CUNINGHAME, Robert (c.1728-1801), of Mount Kennedy, co. Wicklow

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
Available from Boydell and Brewer



8 Oct. 1788 - Feb. 1789

Family and Education

b. c.1728, 1st s. of Col. David Cuninghame, and bro. of James Cuninghame. educ. Edinburgh Univ. m. 29 May 1754, Elizabeth, da. and coh. of Col. John Murray, s.p.  cr. Baron Rossmore [I] 19 Oct. 1796.

Offices Held

Ensign 20 Ft. 1746; capt. 35 Ft. 1752-6, lt.-col. 1757, col. 1762; col. 58 Ft. 1767-75; gov. Kinsale Fort 1770- d.; maj.-gen. 1772; col. 14 Ft. 1775-87; lt.-gen. 1777; col. 5 Drag. 1787-99; gen. 1793; c.-in-c. [I] 1793-6.

M.P. [I] 1751-96; P.C. [I] 7 June 1782.


In September 1745 Cuninghame joined the Edinburgh Volunteers in defence of the capital against the approaching rebel army, by whom he was captured while on a reconnoitring expedition. Alexander Carlyle writes:1

Bob Cunningham ... was studying law; but his father being an officer ... he had a military turn ... He resented the bad usage his father’s nephew, Murray of Broughton ... had given him during the day he was captive, and was determined to become a volunteer in some regiment till the rebellion was suppressed.

He served at Culloden in the 14 Ft. and subsequently obtained a commission in Lord George Sackville’s regiment. He early attracted the attention of his colonel, who, when Dorset was appointed lord lieutenant of Ireland, obtained for him a place in the household of Archbishop Stone and a seat in the Irish Parliament.2

In 1752 Cuninghame decided, with the backing of the Sackvilles, Argyll, and Loudoun, to oppose George Haldane in Stirling Burghs, but withdrew in 1754 after being ‘outbid’ by the Haldanes.3

Cuninghame’s marriage in 1754 to a Scots-Irish heiress with influential family and parliamentary connexions determined his future career; he made his home in Ireland, where most of his military life was spent, and gained considerable reputation as an eloquent Government supporter in the Irish Parliament. He remained the lifelong friend and confidant of Lord George Sackville, and was on close terms with General Irwin and William Eden. ‘Sufficiently affluent—happy at home’,4 he was not materially affected by the fall of North. Under the Coalition he was promised the command in Ireland,5 but his hopes were disappointed by the change of ministry. Convinced at first that his Opposition friends must prevail, by February 1784 he was deeply disturbed by the situation. He wrote to Eden:6 ‘I did not know till now that I was so sincerely a patriot, for I ardently wish for any settlement rather than the present contest.’ By 1785 he had gone over to Pitt, voted for his Irish propositions in the Irish Parliament, and congratulated Eden on accepting Government office.7

An able speaker, although ‘much injured by a strong Scots accent’,8 Robert was in 1788 the obvious choice to succeed his brother James in the Sackville borough of East Grinstead. But within two months of his election, unwilling to commit himself on the Regency question, he wrote to the Duke of Dorset, then ambassador in Paris, asking leave to relinquish his seat. Hawkesbury reported to Pitt, 10 Dec. 1788:9

General Cuninghame ... came to me yesterday and held a long conversation with me, which was not favourable. The most I could obtain was that he would give no vote till he heard from the Duke of Dorset ... I have reason to think that [his brother-in-law] Lord Clermont (who lives at present with the Prince) is the General’s adviser.

Cuninghame did not vote in the Regency divisions, and vacated his seat in February 1789. He resumed his career in Ireland, where he died 6 Aug. 1801.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: Edith Lady Haden-Guest


  • 1. Carlyle, Autobiog. 136, 157-8.
  • 2. Stone to Sackville, 20 May, 13 June 1751, HMC Stopford-Sackville, i. 172; Walpole to Mann, 13 May 1752.
  • 3. Cuninghame to Loudoun, 14 Jan. 1753, Loudoun mss; Argyll to Pelham, 4 Sept. 1753, Newcastle (Clumber) mss.
  • 4. Cuninghame to Eden, 20 Oct. 1782, Add. 34419, f. 61.
  • 5. Ibid. f. 303.
  • 6. Ibid. f. 359.
  • 7. See his letters to Eden in Add. 34420.
  • 8. Rev. John R. Scott, A Review of the (Irish) House of Commons.
  • 9. Chatham mss.