Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Cunningham, William (1610?-1664)

CUNNINGHAM, WILLIAM, ninth Earl of Glencairn (1610?–1664), was the eldest son of William, eighth earl, and of Lady Janet Kerr. In 1639 he was on the king's side, having ‘deserted his country’ (Baillie, Letters and Journals, i. 206). In 1641 he was a privy councillor and a commissioner of the treasury; and in 1643 he joined Hamilton, Lanark, and Roxburgh in opposing the sending of a Scotch army to help the English parliament (Douglas, Peerage of Scotland), but on the other hand appears to have supported the general assembly in refusing to give any active assistance to the king (Baillie, ii. 45). He was at Kilsyth in 1646, and in the same year was appointed by the parliament lord justice-general (ib. ii. 419). In 1648 he entered into the engagement for the rescue of the king, and was deprived of his office by the Act of Classes in the same year (Cal. State Papers, Dom. Ser. 1649, p. 242). He is mentioned at this time as being an able speaker and as holding moderate views (Baillie, iii. 35, 37). On 2 March 1649 the parliament passed a decreet against him, annulling his patent of earldom, passed in 1488. In 1651 he was a member of the committee of estates (Hist. MSS. Comm. 5th Rep. p. 645). In 1653, during the English occupation, he received a commission from Charles II to command the king's forces in Scotland, and in August left Finlayston for Loch Earn, where he was joined by Atholl and other chiefs with the clan of the Macdonalds, and for a while made head against Monck. Marching by way of Strathspey he fell upon the lowlands, but failed in his attempts upon Ruthven Castle (Thurloe, Hist. Mem. i. 495), and in other respects was able to do but little to disturb Monck. He was greatly hampered by the jealousies of his colleagues, especially of Lord Balcarres, and a quarrel with Lorne led to the desertion of the latter and other chiefs with all their men. In January he could muster only 4,320 men, many being armed only with cudgels, and those with guns having no ammunition (ib. ii. 4). An after-dinner quarrel with Monroe led to a duel first on horseback and then on foot, in which he defeated his antagonist, ‘to his great commendation’ (Baillie, iii. 255). Middleton taking the supreme command in 1654, Glencairn served under him in a subordinate post. In February he and Kenmure were badly beaten near Dunkeld by the English general Morgan (Thurloe, ii. 95). Shortly afterwards he was reported by Broghill to Thurloe as ‘trinketing in England as well as at home’ (ib. iv. 49). Betrayed by his agent, Major Borthwick, he was arrested by Monck's orders in December 1655, and imprisoned in Edinburgh Castle. He was excepted out of Cromwell's ‘grace and pardon,’ and would probably have lost his life but for the intercession of James Sharp. In 1656 his forfeiture of estates was discharged by capitulation (Cal. State Papers, Dom. Ser. p. 242). After Cromwell's death, when Monck was securing Scotland before marching to London, he was one of the peers summoned to the convention in 1659; and he was among those who urged Monck to declare for a free parliament. He was one of the Scotch commissioners to Monck in London. At the Restoration he went to court, was sworn a privy councillor and high sheriff of Ayr, and on 19 Jan. 1661 was appointed lord chancellor of Scotland; he had also been previously, October 1660, made chancellor of the university of Glasgow (Baillie, iii. 452). On the restoration of episcopacy he escorted Fairfoul, the new bishop, to Glasgow; he appears even at this time to have been on terms of affection with Baillie, who terms him ‘my noble kind scholar,’ and to have taken an active interest in the welfare of the college (ib. iii. 487). In 1662 he acted with Middleton, the commissioner, in the billeting plot, by which it was sought to oust Lauderdale from the secretaryship, and generally opposed the latter's policy and interests (Lauderdale Papers, Camden Soc. i. p. 166). His general moderation in church matters (Burnet, Hist. own Time, Clarendon Press, i. 278) brought about a quarrel with Sharp, who in 1663 complained of his remissness at court (ib. i. 375), and in January 1664 obtained letters to the privy council from Charles II, giving the primate precedence in the council over the lord chancellor. The vexation caused by this slight brought on his death at Belton in Haddingtonshire, 30 May 1664. He was buried in the south-east aisle of St. Giles, Edinburgh, on 28 July, his funeral sermon being preached by Burnet, the archbishop of Glasgow. He married Lady A. Ogilvie, second daughter of James, first earl of Findlater.

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