This thread was originally written and published in November 2019. It has been lightly edited and corrected as applicable for this post.
I generally try to keep things Edinburgh and Leith focussed here, but have made a special exception to venture west for a remarkable lady. Worry ye not though, there is a Leith link in here which will become apparent. Anyway, allow me to introduce Anna (or Ann) Cunningham.
Lady Anna Cunningham was born around 1580, the 4th child and 1st daughter of James Cunningham, 7th Earl Glencairn and his wife Margaret Campbell of Glenurquy. James was a privy councillor for King James VI and the Glencairn earls were prominent protestant reformers. In 1603, she married James, 2nd Marquess of Hamilton (4th Earl of Arran, Lord of Aven, Lord of Aberbrothwick [Arbroath]), becoming henceforth the Marchioness of Hamilton, but we’ll keep things simple with Lady Anna.
The Hamiltons have long been big, big wheels at the cracker factory of Scottish politics and nobility, and the 2nd Marquess was no exception. He was tight with King James VI and moved with him to England when he went to take the English crown as James I of that nation. Hamilton did well out of his loyalty to King James, he was made Earl of Cambridge, Baron of Innerdale and then Lord High Commissioner to the Scottish Parliament; the King’s man in Scotland. When he moved to England in 1603, King James had promised to return to Scotland every 3 years. This was a promise he never kept, returning briefly once more in his life, in 1617, and running the country by proxy instead of in person.
Lady Anna had 5 children with James but stayed behind in Scotland while he was in London with the King. But she was not content to rattle around Hamilton Palace and concerned herself in the running of the estate and, more importantly, in continuing her family’s Presbyterian* zeal.
* = Presbyterianism, the form of reformed Church governance that would prevail in the Church of Scotland after the reformation, based on rule by assemblies of elders (presbyteries), as opposed to Episcopalianism (such as in the Church of England) based on rule by Bishops.
King James was locked in an interminable struggle with the Scottish Kirk over church governance and power, therefore so was James Hamilton as his main man in Scotland. Lady Anna however was on the side of the Kirk and much of Scotland, namely that the King should butt out and let the Kirk answer to God and to its congregations, and not the King, and run its own matters for itself.
So on one side are the two Jameses, who want nothing less than absolute power, and therefore power over the Kirk. And on the other is Anna (and an increasing part of Scotland) who beliebe that all power goes direct from God to the Kirk and is exercised by the presbyteries. King James summed up his position when he asserted that the Monarchy and Presbytery agreed as well as God and the Devil. These are seeds being sowed by James that will come to haunt the Stuart kings in decades (and century) to come.
Anyway, by hook or by crook or by any of the means at his disposal, James waged a long campaign to try and control religion in Scotland. But no matter what he tried, he seemed to simply strengthen the resolve and unity of the Presbyterians. Books upon books have been written about this all and I can’t do it justice, but suffice to say it’s important to the story of Lady Anna, as she prominently aligned herself with the religious resistance to King James. This would probably have driven a wedge between Anna and both the Jameses, but James Hamilton was away in London mostly and was cut off in his prime, dying suddenly of fever in Whitehall at the tender age of 36. King James would die himself 25 days later. So aged around 40, she finds herself a widow in Hamilton, with her eldest son James inheriting his father’s Dukedom of Hamilton. King James VI and I’s throne would of course be taken by his equally intransigent son, Charles I.
Lady Anna continues as she means to go on, devoting her energies to the maintenance and improvement of the Hamilton’s vast estates and to the cause of Presbyterianism in Scotland, which at this time was not yet a foregone conclusion (particularly with Charles I on the throne). Let us look at the business side of things first, which she undertook with “energy and decision“. Her biography notes she “rode constantly round their lands“, from Arran in the west to Kinneil in the east, and “oversaw all the expenditure“.
She did not learn to write until adult life, probably not uncommon for a 16th century Scots woman, but learn she did and her signature and writing are all over the estate accounts. It’s noted that her arithmetic was an “alarming mix” of Roman and Arabic numerals. She had improvements made to the family pile at Hamilton Palace by the painter Valentine Jenkin, how was later eminent enough to be given the job to tart up the Chapel Royal at Stirling Castle for Charles I.
She had the deer parks at Kinneil House re-stocked and undertook reforestation. She had her cousin send her hundreds of fir saplings from Glenorchy, writing back “belive me, I think moir of them nor ye can imagin, for I love them moir nor I dou all the frout tris in the wordil“. And at Kinneil she made improvements to the working of coal and salt (as industries the two are inseparable in 16th and 17th century Scotland). Her will noted it had “cost her much money and her servants had reaped the rewards” but that “they would bring… substantial benefit“. So clearly, Lady Anna was a capable administrator and business woman, which marks her out for a woman her time. But it was also in spiritual matters that she stands out.
Lady Anna acted as a shield for Presbyterian ministers in a time of religious strife. When Robert Boyd of Trochrig was driven out of Paisley by a “mob” of “papists… who showered upon him stones and dirt”, she arranged for him to be installed in Cambuslang under her sponsorship. She was present in 1630 (and may have helped organise) a mass outdoors sermon at Kirk O’ Shotts where a young preacher, John Livingstone, had such an effect on his flock that he “sewed a seed” of “discernible change” throughout Clydesdale for the Presbyterian cause. This was the Revival at Shotts, 20th June 1630.
John Livingstone was known personally to Lady Anna, and he wrote that she used her influence at court in London “for the protection of the persecuted nonconformists” and she would provide letters to that effect for ministers in need. By this point Charles I was continuing his father’s struggles with the Kirk in Scotland, but in an even more stubborn and uncompromising manner. And at his side one again is James Hamilton (junior), 3rd Marquess and Anna’s son, who returned from a years military service on the continent in 1632. Things are coming to a head in Scotland as Charles tries to steamroller through is reforms. The response of the Presbyterians was the National Covenant, a remarkable declaration signed by much of the public in 1638, in which they bound themselves to maintain their religion.
I’m trying to condense some of the most important parts of Scottish history into a few measly sentences, so apologies that I’ve left out basically everything. Needless to say, the Presbyterians rapidly and skilfully take effective control of Scotland, the movement we know as the Covenanters. Lady Anna “warmly espoused the cause of the Covenant. Possessed of a strong and masculine spirit, she displayed an undaunted heroism in the cause, which neither the sight of personal danger nor the partiality of maternal affection could subdue“. What does that bit about “maternal affection” mean? Well as we’ve already read, her son was a King’s man, a privy councillor in both England and Scotland, a Gentleman of the Bedchamber and Master of the Horse.
Hamilton got some soldiering experience in the 30 years war on the side of the Swedes in his year on the continent, but that was not unusual and many a young Scottish man did likewise at the time did. Having no real capabilities of his own, he was put under the wing of one Alexander Leslie. More on him later too.
King Charles puts Hamilton in charge of the impossible task of trying to mediate with the Covenanters as his Commissioner for Scotland. Hamilton does not seem to be able to placate either side and although loyal to his King, is given the run around and achieves little. Hamilton finds himself in the unfortunate position of leading not just the King’s confrontation with the Kirk, but with his mother a prominent Covenanter he is also set on a collision course with her.
By November 1638, all Hamilton’s efforts have failed and he totally loses control of matters when he tries to suspend the General Assembly of the Kirk in Glasgow and is told in no uncertain terms that the Assembly and only the Assembly will decide when it is ready to dissolve. This it eventually did so, but only after abolishing Charles’ bishops and episcopalianism from the Kirk.
As is usual with King Charles however, all his missions on which he sent Hamilton to try and negotiate were a front for something else and he was buying time to try and resolve things by force, his problem there being trying to raise funds for an army to crush the Covenanters. By spring 1939, Charles is ready. He plans a 3-pronged attack on Scotland, 20,000 men to march across the border from England, 5,000 to land in the north where royalist and episcopalian sympathy was strongest and an army from Ireland to land in the west to get the discontented clans to rise.
It all goes a bit disastrously wrong for Charles though. The Irish never materialise for a start. He has not the funds or the popular cause in England and manages to raise only about 15,000 poorly trained, equipped and motivated men. Opposing him, the Covenanters are in quite the opposite situation, they have raised an army of 20,000 enthusiastic, motivated men, they are well financed and equipped and have called home the best of Generals and officers from the 30 years war. At its head is the same Alexander Leslie who mentored Hamilton on the continent 8 years earlier. And on the political side, the Covenanters are well organised and united under Archibald Campbell, Marquess of Argyll.
The northern pincer of Charles attack is to be led by Hamilton but when the northern royalists rise up under Viscount Aboyne they are quickly put back down by a skilled Covenanter general, the Marquess of Montrose (who ironically would go on to become one of the most persistent thorns in the Covenanters’ side). With the north pacified, Hamilton has nowhere to land, and so his ships pitch up in the Forth and anchor in Leith Roads (you see, I told you we’d work Leith into this). And who should be there to greet him, but his dear mother!
Only this isn’t a nice family reunion. James finds that his mother has raised a troop of cavalry from her estates and placed herself at its head, riding under a Covenanter banner emblazoned with the slogan “For God, the King, Religion and the Covenant” and a hand repelling a book. The book in question is of course the book of Common Prayer that Charles had tried and failed to impose on the Scottish Kirk (it caused a riot when it was first read). Lady Anna “rode at its head by day and by night, with her pistols and carbine at her side”
She let it be known that if her son tried to land in Leith, that she would personally shoot him with her pistol – popular legend holds that she threatened to do so with a silver bulleShe appeared with her troops on Leith Links to join the thronging crowds observing Hamilton’ ships lurking offshore, and had herself put on a boat to go out and parley with her wayward son. “The son of such a mother,” the crowd said, “will do us no harm.” The contents of their dialogue we can only guess at, but Hamilton was in an impossible position and we can be fairly certain his mother made sure that he knew it.
He knew he could not land as he had too few men and Leith was hostile and well defended (its fortifications from the siege of 1560 were in remarkably good shape). King Charles’s ragbag army had struggled as far north as Kelso where it had been sent packing by Alexander Leslie. Neither side really wanted to fight, but it was clear that the Covenanters meant business and so were armed and organised that they undoubtedly had the upper hand. An awkward compromise was reached in the Treaty of Berwick, ending the “First Bishops War” (the name coming from it being fought over the presence of Bishops in the Kirk). This contemporary cartoon mocks the situation .
The good references I’ve found for Anna Hamilton both acknowledge that the trail of facts tail off there until we come to her will when she died in 1647. The bits on Wikipedia about her being a “warrior”, leading a “mixed-sex troop of cavalry” and being at the “battle of Berwick” are safe to say a load of cobblers. That’s not to detract upon her achievements, they just don’t need embellished with inventions like that.
The “Battle of Berwick” is not even a thing, the Treaty or Peace of Berwick refers to the negotiations at the Birks of Berwick, between the King and the Covenanters. It was a battle of only wills and opinions and we know which Covenanters were there as representatives. Thus concluded the First Bishops War, shortly afterwards Montrose defeated the last of the northern royalists at the Brig O’ Dee and an uneasy peace was brought to matters (only to blow up again the following year in the Second Bishops War).
The Hamilton troop of horse was disbanded at Duns as part of the agreement of the Peace of Berwick, although contrary to the provisions the Covenanters wisely kept much of their army intact under the skilful Leslie. Anyway, Lady Anna had better things to be doing than riding around with pistols threatening to shoot her son. She had her estates to manage and her granddaughter – Hamilton’s eldest daughter – to raise. So we can assume that Mother and Son could at least still tolerate and respect each other, a theory reinforced by Hamilton’s return to Hamilton Palace with another daughter in 1646. Lady Anna died soon after in September and was buried in accordance with her wishes in the Hamilton family vault in Hamilton collegiate kirk (the massive family mausoleum in the estate came later)
Hamilton Palace is long gone, but Kinneil House still has her coat of arms (based on the Cunningham shakefork) with “comedy rabbits” on the ceiling over her bed .
The rabbits are because Cunningham effectively means “rabbit village” from coney, from the Gaelic coineanach
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