July 29, 2022

Famous Scots. William Cunninghame.

William Cunninghame of Lainshaw (1731–1799) was a leading Tobacco Lord who headed one of the major Glasgow syndicates that came to dominate the transatlantic tobacco trade.  Most of the tobacco shipped from American slave plantations was sold to France. He later also made a further fortune stockpiling tobacco bought at keen prices shortly before the American Revolution, assuming that Great Britain would not be able to retain control over her rebellious colonies, and then selling at high prices. Cunninghame’s (much altered and expanded) neo-classical house on Glasgow’s Queen Street today houses the collection of the Gallery of Modern Art.

Early life.

Cunninghame was born in 1715  in Kilmarnock, Ayrshire, into a prosperous merchant family. He was a blood relative of Andrew Cochrane of Brighouse (1693–1777), who was one of Glasgow’s most respected Lord Provosts. Family ties were of great importance in helping to build Cunninghame’s growing fortune.


William Cunninghame’s neo-classical mansion on Queens St, Glasgow, built in 1780 at a cost of £10,000

Cunninghame first sailed to America in 1746 as a young apprentice in the firm of Cochrane, Murdoch & Company. After four years of training he was promoted to become a manager and in 1752 he came to oversee all the company business in Virginia.

In 1762 he returned to Scotland, where he became the principal partner in the firm of Cochrane, Murdoch & Co. By the early 1770s he changed the company name to William Cunninghame & Company, and it grew to become one of the city’s five largest importers.

Twice a year his flagship – named The Cunninghame – arrived in the Chesapeake Bay, loaded with European luxury goods such as silverware and furniture, and ready to collect Tobacco for export back to Europe. Cunninghame, like the other Glasgow merchants, extended credit to the growers enabling them to buy goods from the company store before their tobacco was sold at market. However, many growers found themselves deeply in debt and thereby forced to accept low prices for their crop. Cunninghame was known to offer prices as much as 10% below market value to distressed growers.

American Revolution.

Cunninghame made an even greater fortune from the tobacco scarcity caused by the American War of Independence. On the outbreak of war, Cunningham’s business partners found themselves in possession of substantial stocks of tobacco which they had purchased for around three pence per pound. As war began to disrupt the trade the price rose, and Cunningham’s partners, confident that the rebellious colonists would soon be defeated, sold out their stock at sixpence per pound. Cunningham took the opposite view and he personally purchased their entire stock. Eventually, as the long war disrupted supplies, the price of tobacco rose to a staggering 3 shillings and sixpence, making a huge fortune for Cunninghame.

Like many wealthy Glasgow merchants, Cunninghame used some of his profits to buy a country estate. In 1778 he purchased for £26,200 for the estate of Lainshaw, in Ayrshire. He also purchased a property in the Cow Loan in Glasgow, which he renamed Queen Street after the wife of George III, and in 1780 he built there a large mansion in the neo-classical style at a cost of £10,000, an immense sum at the time.

In 1779 he completed his rise to the wealthy landed gentry by registering his family coat-of-arms at the office of the Lord Lyon in Edinburgh. In 1780 Cunninghame retired from the tobacco business, although he was not yet fifty years old.

Family life.

Cunninghame married three times and had fourteen children. He disinherited his eldest sons Thomas and Alexander and it was his third son William Cunninghame who eventually inherited the estate in 1799.


Today Cunninghame’s neo classical palace on Glasgow’s Queen Street houses the collection of the Gallery of Modern Art.

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Infamous Scots. Lord Lovat.

Lord Lovat (Scottish Gaelic: Mac Shimidh) is a title in the Peerage of Scotland. It was created in 1458 for Hugh Fraser. The holder is also the Chief of Clan Fraser of Lovat.

The first Lord Lovat was one of the hostages for James I on his return to Scotland in 1424, and in 1431 he was appointed high sheriff of the county of Inverness. The second Lord Lovat, Thomas, held the office of justiciary of the north in the reign of James IV, and died 21 October 1524.

The title descended in a direct line for nine sequential generations from 1458 until the death of the ninth Lord in 1696. He was succeeded by his great-uncle, the tenth Lord. In 1697 the latter’s son, Simon Fraser, known as Simon “the Fox”, kidnapped and forcibly married the late ninth Lord’s widow, the former Lady Amelia Murray, only daughter of John Murray, 1st Marquess of Atholl. However, Lady Lovat’s powerful family, the Murrays, were angered, and prosecuted Fraser, who fled the country. Fraser was convicted in absentia, attainted, and sentenced to death. In 1715, however, Fraser supported the Government against the Jacobite uprising and was rewarded by being pardoned for his crimes. In 1730, he won litigation seeking to confirm his title of Lord Lovat. In 1745, however, Lord Lovat participated in The ’45 against the Crown and was therefore sentenced to death. He was beheaded on 9 April 1747, aged 80, on Tower Hill in London, becoming the last man to die in this manner. His titles, furthermore, were forfeit. (Fraser was also created Duke of Fraser, Marquess of Beaufort, Earl of Stratherrick and Upper Tarf, Viscount of the Aird and Strathglass and Lord Lovat and Beaulieu in the Jacobite Peerage of Scotland by James Francis Edward Stuart (titular King James III of England and VIII of Scotland) in 1740.)

His eldest son and namesake Simon Fraser became a General in the British Army. He obtained a full pardon but was not restored to the title. His younger brother Archibald Campbell Fraser was a Colonel in the Army and would have succeeded but for the attainder. On his death in 1815 the title was claimed by his kinsman Thomas Fraser, a descendant of Thomas Fraser, second son of the fourth Lord. In 1837 he was created Baron Lovat, of Lovat in the County of Inverness, in the Peerage of the United Kingdom. However, it was not until 1854 that the attainder of the eleventh Lord was reversed, and Thomas Fraser became the twelfth Lord Lovat. He was succeeded by his son, the thirteenth Lord, who served as Lord Lieutenant of Inverness. His eldest son, the fourteenth Baron, was a soldier and politician and notably held office as Under-Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs from 1926 to 1927. He was succeeded by his eldest son, the fifteenth Lord. He was a prominent soldier and distinguished himself during the Second World War. As of 2017 the titles are held by his grandson, the sixteenth Lord, who succeeded in 1994.

The Conservative politician Sir Hugh Fraser was the younger son of the fourteenth Lord. Another member of the family was Sir Ian Fraser, Chairman of Rolls-Royce Motors. He was the son of Hon. Alastair Thomas Joseph Fraser, younger son of the thirteenth Lord.

The family seats now are Beaufort Lodge and Balblair House, near Beauly, Inverness-shire.

Clan Fraser.

The Lordship of Lovat has for some time been linked to the Chiefship of Clan Fraser. The former family seat was Beaufort Castle in northern Scotland. The numbering of the Scottish Lordship used by Clan Fraser differs from the legal numbering in that it ignores the attainder of 1747–1854, with the result that the 16th Lord is termed by them “18th Lord Lovat”.

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