CUNNINGHAM, Henry (c.1678-1736), of Boquhan, Gorgunnock, Stirling.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715, ed. D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley, 2002
Available from Boydell and Brewer



11 Jan. 1709 - 1710
1710 - 1727
1727 - 1734

Family and Education

b. c.1678, o. s. of William Cunningham of Boquhan by his 1st w. Margaret, da. of David Erskine, 2nd Ld. Cardross [S], half-sis. of John Erskine*.  m. by 1708, Jean (d. bef. 1736), da. of John Lennox of Woodhead, Campsie, Stirling, s.psuc. mother 1715, fa. 1722.1

Offices Held

Commr. justiciary for Highlands [S] 1701, 1702; muster master gen. [S] 1714–16, 1727–Apr. 1734; commr. forfeited estates June 1716–1724, forfeited estates [S] 1724–5; gov. Jamaica Apr. 1734–d.2

Burgess, Edinburgh 1713, Glasgow 1722; provost, Inverkeithing 1720–d.3


‘A pretty enough fellow’, wrote the Earl of Mar of his ‘cousin’ Cunningham in June 1708, but ‘a little hot’. Politically, Mar was reading temperature in terms of zeal for the Presbyterian interest, which had been the bent of the family since the 1640s, when the laird of Boquhan had worked for the Covenanting cause. For Cunningham’s father the Revolution was the culmination of a lengthy record of resistance to Stuart policy in Scotland. Having refused the test, he had been arrested in 1684 for ‘conversing with rebels’, and had spent some time thereafter in exile in Holland. Even though the part he played in the Revolution itself seems to have been confined to his own locality, he was none the less a staunch supporter of both the Williamite administration and the Kirk.4

Perhaps because the Cunninghams had traditionally steered away from the chief magnates in Stirlingshire, Lords Linlithgow and Montrose, no member of the family had hitherto been sent as a commissioner to the Scottish estates. Cunningham himself was returned to Westminster in 1708 because the principal electoral interests were divided. He relied on his own reputation, supplemented by the influence of Mar and the belated conversion of the Duke of Montrose to his cause. Although Linlithgow as sheriff seized upon the pretext of Cunningham’s late acquisition of a freehold to make a double return, the Whig majority in the new House of Commons made sure that he was seated. As Montrose told the Junto lord, Sunderland (Charles, Lord Spencer*), Cunningham’s ‘education and principles’ afforded strong grounds for believing that, once elected, he would be ‘firmly on our side’.5

During the summer before the Parliament was to meet Cunningham took himself over to Flanders, ‘to serve [as] a volunteer in the campaign’, armed with letters of recommendation from Lord Mar which he hoped would enable him to obtain the acquaintance and favour of the Duke of Marlborough (John Churchill*). Nothing is recorded of his performance on the battlefield, always assuming that he reached it, and little is known of his performance in the Commons either, aside from his vote for the impeachment of Dr Sacheverell. He can have done little to impress either Montrose or Mar, however, for as the 1710 election approached it was clear that his efforts to retain the county seat would have to depend entirely on his own interest. Montrose decided to take no part in the contest, and Mar, regarding the cause as hopeless without such help, simply dropped Cunningham. He fell back on Stirling Burghs as an alternative seat, carrying the election after a contest.6

Cunningham’s earlier connexion with Mar explains his classification as a ‘Court Tory’ by Richard Dongworth, the Duchess of Buccleuch’s chaplain. It proved wide of the mark. Cunningham sided with the Whigs for most of the 1710 Parliament, notwithstanding his vote against Montrose’s factor, Mungo Graham*, in the disputed election for Kinross-shire, and his appearance among the ‘worthy patriots’ who had exposed the mismanagements of the previous ministry. His shift to a more pronounced Whiggism could have been produced by concern for the Kirk and the succession; equally, the marriage of Sir Hugh Paterson, 3rd Bt.* (his electoral rival in the county) to Mar’s sister may have convinced him that nothing more was to be expected from that quarter. Cunningham voted on 17 Jan. 1712 against the Tory motion to send Robert Walpole II* to the Tower, a service which, supposedly, was the origin of his later preferment under Walpole’s premiership; and on 7 Feb. he voted against the Scottish toleration bill, and twice told against the bill restoring lay patronage in Scotland (28 Mar. and 7 Apr.). Shortly afterwards it was reported to the Presbyterian divine Robert Wodrow that in one of his recent speeches Cunningham had made a stout defence of his nationality and religion:

He rose up and said, ‘Mr Speaker I bless God I was born in Scotland and bred a Presbyterian’, upon which the House hissed him. After that was over, he began again, and said ‘I was going to say, Mr Speaker, I blessed God’ etc. as above; and they hissed again. After silence was commanded, he said, ‘Mr Speaker, there are two rules of this honourable House I thought had been inviolable – the freedom and liberty of speech without interruption, and another against duelling!’ And laying his hand upon his sword, he said, ‘Mr Speaker, if the House thus break the one, I hope they will allow me to break the other’. Upon that there was an entire silence; and he spoke what he had to say.

Cunningham acted as a teller on three other occasions during this session: on 12 Mar. for an address calling for estimates for finishing the fortifications of Stirling Castle; on 19 Mar. for an amendment upon supply to reduce the sum granted for garrisons; and on 13 May in favour of a drawback for Scottish universities on the paper duty. In the next session he presented an address on the peace from Stirling Burgh in March 1713, the tone of which was uncompromisingly Whiggish, and in the wake of the malt tax crisis joined the united Scottish campaign to dissolve the Union. He also voted against the ministry over the French commerce bill (4 and 18 June), being marked as a Whig in the published list.7

Re-elected for Stirling Burghs in 1713 and put down as a supporter of the Hanoverian succession in Lord Polwarth’s list, Cunningham was reported in the following January to be travelling around the west of Scotland in the company of his uncle Colonel John Erskine* to promote Hanoverian addresses. These were to be communicated to various ‘great men’, including Polwarth and Ilay, presumably for presentation to the Queen. In the following session Cunningham’s party loyalty was immediately apparent: he figured as a teller on the Whig side in two disputed election cases (Anstruther Easter Burghs and Linlithgowshire), voting likewise on 18 Mar. against the expulsion of Richard Steele. On 12 May he divided with other Scottish Whigs in favour of the extension of the schism bill to cover Catholic education. He also co-operated with a cross-party Scottish initiative on the bill discharging the Equivalent commissioners and was a teller on 24 June in favour of a clause that would have imposed interest of 4 per cent upon the £14,000 appropriated for the wool-producing shires unless this money was entrusted in the meantime to the magistrates of Edinburgh. He was himself responsible for the Scottish Members’ attempt to amend the 1712 Linen Act, bringing a bill into the House and chairing its second-reading committee. One of the signatories to the proclamation of George I in Edinburgh, Cunningham presented a loyal address from Stirlingshire in October 1714, being introduced at court by the Duke of Argyll. The extent to which he had by now identified himself with the Whig party in Scotland was graphically illustrated in Mar’s comment in September 1714, in a letter to Sir John Erskine concerning preparations for the forthcoming election: ‘for God’s sake, get Harry Cunningham defeated, carry it who will’.8

Listed as a Whig in the Worsley list, Cunningham was re-elected in 1715, and satirized as one who had already ‘acquired a lasting fame, by the service he’s done to the godly’. He was provided with office and settled himself into the Argyll connexion. He developed a strong electoral interest in county and burghs, becoming by the 1730s a trusted instrument in Lord Ilay’s system of electoral management. Cunningham died in Jamaica on 12 Feb. 1736, having arrived there a little over two months before to take up the governorship, in a desperate attempt to shore up his tottering finances. Little or nothing was left for his only surviving close relative, a sister. The Boquhan estate, of which he was said to be ‘passionately fond’, was subjected to a judicial sale for the payment of his debts; the extensive plans he had prepared for the laying out of the grounds were thus never carried out.9

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: D. W. Hayton


  • 1. F. Cundall, Govs. Jamaica 18th Cent. 166–70; SRO Indexes, iii. 213, 502; Services of Heirs (ser. 1), i. 1710–19, p. 7.
  • 2. CSP Dom. 1700–2, p. 338; 1702–3, p. 353; SRO, Ogilvy of Inverquharity mss GD205/31/1/17, Roxburghe to William Bennet*, 12 Oct. 1714; HMC Laing, ii. 185–6; Cal. Treas. Bks. and Pprs. 1731–4, p. 549; Boyer, Pol. State, xlvii. 420.
  • 3. Scot. Rec. Soc. lxii. 49; lvi. 363; W. Stephen, Hist. Inverkeithing and Rosyth, 212.
  • 4. SRO, Mar and Kellie mss GD124/15/868/1, Mar to Stair, 20 June 1708; APS, vi(1), 28, 53, 204, 560; vi(2), 32, 192; ix. 26, 52, 140; Reg. PC Scotland, 1676–8, p. 513; 1684–5, p. 269; 1689, pp. 374–5; 1691, pp. 289–90; Scot. Hist. Soc. xiv. 2, 197–8; Lauder of Fountainhall, Hist. Notices (Bannatyne Club, lxxxvii), 484–5; Leven and Melville Pprs. (Bannatyne Club, lxxvii), 246–7.
  • 5. Sunter thesis, 1–11; Add. 61628, f. 149; 9102, f. 74.
  • 6. Mar and Kellie mss GD124/15/868/1, Mar to Stair, 20 June 1708; GD124/15/975/2, 10, Mar to Ld. Grange (Hon. James Erskine†), 6 June, 27 July 1710; GD124/15/1005/1,2, Cunningham to same, 5 Sept., 13 Oct. 1710; Add. 61136, f. 111; Sunter thesis, 12–20.
  • 7. SHR, lx. 65; SRO, Montrose mss GD220/5/808/17, Graham to Montrose, 10 Feb. 1711; Ramsay of Ochtertyre, Scotland and Scotsmen in 18th Cent. ii. 120; London Gazette, 10–14 Mar. 1712[–13]; Aberdeen Univ. Lib. Duff House (Montcoffer) mss 3175/2380, ‘Resolution of the Commons to Call a Meeting of the Lords’, [23] May 1713; Parlty. Hist. i. 69.
  • 8. Orig. Pprs. ed. Macpherson, ii. 540; Lockhart Letters ed. Szechi, 106–8; Boyer, viii. 124; London Gazette, 9–12 Oct. 1714; NLS, ms 5072, f. 24.
  • 9. Lockhart Pprs. i. 593; R. M. Sunter, Patronage and Pol. in Scotland, 214–15, 221; Cundall, 170.