Clan History


Much surrounding the start of Clan Cunningham has changed in the last decade. With Dr. Derek Cunningham recovering the lost notes of Frederic van Bossen, and a new DNA-based study, and also new data from surviving land records it is now possible to follow the descendants of Malcolm the son of Freskin’s to the early period of the de Percys and the descendants of Amfred de Legbourne de Cunningesholme. Together, this makes it possible to now create a new family line; a family line that starts at the beginning of the 10th century.

This new clan beginning starts with King Dyfnwal of Strathclyde and it continues with almost no gaps to a William the son of Robert, who purchased the estate of Cunningesholme form Gilbert Cunningesholme in the year 1185. In detail,

Generation 1 now starts with King Dyfnwal III of Strathclyde, (who was identified, incorrectly, as King Dub of Scot by Frederic van Bossen). He was most treasonably murdered in the Castle of Forre(s) Murrayland by one ofhis own servants in whom he trusted, named Donald of the Marrayes progenitor, and married Guri [the] daughter to Robert, the First Duke of Normandy.

Generation 2 – Prince Malcolm of “Cumberland” (Strathclyde). He married a Lady Magnilla.

Generation 3 –  Malcolm, who was the husband of Lorretta, the daughter to Walter Fraser (Frazer) the Thane of Covie.

Generation 4 – Kenneth who was the husband of Sponsa, sister to Albinack the son of Crinain I.

Generation 5 – In this generation two brothers are listed. The younger brother was Kenneth the Thane of Cunninghame, and the elder brother was Malcolm the progenitor of the de Middletons and Lord of what is now Middleton Wood. This Malcolm took the name Freskin.

Generation 6 – Here there is an extended gap of several pages in the notes of Frederic van Bossen, before he returns to the story of how Clan Cunningham, and how Malcolm the Governor, the son of Freskin rescued Prince Malcolm from the clutches of King Macbeth. However, though he says Malcolm the Governor was the son of Freskin, because of this gap, and his records stating it was Kenneth who was Thane of Cunninghame, and his brother Freskin was NOT the ancestor of Clan Cunningham this suggests Kenneth must be the father of a second Frisken (Frisken the Second).

Generation 7 – William de Percy, the husband of Emma de Port. He is argued in the book Scotland & Shakespeare’s Third Prophecy to have taken Prince Malcolm to the region of Malham or perhaps Thornton, in the Craven region of  Yorkshire, in England. This part of north England has traditionally been linked to the southernmost extent of the Kingdom of Strathclyde in the 10th century. William and Emma were the parents of four sons, Alan, Walter I, William and Richard de Percy See Scotland & Shakespeare’s Third Prophecy: Clan Cunningham Edition for more details.

Generation 8 – It is unclear from surviving records, but DNA data and the surviving land records support the theory that the next generation was Amfred de Canci, the son of Walter I de Percy. This Amfred de Canci was either the same person as, or the father of a Lord Amfred de Legbourne. Alfred de Canci was the Lord of Battlebridge, in Skirpenbec.

Generation 9 – Amfred de Legbourne.  He was born around the year 1090, with the upper and lower limits to his birth year being 1070 to 1115. Though titled de Legbourne in Alvingham Priory records, Legbourne was not an “estate”. In the early 12th century Legbourne was listed as one of the new Hundreds, which were created in the time of King Henry I.

Generation 10 – William the son of Amfred. He had three sons, Gilbert, Robert I and Herbert.

Generation 11 – Herbert de Legbourne (his two older brothers died with no male heirs). He had one son called Robert. Herbert lived in the same time as period as Warnebald, the father of Robert of Kilmaurs.

Generation 12 – Robert de Legbourne had five sons William, Harold, Richard, Walter and John.

Generation 13 – Harold de Cunningesholme, Ludenam and Cadwell. The estate of Cunningesholme appears only after circa 1180, which is when the primary line of the de Percys fails with no male heir.

Generation 14 – Gilbert de Cunningesholme. He then sold the rights to Cunningesholme to a William the son of Robert around the year 1185. At this point the name Cunningham appears in Scottish land records. It is believed that this William the son of Robert is related to Warnebald of Kilmaurs, as the de Berkeley name appears in this general time period in both Alvingham Priory records and in the records surrounding the descendants of Warnebald de Kilmaurs.

This new look at the beginning of our clan is now available in the ground-breaking book “SCOTLAND & SHAKESPEARE’S THIRD PROPHECY: CLAN CUNNINGHAM EDITION“.

Clan historian’s should note the there are two separate editions of this book, and this family line is only found in the Clan Cunningham edition. The King Edition, looks at the story of Scotland, and the events surrounding Prince Malcolm from the viewpoint of the kings.

Cunninghame is a territorial name in Ayrshire. As with many Clan names, here are many theories surrounding its onomatology. For example, a query using the Google search engine may return the suggestion that the Cunningham surname was adopted from the Gaelic Ó Cuinneagáin ‘a descendant of Cuinneagán’ a personal name from a double diminutive of the Old Irish personal name Conn meaning ‘leader chief’ – thus suggesting (with no direct evidence) that Clan Cunningham came from Ireland. Then there is the more ridiculous theory that the name is a combination of the Gaelic cuinneag meaning “milk pail” and ham meaning “village”. Now, through many years of careful research, these early suggestions can now be discounted. This is because the surviving land records from Lincolnshire now show the original spelling of the name was Cunninges-holme, where the word “holme” is derived from Old Swedish and it means a small inhabited Island (Dumbarton Castle – which served as the capital of the Kingdom of Strathclyde – was perhaps, anciently, a small inhabited Castle on a small island.

Because of the earlier work by Dr. Derek Cunningham, who showed that Frisken is the Latin translation of the name Freystein, this creates two links to the Norse and Old Swedish, which seems to suggest our clan has Norse or Swedish origins. However, after many years of searching, the works of the historian Frederic van Bossen was recovered, and it is now known that the original Frisken I, was born with the name Malcolm, and only took the name Frisken in adulthood.

Dr Derek Cunningham proposes that it was only because the Vikings were then the primary force in Europe that some within the clan became closely linked to the ruling invaders. In the 10th century many Lords gave Old Swedish, and Old Norse names to their children, even when they had Scottish roots. The name Cunningham, also appears in the time when the Viking phrase Cun-Inges-Holme, which means King Inge’s Island, would be easily understood by many as a link to a king who lived in a castle on an island.

Between the years 798 to 816 the Kingdom of Strathclyde was led by King Cynan, which with just small changes can be written as Cunnan and in later centuries as Cunning. In the mid to late 11th century there was also a King Inge who brought Christianity to Sweden. Thus this name could conveniently create a link to the earlier Strathclyde Kingdom, without offending the Swedish Vikings, who still, despite the defeat of the Norse in 1066, still retained substantial power

Though many historians have long argued that the first to use the Cunningham surname was Warnebald or perhaps his son, Robert, who received a grant of the land of Cunningham somewhere between 1160 and 1180, Frederic van Bossen’s notes clearly state that a Kenneth de Cunningham was actually the first to use this name, and from a study of the family line given by van Bossen this Kenneth lived in the late 10th century.

Then, following the death of King Duncan, our ancestors were then forced to travel to their secondary land holdings in Northern England, which then were still under the influence of the Norse and Swedish Vikings. It was at this time that the family then divided into several new family lines (the Curwens, the de Percys, the de Legbournes, and the de Somercotes).

Amongst these family lines, the de Percy line, and the later family line of Amfred de Legbourne are the best documented; and it is known that one of the descendants of Amfred de Lebgourne was Lord Gilbert de Cunningesholme. This Gilbert de Cunningesholme then sold his rights to the Cunningesholme estate in the year 1185 to a William the son of Robert.

It is possible, but still not confirmed, that this William the son of Robert could well be the William the son of Robert, who appeared in the land records surrounding the Church of Kilmaurs, and was wrongly identified by historians as being the son of Richard de Moreville by 19th century historians.

Turning now to our Clan coat of arms and the motto Over-Fork-Over, within Frederic van Bossen’s book, the legendary “Malcolm the son of Freskin” is identified as being King Malcolm’s Governor. It is said that it was this Malcolm the Governor who rescued the young Prince Malcolm by sheltering him in a barn and covering him with hay. This is said to be the origin behind our clan motto “Over Fork Over”, and the use of the “shakefork” in our clan’s coat of arms – but is this story true?

Likewise, though Sir George Mackenzie stated, (with no supporting evidence) that this was just a charming story, and the Arms of Clan Cunningham are actually a reference to the office of Master of the King’s Stables, this theory is also incorrect.

As was another explanation, which was put forward again with no supporting evidence, that suggested the Cunninghams were great allies of the Comyns, who chose to use a shield with sheaves of corn. So, when that great dynasty was overthrown by the Bruces, the Cunninghams adopted the shake-fork used to fork over sheaves of corn as an ingenious reference to their former allies. This theory is again also without foundation.

These early theories for the presence of the mysterious Y in the Clan Cunningham Coat of Arms are now known to be entirely false. This is because of one simple fact, and that is the earliest versions of the Clan Cunningham Coat of arms is a Bishop Pall Y. It was not a Shakefork Y.

The reason for Clan Cunningham using the Bishop Pall Y is linked to the dark story surrounding Richard de Somercotes de Cunningham, who was Pope-elect in the year 1241. In contemporary records it is said he was murdered, in order to prevent him from becoming The Pope – the details behind this sad story can be read in our April 2023 Clan Communique, and this event not only explains the use of the Bishop Pall Y, it also explains the presence of the Rabbits as supporters to the central Y, and the use of the Unicorn in the clan crest.

After the death of Robert of Somercotes de Cunningham, the next mention of Cunningham (within Scottish records) was Hervy de Cunningham, the son of the Laird of Kilmaurs. He fought for Alexander III against the Norwegian invaders at the Battle of Largs in 1263. As a result of this service he received from his King a charter of confirmation to all his lands.

Our family were supporters of the Bruces in their fight for Scottish independence, and the de Cunningham name appears on the Ragman Roll, which was made up of those swearing allegiance, under threat of death, to Edward I of England in 1296. As Robert the Bruce was generous to his supporters, the lands of Lamburgton were added to Kilmaurs (Hervy de Cunningham) by royal charter in 1319.

Sir William Cunningham of Kilmaurs was one of the Scottish noblemen offered to David II’s English captors as a substitute hostage in 1354. His son William married Margaret, the elder daughter and co-heiress of Sir Robert Denniston and through her acquired substantial lands, including Finlaystone in Refrewshire and Glencairn in Dumfriesshire. Sir William’s grandson, Alexander Cunningham, was made Lord Kilmaurs in 1462 and later in 1488 the first Earl of Glencairn. A younger brother was ancestor to the Cunninghams of Caprington who were later to achieve prominence of their own. Other distinguished branches of the family include the Cunninghams of Cunninghamhead, Aiket, Robertland and Corsehill. However, the fortunes of the family remained firmly in the hands of the main lineage, the Earls of Glencairn.

The fifth Earl, Alexander Cunningham, was a Protestant reformer and a patron of the reformer, John Knox. He has been accused of being in the pay of the English, who saw the Reformation as an opportunity to place the Scottish Crown in an embarrassing position. Regardless of the truth of this accusation, it is a fact that the Earl of Glencairn did rise against Mary Queen of Scots, and was one of the commanders at the Battle of Carbery Hill as a result of which Mary surrendered in 1567. This Earl of Glencairn is reported to have ordered the destruction of the Chapel Royal at Holyrood.

The Cunninghams also were among the Scottish undertakers of the Plantation of Ulster, and Sir James Cunningham, who was married to a daughter of the Earl of Glencairn, was granted five thousand acres in County Donegal. The Cunningham name is now among the seventy-five most common names in Ulster.

The ninth Earl, William Cunningham, joined with Charles II in his bid to gain his father’s throne. He raised a force of about five thousand in 1653 to oppose General Monck, who was Governor of Scotland. In August of that year he went to Lochearn in Perthshire where he met with some Chiefs of the Highland clans, and with a body of fighting men, he took possession of Elgin in 1654. He announced his commission on behalf of the king to raise all of Scotland against the Protector, Oliver Cromwell. It was a failure, but the Earl of Glencairn escaped with his life and after the Restoration he was appointed in 1661, Lord High Chancellor of Scotland. The title is now extinct.

Sir John Cunningham of Caprington, a distinguished lawyer, was created a Baronet of Nova Scotia by Charles II in 1669. Other prominent Cunninghams include Alexander Cunningham, eighteenth-century historical writer, who was British envoy to Venice from 1715 to 1720. Charles Cunningham was famous for his historical paintings, some of which still hang in the Hermitage Palace in St. Petersburg and in Berlin. Sir William Cunningham of Robertland was a friend of the poet Robert Burns. Alan Cunningham, a poet and writer, whom many believe was only slightly less gifted than Burns himself, was born at Blackwood in Dumfriesshire in 1784. His work was supported by Sir Walter Scott who, on Cunningham’s death in 1828, provided for his two sons.