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Historic Landmark Image

Finlaystone Country Estate in Langbank, Scotland

Finlaystone castle and estate.

Finlaystone

The Cunninghams of Glencairn owned Finlaystone for 400 years. It was the nucleus of the Cunningham's power and influence in Scotland from Robert III (the second Stewart king) to Robert Burns the Scottish poet. The castle itself dates back to 1299 and was originally owned by the Dennistouns, first of the lairds of Finlatstone, who owned the castle for 100 years. Sir Robert Dennistoun died without a male heir. His daughter Margaret married Sir William Cunningham, giving William not only the Finlaystone estate, but the baronies of Finlaystone and Glencairn.

Sir Alexander Cunningham, grandson of Sir William helped King James II defeat the Douglas' and was granted the Barony of Kilmaurs, the lands of Kilmarnock, and Hilton. In 1484, Alexander moved the Seat of Clan Cunningham to Finlaystone. Four years later he was made 1st Earl of Glencairn by royal charter. The Cunningham fortunes then took a turn for the worse. Sir Alexander Cunningham was killed along with his king, James III, fourteen days later at the Battle of Sauchieburn. His titles were stripped by the following King, James IV, but Sir Alexander Cunningham's son and heir, Robert Cunningham (2nd Earl of Glencairn), managed to retain the earlier title of 2nd Lord Kilmaurs and keep Finlaystone as the family seat. Shortly afterwards the Montgomeries officially began the Cunningham-Montgomery feud by burning down the Cunningham's Kerelaw Castle.

Throughout the ensuing years of the feud, Finlaystone remained untouched while other family strongholds were not so lucky. A momentous occasion at Finlaystone was the visit by John Knox, widely recognized as one of the primary founders of Scottish Presbyterianism and great religious reformers of his time. In 1556 he performed the first Protestant Reformed Communion service on Easter Sunday under a Yew tree at Finlaystone for Alexander Cunningham, 5th Earl of Glencairn. During the ceremony Knox performed for the Earl, wine goblets could not be located. Candlesticks were used instead. They became heirlooms of the family but vanished without a trace in 1899. Visitors can still find the ancient Yew tree where John Knox held the ceremony, which was moved 40 yards in 1900 to the Southeast to afford better sunlight into the manor house. Another noteworthy visitor to Finlaystone was the poet Robert Burns. It was due to the patronage and support of Burns by James, the 14th Earl of Glencairn, that the poet was able to rise to literary prominence. So important was the Earl to Burns that the poet wrote a poignant lament at his patrons' passing called "Lament for James Cunningham, 14th Earl of Glencairn." The whole poem relates the sadness and desolation the poet felt at his benefactor's death. At the end of the poem Burns says "I'll remember thee, Glencairn, And a' that thou hast done for me!"

There is physical evidence of the friendship between Burns and James Cunningham at Finlaystone. Burns carved his signature on a window pane using a diamond ring James had given him. Burn's signature can still be seen in the Bard's room. The male line of the Earls of Glencairn ceased with James's son John who died without a male heir in 1796. Since there was no Cunningham to which the property could pass to, the possession of Finlaystone went to John Cunningham's cousin, Robert Graham. The Graham's possession spelled the end to the Cunninghams connection to the estate. The son of Robert was William Cunningham Graham. His father changed his name to Robert Cunningham-Graham, forcing his son to accept the name William Cunningham Cunningham-Graham. After his father died, William Cunningham Cunningham-Graham (aka "Wicked William") became a criminal and gambler, falling to forgery to pay for his gambling bills. Finlaystone fell victim to a card game which Wicked William lost to a Colonel Archibald Campbell, after which no Cunningham or relative of the Cunninghams owned the estate.

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