In the year 1050, the Head of Chief of the Cunningham family of England traveled to Scotland where he aided the Scottish Prince Malcolm, Son of King Duncan of Scotland who was killed by MacBeth in 1040. MacBeth also pursued Prince Malcolm and as a result Malcolm was hidden by the Cunningham Chief in a barn under some hay to escape MacBeth. MacBeth was King until 1057, but was defeated by Prince Malcolm at the Battle of Dunismore near Perth. MacBeth was later killed at Lusmphaven.

When Malcom became King Malcolm III of Scotland, he rewarded the Cunningham's with a significant armorial emblem consisting of a Black Hay Fork centered on a Silver Shield and bearing the motto "OVER FORK OVER".

The family Cunningham take their name from the district of Cunningham in northern Ayrshire. The land of Kilmaurs of that area was granted in 1162 by Hugo de Moreville, Constable of Scotland to a Flemish (French) vassal named Warnebald and it is from his descendants that the Cunningham family originate.

When Haahon the IV, King of Norway, brought his fleet to the Scottish coast in 1263 to assert his sovereignty over the Western Isles, Harvey de Cunningham of Kilmaurs was among those who helped to repel Haahon at the Battle of Largs in 1263. As a result, Harvey de Cunningham was awarded the lands of Kilmaurs by confirmation from Alexander II.


Hugh Cunningham of Kilmaurs, grandson of Harvey de Cunningham, was granted the lands of Lamburgton in 1321 by King Robert the Bruce. When Hugh Cunningham's grandson, Sir William Cunningham, married Margaret, daughter of Sir Robert Dennieston, the Cunninghams extended their possessions further to include Glencairn. His grandson, Sir Alexander de Cunningham was created Lord Kilmaurs in 1462 and later EARL OF GLENCAIRN in 1488 by King James III who bestowed titles based on men who exhibited culture and talent. However, this first Earl of Glencairn died with King James III at the Battle of Sauchieburn that very same year.


William Cunningham, Third Earl of Glencairn, was captured at Solway Moss, but later was released in exchange for support of the marriage of Mary Queen of Scots to King Edward VI of England.


The Fifth Earl of Glencairn, also named Alexander Cunningham, was a supporter of the Reformation and a member of the religious group The Lords of the Congregation of Jesus Christ. The activities of this group were quite unsavory in that they embezzled Church property and furthered England's political airms in Scotland in return for English gold. The Fifth Earl was a special patron of John Knox who established Protestantism in Scotland. By selling military information to Cecil of England, the Fifth Earl of Glencairn was able to join Queen Mary's half-brother, Moray, in rebellion against her and held command among her enemies at Carbury where she finally surrendered in 1567 only to be imprisoned in Loch Leven Castle. Moray then secured the Regency and took his Sister's jewelry, sending her famous pearl necklace to their cousin, Queen Elizabeth I of England. The Fifth Earl of Glencairn then went to the chapel at Holyrood Palace, residence of Queen Mary, and destroyed all of her furniture and paintings. These acts ultimately led to the destruction of Regent Mary of Guise and her daughter, Mary Queen of Scots from the house of Tudor. In the process, the Fifth Earl of Glencairn's Protestant sentiments also fueled the long-standing feud between the Cunninghams and the Montgomeries, Earls of Eglinton.


The Eighth Earl of Glencairn had a daughter, Anna, born in 1593. Their family were Presbyterians, being strong and contentious. Anna married James, the Second Marquis of Hamilton born in 1590, becoming Lady Anna Cunningham. Living in Hamilton Palace, they had three children--James Hamilton, (1606-1649) Third Marquis and 1st. Duke of Hamilton; William Hamilton, (1616-1651) Earl of Lanock and 2nd. Duke of Hamilton; and a daughter, Margaret.


The Ninth Earl of Glencairn, William Cunningham, was born in 1610. In 1641 he was appointed Privy Counselor and Commissioner of the Treasury in Scotland. In 1646 he became Lord Justice General of Scotland. He carried the better tradition of the First Earl of Glencairn by returning to the Stewart side and raised an Army in the Highlands in 1653 in support of Charles II. The throne of England was under Cromwell's tyranny and Glencairn helped Charles II's attempt to regain the throne. However, the clan's uprising against Cromwell did not succeed, but following the Restoration in 1660, the Ninth Earl of Glencairn was appointed Lord Chancellor of Scotland. He died in 1664.


The Thirteenth Earl of Glencairn married Leezie McGuire, eldest daughter of Hugh and Belle McGuire, receiving land and jewelry valued at 70,000 Pounds from her Uncle James McRae upon her marriage. Leezie's sisters also married well with the second daughter becoming the Lady Alva, the third daughter having an estate in Dumfrieshire, and the fourth daughter married to one of the Dalyromples of Orangefield in Ayrshire. Leezie's second son, James, became the Fourteenth Earl of Glencairn.


The Fourteenth Earl of Glencairn, James Cunningham, was a friend of Robert Burns the Scottish poet. Upon James' death in 1791, Burns wrote:

Oh, why has worth so short a date?
The Bridegroom may forget the Bride
Was made his wife yesterday;
The Monarch may forget the Crown
That on his head an hour has been;
The Mother may forget the child
That smiles so sweetly on her knee;
But, I'll remember thee, Glencairn
And all that thou has done for me!

Under the Clanship of the Fourteenth Earl of Glencairn, two brothers were born; Thomas Cunningham in 1765 and Allen Cunningham in 1766, both sons of a farmer in Dumfrieshire. Both became poets and writers. Allen was more successful and became a friend of James Hogg, Sir Walter Scott, Chantecy the Sculptor and Robert Burns. Thomas was a poet and songwriter during the Golden Age of Scottish Literature.


John Cunningham, the Fifteenth Earl of Glencairn died in 1796 leaving no heirs. Thus the Earldom became dormant although the undisputed claimant to the Chiefship today descends from the Cunninghams of Corsehill.

Information provided by Linda Edwards.


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