s replying that promises ought not to be urged upon princes, unless they can conveniently fulfil them; “Then,” said they, “since you are resolved to keep no faith with your subjects, we will renounce our allegiance,” an answer which induced her to dissemble her proceedings. In May of that year, when the Reformers at Perth found it necessary to protect themselves by force of arms. Glencairn joined them with 1,200 horse and 1,300 foot, which he had raised in the west country. After the protestant religion had been established by parliament in 1560, the earl was nominated a member of Queen Mary’s privy council. He and the earl of Morton, and Maitland of Lethington, were sent as ambassadors to Queen Elizabeth, with a proposal, for the strengthening of the bonds of amity between the two nations, that she should accept as a husband of the earl of Arran, the heir to the Scottish crown, which she declined. He was amongst the nobles who opposed the marriage of Queen Mary with Darnley. He had a principal command in the army embodied against the queen in June 1567, and when the French ambassador came from the queen at Carbery, promising them forgiveness if they would disperse, he replied, that “they came not to ask pardon for any offence they had done, but to grant pardon to those who had offended.” When Mary was conducted to Lochleven that month, his lordship hasten3d with his domestics to the chapel-royal of Holyrood-house, and destroyed the whole of the images, demolished the altar, tore down the pictures, and defaced al the ornaments. A satirical poem against the Popish party, entitled the Hermit of Allareit or Loretto, near Musselburgh, written by Lord Glencairn, and preserved in Knox’s History of the Reformation, is published by Sibbald in his Chronicle of Scottish Poetry. His lordship died in 1574. From a very characteristic portrait of the fifth earl of Glencairn in Pinkerton’s Scottish Gallery, the woodcut is taken.

[portrait of Alexander, fifth earl of Glencairn]

      His eldest son, William, sixth earl, had two sons and four daughters. The elder son, James, seventh earl, was engaged in the raid of Ruthven in 1582. He was a privy councillor to King James the Sixth, and one of the commissioners nominated by parliament for the projected union with England in 1604. The disputes among the Scots nobility regarding precedence reached such a height in the reign of James the Sixth that a royal commission was appointed by that monarch in 1606 to regulate the matter, and the different peers were invited to produce their patents, or other evidence, in support of the relative antiquity of their titles. The result was the publication of the noted ‘Decreet of Ranking,’ 5th March 1606. James, then earl of Glencairn, not having the requisite proof at hand, and not being lawfully summoned, did not appear on the occasion; his precedence was, in consequence, unjustly prejudiced, and he was ranked after, in stead of before, the earls of Eglinton, Montrose, Cassillis, and Caithness. Three years afterwards, on 16th June 1609, having been summoned to attend the parliament, he appeared personally before the lords of the privy council, and stated that he had brought an action of reduction of the said decreet before the lords of council and session, and producing the original patent of 28th May 1488, requested that it should be “read in the audience of the parliament.” In the action of reduction he obtained a judgment in his favour, dated 7th July 1610, affirming his precedence over the earls of Eglinton and Cassillis, but as the other two earls (Montrose and Caithness) had not been cited in the action, and as the judgment of the court placed the earl of Eglinton after them, though entitled to precede them, that nobleman, on his part, brought an action of reduction of the said sentence, and obtained a decree in his favour 11th February, 1617. The seventh earl of Glencairn died about 1630; and his son, William, eighth earl, in October of the following year. The latter had three sons and five daughters. Colonel Robert Cunningham, his second son, was usher to King Charles the Second.

      The eldest son, William, ninth earl, on 21st July, 1637, obtained a ratification from Charles the First, under the royal sign manual, of the original Glencairn patent of 1488. He was sworn a privy councillor, and in 1641 appointed one of the commissioners of the treasury. As he supported the cause of the king, in 1643 he joined the duke of Hamilton and the earls of Lanark and Roxburgh, in opposing the sending an army into England to assist the parliamentary forces. This service the king was pleased to acknowledge in a letter under his own hand, concluding thus: “I give you this assurance, on the word of a prince, that I shall never retract anything I have granted, either in religion or liberty, to my subjects in Scotland, and for your own part I will not die in your debt.” In 1646 his lordship was constituted lord-justice-general by parliament; and on 19th January 1648, a decree of the court of session was given in his favour on the point of precedence, against the four earls who claimed to rank before him, and reducing the decreet obtained by the earl of Eglinton in 1617, above mentioned. The same year he entered heartily into the “Engagement” for the rescue of the king, for which, on 15th February 1649, he was deprived by parliament of his office as lord-justice-general, in virtue of the act of classes. The parliament now being the dominant party, on the 2d March following, at the instance of the public prosecutor, it passed a decreet annulling the original Glencairn patent of 1488, and on the 9th of the same month, the earl of Eglinton, who had appealed his case to parliament, obtained a decreet annulling that of the court of session which had been given against him. These decreets, however, never legally took effect, having been pronounced by an incompetent court on an illegal appeal, and the whole proceedings of that parliament having been specially rescinded after the Restoration. Glencairn’s insurrection in the Highlands in 1653, in favour of Charles the Second, when Monk had possession of Scotland, forms one of the most interesting historical incidents of the period. In August of that year he went to Lochearn in Perthshire, where he met the earl of Athol, and some chiefs of the Highland clans, and soon found himself at the head of a considerable body of men, with which, after various marchings, he took possession of Elgin, where, n January 1654, he received letters from General Middleton, announcing his arrival in Sutherland, with a commission from the king, appointing him generalissimo of all the royal forces in Scotland. The earl accordingly hastened to Dornoch to meet Middleton, and in March a grand muster of the army took place, when it was ascertained to amount to three thousand five hundred foot, and one thousand five hundred horse. His lordship then resigned the command to Middleton, and riding along the lines he acquainted the troops that he was no longer their general. The men expressed great dissatisfaction at this announcement by their looks, and some, “both officers and soldiers, shed tears, and vowed that they would serve with their old general in any corner of the world.” After the review, the earl gave an entertainment to Middleton and the principal officers of the army, and in proposing the health of the commander-in-chief, he said, “My lord general, you see what a gallant army these worthy gentlemen here present and I have gathered together, at a time when it could hardly be expected that any number durst meet together: these men have come out to serve his majesty, at the hazard of their lives and all that is dear to them. I hope, therefore, you will give them all the encouragement to do their duty that lies in your power.” Sir George Munro, Middleton’s lieutenant-general, immediately exclaimed, “The men you speak of are nothing but a pack of thieves and robbers. In a short time I will brig a very different set of men into the field.” The earl rejoined, “You, Sir, are a base liar; for they are neither thieves or robbers, but brave gentlemen and good soldiers.” Sir George having, in consequence, challenged his lordship, a meeting took place early next morning about two miles to the south of Dornoch. Both were on horseback, and after discharging their pistols at each other without effect. They immediately began to combat with their swords. After a few passes, Sir George received a severe wound on the bridle hand, and fearing that he cold no longer manage his horse, he called out to the earl that he hoped he would allow him to fight on foot. ‘You carle,” said his lordship, “I will show you that I can match you either on foot or on horseback,” Dismounting, they renewed the contest; but at the first onset Munro received a severe cut in the forehead, the blood from which prevented him from seeing. The earl was just abut to run him through the body, but was stayed by his servant. On returning to head-quarters his lordship was put under arrest, by order of Middleton, and his sword taken from him.

      He now resolved to leave the army, which he did in a fortnight afterwards, and proceeding home, made his peace with Monk; he was, however, excepted out of Cromwell’s act of grace and pardon the same year. He was one f the peers whom Monk called to the convention he summoned when he was about to march into England in 1659, and pressed the general to declare for a free parliament. On the Restoration he waited on ‘Charles the Second at London, when he was sworn a privy councillor, and appointed high sheriff of Ayrshire. On 19th January 1661, he was constituted chancellor of Scotland for life, in room of the earl of Loundoun, resigned. Although he was one of the principal advisers of the re-establishment of episcopacy, he was not, as said to the earl of Lauderdale, at that time a presbyterian, “for lordly prelates, such as were in Scotland before the Reformation, but for a limited, sober, and moderate episcopacy.” “My lord,” replied Lauderdale, “since you are for bishops, and must have them, bishops you shall have, and higher then ever they were in Scotland, and that you will find.” The pride of Archbishop Sharp, and the pretensions and assumptions of the new prelates, soon involved the earl in quarrels and embittered his life. On one occasion having requested Fairfowl, archbishop of Glasgow, not to molest Mr. William Guthrie, a presbyterian minister, Fairfowl refused. Glencairn said little, but when he came down stairs his attendants observed him in great confusion, “and the buttons were springing off his coat and vest.” Being asked what was the matter, he replied, “Woe’s me! We have advanced these men to be bishops, and they will trample on us all.” [Wodrow’s Analecta.] In 1663, sharp went to London, and obtained from the king a letter to the Scots privy council, in January 1664, giving him, as primate, the right of precedence over the chancellor. This offended the earl so deeply that he fell into ill health, and died at Belton, East Lothian, on 30th May of that year, aged 54. He was buried, with great pomp, in the south-east aisle of the cathedral of St. Giles’, Edinburgh, on 28th July following, his funeral sermon being preached by Burnet, archbishop of Glasgow. In Pinkerton’s Scottish Gallery is a portrait of his lordship, from which the woodcut below is taken. He had four sons, the two eldest of whom predeceased him.

[portrait of William, ninth earl of Glencairn]

      Alexander, tenth earl, the third son, married Nicholas, eldest sister and coheiress of Sir William Stewart of Kirkhill and Strathbrock, Linlithgowshire, and had one daughter, Lady Margaret, married to the fifth earl of Lauderdale. Her eldest son, Lord Maitland, had an only child, Jean, the wife of Sir James Fergusson, baronet, of Kilkerran, Ayrshire, and her son, Sir Adam Fergusson, claimed, in her right, the title of earl of Glencairn, as afterwards mentioned. Earl Alexander died 26th May, 1670, and was succeeded by his brother John, eleventh earl. The latter, in the parliament of 1686, opposed the repeal of the penal laws against popery; and, supporting heartily the Revolution, raised in 1689 a regiment of six hundred foot (of which he was appointed colonel), for the service of the government. He was sworn a privy councillor on 1st May of the latter year, and appointed governor of Dumbarton castle. He died 14th December, 1703.

      His only son, William, twelfth earl, succeeded his father as governor of Dumbarton castle, and was also sworn a privy councillor. He supported the treaty of union, and died 14th March 1434. His son William, thirteenth earl, had an ensign’s commission in 1729, and, on his father’s death, was appointed governor of Dumbarton castle. He attained the rank of major-general in the army in 1770, and died in September 1775.

      William. Lord Kilmaurs, eldest son of the thirteenth earl, was a cornet in the 3d dragoon guards, and when a mere youth travelling on the continent and talking in a loud tone, in the theatre of Lyons, he was requested by a French nobleman present to desist, but not heeding the request, the latter pulled his lordship rudely by the arm; whereupon going into the lobby, they drew their swords on one another. Lord Kilmaurs was thrust through the body, while his antagonist received a severe wound in the thigh; but neither of their wounds proved mortal. He died before his father, at Coventry, unmarried, on 3d February 1768, in his 25th year. His brother, James, became fourteenth earl on the death of his father, in 1775. He was at that time abroad, on a tour through Norway, Lapland, and Sweden. In 1778 he was a captain in the west Fencible regiments, and in 1780 was chosen one of the sixteen Scottish representative peers. He is celebrated as the patron of the poet Burns. In 1786 he disposed of his ancient family estate of Kilmaurs to the marchioness of Titchfield, and died, soon after landing from Lisbon, at Falmouth, on 30th January 1791, in his 42d year, and was buried in the chancel of the church of that town. Dying unmarried, he was succeeded by his brother, John, fifteenth earl, an officer in the 14th dragoons. He afterwards took orders in the Church of England, and died at Coats, near Edinburgh, 24th September 1796, in his 47th year. He was buried at St. Cuthbert’s, Edinburgh, where is a monument to his memory. As he died without issue, the title became dormant. The earldom was claimed by Sir Adam Fergusson of Kilkerran, bart., as heir of line; by Sir Walter Montgomery Cunninghame of Corsehill, baronet, as heir male; and by Lady Henriet Don, sister of the last earl, and wife of Sir Alexander Don of Newton Don, Roxburghshire. In the committee of privileges of the House of Lords, on 14th July 1797, the lord chancellor (Rosslyn), in deciding the claim of the first-named, took a view unfavourable to al the claimants, and adjudged, that while Sir Adam Fergusson had shown himself to be the heir-general of Alexander, earl of Glencairn, who died in 1670, he had not made out his right to the title. The title is also claimed by Cuninghame of Craigends.

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