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The Cunningham Family History & Ancestry

Family Crest Motto: OVER FORK OVER

Let me share with you the historical background of your family name, Cunningham. Your family name is associated with a specific region in Ayrshire, which was formerly known as ‘Cunninghame’ until 1975. The name likely derives from ‘cuinneag,’ meaning ‘milk pail,’ and the Saxon term ‘ham,’ which translates to ‘village.’ The first individual to adopt the name was Warnebald or possibly his son, Robertus, who received a land grant in Cunningham sometime between 1160 and 1180. According to tradition, Malcolm, the son of Friskin, gained possession of the lands of Cunningham by offering shelter to Malcolm III in a barn and covering him with hay. This tale is said to explain the inclusion of a shake-fork in your family’s coat of arms and the motto, ‘Over fork over.’ However, Sir George Mackenzie suggests that the arms are a reference to the position of Master of the King’s Stables.

Hervy de Cunningham, the son of the Laird of Kilmaurs, fought alongside Alexander III against the Norwegian invaders in the Battle of Largs in 1263. Sir William Cunningham of Kilmaurs was among the Scottish noblemen offered as substitute hostages to David II’s English captors in 1354. His son, also named William, married Margaret, the eldest daughter and co-heiress of Sir Robert Denniston of that Ilk, and through this marriage, acquired substantial lands, including Finlayston in Renfrewshire and Glen Cairn. Sir William’s grandson was granted the title of Lord Kilmaurs and later became the Earl of Glencairn. Other branches of your family include the Cunninghams of Caprington, Cunninghamhead, Aiket, Robertland, and Corsehill. During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the Cunninghams and Montgomerys engaged in a violent feud, resulting in significant casualties and numerous atrocities. This feud included the assassination of Hugh Montgomery, the fourth Earl of Eglinton. The dispute was eventually resolved by the government of James VI, and in 1661, a marriage alliance was formed between William Cunningham, the ninth Earl of Glencairn, and Margaret Montgomery, the daughter of the sixth Earl of Eglinton. The Cunninghams also played a role in the Plantation of Ulster, with Sir James Cunningham being granted five thousand acres in County Donegal.

The title ‘Earl of Glencairn’ became extinct upon the death of John Cunningham, the fifteenth Earl of Glencairn, in 1796. However, Sir John Cunningham of Caprington, a lawyer, was granted a baronetcy of Nova Scotia by Charles II in 1669. For over two hundred years, Clan Cunningham had no recognized chief, but in January 2014, Sir John Cunningham of Corsehill, a descendant of the third Earl of Glencairn, was officially recognized as the chief by the Lord Lyon.

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The Family Crest

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Family Crest Motto: OVER FORK OVER

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