EARLS OF. GLENCAIRN The 1st earl of Glencairn in the Scottish peerage was Alexander Cunningham (d. 1488), a Son of Sir Robert Cunningham of Kilmaurs in Ayrshire. Made a lord of the Scottish parliament as Lord Kilmaurs not later than 1469, Cunningham was created earl of Glencairn in 1488; and a few weeks later he was killed at the battle of Sauchieburn whilst fighting for King James III. against his rebellious son, afterwards James IV. His son and successor, Robert (d. c. 1490), was deprived of his earldom by James IV., but before 1505 this had been revived in favour of Robert's son, Cuthbert (d. c. 1540), who became 3rd earl of Glencairn, and whose son William (c. 1490-1547) was the 4th earl. This noble, an early adherent of the Reformation, was during his public life frequently in the pay and service of England, although he fought on the Scottish side at the battle of Solway Moss (1542), where he was taken prisoner. Upon his release early in 1543 he promised to adhere to Henry VIII., who was anxious to bring Scotland under his rule, and in 1544 he entered into other engagements with Henry, undertaking inter alia to deliver Mary queen of Scots to the English king. However, he was defeated by James Hamilton, earl of Arran, and the project failed; Glencairn then deserted his fellow-conspirator, Matthew Stewart, earl of Lennox, and came to terms with the queen-mother, Mary of Guise, and her party.
William's son, Alexander, the 5th earl (d. 1574), was a more pronounced reformer than his father, whose English sympathies he shared, and was among the intimate friends of John Knox. In March 1557 he signed the letter asking Knox to return to Scotland; in the following December he subscribed the first "band" of the Scottish reformers; and he anticipated Lord James Stewart, afterwards the regent Murray, in taking up arms against the regent, Mary of Guise, in 1558. Then, joined by Stewart and the lords of the congregation, he fought against the regent, and took part in the attendant negotiations with Elizabeth of England, whom he visited in London in December 1560. When in August 1561 Mary queen of Scots returned to Scotland, Glencairn was made a member of her council; he remained loyal to her after she had been deserted by Murray, but in a few weeks rejoined Murray and the other Protestant lords, returning to Mary's side in 1566. After the queen had married the earl of Bothwell she was again forsaken by Glencairn, who fought against her at Carberry Hill and at Langside.
The earl, who was always to the fore in destroying churches, abbeys and other "monuments of idolatry," died on the 23rd of November 1574. His short satirical poem against the Grey Friars is printed by Knox in his History of the Reformation. James, the 7th earl (d. c. 1622), took part in the seizure of James VI., called the raid of Ruthven in 1582. William, the 9th earl (c. 1610-1664), a somewhat lukewarm Royalist during the Civil War, was a party to the "engagement" between the king and the Scots in 1647; for this proceeding the Scottish parliament deprived him of his office as lord justice-general, and nominally of his earldom. In March 1653 Charles II. commissioned the earl to command the Royalist forces in Scotland, pending the arrival of General John Middleton, and the insurrection of this year is generally known as Glencairn's rising. After its failure he was betrayed and imprisoned, but although excepted from pardon he was not executed; and when Charles II. was restored he became lord chancellor of Scotland. After a dispute with his former friend, James Sharp, archbishop of St Andrews, he died at Belton in Haddingtonshire on the 30th of May 1664. This earl's son John (d. 1703), who followed his brother Alexander as 11th earl in 1670, was a supporter of the Revolution of 1688. His descendant, James, the 14th earl (1749-1791), is known as the friend and patron of Robert Burns. He performed several useful services for the poet; and when he died on the 30th of January 1791 Burns wrote a Lament beginning, "The wind blew hollow frae the hills," and ending with the lines, "But I'll remember thee, Glencairn, and a' that thou hast done for me." The 14th earl was never married, and when his brother and successor, John, died childless in September 1796 the earldom became extinct, although it was claimed by Sir Adam Fergusson, Bart., a descendant of the 10th earl.
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